She leads me through moonlight
Only to burn me with the sun
She’s taken my heart
But she doesn’t know what she’s done
I look in the mirror and all I see
Is a young old man with only a dream
Am I just fooling myself
That she’ll stop the pain
Living without her
I’d go insane
Feel her breath on my face
Her body close to me
Can’t look in her eyes
She’s out of my league
Just a fool to believe
I have anything she needs
She’s like the wind.
~ She’s Like the Wind (Patrick Swayze)
The heavy male body curled close against hers was warm. His snoring had woken her. Conscious thought returned slowly as she stroked the muscled arm draped over her. She ran her fingernails against the grain of the hair on the forearm and felt him stir. Turning her head, she kissed his temple in the dark.
“Answers my first question,” he said, his voice low and slurred with sleep.
Jean smiled. “Why would I be angry with you? I’m the bad guy this time. I was the first time, too.”
“Didn’t much ‘preciate tha come-hither whammy, but ya weren’t wrong ‘bout me wantin’ it.” He nuzzled her hair. “Ya still don’t smell right.”
“Is that Canadian for ‘good morning’?”
“I’m tha only one with a healin’ factor, Jeannie. Whatever Hook’s doin’, it ain’t stopped influencin’ ya.”
“Hook?” She turned her face to his, wishing again that she could see him.
“Top baddie o’ Neverland. Scent is less, though. Maybe tha caverns weaken it.”
She pressed herself closer to his skin, one hand stroking a mutton chop sideburn, the other his thigh. “Shop talk can wait.” Whatever reply he drew breath to make, she prevented with her mouth.
For the first time, there was a chance to explore the kiss. Neither of them were inches from death and no threat to life or limb was crashing toward them. Even her normal guilt level seemed muted, in spite of their flagrant disregard of her marriage vows.
The pervading observation was that he really was the best – even though her experience was rather limited – and that assessment wasn’t just for his mouth’s talents. Under evil influence or not, she admitted to herself without remorse that he had surpassed her husband’s skills – in all departments.
Logan broke the kiss, but his hands remained, cupping her face gently. “We shouldn’t do this, Jean. Ya will regret it an’ heapin’ more skeletons int’ tha closet … they tend t’ land on yer head later.”
Factoring in the adamantium bones, he was a lot heavier than he might have been. She cheated with telekinesis to roll him onto his back. Straddling his hips, she leaned over him, her lips feathering over his.
“I have thought of this, more than once – but I never imagined I’d have to work so hard to seduce you.” Her teeth nipped his lower lip, then she began kissing and licking his ear. “Old rules don’t apply here and it’s harmless.” She couldn’t help a soft laugh when she recalled something his feral mind had believed. “I can’t have your puppies, though, I’m on the pill.”
“It’s a bit o’ fun, huh?” His voice was harsh and his thoughts were cold. She yelped in surprise when he tossed her off of him into the furs. “Ain’t a joke t’ me, Red.”
“Where are you going?”
He didn’t answer her as he left, but she could hear him in the larger cave outside, tinkering with the elk parts. Stretching in the warm furs, she sighed. When Logan headed her way again, Jean sat up, hoping he’d changed his mind – but his thoughts were all business.
“One o’ tha Wild Bunch just headed downstairs with that gazelle I gave ‘em. None o’ ‘em have bothered t’ go so deep since we arrived. Gonna shadow ‘im. Hasn’t been a whiff o’ bear-dog in tha caverns – they must not like ‘em. So ya should be safe.”
“Want your pants?”
“Nope. I’ve decided t’ join tha union. When in Rome.”
“The fire’s out, isn’t it?”
“It ran outta fuel. Candles’re lit. Stay inside; when I get back, I’ll find somethin’ else t’ burn. Probly won’t be long.”
“Why don’t I go wander around and think about finding firewood? Maybe I could get a bead on your Hook.”
“Suit yerself. Just keep an eye out fer beasties.”
Jean got up and felt her way to the candlelight. Logan stood there dressed in a loincloth cut from one of the hides he’d scraped. Perhaps it was the glare in his eyes, but the style didn’t look strange on him.
“I like it. Maybe I’ll join too.” She leaned against the wall of the main cave, displaying her body to him in the flickering yellow light.
“I hope ya get yer manners back soon, Red. ‘Til then, I’d rather play teammates. Casual never was my game.”
Jean laughed. “You’re notorious for casual – wasn’t the term ‘male slut’ coined just for you?”
His frown wasn’t amused. “Ya ain’t never gonna be in tha ‘catch-as-catch-can’ category.”
“What happened to ‘willing to make me feel better’?”
“Made that offer t’ a diff’rent woman – doppelgangers don’t count.”
~ ~ ~
Jean began to dress as soon as he left. Pocketing the matchbook, she left their caves and entered the main corridor but instead of turning to go up, she went down.
She didn’t try to be quiet, knowing the intrepid Wolverine would have already sensed her. Forming a loose telepathic connection with him, she used it not only to follow, but to find her way in the dark.
