Fri, 29 Oct 1999
JB McDonald <mbsm@earthlink.net>
That Feminine Mystique

Posting this for JB, all feedback goes to mbsm@earthlink.net. Hopefully this will go through all right -- if any horrendous mess occurs out of formatting, it is absolutely my fault, with repentant apologies. :)

Enjoy! Maelstrom :)

DISCLAIMER: no one in this story belongs to me. Well, except the old man, Margie, Luci, Rob and Eddy, I suppose. If you really want to use them . . ... you don't even have to ask. Use away. PG-13-ish for swear words and some naughty implications. ;)

ARCHIVISTS: Please. Just ask first.

CONTINUITY: Well, he took one look at me, started laughing, then turned around and walked away. Set after O:ZT, Onslaught, the disintegration of X-Factor and the new X-team (with Marrow and no Sam), but before the X-Men disbanded. Beyond that, I changed facts to match what I wanted. :) For instance, I've been informed that my two main characters have slept together. Well, now they haven't. :) They've only met in battle situations. Oh yeah, if you see Continuity would you do me a favor and ask him to come back? I think he took my marbles. . . .

Other stuff:

Thank you, Maelstrom, for beta-ing at the last minute and making sure I didn't humiliate myself with this story! Also, thanks Shai Peri Hawk, who did a lot of the first draft beta-ing. :D (Um, Shai? I'm posting this without your approval, but I can't seem to get a hold of you. Many apologies!) Big hugs to both my beta-readers. They're the bestest. :D (And they're MINE, you hear? ALL MINE!)

And, in case anyone DOESN'T yet know (I don't see how that's possible with all the people I've been telling) this came about because my USUAL beta-reader, Mica, *challenged* me to write a romance. With Wolverine in it. About two X-types. Never having written a romance (which is why she challenged me) and rarely writing Wolverine, this may suck. If it doesn't, tell me please (mbsm@earthlink.net). :) If it does, yell at Mica (vhojberg@ciudad.com.ar). ;-D (Yes, darling, I'm blaming it ALL on you. <EG>)

This is meant to be read in one chunk, so I'm sending this story so that each part starts directly after the last. :) And remember--feedback! mbsm@earthlink.net Only Kerri is excused, since we don't want her fictive pricking her too much, do we? <vbg>


That Feminine Mystique

JBMcDragon

 

Logan shouldered open the bar room door, tucking his head in the collar of his leather jacket to keep out the powerfully gusting wind. In the bar, someone grabbed for a paper that went flying off a table, then gave up and sat back down.

Logan shifted his brown hat on his head and, hunched, wandered over to the bar.

"What can I get you?" the barkeep asked, looking only slightly harried. With as few words as possible Logan ordered his drink, then sat back to watch the people.

There was a couple in the corner booth, about ready to need a room. A drunk was almost falling off his stool around the corner of the bar. Most of the tables were filled with the regular crowd. Someone unusually big was playing pool with three other men and a woman. Another woman wearing too much perfume joined a man at a table, and they hugged happily before sitting.

A woman at the end of the bar was asking for trouble, sitting so near the pool players. They kept shooting her glances, which she seemed utterly unaware of, and one man made a lewd crack about her hair.

Logan could see nothing wrong with her hair. Flame red, it caught in the neck of her wool-lined leather jacket and spilled down her back in heavy ripples. She sat silently, nursing her drink while idly playing with the peanuts in the bowl nearby. Even Logan, with his amazing eyesight, couldn't see much of her face through the ducked head and shadows. But if the jacket she wore was any indication, she was slender and long.

One of the men at the pool table walked around near her stool, bumping against her as he went. She seemed unaware of the leer he sent her way, though Logan's senses peaked at the sign of possible trouble. The woman was small, and had the distinct aura of one of those people that just *attracted* trouble.

Another pool player walked slowly up to the bar where the woman sat, curled up on her stool. He reached across her to grab his beer, taking three long swallows before reaching across her once more to put it back. Done with his drink, he stayed close and whispered to the woman while his friends watched avidly.

Logan's heightened senses picked up every word as though they'd been broadcast.

"Hey, sweet. Wanna come home and play with me?"

Logan tensed, sliding halfway out of his stool to be ready.

"Get lost, sleaze," the woman said, though the words lacked the venom they could have carried, and sounded tired.

The man took it as a sign of encouragement, and picked up a lock of that flame-red hair.

Logan was out of his chair and across the bar even as he saw her pull away in disgust, and the man's hand tighten on her hair to hold her closer. Logan's fist plowed into the man's face, and only then did he realize that the woman had slid out of her seat and kneed the creep at the same moment.

The man made a strangled noise, and fell away.

Logan's mouth twitched upward, and he looked at the woman.

She was slightly taller than he was, but she was still a tiny little thing. She had a perfectly straight nose, thin and delicate, high aristocratic cheekbones and milky skin. Thick red eyelashes framed large almond eyes the color of something wild, something you would never be able to *quite* own, something that would never be truly tame.

"You okay?" Logan asked gruffly.

She eyed the man on the ground, bent double and still moaning, and smiled ever so slightly. Logan got the impression that that particular movement didn't often grace that porcelain face. "Better than our friend down there."

Logan chuckled. The woman turned and sat back down, ignoring the uncertain glances from the man's friends.

"Hey," one of them finally got bold enough to say. "Who the hell do you think you are?"

"Wanna make somethin' outta it?" Logan growled at his most intimidating.

The man, amazingly enough, didn't back down. "And why the hell do you care?"

Logan hesitated only briefly. "She's with me."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the woman's head turn and an already raised eyebrow cock even higher.

The pool players glanced at each other slowly, still not knowing what to do. Finally, one of them sneered at Logan and went back to playing the game.

The woman was smiling as she sipped her drink. Logan slid up onto the barstool next to her, not trusting the other men.

"Want a drink?" she asked softly.

Logan eyed her and signaled the barkeep over with his drink. "Logan," he said finally, tipping his head a bit.

She looked at him again, those wild eyes slightly clouded by too much alcohol. Even before she spoke Logan could smell the lie on her. "I'm Amber." He had to give her credit; she was good. The change in heart rate and scent was the only indication that she'd spoken untruthfully.

She had lied often, then. "Nice to meet you, Amber," Logan said easily. No reason he should call her bluff.

They sat in easy silence, Amber willing to answer questions but unwilling to put forth the effort to ask her own. Pain shrouded her, wrapping its insidious arms around her and pulling her into its embrace. She was obviously drinking to lose awareness, if only for a short while.

It was midnight before she rubbed her eyes tiredly and looked up. "Barkeep," Amber called softly, as though to talk louder would be wrong.

The clack of pool balls and soft clinking of glasses seemed to carry her words along, until they reached the man at the other end. The barkeep put down his towel and walked over, placing both hands on the bar.

"Would you call me a cab? I'd rather not leave my car here, but I don't think I'm in any shape to drive home." She sighed and shook her head at herself.

"I'll take you," Logan said softly, the scent of booze and smoke curling in his nostrils.

She stopped and looked at him, her eyes swimming. "I shouldn't trust you," she finally sighed. "But I'm going to. Do what you want to try with me, but scratch my car and I'll kill you. Wait, no, I'll maim you."

Logan smiled briefly at her more than tipsy speech as he slipped off his stool. He grabbed his jacket and took her car keys before following her out the double doors. She wrapped her jacket more tightly around her as the wind plucked at it, carrying away the scent of the bar and replacing it with the smell of trees and woodland. Amber stopped at a forest green Camaro, looking half asleep as Logan unlocked the doors and they got in.

She settled back against the leather as though it were an old friend, closing her eyes. Logan stopped for a moment, watching her relax. He dropped his jacket on the floor by her feet, seeing her long legs fold up to keep from hitting it.

Logan took a deep breath and turned the engine on. He needed to find a girl. And not a one night stand he picked up in a bar. Someone decent.

That thought foremost in his mind, he backed out of the parking space and headed for the main road.

"Where you stayin', darlin'?" he asked quietly, hearing from her breathing that she wasn't yet asleep.

"Hotel," she responded tiredly without opening her eyes. Those rather bewitching eyes.

They drove in silence to the local inn--the only "hotel" around for miles. Logan parked, then stopped and looked at the sleeping figure. She had an accent, but they hadn't spoken enough for him to really place it.

"Darlin'," Logan said quietly.

There was no response, and he touched her face lightly. "Darlin'. Wake up."

Slowly Amber came awake, blinking at him before yawning. "Right. Home." She opened the door to her car, slipping gracefully out even in her tipsy state and slamming the door. "Thanks," she said as Logan got out, closing and locking the door on the other side. "Appreciate it." She was completely unaware as he followed her into the inn, down the hall to her room. Once he was certain she had gotten into her room and locked the door, he turned and headed back.

It was a fairly long walk back to the bar and his Harley, but he liked the peace of the Colorado nights and didn't mind.

 


Tickle.

Tickle tickle.

Tickle--no, crawling.

Tickle crawl tickle tickle.

Logan finally gave up all hope of sleep and slapped at his own face. The spider escaped. Logan groaned and rolled over onto his stomach. Normally he didn't mind the mornings. Last night, though, he'd been out until three thirty, and it was only--he was forced to crack an eyelid to see what time it was. Eight ten, the bedside clock blinked gleefully.

Logan muttered something unintelligible under his breath, then heaved himself up and into a sitting position. He yawned, rubbed his eyes. Reached down blindly to get his watch off the dresser--and felt something unfamiliar. Blinking, he looked down.

There was a key chain that he *knew* wasn't his lying there. A frog with red jewel eyes glared balefully up at him, holding on tightly to three keys. A tiny plaque, in German, saying--Wolverine had to stop and dredge up his remnants of German--"Life isn't fair. So cheat often," holding another two keys. And a neon green frog on a surfboard. Those definitely weren't his. Logan looked at them for a moment, certain that if he just stared long enough it would all come back to him.

Finally, he picked the keys up and sniffed them. Smoke, that was clear. Perfume . . . vanilla? Shampoo. Clean, not smelly. And then he remembered--red hair, wild eyes. Logan cringed. He'd pocketed her car keys after taking her back to her inn, and had left with them.

He sighed and glanced again at the clock. Eight thirteen. Well, he thought with a wry grin, she wasn't going anywhere, no matter what time he got there. Groaning, he got up to shower and dress.

 


The first look he had of Amber in the daylight was only her legs as they hung out from the window of her Camaro. He parked his Harley and walked up slowly, bemused expression on his face. "Amber?" he asked, managing to not chuckle.

Her body jerked inside the car, and the muttering was replaced with a sharp swear word. "Owww . . . " she moaned, her body turning until she managed to look out from under the steering wheel at Logan. "Oh. Hi." A moment of wariness entered her eyes, but left almost as quickly. It seemed she was too tired to hold it.

Logan smiled. "What are you doing?" he asked finally.

"Hot-wiring my car," she answered--and if his senses hadn't told him what she said was true, he would have thought she was joking.

" . . .Ah. Well, why don't you come out and I'll give you the keys?"

Amber looked at him. Adjusted her shirt. Nodded. "That's a better idea." She twisted, reaching around and grabbing for dark sunglasses that had slid under the passenger seat. "OW! Ah, fuck," she almost whimpered as the tangy scent of blood suddenly permeated the air.

