Chapter 22

Five Digits and a Plane Ride

"I still don't like it. He's gonna end up hurtin' her," Wolverine pronounced.

"Tell me, Logan, have you not seen how...different he is with her?" Ororo questioned gently from her spot across the campfire, truly curious to hear his answer.

For the last hour or so he'd been pacing back and forth, complaining in various degrees about Lupa and Victor's relationship. When the feral had returned to the X-Men's camp, without Lupa, (whom been in his company beforehand), Storm had noticed he was in a foul mood. She figured the dirt and bloodstains on his clothing might have something to do with his current disposition. The mutant most likely had lost in a scuffle against his brother and was now venting his grievances in the man's absence. The fact that Lupa was absent with Creed (and the length of said absence), most likely was not helping matters either.

"What are you talkin' about, 'Ro?"

Now Rogue piped up from her spot next to her teacher, "Come on, sugah. You're tellin' me yah never noticed how he acts around her? How he always keeps real close tah her, almost guardin' over her like? An' if she's not next tah him, he'll watch her, follow her with his eyes, makin' sure she's OK."

Just Rogue and Storm now remained at the fire with Logan, only they had the patience to deal with the Wolverine's ranting. Bobby and John had retreated to their tent almost as soon as the pissed off feral appeared and Jean followed their example not long after. The boys had been uncomfortable with the topic at hand, while Jean was irritated by it. The doctor made a grand exit to the tent she shared with Ororo after telling Logan he was simply jealous and that he should get a grip. The Canadian really didn't like hearing that theory and spent the next few minutes swearing up and down he wasn't jealous, that it just wasn't a good idea for Lupa to be involved with a man like Sabertooth. Of course everyone knew it was bullshit. The Wolverine wanted the Wolf Girl, but the Wolf Girl didn't want him. She didn't even seem to notice that he wanted her, either.

"I have too have observed that Lupa and he are nearly always within arms reach of one another whenever they can help it. They both seem to be most at ease when they are touching. Have you not heard the difference in his very voice when he speaks to her versus the rest of us?" The weather goddess queried rhetorically. "Such little things can be very revealing, Logan."

"Yeah," Marie jumped in again. "When he talks tah her, he's quieter than with everybody else, softer like. Gentler. Logan...I really think everything's OK. I know you're worried but I've been watchin' him. Watchin' them, an' I think, I think Victor's Lupa's splitapart." The southerner announced seriously, her face a little scrunched up in concentration.

"Her 'splitapart?'" Wolverine asked, feeling somewhat lost.

"It's somethin' my grandmama used tah say. She said that some people were born missin' apart of themselves, that their soul had been torn in half and put intah two different bodies. One soul split apart. I think Victor and Lupa are splitaparts," Rogue finished.

"Remember Logan, the Professor did say he was fairly certain Lupa and Victor are mates. And that as far as he knows, such a thing is part of being a feral. I do not think there is much of a choice for either of them in this matter... Thus far, Mr. Creed has only looked out for Lupa's best interests. He is not quite the rampaging monster the rumors paint him to be, either. If he was, we'd all be dead right now, our bodies roasting over a fire for his dinner as that one story went," Storm pointed out. "I do not pretend that if it were not for our connection to Lupa, he would be helping us, but should it not count for something that he is? Even if it's only because of her?"

Logan stayed quiet, thinking it over.

"I hope she is changing him, in perhaps small, yet significant ways. But she is at least getting him to show a more civilized side. Take for example his behavior towards Rogue. He has protected her because she is important to Lupa," the weather goddess pointed out.

"He fuckin' kidnapped her less than a year ago, 'Ro!"

"Yes. He did. And we also know he did it in exchange for information on Lupa's whereabouts. That certainly does not justify his actions against Rogue, but it does explain his motivations behind them. Now that Lupa is safe, he is unlikely to kidnap her again."

The girl in question couldn't suppress an amused grin at the slight teasing tone in Storm's voice. Then Ororo turned serious again, "He is also your brother and obviously very important to Lupa who is your friend. As Rogue said, if we wish to keep Lupa in our lives, we may have to accept Victor in hers."

"Don't mean I have to like it, now does it?" Logan coldly asked. "Forget it. I'm gonna walk a 50 yard perimeter, make sure there aren't any soldiers sneakin' up on us." And with that, Wolverine stalked away from the campfire, leaving Rogue and Storm behind. He was too angry and hurt and confused to talk about all of it anymore.