His offense had stung her, but he hadn’t been able to hide his desire, either. She knew he could be stubborn and that loving her didn’t make him putty in her hand. Yet his attitude, far from dissuading her, had come across as an amusing challenge.
Ahead of him and unaware of his presence, one of the two smaller men was toting the gazelle over his back and feeling his way down passages and through caverns. He gave off a strong fear scent when he crossed the Rotunda, the sixth largest room in the cave system, but he continued to go down without variation.
The going was slow, too, because the fool couldn’t see. He startled at the sounds of crickets and shuddered when bats were heard overhead. The pace gave Logan more time to brood on his situation, though he suspected it was a pointless circular effort.
Call me old fashioned, but I’m in love with tha whole package an’ right now Jean’s actin’ like Viper, not tha Phoenix. Be careful what ya wish fer, bub.
The assassin with a poison fetish that the world called Viper had roped him into an unwanted marriage. Storm, Jean, Psylocke, and Jubliee had reacted to the news of his promise to marry Viper with horror, taking it like a betrayal of all that the X-Men had fought for.
Only Shadowcat had known better, having been steeped in Japanese culture once. It was giri – a debt of honor, to an old friend whose life Viper had saved, along with his own. Seraph had died of her injuries soon after, but her final request had been that Logan repay their debt to Viper. The assassin had called in her marker with a marriage license to further her goals for power in his old haunt, Madripoor.
The union hadn’t been typical in more ways than one. He’d left with Shadowcat, his witness, after the ceremony – leaving Viper to her devices. She had contacted him a few times, mostly to ask for help with scrapes, but her habit of insinuating that they should consummate the paperwork had always enraged him.
Thank God fer Kitty, he thought. Without ‘er, I mighta forgotten my honor an’ decapitated tha bride. Gotta divorce, but I still think I’d be a happier man today if I’d stabbed tha wretch. Sure as hell woulda been cheaper. Shit, Sabretooth showed up at tha weddin’ on cue – shoulda let ‘im eat ‘er.
Memories of the woman he’d once tried to wed, Mariko of Clan Yashida, had haunted him for years. The pain of her death had never left him. His indebted marriage to Viper had made a mockery of his long-dead hopes.
Now Jean is movin’, speakin’ an’ behavin’ just like that venomous bitch. Not a thought in ‘er head fer what this is doin’ t’ me. Tha sight o’ ‘er in tha candlelight was almost too much, though – righteous wrath aside – an’ no chance she didn’t know it, bub. Sniffing the air, he caught another whiff of the pheromones that dogged Jean’s scent. She was still following him. Probly aware ya know it, too. Make up yer mind, Canucklehead. This is an all or nothin’ choice, an’ maybe ya shouldn’t care ‘bout how she’ll feel after it’s over an’ she runs back t’ that Boy Scout. He frowned. Yeah, right.
A new scent below him, beyond the man he’d followed, distracted him. Someone else was down here. Someone the emissary of the Wild Bunch felt pretty reverent about. He paused and scented it again, aware that Jean was coming closer behind him.
Human, male – not a mutant, neither. What tha hell is he doin’ down here?
The caveman transferred the gazelle to his arms, holding it out like a sacrifice or gift. He didn’t seem afraid of the man in the cavern before him, but his behavior was odd for someone who obviously called the big Neanderthal above his boss.
When Jean reached him, her fingers touched his back. Logan, I can sense someone in there – and he’s thinking like a civilized person.
What’re we waitin’ fer? Maybe he knows where tha bus stop is.
With Jean’s hand on his shoulder, Logan entered the cavern room. They had to duck through a low tunnel entrance, where Jean dropped back behind him, but beyond that there was meager light from the phosphorous rocks that covered the walls of a large cave.
Their caveman was kneeling in front of a slight man seated on a low shelf of stone. He was in his mid-forties, dressed in a tattered hiking outfit mixed with furs, and wearing glasses.
A quick look around proved one thing to Logan and a growl rose with the revelation. This joker is Wendy’s couturier, Jeremiah ‘isself.
How can you be sure?
Logan gestured to things that must have been only dark mounds in Jean’s sight. The dim light showed it all clearly to him – tanning tools and a pile of scraped hides done with moderate skill; though that assessment didn’t explain the state of the hides the cavemen wore.
One mystery at a time, bub.
Then a dark lump in one corner made his hands curl into fists. It had been cured and mounted like a deer, and appeared to be a reptilian creature.
We might oughta watch our Ps an’ Qs, Red. He’s gotta yen fer decoratin’ with mutant heads.
What? Great. Could this be your Hook?
Nope. Caught Hook’s scent once – had t’ be – an’ I’m bettin’ Dustin Hoffman ain’t right fer tha part in this one. Glenn Close, maybe.