Logan went for the door, reaching inside and flipping the lock before lifting Amber's legs off the sill and opening the car. He maneuvered until her legs were out of the window opening, then slid onto the leather seat.

Amber was still hanging mostly off the seat, one elbow resting on the floor of the car.

"Let me see," Logan said softly.

"No. Fuck you," Amber said, and there was a definite I'm-tired-of-this-and-don't-give-a-damn tone to her voice.

"Stop that. Now let me see." Logan kept his fingers gentle, but managed to pull her body onto the seat--her legs across his lap--and pried her hands apart until he could look. "Nothing big," he said after a moment, checking her finger.

"Easy for you to say," Amber snapped. "You're not the one with the torn flesh."

Logan smiled, agreeing, and bent to pick up the sunglasses she'd dropped. "One o' those weeks, huh?"

"One of those lifetimes," Amber sighed, taking her sunglasses back and putting them on. There were dark circles under her eyes, evidence that she hadn't slept well, and a frown had managed to plaster its way onto her face. Even feeling awful, though, her eyes were wilder than they had been the night before, when she'd been tipsy. And now that flame red hair added to it, waving in damp, unruly curls all about her face.

"Sorry 'bout the keys," Logan said on impulse. "Make it up to you? Buy you breakfast. Maybe another frog key chain?" He held up the neon frog on a surfboard, and was rewarded by a tired, yet delightfully ticklish laugh from Amber.

"I'll take you up on breakfast, but I don't really care for frogs," she said, taking her keys. "And I'll drive."

They made it to Denny's without mishap, though Amber was still inspecting her bleeding finger as they were seated.

"If you don't care for frogs," Logan finally said, confused, "then why do you have so many?" On the almost silent drive down he'd found an unused frog decal for her car, and a tiny frog with a crown. Amber had told him, dryly, that it was a frog prince.

"I had a foster daughter once. She loved them," Amber said, smiling across the table at him. Her smile turned suddenly sad, and she looked out the window.

"What happened to her?" Logan asked, for it was obvious that some unpleasant memory was linked to the girl.

"She ran away. She wants nothing to do with me anymore." Amber shook her head slowly, then her eyes caught Logan's face and she pulled her thoughts away from the past. "But you can't really want to hear about that. What brings you to Colorado? Business or pleasure?"

Logan hesitated. "A little of both," he finally said. He didn't mention that it was pleasurable to come here, since he owned this town, and he didn't mention that since he owned it it was business, too.

"Are you going to elaborate?"

The waitress came with their coffee, and Amber proceeded to disguise hers with sugar and cream. Logan drank his black, almost scalding his tongue. Of course, it healed right away. "Probably not. What brings you?"

Amber smiled, though it lacked happiness. "Pleasure. I was hoping to find some." She took a sip of her coffee and looked again out the window.

"And?"

"Still looking," she answered with a smile. She pulled her sunglasses off her head, then slid them back up and over her hair again, using them as a headband.

"Hangover?" Logan asked, eyeing the sunglasses.

"Mmm," Amber said affirmatively. "But not so bad as I could've expected."

Logan smiled slightly. "That's good." A healing factor was a handy thing to have--he rarely, if ever, had hangovers. An uncomfortable silence followed, and Logan began to wonder what he had been thinking, inviting her out to breakfast.

"Well isn't this an interesting state of affairs," Amber finally laughed. "I don't want to talk about my life, and you won't talk about yours. So what, pray tell, do we talk about now?"

Logan looked at her, his lips twitching. "How did you get into your car window?"

She smiled. "You left it rolled down last night. Thank God no one *else* noticed."

Logan cringed. "Where are you from?"

"Germany."

Then that was the accent. Logan looked out the window, wondering what else he could ask. Finally, "Family?"

"I have no more. You?"

"None, not exactly."

Amber looked at him questioningly.

Logan sat back in his booth, stretching his legs out in front of him. "More like a foster family."

Amber nodded.

"What happened to your family?"

Amber busied herself playing with the salt shaker. "My parents are dead, God help them, my roommate died, my children are gone, and my *ex*-husband is off with who knows who doing who knows what." She smiled.

Logan looked surprised. "Children? You don't look old enough." It was true, she didn't. He half expected her to lack any sort of common sense. People very young--and to Logan that meant almost anyone under forty--tended to be a bit immature.

"I, dear sir, *am* old enough. But make-up does wonders, doesn't it?"

Logan laughed, though he could smell that she wore no make-up. "How many children?" he asked finally. The waitress set down two plates, and Amber looked up and thanked her.

"Three. Two of mine, and my foster daughter."

"Who likes frogs," Logan said, grinning.

Amber nodded. "Right."

"And what do your children do for a living?"

"One of them recently died--an accident--and the other two are on an emergency squad. Before he died, my son was a budding politician." She sniffed the syrup, then made a face and set it down. She picked up her fork and cut into the waffles topped with strawberries and whipped cream, taking a bite.

Logan picked up his own fork, spearing into eggs and sausage. "And what do you do?"

Amber glanced up at him. He was surprisingly easy to talk to, a very good listener, and only years of lying had kept her from slipping. She was almost beginning to believe the lies herself. "I evade questions about me," she said, grinning to take the sting out of her words. "And you?"

"I could tell you," Logan said nonchalantly, remembering when this was true. "But then I'd have to kill you."

Amber nodded amiably. "Fair enough. Then would you tell me something you don't have to kill me for?"

Logan grinned. "Like?"

Amber stopped eating to think. She propped one elbow up on the table, idly twirling a strand of hair. "What do you do for fun?"

Logan pulled his eyes away from her fingers and hair to look again into her eyes. "Ride," he said seriously.

Amber blinked. "Ride?"

"My Harley. All over. This continent and the next."

Amber's eyes flashed, and he realized he'd caught her interest. She ignored her waffles, cocking her head to listen. "Tell me about it?"

Logan smiled, the motion coming easily to his face, and thought up the most exciting experience he'd had recently. Of course, he didn't tell it straight--he added things and deleted others to make himself look good, and to make the story funny.

Amber listened delightedly, forgetting to eat altogether and instead watching the emotions flit across his face, almost unreadable. She had a great deal of experience reading emotions, though, and was able to pick them out, one by one. "I think most of that was a lie," she said as Logan finished his story.

It had been, but Logan wasn't about to admit to that. He just leaned back in his seat and shrugged. "Believe what you will."

Amber shook her head and looked down, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. "You, Logan, are one of the best bull-shitters I've ever met."

Logan couldn't suppress a surprised bark of laughter.

"If you honestly think I'm going to believe what you just told me--"

"But some of it was true," Logan objected.

Amber rolled over his protests. "--then you must think I really *am* too young to have children." She grinned and picked up her wallet--he noticed she didn't carry a purse--and slid out of the booth. "Thanks for breakfast. Comb your hair." She smiled and walked out, stopping for only a moment by the waitress to thank her and hand her money.

Logan watched as Amber walked out the double doors, down the sidewalk and to her car, which beeped at her cheerfully as the alarm was turned off.

"Sir?" the young waitress said hesitantly. "The woman said to give this to you. She said it's for a cab."

Logan took the twenty, jaw dropping as he watched Amber climb in her car and drive away. He laughed, shaking his head. "Here, keep it. Consider it your tip," Logan said, grinning, as he stood and pulled another twenty from his wallet to set it on the table. "And that should cover the bill." He turned and walked away, shaking his head in bemusement.

The waitress grinned. "Thank *you!* Come back any time!"


~Sure, she was a nice kid,~ Wolverine reasoned with himself as he walked down the street, hands in his pockets and a spring in his step, ~but that's all. Too young, most likely, for a one nighter. And I really don't want a relationship now. Too much trouble.~

He didn't know if he was believing himself or not. Everything he said made sense, and logically he agreed. But those slender fingers playing with that red hair and those untamed eyes keep wriggling their way into his mind.

~Well, you don't know her last name and she's probably leaving town soon anyway. No more Amber.~

But the image of her sitting across from him, playing with her hair and listening with rapt attention still wouldn't leave him alone.

Logan paid no heed to where he was going, and he soon found himself in a tiny Mom an' Pop store about the size of a closet and packed from bottom to top with junk. Still convincing himself that he didn't care about Amber, he browsed through the heaps of rubbish. He stopped suddenly, smiling. Moving some things aside--and sneezing because of the dust it brought up--he uncovered a slightly crushed plush frog, complete with tongue sticking out.

Logan grinned and picked it up. "How much?" he called across the store.

A tiny old man, still spry though well into his eighties, came walking over to inspect it, his bowed legs moving like pinwheels. He looked at Logan and cocked an eyebrow. "Awfully strange fer someone like you to buy somethin' like this."

Logan felt a scowl form on his face and a rumble start deep in his chest.

The old man gave him a dirty look. "Oh, stop. You aren't scaring anybody." He took the frog from a startled Wolverine and carried it to a plump woman sitting behind a desk. "Margie, how much for this frog?"

The woman looked at the frog over her spectacles then nodded as if having come to the perfect conclusion of a difficult problem. "A dollar."

The man handed it back to Logan, who had followed him over, and repeated what the woman had said.

Logan fished out his wallet and handed the man a crumpled dollar, then watched with amusement as the man pulled on it, as if checking to be sure it was real. "Good then," he said with a nod, and handed it to Margie.

Logan smiled slightly, shaking his head, and walked out of the store.


 

His Harley was back at the inn, but it was past noon when he finally arrived there. Amber's green Camaro was sitting like a proud cat in the space behind Logan's at-the-moment dirty Harley. He hesitated, then walked into the lobby.

"Amber around?" he asked the clerk. The man looked at him blankly. "Bit taller than me, red hair, big eyes. She here?"

"Ohhhh," the clerk said, sudden understanding lighting his otherwise dim face. "*That* Amber!"

~Yeah, *that* one,~ Logan thought sarcastically. ~What other Ambers are around here, dumbass?~ But he didn't say any of that.

"She left."

Logan blinked. "Her car's outside."

"It is?" The clerk, as if thinking that things might have changed in the three seconds since Logan had been out there, walked around the desk and out the door to check for himself. "Huh!"

Logan suppressed an irritated sigh. Barely.

"Well, she must be around her somewhere, then," the clerk said.

Logan nodded with the clerk, whose head was bobbing annoyingly. Logan kept nodding, imitating the clerk, irritation on his face. Finally he reached over the desk and snatched the boy up by his skinny neck, pulling him close. "First, stop that. You look like one a' them ducks. Next, why don't you *call* her room and see if she's there?" He released the boy with a toss, watched him stumble back a step.

"Geez, mister," the kid whined, rubbing his neck and straightening his collar. Glaring petulantly at Logan, he pressed the button for Amber's room. "There's no answer," he said, looking up.

"Try again," Logan replied, looking away.

The boy gave Logan a dirty look. "I *already* tried. There's *no* answer."

Logan's head turned slowly toward the clerk, eyebrows raised.

The clerk sighed heavily and tried again. "No answer," he said in that distinctly whiny tone.

Logan glared at him, then walked through the room and back through the halls.

"Hey!" the boy shouted, running after him. "You can't go back there without an invitation from one of the guests!"

Logan ignored the boy and walked faster. He made it to Amber's door and knocked, then listened quietly. Even with his heightened hearing, he could hear nothing. He put his face near the door, sniffing delicately. Her scent wasn't in there. Logan glared at the wood as though it could tell him what he wanted to know.