The student and teacher kept their own council for several minutes, just listening to the night and waiting for their three comrades to return, Logan, Lupa and Victor. Finally the younger of the two broke the silence, "Yah know, when Logan first came back after the Professah called him tah help with Lupa, I was kind of hoping that they would get together, yah know? And maybe we'd be something like a family. But in a way, I'm – I'm glad she's with Victor. Not that I'm glad Logan's upset, it's just...I know Victor will always keep her safe. He won't let anything bad happened tah her again... Sometimes it feels like he could do it by just willing it be, yah know?" The teenager smiled a little, not looking at her teacher who by now was looking at her.

"I know Logan could protect her too, he could look after her just as good, maybe even better in a lot of ways. But somehow, with Victor, I feel like she's almost got a better chance 'cause I don't think there's anything in this world he wouldn't do tah keep her safe or get her back if somehow she was taken from him. And..I think Victor needs her, really needs her, more than Logan does. Because, yeah, Logan's lost a lot, a whole lot, an' that's, that's just awful. What he's been through is sad an' horrible an' unfair...but he doesn't remember what he lost. What he had before waking up with a blank slate. Victor remembers exactly what he had and exactly what – and who – he lost. What was taken from him. He would probably kill every person in North America by hand, one by one, if it would guarantee she'd never be captured by a lab again, never be hurt again... So, I'm kind of glad she's with Victor, even if he's not Logan," Rogue finished.

oOo

Victor and Lupa returned to the X-Men's campsite not long after Logan stomped off to walk the perimeter. The three women spoke for a few minutes before Storm retired to her tent, advising the teenager to do the same soon. Instead Rogue, Lupa and Victor sat around the fire for a bit longer, just enjoying the contrast of the delicious warmth of the flames and crisp night air.

"Rogue, where are you sleeping tonight?" Lupa asked quietly, her smoky, exotically accented voice beautifully harmonizing with the noises of the wilderness at night. Even a fellow European would have been hard pressed to determine her origins when she spoke English. At one moment the Wolf Girl's might sound Romanian, then her inflection would morph into something more like that of a Ukrainian. Or a Serb. A Pole. A Hungarian. And oddly enough, a few specific words always had a distinctly British influence. 'Schedule' was 'shed-u-all.' Instead of saying 'garbage,' she'd say 'rubbish.' 'Mum' instead of 'mom.'

"Harley's gonna stay in our tent. I'll take the spot closest to the entrance, then you, then the kid," Victor answered roughly before Marie could.

"OK," the young woman replied smiling, liking her new nickname. Really a nickname of a nickname, shortening 'Harlequin' to 'Harley.'

"Good, shall we head off to bed then, Rogue? Are you going to wait up for Jimmy Runt, mulţumesc?*" Lupa asked her mate affectionately. He was certainly awkward at displaying affection at times (demonstrated by apparently believing a brawl was an excellent form of fraternal bonding), but at least he was trying with the untouchable girl. Him laying out their sleeping arrangement might have sounded highhanded and controlling, but the Wolf Girl recognized it for what it truly was: protection. He placed himself in front of her and Rogue, taking the most vulnerable spot by the tent flap where any attack would likely come from.

"Yeah, he should be back soon from checkin' the perimeter. I'll wait 'til he gets back then turn in, my shift doesn't start fer another few hours." Creed was staring intently at his angel the whole time he spoke, with what might be mistaken for an almost sinister look in his darkening eyes. In actuality, Sabertooth was recalling exactly how his mate had sounded, how she'd smelled and most importantly how she'd felt when he'd claimed her as his own not very long ago. Being connected to her like that had been the closest thing to heaven the animal who'd dreamt he was a man ever thought he'd experience.

And she was his. Utterly and completely his.

Lupa was seemingly able to read her mate's mind and blushed prettily under the heat of Victor's stare. His confident smirk and the all too knowing look in his eyes may have helped her along, too. Sabertooth made sure to steal a savoring kiss from his tempting mate before she left.

A couple minutes after his mate and her adopted cub crawled into their sleeping bags, Logan returned to the campsite. Neither man acknowledged or referred to what had happened between them hours earlier. Choosing instead to ignore the giant pink elephant dancing on the peripherals of their minds, at least for now. Instead they spoke of the layout of Alkali Lake base, the impending opportunity to face Stryker again, the possibility of Magneto and Mystique betraying them, as well as a few contingency plans. The shit between them could wait until all this was over with.

After their talk, Creed caught a couple hours sleep in the tent, holding his angel as close to his body as possible, just listening to his little pack breathe. When Logan's shift was over, the brothers switched places, Victor on watch and Wolverine resting. Though, before he left the tent, Sabertooth made sure the Runt's sleeping bag was several feet away from Lupa's.

oOo

Luckily the night passed without disturbance and all the X-Men rose early, readying for their impending rescue mission. After a quick (and uncomfortable) breakfast, the group of eight made their way to the Blackbird, readying the jet for the long flight to Alkali Lake. While Ororo and Jean set up in the cockpit, Lupa and the students sat in their seats, the female feral telling the teenagers stories to distract them from their nervousness. The brothers stood as silent sentries outside, waiting for Erik and Raven to appear.