"--And then he just barged down there, and he wouldn't stop!" came the clerk's whiny voice. "I'm really sorry."

"It's all right, Eddy," came a distinctly familiar feminine tone. "I know him."

Logan looked up, his face lighting as he saw Amber walking down the hall toward him, bucket of ice braced on one hip.

"Well you're just making friends all over, aren't you?" she asked with gentle sarcasm as she brushed by him and used her key to open the door.

Logan looked as sheepish as he ever got and stepped into the doorway of the room behind her. "Yeah, well . . . "

Amber deposited the ice on the tiny table in the room, then turned to look at him. She waited for a moment, then finally motioned to the frog. "You have a liking for them too?" She was smiling, joking.

Logan glanced down at the plush toy he held, abruptly remembering it. He suddenly felt like an idiot. "Ah, no, I just--well, I thought that maybe--you seemed--I mean, I found--bought--*had*--and I remembered--ah, for your foster daughter," he finished lamely, stepping forward and depositing it on the bed. "I thought maybe it would help patch things up . .. ." he trailed off, cursing himself repeatedly. He hadn't been this flustered since . . . ever. It didn't help that he had forgotten about the frog.

"Right. Thanks," Amber said, and she was smiling in that you-are-too-cute way that Logan HATED.

His scowl returned full force, and he backed part way out of the room. "Right then. See ya." He turned and lifted his hat, only to shove it back into place.

"Bye, Logan," he heard Amber call, but he didn't bother turning around.

Idiot. He'd been an *idiot!* Over a *woman!* Logan cursed himself all the way out the door and to his Harley, and then all the way back to his cabin. How could he have been so stupid? She didn't like frogs. She'd said so. So what did he do? Go and buy one.

And it wasn't even like he didn't know how to act around women. He always knew how to act around women. Even the loves of his life didn't fluster him. Well, once Jean had managed to fluster him, but not *that* badly. Lord, he was acting like a child. Like some wet-behind-the-ears *teenager.*

Logan parked his Harley and slammed into the house, startling his housekeeper, Lucida. Luci had been working for him for years, though, and she quickly composed herself.

Logan left the kitchen where she was working, stormed to the top of the stairs, then came back down to glare at her as she mopped his kitchen floor. Luci stopped and looked up. "A *woman,* Luci," he snarled. Logan turned and stalked back up the stairs, then came back down again.

Luci heard him coming and watched the door.

"I'm being an idiot over *Amber.*"

He disappeared and she heard his heavy footfalls--normally so quiet--as he stormed up the stairs. They paused and then started coming down, and Luci threw up her hands in exasperation. She set her mop aside and crossed her arms over her ample chest as he stormed in again. She wasn't getting the floor mopped today.

"I don't even *know* this woman!"

He left.

And returned.

"So sleep with her and get it out of your system," Luci said before Logan could utter another word.

He stopped mid-tirade, considering it. "No," he finally said, shaking his head. "I don't think she would let me."

"Then court her," Luci suggested.

Logan gave Luci a dirty look. "I'm no kid to run around "courting" people, Luc."

Luci shrugged. "Then suffer."

Logan glared at her, then headed upstairs to stay.


 

Amber didn't see Logan for three days. She thought about him constantly, smiling every time she did, and cursed herself at the same time for playing childish games.

After the third day, though, she set the frog on her hotel bed and resigned herself to never seeing him again. "It's for the best," she spoke aloud to herself. "I don't need those kind of complications."

It had been nice, fleeting though it was. Amber grinned again. The television played quietly behind her, the radio on even softer than that. She switched them both off, and the familiar *silence* echoed back into her head, feeling as though it would drown her. Amber grabbed her car keys off the table, blew a kiss at her new frog, and left the hotel room.

"Book me for another few days, Eddy," she called as she breezed out the lobby. "I'll be staying."

Eddy grinned happily, thoroughly infatuated with the beautiful woman, and booked her for another week.

The wind blew as Amber put her sunglasses down over her eyes, humming as she ran fingers through already-tousled hair. Someone driving by in a pickup truck wolf-whistled at her, and Amber ignored him completely. Her Camaro--shining deep green with all sorts of little sparkles--crouched proudly around the corner, beeping happily at her when she pushed the remote unlock button.

She slid into the soft leather seats, starting the car. The radio she'd left on earlier, and it blared loudly to life on some God-awful western station. Amber didn't mind. It was something to fill up the emptiness in her head. She peeled out of the parking space, breaking several different speed laws as she tore through the town. It was small, but a becoming vacation spot, complete with bar, spa and gym. Amber figured if it had that many three-letter-word places, it had to be decent.

Amber whirled into a parking spot outside the gym, hopped out of her car, locked it, and trotted up the steps inside.

"Hello, Amber!" the receptionist--a *very* nice looking man--called as Amber brushed by.

"Hello, Rob," Amber answered. She walked back to her locker--one she had rented for as long as she was in town--grabbed her workout clothes and quickly changed, pulling her red hair into a messy knot at the back of her head. Whistling, she headed out into the gym proper.


 

Logan walked through the doors of the men's locker room, flexing his wrist experimentally. He'd wrenched it inside trying to reach the top shelf of the converted bookcase, where some idiot had put his water bottle. Luckily, his healing factor was working great and he felt only a slight twinge when he twisted his wrist to the right. That should be gone by the time he reached the weight room, he figured.

He stopped dead in his tracks at the punching bags, smiling just enough for it to reach his eyes, but not much else of his face. Amber was there, sweatpants hiding most of her long legs, sports bra sweat-soaked. Tendrils of hair that had escaped from her ponytail were plastered to her neck and back.

Logan padded silently up to her, her back to him as she hit at the punching bag. Grinning impishly--a rarity to be sure--Logan reached up and tugged at the base of her hair. As expected, he startled her and she whipped around, punching out at him.

Logan grinned and ducked easily. "Hey," he said.

Amber stopped, put her hands on her hips, and mock-glared at him. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack?"

Logan paused, as if considering.

Amber laughed and punched at him playfully.

Logan let her hit his shoulder. He hesitated, not sure whether he should comment or not, but the teacher in him came out and decided for him. "If you step back farther, and punch like you're aiming for the far wall, you'll hit a lot harder," he finally said.

Amber looked at him, confused and slightly defensive. "If I step back farther, I won't hit anything."

"Yes you will," Logan argued.

"No, I won't," Amber said, shaking her head.

"Yes you--" Logan stopped and chuckled, suddenly realizing how childish they sounded. "Look," he said at last, turning her back to face the bag. He put his hands on her stomach--flat and hard, he noticed--and pulled her a step away. "Now punch."

She did so. "I feel like I'm overextending myself, and my balance is off now," Amber said, shaking her head.

Logan frowned. "Let me see." He moved away from her, standing to one side. Her small body *was* hard, muscular and compact. She moved fluidly, bare waist twisting as she struck out, arms flexing under shining skin. She looked *very* nice.

Then Logan remembered he was *supposed* to be watching her punch. He shook his head slightly. "I'm sorry. Thoughts were elsewhere. Do it again?"

Amber looked at him for a moment, saying volumes in silence, then turned and struck again.

"Hmm. You're right, you are overextending."

Amber rolled her eyes and glared at him in exasperation. "I just *said* that!"

"Step closer, but hit like you're aiming for the far wall," Logan said, ignoring her comment.

Amber did so, and was pleased to note that her strike was harder. She supposed that "aim for the far wall" was what her first teacher had told her all those years ago, but he'd said it differently and it had made no sense.

"What's funny?" Logan asked, seeing her grin.

"I was just remembering. When I first started punching things, my instructor at the time told me "punch like it's not there." That never made sense to me. If it weren't there, why would I be punching it?" She smiled and shook her head. "Now I understand what he was trying to say."

Logan smiled wryly. "Here, I think I know what the problem is. Try this . . ." he said, stepping forward once more to adjust her position.

Amber grinned and let him.


"Logan, sir, and, ah, Amber? We're closing."

The two people looked up from where they were standing, Amber tucked into Logan as he tried to show her what he meant.

"Oh." Logan stepped back, letting his arms fall, and immediately missed her warmth. Things had been calmer today, as though by not seeing her for a few days she became more comfortable in his mind. He had enjoyed himself greatly, laughing that as the day wore on Amber became mysteriously worse and worse at whatever they were doing, forcing Logan to show her time after time.

"I don't think I understand," she'd say, and Logan could hear it was a lie. "Maybe you'd better come show me."

He had willingly gone along with it, and ended up spending most of the day with his arms wrapped up around her. Time had flown.

"This isn't twenty-four hours?" Amber asked, and there was a definite note of wistfulness in her voice.

"Sorry," Rob said, shaking his head.

"Damn." Amber pulled her hair out of its knot, shaking it loose before putting it back up. She seemed unaware that both men watched her avidly.

Logan's eyes flickered left, pinning Rob with an undeniable look: she's MINE.

Rob nodded slightly in resignation, and backed away.

"And I was really hoping you'd help me with my . . . " Amber thought for a moment, making no secret out of the fact that she was making it up. Her face brightened and she smiled. "Kicks. Yes, I was hoping you'd show me . . ." she couldn't think what he needed to show her, "something . . . about those." She nodded her head once, as if pleased with herself, and eyed Logan. Her mouth quirked upward playfully, and he chuckled.

"Well, we'll have to have a look at those. Let's get changed so Rob can go home, and we'll head somewhere else."

Amber smiled happily and padded to the ladies' locker room. Logan was waiting for her outside the doors, smoking a cigar and leaning with one foot propped up on the wall behind him, when she came out. His flannel shirt pulled tight across a large chest and some of the broadest shoulders she'd ever seen, and was tucked into the waistband of his jeans. His waist wasn't really exceptionally narrow, but compared to his shoulders it looked small. He was compactly built, and from the way he'd stood near her earlier Amber knew he was all muscle.

Amber smiled at him. "Shall we?"


They left their vehicles behind, going instead for a long walk through a nearby park. The air was cool on her still-warm skin, but not enough to bother her heated muscles and cause them to cramp.

"Let's see one o' these kicks," Logan said playfully, dropping down into the grass and laying there on his elbows.

Amber laughed, a delightfully trilling sound, and promptly did a lightning fast roundhouse.

Logan's eyebrows shot up. "Glad I'm not on the other end of that," he said dryly.

Amber laughed. She hadn't laughed this much in . . . well, she couldn't even *remember* the last time she'd laughed this much. ~Danger, Will Robinson,~ her mind said dryly. ~No falling in love. *That* can get dangerous. I'm not falling in love,~ she argued with herself. ~Just playing.~ Not even the smallest corner of her mind believed that. "Maybe you will be at the other end of that kick," she countered to Logan as she made three more playful shots. "Maybe I brought you out here to mug you."

"Oh, no," Logan said, smiling. "I don't think little ol' me can stand up against someone as ferocious as you." He'd said the entire sentence deadpan, a small smile dancing across his face.

Amber stopped her kicking and looked down at him, hands planted firmly on her hips. "I think you're mocking my fighting abilities," she said.

Logan grinned. He was beginning to wonder if his face would be sore the next morning from all the grinning he had done that day. "I wouldn't dare mock you," he said seriously. "You might beat me up."

"I'll give *you* 'beat me up,' you little twerp," Amber laughed, walking over and poking his side with her foot.

Logan started laughing. "Oh, no! Stop! Please! You're too scary for li'l ol' me!" Then he rolled over and grabbed her legs behind her knees, pulling.

Amber gave out the tiniest squeal as she fell, landing on top of Logan as he reached out to catch her.

"Now we'll see about this 'beating up' thing," he grinned, reaching over and tickling her stomach.

Amber screeched for real then, the sound breaking as she started to laugh. Logan was delighted to find she was almost as ticklish as he was. It was a little known fact--he *certainly* didn't broadcast it--but because of his heightened sense of touch *everything* seemed to tickle Logan. Nightcrawler knew, but only because Logan'd had a run-in with the elf's tail when Kurt was first with the X-Men.

"Oh, God," Amber laughed, tears rolling down her face as she squirmed around, trying to get free. "I surrender! Uncle! I'll never mug you again!"

"Good," Logan said, grinning, as he pulled her up. "I expect you to remember this next time you think to take advantage of someone like me," he said mock-seriously.

Amber nodded. "Oh, I *will,*" she said. She laughed again, helplessly as his hand moved over her ribcage. "Logan!" she shouted, squirming. That part of her mind that would never cease its prattling sounded, ringing a dry ~Danger, Will Robinson!~ into her head. She looked down at Logan from where she sat on his lap, found him looking back up at her. The stars were winking above, diamond dust on a velvet background. Crickets chirped, trying to find a mate, and the wind blew past the trees, rustling leaves. Logan looked very serious, his steel gray eyes watching her with an intensity that was almost frightening.

Amber pulled back, standing up and moving away. "I think . . . it's getting dark and . . . I . . . my car--I left it in that parking lot and I don't want it scratched."

Logan's eyebrows rose silently. "Yeah," he said after a long silence that seemed to span time. "I should be getting back home, too."

Amber nodded, watching her hands as they played nervously with each other. "Yeah."

The walk back to the gym was done in silence, at least a foot of space always between the two people. Amber glanced around, saw Logan's Harley on the opposite side of the lot from her Camaro. They reached her Camaro first, listening to it beep and watching the headlights flash.

"Well. Um." Amber shifted from foot to foot, finding things to look at that weren't near Logan. Anywhere that wasn't Logan's face. "I guess . . .. I'll see you sometime. You have my number." She grinned impishly. "I'm in the yellow pages, under "Inn"."

Logan chuckled.

Amber glanced down again, playing with her surfboard frog. "Later, then." She turned away, feeling for the latch on her car in the darkness.

"Amber," Logan said from behind her.

She stood and turned, and felt his hand along her chin. He kissed her, very gently, and Amber felt her heartbeat race. It had been much too long since anyone had kissed her like that. It was gentle, and thankfully undemanding, and sweet and--and Amber missed the warmth from Logan's body standing so near and his hand on her jaw, and his breath on her face and every little bit there was to miss as soon as it was gone.

She watched him walk away, across the parking lot, and had to stifle the sudden urge to go after him. ~Stupid,~ she thought to herself. ~Stupid, stupid, stupid.~


 

Logan rode as fast as he could through the town, up the winding road that led to his house, letting the chill of the night air cool his boiling blood. He had *wanted* to invite her back to his house, share coffee (and other things) but she had seemed so damn *nervous.*

He parked his Harley, stalking silently into the cabin. "Luci?" he called hoarsely, then cleared his throat and tried again.

This time there was an answering shout.

"What are you still doing here?" he asked, finding her in the den. "Go home. Go to your family."

Luci smiled and shook her head. "My work here isn't yet done."

Logan made a face and shook his head. "Go!"

Luci sighed. "Really, I wanted to know how your time with this woman was." She grinned at Logan's look of bewilderment. "Rob called."

Logan smiled, nodding. "Shoulda known. It went great."

"Then where is she?"

"Back at her hotel," Logan answered, physically pushing the rotund Luci out of the room.

"Why? She should be here!"

"I agree," Logan muttered under his breath, then handed Luci her coat. "Now go home."

Luci sighed, took her jacket, and left the house.

Logan returned to the den, his thoughts back on Amber. ~Stupid, Wolverine,~ he growled to himself. ~You're letting your emotions get away from you. What the hell are you doing?~


"What the hell are you doing?" Amber snarled at her reflection in the mirror, slamming her door shut. "Jesus, woman! Have you no common sense *at all?* You already know it won't work out." She sighed and flopped down on the inn's bed, picking up the plush frog and looking at it. "I am such an *idiot!* You know there's no such thing as love for a mutant," she snapped at herself, feeling the emptiness gnaw at her stomach. But she dearly wanted that love, mutant or not.

Amber felt something warm and wet slide down her face, and with disgust in her every movement she stood and stalked to the bathroom. She grabbed the Kleenex once there, wiping away the tears with harsh movements. She planted her hands on either side of the sink, glaring at her reflection and watching it shift, changing ever so slightly. "You really think he'll love you if he knows you look like this?" she asked herself quietly. Staring back at her in the mirror, her refection--exactly the same as it had been a moment ago, but now with deep blue skin--told her "no."

She dropped her eyes to the sink, where long, red strands of hair lay. "Grow up, Raven," she said softly to herself, then turned and left, switching the light out on the way.

 


*RING*

*RING*

*RING*

*RI--

"This had better be good, or someone dies," "Amber" managed to grind out. She lay under all of the covers of the bed, nestled beneath with her hair pouring over everything. The stuff grew amazingly fast.

"Ah, there's ah, a call for you . . . " Eddy stuttered on the other line.

"Put it through. I'll rip the person's spleen out through their nose . . .. please be a sales call," she muttered, laying back and closing her golden eyes.

"Hey, darlin'," a rough voice said on the other end.

"Logan?" Her eyes opened again, though her voice still sounded horrible.

"Did I wake you up?"

"Would you believe me if I said no?" she asked, rolling over to look at the clock. Ten thirty. A long, blue arm stretched out on the pillow next to her, red hair spilling over it in contrast.

"No. How 'bout I make it up to you by buying you breakfast?"

"Make it coffee and you've got a deal," she said, finding herself smiling.

"Coffee. Got it. Be dressed in half an hour?"

"Done." She hung up the phone--no small feat from the angle she was at--then rolled over onto her back. Lord, he was handsome. She lurched to her feet, shivering in the cold room, and hit the button on the television remote. The TV blared to life, though Amber paid no attention to what was playing. She grabbed a towel and headed for the shower, turning it on hot and waiting impatiently for it to heat up. When it finally did she undressed and got in, letting the heat soak into her skin before she even started washing. It was a twenty minute shower, and as she got out and dressed she wondered if Logan was one of those people who were always on time.

Once dressed, hair combed and things at least shoved out of sight if not put away, Amber leaned against the dresser and stared intently at her reflection. It changed, the blue fading from her skin, her chemistry changing ever so slightly, altering her scent. It would do no good if Sabretooth or--God help her--some wretched superhero team tracked her down because they *smelled* her.

She grabbed a bottle of spritz, smelling the vanilla before spraying it on the bed and around the room. She had learned, in her many years, to be paranoid.

Thankfully the smell wasn't very strong, and both her own and the vanilla smells would be gone by the time she got back.

A knock on the door practically echoed through the room, and, smiling, Amber opened it. "Logan," she said, and found that she felt only a little nervous about the night before. "Come on in, I'll be ready in a second."

Logan stepped into the tiny room as she moved back, smelling first vanilla and then shampoo--Suave? Underlying that was the smell of hotel soap, Cheetos, and dust. And under that still, masked by everything else, was a faint smell of something familiar.

Amber snatched a black baseball cap off her suitcase, pulling her thick hair through the back as she walked out the door. She stopped next to Logan, and he breathed deeply before she turned and walked back inside. Amber grinned sheepishly, holding up her car and room keys, then again started out the door.

Logan chuckled and followed her out.


 

They stopped at one of those gourmet coffee places, where Logan watched with bemusement--he was pleased to note that all discomfort and that teenage bull had left him--as Amber ordered some ten minute long drink. The woman behind the counter looked at him with scorn when he said "Coffee. Black."

"So *what* do you call that?" Logan asked, smiling, as he watched Amber take a sip of her coffee.

She smiled. "A mocha."

"That's not what you told that woman," Logan said as he opened the door to the coffee shop and let Amber out.

"Well, there's extra things. Like, size. This is a grande mocha. Medium."

Logan nodded sagely. "Ah. What else?"

"Well, it's decaffeinated. I can hardly stand caffeine. And it's double--extra espresso, which is the mix that flavors it. And it's low-fat, because full fat ones congeal when they get cold, and it's disgusting. And I asked for extra whipped cream." Amber smiled at Logan, who was on the verge of laughing. "It's a double low-fat decaf mocha grande with extra cream."

That broke his reserve, and Logan really did laugh. "You are impossible."

Amber grinned and took another sip.


 

They spent the entire day walking around the town, then driving to the edge and walking out into the woods. Logan showed Amber, who turned out to be a city girl, how to tell the difference between poison oak and ivy and other plants, and Amber showed a laughing Logan how to get out of a running-the-red-light ticket.

She was a terror in her car. Logan wasn't surprised when she ran the light, and he still wasn't surprised when they got pulled over for it.

He *was* surprised when the officer said, "Do you know what color that light was?"

And Amber answered, in all seriousness, "Orange."

The officer almost managed to suppress his laugh, and left them with a warning to slow down. As soon as he was gone, Amber went back to speeding.

The best experience of the day, however, was after they'd hiked out into the mountains and woods, Logan pointing out birds and small animals. He had stopped for a moment, putting his hand over Amber's mouth and testing the wind. Grinning, he motioned for her to follow him as silently as she could.

They walked only ten feet before they saw it. A moose at a water hole, drinking. It looked up and around, sensing them near, but when it couldn't find them it went back to the water. They saw it only for a few seconds before it turned and left, but the look on Amber's face would stay with Logan for a long time.

She talked about the moose all the way back to the car, wonder and excitement in her voice.

"Turn here," Logan said, pointing toward a back road that branched off from the back road they were already on.

Amber did so, still grinning from her experience with the moose. The sun was setting as they arrived at Logan's cabin, sitting atop the road where he could see everything.

"We'll grab some food here before taking you back to town," he said, opening the front door for her, "since town is another half hour away." He smiled and watched her walk carefully into his house, looking around like a wild animal inspecting a new place to be sure it was safe.

"You shot those?" she asked, almost hidden disgust in her voice as she looked at the animals in the den.

"Nope. They came with the house. I think most of 'em are fake."

Amber grinned, disgust dissolving.

"Kitchen's this way. It's Luci's night off, so we'll have to fend for ourselves."

"Luci?" Amber's tone was dangerously neutral, and the thought that she might be jealous pleased Logan no end.

"My help," he said, tossing a smile back over his shoulder.

"Ah."

Logan stopped and turned, smile twitching his lips. Amber's tone was *still* carefully neutral. "She's forty-three and happily married with two kids," he said, laughter in his voice.

Amber untensed. "I don't care," she lied. "It's not like you're mine or anything. . . . "

Logan grinned. He liked this. "You are currently the only woman I have had near me in a very long time." Not really that long, but details didn't matter.

Amber glared at him. "Okay, fine. I'm jealous. I'm a jealous person--ask anyone. And yes, I like you enough to be jealous of other women."