Finally, the Brotherhood members arrived and soon after the jet was in the air en route to Alkali Lake. No one spoke for a long time, everyone lost in their own thoughts. But eventually the metal-manipulator and shape-shifter began whispering back and forth and stealing glances at their former victim. Rogue, having long harbored resentment and anger at the two for her near martyrdom, stared back at them harshly. They felt the heat of her gaze from several feet away and smiled at one another devilishly.

"We love what you've done with your hair, Rogue," Magneto mocked cruelly, an icy cool smile on his face. Mystique grinned at the girl she would have willingly seen die and laughed a little, enjoying the look on the teen's face.

The girl in question glared at her attempted murderers, both sitting directly across from her, not five feet away. She very close to ripping her gloves off and draining each of them dry, damn the consequences. But instead, some of Erik's darkest memories floated to the front of her mind like bubbles underwater. Five numbers kept repeating themselves over and over again in her head, the voice that recited them and the memories they conjured so much more cruel than her tormentors could ever be. She did not notice, but all three ferals were growling, deep down in their chests on her behalf, ready to defend her if necessary. Her next words stopped them though.

"Gefällt es dir? Es ist nicht das Letzte, was du mir gabst, Max." Rogue spoke in the only language Erik Lehnsherr despised. The teenager's voice was calm, even, as if she was only making polite conversation with a new acquaintance. Not speaking to a man who had given her his own nightmares and nearly 70 years of memories in technicolor, surround sound, excruciating detail.

The usually collected man's face had lost all color at her use of the name he'd left behind him, buried with the ashes of his family and millions of others. No one knew that name anymore, not even Charles. Everyone that had was dead. But this girl did.

After letting the stunned old man take in her words, and the implications behind them, she continued in the guttural language."Erinnerst du dich an neun, acht, zwei, acht, acht? Ich tue es."

Magneto felt the blood in his veins freeze, chilling him all the way to his core. With those three sentences, those five numbers, one girl had affected the mutant supremacist more deeply than any physical blow Logan or Victor could have scored on her behalf.

Everyone was silent, mostly from shock or confusion.

"Come, Rogue, and sit by me," Lupa called from her seat next to Victor. "I do not want you to get...dirty sitting over there," The brief pause Lupa left in between her words was perfectly and intentionally placed. As was her emphasis on the adjective 'dirty,' which was spoken while she disinterestedly inspected the blue-skinned woman. Somehow the female feral manged to simultaneously convey dignified distaste and dismissive superiority in her expression.

Mystique (understandably) took offense at the Wolf Girl's cleverly discreet insult, though the look of ancient silver eyes did give her momentary hesitation. Nevertheless, she moved to get up from her seat, "Listen here you scarred up, wolf bitch-"

But before the blue-skinned woman could finish her threat, both Victor and Logan were on their feet and growling a low, deep rumble. Raven shut up and sat back down, not willing to take on two male ferals.

Magneto-Erik-Max kept silent the rest of the trip, ashen faced and rubbing his inner forearm, thinking about the five digits tattooed hidden beneath his sleeve. It was only thing he left Auschwitz ever gave him, besides pain and fear.

And apparently, he'd given all of that to someone else.

oOo

A/N: PLEASE REVIEW! Next chapter's gonna be exciting! Oh, and visit my profile page for a link to my livejournal where I have story art for all my fanfics!

A HUGE thank you to Sidina for correcting my German passages, so now those who speak German won't laugh when they read this chapter anymore. Plus, I can now honestly say I have a translator. How cool is that?

Rogue's German to English Translation:

Magneto said: "We love what you've done with your hair, Rogue."

Rogue replies: "Gefällt es dir? Es ist nicht das Letzte, was du mir gabst, Max."

[ Do you like it? It's not the least of what you gave me, Max. ]

"Erinnerst du dich an neun, acht, zwei, acht, acht? Ich tue es."

[ Do you remember nine, eight, two, eight, eight? I do. ]

In the comics, Magneto was born Maximus Eisenhardt. He called himself Magnus after Auschwitz's liberation and changed his name again to Erik Lehnsherr when he moved to Israel (where he met Xavier). The six numbers Rogue recited (98288) I picked as the ones tattooed on him in Auschwitz. The specific sequence of numbers I used actually 'belongs' to Holocaust survivor Leon Greenman.

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*MulţumescBeloved