Logan was grinning fit to break. "I like jealous women," he said quietly, walking up behind her and wrapping an arm around her waist. He pulled her forward, so they were walking once more toward the kitchen. "I hope you stay that way."

Amber glared at him, but finally relented and smiled. "So what's for dinner, chef? She said in an oh-so-subtle change of topic. . . ."

Logan let out a bark of laughter. "How 'bout bologna sandwiches?"

Amber laughed. "How 'bout *I* fix dinner?"

Logan watched while she fixed dinner, trying to find various utensils. Logan could have helped with some of them, but for the most part he really didn't know where Luci kept things. And besides, he liked watching Amber bustle.

They ended up eating stir fry--nothing like what he'd eaten when actually *in* the Orient, but better than most American stir fries. They couldn't find the silverware and ended up eating with their fingers, but Logan liked that more than anything. In fact, he could have told Amber where the silverware was, but he would rather watch her eat without it.

"If you don't stop staring at my hands like you're going to eat *me* I'm going to have to hurt you," she finally said, glaring at him.

Logan chuckled and looked down at his plate. "But you just look so--"

"Don't say it," Amber said warningly.

Logan clamped his mouth shut, a definite mischievous twinkle in his flint gray eyes. "You don't even know what I was going to say."

"Any sentence that starts with 'but you just look so' after we've been talking about eating is going to end badly," Amber informed him.

Logan grinned, raising his eyebrows. "Really?"

"Really."

Dinner lasted long into the night, and Logan laughed when Amber decided to do the dishes. "Luci will get it," he said, pulling her away from the sink. "Leave it."

"I don't want to stick her with this mess," Amber argued, squirming away and going back to the sink.

"That's what I *pay* her for," Logan said, pulling Amber away again.

"Bah. Let me go. She didn't make that mess, and you pay her to clean up after you, not me." Amber managed to slip out of Logan's grasp and make her way back to the sink. "And if you come after me again I'll do something wretched," she warned.

Logan's eyebrows rose, challenged. "'Something wretched'?" he repeated, walking slowly closer.

"Logan. . . ."

"Really, truly 'wretched' or just somewhat 'wretched'?"

"I'm warning you. . . ."

"Is that a promise?" He sped up, closing the final distance rapidly.

Amber grabbed the nozzle on a hose that could be pulled out of the sink to wash those hard areas, and shot the water at him.

Logan stopped dead.

Amber shut the water off.

Logan glared at her from under sopping wet hair.

Amber grinned hopefully.

Logan showed a flash of teeth in what couldn't quite be called a smile, and lunged for her.

Amber screeched, dodging around the sink and to the other side of the kitchen island. "Logan, I *did* warn you--"

"HA!" he shouted, then darted one way.

Amber laughed, keeping the island between them. "It's just a little water--"

Logan eyed the island, then, much to Amber's shock, vaulted over it and snatched her up off her feet on the other side.

Amber screamed in actual terror as her feet left the floor and she was held suspended by one arm beneath her knees and the other gripping her wrist. "NO!" she screeched, clawing at the hands that held her and writhing in his grasp.

Logan half dropped her almost immediately, letting her legs fall to the ground while catching her upper body and holding her against his chest, arms pinned.

Amber writhed for a second, still panicked, before she finally realized that the arms holding her weren't hurting--just holding. She leaned back against Logan's chest, her heart racing.

"Wanna tell me what that was about?" he asked quietly in her ear after she had calmed down. His hand reached up and stroked her hair back, soothingly.

Amber closed her eyes, seeing another man lurching over a kitchen island, a very similar look on his face. Half playing, half intent. Seeing his arms, long and thick with muscle, grab her and haul her into the air where she was absolutely helpless. . . .

~But Logan is nothing like Sabretooth,~ she reminded herself, shuddering. ~Nothing.~

"Will you tell me what that was about?" Logan said again, softly, still stroking her hair.

Amber breathed deeply, purposefully calming herself. "No."

The single word left no room for argument.

"I'm sorry," Logan said, quietly. "I didn't mean to scare you."

"I know," she said, turning in the loose circle of his arm and kissing him. "Don't worry about it."

~Don't worry about it?~ he thought to himself. ~I cause a woman to completely panic and she says 'Don't worry about it'? Of *course* I'm going to worry about it!~

"I should go," Amber was saying, drawing away and looking around for her keys.

"No, wait," Logan said, following her through the house.

"I'll see you tomorrow?" Amber asked, turning and smiling as she found her keys and started for the door.

~I'd rather see you now,~ Logan thought to himself, walking quickly after Amber as she headed for the front door. "Am, would you *wait* a minute?"

She reached the door, opened it. "I need some sleep. Didn't get much last night."

The night air was cool on their bodies, creatures flitting about outside.

 

"*Amber!*" Logan reached out and snatched her wrist, loosely. "Wait."

She stopped and looked at him, expectantly.

"Stay."

It was such a simple request, part of her mind thought. Stay. You're a mutant, "Amber," the other part of her mind sneered. It doesn't get to be simple. You *know* what he wants you to stay for, and you *know* if you fall asleep you'll turn blue and you *know* he'll get scared, just like everyone else. No big deal, the first part rationalized. I'll leave before I fall asleep. You're setting yourself up for a heartbreak, the second part warned.

"Amber," Logan said quietly, watching the emotions play across her face. "I'm too old to play these games anymore. Stay the night. Here. With me."

She hesitated a moment longer, glancing back at the world outside. "Sure," she said finally, as her mind screamed at her not to. "I'd like that."

She walked back in the house, and the door closed behind her with a quiet click.

 


 

Logan's sleep was ever so slightly disturbed when his giant bed creaked and dipped as though someone were moving. His hand went out, looking for the body that had lain curled next to him. He felt flesh, warm and smooth, and wrapped his arm around a slender waist to keep it from moving any further away.

Amber sat back on the bed, leaning toward him and kissing his forehead. "Logan. Let go. I'm just using the bathroom." It wasn't a lie. She was using it. To dress and find her keys.

Logan, still mostly asleep, released her. Amber got up, gathering her clothes and disappearing into the bathroom, closing the door so she could turn the light on without fear of waking him.

Unable to tell which were hers and which were his, she had taken all the clothing and started sorting through it.

She threw his clothes to one side and started putting her own on, stopping when she came to her shirt. It was rather . . . torn. ~How had that--oh. Yeah.~ She grinned slowly and dropped it on the floor, bending to pick up Logan's flannel. It was much too big, and she rolled up the sleeves until they hit the shoulder seam, which, on her, was at the elbow. She buttoned the top four buttons, and tied the rest of the massive shirt at her waist.

Quietly, she turned off the light and opened the door, walking out into Logan's room. He still slept, sprawled across the bed, his arm where she had been sleeping. Amber walked over silently, kissed his forehead once more, and left the room.


 

She didn't go straight back to her hotel room. She drove out to the park they had spent that first night at, stopping the car and sitting on the hood. In the cold air she watched the sun rise, wrapped in Logan's giant flannel and surrounded by his scent. She liked the way he smelled. Sort of . . . spicy. And smoky. And a little wild.

Amber dropped her defenses, her skin turning blue once more. "Now what?" she asked herself quietly. But she couldn't seem to think much in the future. So instead she propped her chin on her hand and wrapped Logan's shirt higher near her face, where she could smell his scent from his flannel, and watched the sun rise.

And, for the first time in years, the quiet of the still morning didn't feel so empty.


 

Logan sniffed. His hand reached out, looking for something he was sure he went to bed with . . . he looked up, opening his eyes for the first time that morning.

It hadn't been a dream. He could smell that.

"Amber?" he called, seeming to remember her saying something about using the bathroom.

No answer.

He stood, walked to the bathroom and peered in. His clothes were on the floor, all except his shirt. He glanced around. There was a red hair in the sink, and her smell all over. Slowly, he turned and walked out of the bathroom. He grabbed his bathrobe off a chair and walked down the stairs, hearing and smelling coffee percolating in the kitchen.

"Am? Darlin'?" he called again, though now he could tell she wasn't in the house. Logan's mouth twitched upward, dryly. And here he thought it was supposed to be the *men* leaving in the middle of the night.

He walked into the kitchen, where Luci was busily NOT looking at him while washing the dishes. Logan eyed her suspiciously. If she was that intent, there was something he was missing.

He grabbed a mug out of a cupboard and walked over to the coffeepot. His hand hovered above the handle, seeing a cheerful yellow post-it note stuck there. Logan looked back at Luci. "You read this already?" he asked.

Luci's only answer was a deep blush.

Logan sighed and peeled the note away.

Mornin', "Darlin'," The note read.

I made coffee--that horrid black stuff you seem so fond of. By the time you wake up, it'll probably be ready. Sorry for the quick escape, but no matter how old I get The Morning After is always the toughest. You'll excuse me if I skip it.

You know my number. Call.

--Amber

PS this coffee is strong enough to take hair OFF your chest, so don't drink too much, okay?

Logan smiled and poured himself a cup of coffee, sipping it quietly.

"Well?" Luci finally asked, unable to control herself.

"Well what?" Logan replied innocently.

"Is *that* the girl? The one you like?"

"That's her," Logan smiled.

"Well, why didn't you invite her over when *I* could meet her?" Luci cried, grabbing a towel and snapping it in his direction. "Shame on you!"

Logan laughed and went upstairs to get dressed.


 

Amber was humming quietly as she walked down the hall, spring firmly in step. She stopped dead when she saw her door ajar. She shifted, turning her scent to something slightly different then her own. Slowly, she opened the door and walked inside. She jumped, barely stifling a scream, when the door slammed behind her. Amber whipped around, backing up, defenses ready.

Victor Creed stood before the door, lazy eyes roaming first up and then down her body. "Well, well. What have we here?"

Amber shifted rapidly, changing back to the way she really looked. "What do you want, Creed?" she snarled, all joy gone from her morning. There was nothing she could do about the fear that he could smell on her, but she could at least keep him from the pleasure of seeing it.

"Stuffed frogs, Mystique?" he asked quietly, smile spreading across his blunt features. "You been fraternizing with the enemy?"

Mystique looked coldly up at him. "I'm impressed, Creed. You managed two words with more than one syllable in a single sentence. 'Enemy' and 'fraternizing.' That's a new record for you, isn't it?"

Creed's smile vanished and he walked forward, looming over her. Mystique shifted again, automatically, making herself taller than she actually was.

"Spill it, slut. What was the runt doing in here?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about. You're psychotic and paranoid. How did you find me? Wait, I don't care. Get out." Mystique glared up at him as he towered above her, lips pulled back in a snarl.

"You have no idea--" Creed stopped, his face a mask of rage. He stooped, putting his face next to Mystique's, his hands on either side of the wall near her head so there was no escape. Mystique's heart was hammering as she flattened herself against the wall. She felt her hair move as Creed sniffed her, his face not even inches from her own. Slowly, his face moved down her body, a hair's breadth from touching her at any given moment. She could feel his breath hot on her skin, even through her clothes, and she knew he could hear her heart leaping sporadically under her ribcage. Finally, Creed looked back up at her. "You don't know what I'm talking about. I actually believe you, too."

Mystique swallowed hard, her eyes on his.

A slow, menacing smile spread across his face. "You're wearing Wolverine's shirt. That frog has his scent all over it. He's been in here a few times over the past few days. And--best of all--you just fucked him."

"No," Mystique finally said, shaking her head. "That wasn't--"

Creed slapped her, lightly, and her head twisted. "I can *smell* it. You think I wouldn't know his smell? You might not recognize him out of combat and without his uniform, but it's his smell. You can't hide a scent." Then he chuckled. "Unless you're you."

Mystique watched him, feeling decidedly ill. She was falling in love with Wolverine. ~No,~ she told herself firmly, ~it was just a one night stand. That's all. No love.~

Creed stepped back, grinning. "So. I gotta job for you."

"I'm on vacation," Mystique snarled. "I'm retired. And I *don't* take jobs from *you,* anyway. Can you get that through your thick skull?" On some level she knew it wasn't smart to insult someone who could--and would--rip you to shreds, but she was hurt and angry and didn't care.

"Oh. Well. That's okay. 'Cause, see, I don't really need your help. Not your willing help, anyway."

Mystique's head snapped up and around, and Creed could almost *taste* the fear in the air.

He chuckled. "I'd heard a rumor that you were seen with the runt. I had *thought* that you were trapping him. Now that I see you're not, I'll do it." He smiled.

"You're sick," Mystique snarled, then brushed past him toward the door.

"Where're you goin'?" Victor Creed asked, lunging after her and snatching her arm.

"Away from you," Mystique snapped, morphing and forcing her skin to turn hard, thorn-like where he held her.

Sabretooth yelped and released her, and she almost made it to the door before he backhanded her and sent her flying. She landed in the mock-closet, blinking until her vision cleared once again. When it had, she almost wished it hadn't.

Creed stood above her, glowering down. "I may have a healing factor, but that still hurts," he snarled. "Now go. Sit." He pointed to the bed, and slowly--watching him like a hawk--Mystique moved to the bed and sat down. "I assume the runt will be around sometime today. We'll just wait."

Mystique glared at him, then picked up the remote and turned the television on.

~Logan, don't come.~

 


 

Luci looked up, startled. She watched in fascination as Logan walked by--*whistling.*

"I'm going out," he said, snatching keys off the end table and running blunt fingers through his wild hair.

"Have a good time," Luci responded. "And say hello to this magical woman who can make *you* whistle."

Logan shot her a semi-dirty look, unable to put real effort into it. He was in too much of a good mood.

His Harley was still at the inn--he was beginning to wonder if Amber was *always* going to leave him without a ride--but he had a Jeep in the back. He drove as if all the Summers past, present and future were on his tail, running a red light because no one was there, and never quite stopping at the stop signs. He jumped out of his Jeep at the coffeehouse they'd been to before, leaving the car running as he darted inside. "I want one'a them mocha things," he said briskly. "Ya know, one'a those that doesn't congeal."

The man looked at him as if he'd lost it.

"With extra . . . stuff," Logan remembered.

"What size?" the man asked finally.

"That size." Logan pointed.

"One low-fat extra cream extra mocha grande mocha!" he shouted. It was repeated by the person making the drinks, and the man looked back up at Logan.

"And coffee. Black. That size."

"What sort of coffee, sir? Our specials today are--"

"Black."

The man stopped and looked at Logan disdainfully. "We have different sorts of beans and--"

"Black."

He sighed and put his hands on either side of the register, pinning Logan with an inpatient stare. "I can't just--"

"Black." Logan scowled furiously.

The man backed off and turned away with a sniff. He swiveled back to give Logan a LOOK, then called, "One tall . . . coffee." The other man didn't even bother to repeat it. "That comes to $7.65."

Logan paid it, wondering how people afforded this every day. He waited impatiently, grabbing the cups when they were finally finished and running out the door. He chased someone away from his Jeep, then got in himself and secured the coffee in a corner before starting off.

The sun was rising, casting long shadows and turning things golden. Logan grinned.


 

Logan walked by the front desk, ignoring the glare he received from Eddy.

"You can't go back there without permission!" Eddy shouted.

Logan ignored that, too.

He walked down the hall, a cup of coffee in each hand, his mind wandering.

Something tugged at the back of his mind. Something he should be aware of. His mood broken, Logan stopped and scowled. He sniffed the air carefully, testing it.

Sabretooth.

He set the cups down on the floor and moved slowly down the hall, aware that the killer probably already knew he was there. He cursed himself repeatedly. He had been making enough noise to wake the dead.

"Let - me - go!" came the cry, furious and hoarse.

Sabretooth stepped out of Amber's doorway, holding her with her arms pinned down, up against his chest as her feet kicked furiously, off the floor. Her face was white as she struggled, the red of Logan's plaid shirt only accenting it.

"Hey, runt!" Sabretooth called. His claws were all extended, three of the longest biting into the skin of Amber's arm. "Look what I found! A little whore!"

Logan felt a snarl work its way up his throat and out his mouth, and was surprised at the loudness and ferocity of it. "Leave her alone, Creed."

"Logan," Amber choked, still struggling. "Don't! It's a trap!"

He already knew that much. He could smell Mystique somewhere, probably hiding. Amber wriggled again, and, over her head, Creed made a lewd gesture.

Logan's hands fisted, his skin tearing as bone claws appeared with a hiss. Once they would have made the sound of metal on metal--a sort of snikt. Now, though, his adamantium gone, bone grated on bone almost soundlessly. "If you've hurt her in any way. . . ."

"You mean you don't wanna share? Shoulda told me that before, buddy--" Creed laughed as he held Mystique. She screamed, reaching down and biting his hand and wrist. "Shit!" he shouted as she managed to shapeshift her teeth, making them sharp and long. "You little bitch!" He released her, throwing her away and against a wall.

Mystique felt her head crack, her neck whipping from one side to the other. Somehow, she managed to keep her form while getting rid of the teeth.

Logan lunged. It was the chance he'd been waiting for, and he wasn't about to let it slip by.

Amber blinked, looking up and seeing Logan flying through the air toward Creed, claws extended. Suddenly she could see him as Wolverine, and some vindictive part of her mind cried, ~You see? I told you! I *told* you there are no happy endings or true love for mutants!~

She flinched as Creed threw Logan against the opposite wall, the larger man following with an obvious intent to kill. She choked on a scream and lurched up, knowing she had to do *something.* Then Wolverine was loose again, attacking and throwing back Sabretooth, and it was all Mystique could do to get out of the way.

The fight moved, raging through the inn and out into the street, neither man taking or giving ground. Healing factors worked as fast as they could, barely keeping up with wounds inflicted. But there had to be a winner, and Logan hadn't slept much the past two nights.

Mystique stumbled out of the hotel in time to see Wolverine thrown against a wall with enough force to kill a man. Even Logan couldn't stand up against that, and for long seconds he was unable to move.

Precious seconds that Sabretooth didn't waste. He took three steps forward, claws raised, bloodlust in his eyes. Amber screamed and darted forward, leaping between Logan and Creed as claws flashed down in a wide arch. She screamed again, though not in fear, as claws tore through her flesh and she was ripped aside.

It was the time Logan needed.

Healed, he leapt back up and into Sabretooth's face, roaring his rage as Amber fell, great bloody stripes down her side.

"Jesus Christ," Eddy said, standing in the doorway of the hotel, watching as the battle raged on. The tables were turned, though, and Sabretooth stumbled back again and again. Finally the fight was around a corner, out of sight if not out of hearing.

Slowly Eddy moved to where he'd seen Amber last, knowing that she'd been in the way of that mutant's claws. He saw her, started forward--and stopped.

As he watched, her pale skin darkened--wasn't it supposed to be the other way around when you lost blood?--shifting, changing, until finally someone who was not Amber laid there. Eddy swallowed as he looked at the figure, exactly the same but for the blue skin.

Blood was soaking into her clothes, spreading in a pool around her body, matting in her already red hair.

Eddy turned and ran inside.


Wolverine, even minutes after the fight was over, couldn't seem to remember how it ended. All he could see was Amber screaming, running forward, jumping toward him--and then being cut down, blood spattering across the wall, on him, on Creed.

Logan ran. He wasn't far from the hotel, that he knew. There was a crowd of people gathering around, eyes wide as they stared at the wrecked buildings, rumors flying between them. Wolverine shoved through, pushing people over in his efforts to get past. He erupted into the middle of the circle, almost stumbling over a body.

"Careful, she's a mutant. She might be contagious," someone said, grabbing his arm and hauling him back.

Logan wrenched his arm free, looking down at the broken figure before him. He stood in something wet, turning the dirt to black mud, crusting on his boots, smelling tangy and sweet all at the same time. And in the middle of this puddle of what gave life: death.

His breath shuddered into his lungs, relief surging through his body even as a warning flare rang in his head.

It wasn't Amber.

He looked up, started to go on--

And stopped.

It wasn't Amber.

Was it?

The smell of vanilla came to him through the smell of blood, delicate and trampled. Red hair, almost black with the addition of blood and dirt, fanned around her still body. Red hair on a pillow. A familiar scent underlying the vanilla in her room. The undefinable smell of Mystique as he walked down the inn's hall, the woman herself never appearing. . . .

And now, here, on Mystique, his shirt. His shirt, his scent, all over her.

His breath shuddered in his lungs as he knelt, seeing the claw marks across her side. In the exact place Sabretooth had struck Amber.

Pierced ears, with tiny silver frog earrings. Earrings he had teased Amber about the day before.

"Oh, God." He didn't even recognize the hoarse whisper as his own. Logan knelt, straddling her prone body, feeling for a pulse in her neck while her blood soaked into the knees of his pants.

"Move," he said, quietly. "MOVE!"

The crowd shattered. Logan picked her up, ignoring the fact that her body was limp and so cold. Her head fell back over his arm, exposing a long, blue neck. "Do you have a car?" he snarled at someone nearby.

The person nodded. "This way."

Logan ran, holding tightly to the body in his arms. They got in the sedan and the man started to drive while Logan clutched at Amber's--Mystique's body.

"The hospital?" the man asked quietly.

Logan nodded tersely. "Live," he commanded the still form in his arms quietly. "*Live.*"

 


"I NEED SOME HELP!" Logan shouted, barging in through the doors of the emergency room, carrying Mystique. "GET A DOCTOR OVER HERE, *NOW!*"

Three doctors arrived simultaneously, taking Mystique and putting her on a gurney. Logan started to follow them down the hall, but someone stopped him, a hand on his chest. "Sir? You can't help her right now. You can help by filling out the forms, and staying out of the doctors' ways."

Logan started to snarl at her, to argue, but realized--with horror--that she was right. He grabbed the clipboard, pacing back and forth in the hall.

No one disturbed him.

After long hours he finally calmed enough to fill out the paperwork, hesitating when it asked for the name of the pay-ee. Amber. Amber what? He didn't even know her last name. He knew that wasn't her *real* name. He scratched out what he'd written and put his own name.

"I'm sorry, sir," the receptionist said, cringing slightly. "We can't accept you paying for this. Your insurance won't cover it because she's not family."

Logan growled, then shook his head. "I'll pay for it. Personally."

The woman just shook her head again.

Logan snatched the clipboard back, then scrawled "Amber Logan" under the patient's name. "There," he snarled, handing it back. "We're married." He glared at the woman as if daring her to protest, then stalked back to his seat.

He waited all night in that room, shifting his massive bulk in the tiny seats, standing and pacing, laying on the floor to try to sleep. None of it worked. His thoughts boiled, turning over and over the fact that Amber was Mystique. And he'd thought he loved her. He snorted, though his heart ached. A ruse. It had all been a ruse.

The sun was about to rise when then doctor came out, looking tired and worn. He smiled softly. "She's going to make it. She'll be fine. It's going to take a lot of hard work and recuperation, but within the year she'll be back to her old self." The doctor smiled slightly, rubbed a hand over his tired eyes.

"Thanks," Logan said gruffly. "I think I'll head on home."

The doctor looked up, startled. "Don't you want to see her first?"

Logan shook his head. "No, thanks." He turned slowly, his mind made up, and left the building.

 


Three months had passed since that day. It seemed like three years. His days were spent working like a man possessed. At night he couldn't work, and so he tried in vain to get *her* face out of his mind. The nights were the worst.

And the reminders.

He'd moved back to the mansion the very day after the fight. He'd gone "home." He'd left, thinking that there would be no reminders.

And then one day Rogue came downstairs, humming an oh-so familiar tune and wearing vanilla perfume. Logan had snarled at her and left the house, leaving behind a bewildered girl.

So he spent most of his time in the Danger Room. Working. Sweating. Going until he thought he couldn't go anymore, and then continuing. All in the hopes that if he just was in there here and now, he wouldn't think about *her.* And maybe, if he was really lucky, he would sleep dreamlessly.

Of course, that had yet to happen.

Even his meditation was shot. His mind filled with images of Amber, images he now knew to be lies.

Playing with her hair as they walked through the woods. Sliding her sunglasses down, only to put them back on as a headband. Laughing. The look on her face when she saw the moose. Her body flying toward him, screaming, blocking Sabretooth from him. Her body as close as she could get to him, curled sleepily against his chest. That dry smile she would give him whenever he said something she didn't really appreciate.

Logan shed his shirt and continued with his sit-ups.

Her face, after she'd shot him with water.

Sit-up.

The smell of vanilla that lingered in her car.

Sit-up.

The mixture of vanilla, shampoo and her own personal scent.

Sit-up.

It got so bad at times, he could swear he could smell her.

Sit-up.

Logan lay back, breathing heavily, sweat pouring down his chest. Smell her?

He sat up, turning his head and sniffing. Just a touch of vanilla, mixed with Suave shampoo and the scent that was undeniably Mystique. "Remy," Logan growled at the man working beside him. "Where's the air coming from today?"

Remy hesitated, eyeing Logan. The man had been damn near silent since he got back from his walkabout, and unusually snappish. "I b'lieve de windows are open," Remy said finally.

Logan stood up, grabbing a towel and keying in the code to leave the room. The door opened with a swoosh, and Logan was out and in the hall. The smell was strong here.

He almost ran up the stairs, his eyes narrowing. Stronger.

He reached the ground level floor of the mansion, ignoring the curious look Storm gave him. Logan sniffed, then bolted for the front door. He raced through the forest, his scowl growing darker with each step. Finally he reached the front gates and shoved through them violently. He whipped around, bone claws retracting into his hands, the padlock that kept the gate closed falling, broken, to the ground.

"Mystique."

Ever so casually as she was propped up on the roll bar of her convertible Jeep, she marked her page and then set down the book she was reading. "Logan," she said quietly. "Took you long enough to get out here."

He didn't answer her jibe. Despite her brave face, he could smell the fear in the air around her and wondered what she was up to.

Mystique folded her hands, setting them in her lap to keep them from playing with locks of red hair. What she *wanted* to do was yell and scream at him for not telling her who he was, and at the same time she wanted to leap at him and wrap her arms around her neck and tell him she was sorry, that it was all a mistake.

Instead she sat very still, her heart pounding.

"What do you want, Mystique?" Logan growled quietly.

She looked down at him, then slid down into the seat of the car and opened the door, stepping out. She walked around slowly, seeing Logan tense, and boosted herself up onto the hood of the car. There. Now at least they were closer to eye level.

"You look good," she said uncertainly. She had thought of nothing but him for the past three months. Every waking and dreaming thought was a memory, or a wonder of what he was doing. He'd been in the papers. She had cut it out and put it in her folder with the things she kept about Rogue, Kurt, Graydon and Destiny.

But she hadn't wanted to come here. She hadn't wanted to swallow her pride and go to him. He'd lied to her. He was an X-Man, and he'd made her fall in love--because eventually she'd faced up to the fact that she was in love--and she'd even slept with him. She'd trusted him, almost died for him, and he lied and betrayed her and *left.* Savagely she had kept the thoughts that she had done something wrong at bay. People hated her because she was a mutant. She couldn't stand the thought that other mutants hated her because . . . because . . . there had to be something wrong with her. She screwed everything up, of course she screwed this up, too. Mystique pulled her thoughts away from that line before the guilt set in any more, instead forcing herself to remember Logan's betrayal and the anger she felt.

"No thanks to you," Logan snarled.

"I tried to tell you to leave," Mystique snapped back, glaring at him. "I *told* you it was a trap!"

"Set by you, no doubt," he barked.

"Jesus Christ, Logan, I didn't even know who you were! How could I have set a trap?"

"I don't know, let's ask Sabretooth! Maybe he's in the bushes now, waiting to spring out!"

"Good Lord, you'd smell him and you know it." She turned away, anger in every line of her body. "I don't know why I came here. I should have know this wouldn't work out."

"You're right. You should have," Logan snarled.

Mystique turned and glared at him. He was bare from the waist up, towel around his neck, yellow pants and stylized boots declaring him for all the world to see as WOLVERINE.

"Yeah. And you know why it won't work out?" she said, temper rising as suddenly as it had fallen. "Because YOU'RE an arrogant ASSHOLE!"

Logan suddenly saw the Amber beneath the Mystique, and he sputtered at her as she continued.

"You think that just because *I* don't live up to *your* standards *I* should be punished! Well I'm *so* sorry I offended your *delicate* principles, Mister High and Mighty on a white horse! I forget that YOU are a saint!"

"This isn't about living up to standards," Logan snapped back. "This isn't about standards, or principles or anything else like that. This is about *trust.* You lied to me! And set me up! And now you expect me to let you back into my house?"

"Trust? *Trust?* You wanna talk about TRUST? I SLEPT with you, you asshole! And what the HELL are you talking about, I set you up? If I wanted Sabretooth to kill you, do you think I would have leapt in the way when he was about to do just that? Do you really think I would have almost DIED?"

Logan, with great difficulty, took a deep breath and calmed himself. "How did you find me?"

Mystique hesitated. "I asked the hospital who paid for my bills."

"I told them not to release that paperwork."

Mystique made a face and reached up, playing with a lock of red hair. "Yeah, I know. That's what they told me. So I hacked into their computers and found it."

Logan took a long, quieting breath. "You hack into their computers, steal information you have no right to have, and then come here and talk to me about trust?"

Mystique was examining her hair.

"You have hurt my friends, you have hurt me, I don't want--"

"That's in the PAST, Logan. Take a look, recently. I *stopped* all that. I even stayed with X-Factor for a time!"

Logan just looked at her.

"I can't help who I am. I *can* help my actions, and I am doing that. I haven't done anything illegal--other than break the speed limit and run a few lights--in a long time. I even learned about the *stock market* so that I could invest my money--"

"Money you stole," Logan corrected.

Mystique seemed to snap. She whipped around, coming to her knees on the hood of her Jeep. "What do you *want* from me? I can't change the past! I can't--and won't--change myself just to fit into your sense of morality! I stole, yes. I blackmailed and stole and murdered. And I would do it again. I was trying to *survive,* Logan. You, more than anyone else, should be able to understand that. I did what I had to. And I'm not sorry, and I *won't* repent about Rogue or Kurt or Graydon or Destiny--or even fucking Pyro! He's *dead,* Logan, and I won't apologize to him for what I've done any more than I'll apologize to anyone else! And I *refuse* to apologize to you! What right do you have to judge me--to judge whether or not I'm *worthy* of you? You haven't lived my life. You know *nothing* about why I did what I did, and yet you stand there and tell me that what I did was *wrong* and that I should be punished for it. No. I will not stand here and let that happen--I won't allow myself to be ruled by *your* sense of righteousness! Even knowing what I know now, I'd do it all *again.*"

"Dammit, this isn't about my 'morality'! I don't judge you or expect you to live up to certain standards, and I absolutely don't believe you should apologize to me for *anything* you've done! I don't care about any of that! What's in the past is over and can't be changed. What I care about is that you *lied* to me, *Mystique,*" Logan snarled.

"And you didn't to me? *Wolverine?*"

Logan stopped and looked at her, obviously reining in his temper. "What did you come here for?" he asked quietly.

She dropped her head, looked away. "You left your shirt." She slid down off the hood, walked around to the passenger side door. She reached in, pulled out a red plaid shirt. "I washed it, got the blood out, sewed it back up. Well, actually, *I* didn't sew it, I had someone else do it. Either way, it's stitched." She reached in again, pulled out something neon green. "I believe this is yours, too." She put the plush frog on top of the neatly folded shirt and walked forward, handing them both to Logan.

 

He took them silently.

"Give it to Rogue. Maybe she'll like it."

This close, he could smell the salt in the tears she refused to let fall. Mystique stepped back quietly, shaking her head and staring at the ground. "I came back," she said finally, looking up, "because I love you. And I was stupid enough to hope that maybe it had been more than a one night stand." She turned, walked around her car and got in. The engine roared to life, and Logan glanced up.

"Mystique?"

She stopped, looking at him.

"What's your real name?"

She watched him carefully. "Raven. Raven Amber Darkholme." She hesitated, and when Logan said nothing more she dropped his gaze and drove away.

Logan watched her go, dust rising behind the Jeep, and felt his heart shatter.

 


 "Hey, Rogue," said a voice from her door. She was sitting on her bed, feet curled up, reading a book. Rogue looked up at the voice, not surprised to see Logan leaning on the door frame.

Logan looked in, at her walls, noticing for the first time the frog poster opposite the door. It was a tree frog, dangling upside down from a branch. The caption below it read "Hang in there!"

"Rogue, can I ask you a question?"

"Shore, Wolvie," she said, closing her book.

"What was your mother like? Mystique?"

Rogue grinned, setting her novel down on the bed beside her. It wasn't often she was able to talk about her life before the X-Men--the only part she cared to remember was after leaving home, and no one wanted to hear about Mystique as a person. They were all interested in facts for Cerebro and files on the woman, but everyday life with a "villain" was something most of the others were uncomfortable talking about.

"She was a character," Rogue laughed gently. "Very passionate. Always gettin' inta trouble. Constantly got speedin' tickets." Rogue paused, smiling fondly as she looked at the comforter beneath her feet. "She had this fondness foh frogs. But she would nevah admit ta it herself--always bought 'em foh me." Rogue chuckled. "Nevah could understand that fondness. Ah went along with. It made her happy ta buy me frog things, and I don't mind 'em so much." She grinned up at her poster. "Mama wouldn't evah admit it, though."

Logan stood in the door frame, eyeing the plush frog he held.

"Mama liked the finer things in life. Anythin' expensive. Used ta say someday she was gonna get herself a forest green convertible Camaro with black trim. Said that when she got it, she'd settle down an' stop . . . " Rogue glanced up at Logan. "Well, y'know.

"She had a beautiful laugh. An' she loved her hair. Always playin' with it." Rogue giggled. "One time Ah got gum in her hair, and she had to cut it out. Ya'll a' thought someone was dyin' from the way she carried on 'bout it. 'Course, she just shape-shifted it long again." Rogue smiled, shook her head. "Why?" She looked up at the door frame, but Logan was gone.

Rogue shook her head and went back to her book.

 


 The words rang in his ears.

~If I wanted Sabretooth to kill you, do you think I would have leapt in the way when he was about to do just that? Do you really think I would have almost DIED?~

~You lied to me. ~And you didn't to me? *Wolverine?*~

~I came back because I love you. And I was stupid enough to hope that maybe it had been more than a one night stand.~

Her laugh, as she sat across from him at Denny's. The pain with which she'd spoken of her foster daughter. Rogue.

~Logan! Don't! It's a trap!~

~Always gettin' inta trouble. Constantly got speedin' tickets.~

He could still smell her. Her scent was on his shirt. All over the frog. He could even smell tears on the toy. Long dried, but tears. Her tears.

~Do you know what color that light was? ~Orange.~

~This is *Mystique,*~ a voice in his mind said. ~She can't be trusted. You did the right thing.~

But her words rang out, ~I came back because I love you.~ And it wasn't a lie. He would have known if it had been.

"Shit," he swore, standing up. He'd wasted two days sitting in his room, moping, uncertain, when every bone in his body was screaming at him to go after her. "ROGUE!"

He raced down the hall, not quite at a run, almost slamming into the southern belle. "Does Mystique--Raven. Does Raven have any place that she goes to when she's upset?"

Rogue nodded in confusion. "Yeah. She goes ta the beach. Sits in California, says they have the best beaches."

Logan's face fell. The entire coastline was a beach. "Any particular spot?"

Rogue nodded again. "Laguna. There's a tiny li'l beach hidden b'tween the rocks--"

He was gone before she finished.


It took him only a day to get a plane to California, another to arrange things, but it took four more after that to find the right beach. Finally, though, he found it.

He stood above her, on the rock cliff that was the only way up or down. He could see her below, wrapped in a gray sweater, blue jeans dirty from sitting. Her shoes were off, her toes buried in the sand. Blue ankles blended with her pants, red hair whipped in the wind like a beacon.

Logan's famous courage chose that moment to suddenly fail him.

The waves came up, nipping at her toes, and Mystique ignored them.

"I hear Laguna's nice this time a' year," Logan finally said, loud enough to be heard above the ocean's spray.

Mystique turned slightly, looked up at him with those same pale yellow eyes. "Here to humiliate me some more?" she asked, though there was no venom in her voice. She just sounded . . . tired.

"No. I . . . ah. . . . Your frog. I wanted to bring you your frog. I bought it for you, not Rogue." He stepped down three more rocks, stopped to figure out how to proceed from there.

"I don't want it," Raven said, pulling her hair away from her eyes and holding it in place with one hand. She looked back out at the ocean. The ocean always made noise. It was never quiet. It filled the hollowness within her. It had seemed so much worse ever since she had woken at the hospital to find Logan gone.

"Am--Raven. I'm sorry." They were the hardest words he'd ever said, but he had never meant anything more in his life.

"Me too. Now go home."

Logan flinched. "I can't."

Mystique stood, whirling around, her eyes flashing.

Logan jumped that last ten feet, over the rocks and to the ground.

"Get off of my beach!" Raven snapped.

She was even more beautiful with blue skin, her eyes flashing with pain and anger.

"Raven. Raven, wait--"

She turned, stalking off and starting to climb up a different side of the rocks.

"Raven! Please, would you *wait?*" He leapt up onto the first rock, snatching her wrist. "Stay," he said, holding her wrist and looking into yellow eyes that fairly boiled with raw emotion. He smiled slightly. "Raven," he said quietly, "I'm too old to play these games anymore. Stay here. With me."

She looked down at him, remembering the last time he'd said that. From the look on his face, the hesitant smile around his eyes, she could see that he remembered too. Mystique turned, unshed tears bright in her eyes. She wrenched her arm away, shaking. "Damn you," she snarled when he reached up to touch her. The tears started then, rolling down her face in a hated rain. "This is your fault!"

"I know."

"Liar. I'm better at it than you are, too," she snapped.

Logan nodded.

Raven ran her hand across her face, wiping tears away fiercely. "I can't do this anymore! I just--I can't--I--"

Logan launched himself up until he stood braced next to her. She was still crying, and every tear that fell down her face was furiously wiped away. "I'm sorry. I love you. I came here because I love you, and I was hoping you might consider forgiving me."

"No," Raven snarled instantly.

"Then will you consider letting me make it up to you?"

"No," she snapped, though with less venom. She had gotten her tears under control, and stood stiffly next to him, glaring out at the sea.

Logan hesitated. She still loved him--he could feel it. A strange uncertainty stole over him, though. Maybe his senses were wrong, and he was being an idiot. Even as the rational part of his brain told him that wasn't possible, his stomach sank.

"Well," he said at last, steeling his stomach, "I'm just going to have to do this the hard way, then." He bent, scooping her up and starting across the rocks, carrying her.

"LOGAN!"

"I've gotcha. Hold still or I'll carry you above my head."

She stilled instantly, and he almost regretted his words.

Almost.

They made it to the top, though Raven had buried her face in his neck so she didn't have to look, and Logan dumped her in the front seat of his Jeep. "Stay," he said sternly.

Raven glared at him, and as soon as he started to walk around to get in, she started to get out.

Logan was back at her door instantly. "I said, stay."

Raven was shaking with anger, but Logan didn't seem to notice. "I'm not a damn dog," Raven snarled. Logan ignored her.

She was out of the car as he opened his door. He reached across the seat, grabbing her sweater and pulling her back in. Anger he could deal with. He wrapped one arm around her body, twisting her. "I missed you," he said honestly.

"I hate you," she answered furiously.

Logan kissed her.

Raven slapped him. "What, you think just because you *kiss* me I'm going to melt against you and become yours all over again? You read too many romance novels," she snarled.

Logan laughed, slightly relieved. At least she wasn't acting hurt anymore. Before she could get out, he started driving. "I was rotten. I admit it. And I'll say it was all my fault, even though that's still debatable."

Raven snarled at him.

"But Raven, I love you. And you love me. You said it yourself."

"It was a mistake."

Logan smiled. "You're lying."

"I *hate* it that you do that!" Mystique snarled. She hated even more that she was starting to listen to him again. Her heart had broken, and the more he spoke the more she wanted to believe and the more her heart tried to pull itself together again.

The emptiness wasn't so empty when he was there.

"Raven. Amber. Whoever you are. I *love* you." He pulled the car over, turning to look at her. He was at a loss for words, and suddenly wished he knew how to spew all that romantic crap LeBeau and Worthington seemed so good at. He struggled for a moment, then finally said honestly, if a bit gruffly, "I love you more than I've loved any other woman. And I'm old, Raven. I've loved a lot of women."

Raven kept facing forward, her arms crossed over her chest. "I'm all out of love, Logan. I wasted the last of it a few days ago. It only hurts."

Logan was silent. "You can't run out of love. Believe me. I know."

The two were quiet for a long time. Finally Raven shook her head, lowering her face. "I can't do this. It won't work out. You'll leave. I can't deal with that anymore. Everyone leaves. You don't want to be near me, Logan. People get hurt when they're near me."

Logan watched her, seeing the pain written on her face, though she tried to hide most of it. "I get hurt a lot. People near me get hurt. I'll risk getting hurt near you, if you'll just stay by me."

Raven looked up at him for the first time then, desperation mixing with the dimmest light of hope. "People die." It was a whisper, an echo of the emptiness in her mind.

Logan shook his head. And smiled slightly. "I have a healing factor."

Raven laughed lightly, brokenly.

"I love you," Logan said again, watching her closely.

Raven sighed. "Unfortunately for both of us, I think I love you, too."

Logan grinned. "I have a present for you," he said, and the glint in his eye made Raven cautious.

"What?"

"Come on." He got out of the car, went around the passenger side door and opened it for her. Raven stepped out, and he escorted her down a dark alleyway.

With every step she grew more tense, and Logan wrapped an arm around her waist. "Relax. You'll like this."

Raven snorted.

"Rogue said," Logan started as they walked deeper, "that you used to tell her when you got a forest green Camaro convertible--with black trim--you'd settle down."

"I *have* one," she noted dryly.

"You have a forest green Camaro with *no* convertible, and *no* black trim," Logan corrected, walking forward. "*Now* you have a forest green Camaro with a black convertible top and trim." He smiled.

Raven's jaw dropped. They had walked around a corner, and before them stood a brand new Camaro just like her own, with, as Logan had said, black trim and a convertible top. Poured over the top of the thing were flowers--some fresh, some a few days old, but hundreds of them. And inside the Camaro was the plush frog Logan had originally gotten her.

Raven was speechless.

Logan watched her carefully. Her mouth worked soundlessly, and Logan grinned.

Raven looked at him. Then at the car. Then at him. "Oh my God," she finally murmured, and almost collapsed.

Logan caught her deftly, laughing. "Will you accept this as an apology present?"

Raven nodded.

"Can we start over?"

Raven looked at him.

"Will you come live in Westchester, or we can go back to Colorado, and can we start over?"

Raven looked at him for a moment more. Slowly, "Let's start where we left off," she said.

Logan nodded.

"I love you."

He grinned. He'd always thought he'd never be shackled. So much for that. "I love you, too."

"And I'm still mad at you."

Logan's face fell.

"And I don't expect you to trust me right away." Raven grinned. "But those are all normal problems."

Logan started to laugh. "I'm afraid to ask what the abnormal ones are," he commented, grinning. He wrapped his long arms around her waist and pulled her close to him, kissing her.

Raven laughed against his mouth and wrapped her arms around his neck. "You bought me a *car*!" She laughed and disentangled herself, looking like a little kid at Christmas. "Let's go driving! Do you have the keys?" she asked.

Logan took one look at the twinkle in her eye and wondered about his sanity. Did his emotions have no sense, to fall in love with someone who was as much trouble as *Mystique?*

"Logan," she purred, walking over and wrapping her arms around his neck. "You *do* have the keys, right?" She smiled and kissed him. "I really, really want to drive."

Logan kissed her back and handed her the keys. Raven turned, walking over to the car. Logan grinned. Nope. Not one of his emotions had a single bit of sense. And he was going to have fun.


And I'd give up forever to touch you
'Cause I know that you feel me somehow
You're the closest to heaven that I'll ever be
And I don't want to go home right now

And all I can taste is this moment
And all I can breathe is your life
Sooner or later it's over
And I don't want to miss you tonight

And I don't want the world to see me
'Cause I don't think that they'd understand.
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am

And you can't fight the tears that ain't coming
Or the moment of truth in your lies
When everything feels like the movies
Yeah, you bleed just to know you're alive.

And I don't want the world to see me
'Cause I don't think that they'd understand.
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am

And I don't want the world to see me
'Cause I don't think that they'd understand.
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am

And I don't want the world to see me
'Cause I don't think that they'd understand.
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am

I just want you to know who I am

I just want you to know who I am

I just want you to know who I am

"Iris" - --Goo Goo Dolls


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