The man in glasses hadn’t seemed too surprised to see them, but the caveman was. After placing his gift on the stone beside him, he turned and crouched, with an imitation growl. He twitched when the man touched his shoulder, but stopped growling.
“Welcome,” he greeted them. The accent was East Coast, maybe Boston.
“You aren’t feral. How did you get here?” Jean asked.
“By airplane, then rental car.” His gaze fell on Logan. “You have your mind, but you dress like my friends. Are you the one who killed the monster?”
“Yup. Brought down yer dinner there, too but we know who we are an’ we’re curious – so ya get t’ talk first.”
“Might makes right, and therefore you’re in charge now?” He smiled. “My personal convictions entirely. My name is Edward Reece and I stumbled into this much as you must have.”
“Got quite a skin trade goin’. They bring ya meat an’ go away with leather?”
“What’d ya give ‘em fer tha lizard head?”
“You are mutants, so I understand your offense. The monsters killed him. They generally kill all but pure humans, even attacking the males that carry potential mutant genes. I don’t hate mutants, I assure you – I study them. I’ve been hoping some would arrive and survive long enough.”
“Long enough for what?” Jean asked.
“To help me get us all out of here.”
“He was telling the truth,” Jean said as they entered their own caves again. “Not all of it, maybe, but he wasn’t lying. Why the sudden insistence on solitude? We should have stayed and kept him talking. It might be the only way to get to the bottom of all this.”
“Got antsy, needed time t’ think.” Logan checked on his skull bowls full of brains.
Wrinkling her nose, she frowned. “Do you have to keep that in here? It’s starting to rot.”
“Good. Means it’s ready. Ya gotta mash tha putrefied brains int’ gruel an’ rub it int’ tha flesh side o’ tha fur, work it in. Then ya keep pullin’, stretchin’, an’ rubbin’ tha hide, ‘til it softens, then smoke it t’ finish it off. Works pretty good in a pinch.”
Jean made a face. “That better be your chore, or I’m taking my chances with the bear-dogs. Want some Bambi jerky?”
Logan shook his head and took the skulls and mass of elk hide into a corner out of the way. Jean didn’t watch him; the description had been enough. She selected a strip of venison jerky and paced as she gnawed it, mulling over the situation.
“Question is, can we trust him? I can’t seem to get beyond his surface mind to be sure.”
“Can’t ask Chuck t’ lend a hand, so I’d say keep tryin’.”
“He wouldn’t have fallen prey so easily. I feel like I’m operating in a fog.”
“Don’t be so sure. He fell from grace hard once. Name ‘Onslaught’ ring a bell? Bustin’ yer own chops don’t help none.”
“Charles would be able to figure out what he’s hiding in a minute.” She sighed. “Why do you insist on calling him ‘Chuck’?”
“Cuz it irritates ‘im an’ it shows ‘im he’s a regular guy. Now an’ then, he needs tha reminder.”
“We should take Reece up on the offer to talk about our potential escape. Wendy got out, so it has to be possible.”
“She got out cuz ya were there t’ yank ‘er mind out.”
“Yes, but we could see her. Tourists, park rangers – we all saw her and she saw us.”
“Ignored ‘em all, though. Coulda been figments or shadows in ‘er view.”
“I spoke ‘er new language.”
“Maybe it was easier with a telepath outside the place to pull someone free but what if there was something else going on – some reason she could be seen by us that wasn’t there before?”
“Sounds like yer department. Or ‘Where’s Waldo’ might know – but he strikes me as a man who likes ‘is secrets.”
“Will you come with me?” She looked over at him as he sat rubbing the foul-smelling gelatin into the hide.
He met her gaze and his expression was unreadable. “Go ahead. Gonna finish this an’ wash up. Then I think I’ll go sniffin’ fer Hook again.”
She watched him as he looked away and got back to work on the skin. Whatever she’d done to upset him was still smoldering. The ghost of a thought told her she should care, should want to make it right, but all she could feel was a cool detachment. Turning away, Jean left and headed down to speak to Edward Reece.
~ ~ ~
The caveman was still there, sitting quietly in the center of the floor. He looked up when she entered and stared at the candle in her hand.
“Hollowed out stone, rendered fat, lichen wick,” Reece’s voice greeted her. “Inventive.”
“My roomie is a survival expert.”
“He is also a very singular mutant, the one they call the ‘Wolverine’, isn’t he? You, of course, are Phoenix.”
Jean nodded. “That’s why you knew he wasn’t feral before – knowing me, you assumed we were speaking telepathically.”
“Yes, and you have a habit of glancing at him when you do so. He is far more subtle, to hide assets a potential enemy may not be aware of.”
Ignoring the implied criticism, she asked, “Why do you study mutants?”
“I am an anthropologist by trade but why crawl around remote jungles when one of the most arresting species yet to be properly documented is right here in America?”
Frowning, Jean gestured to the caveman with her free hand. “So what’s their story?”
“I can’t speak for the others, as they don’t come to visit me. Andy here is the one the big fellow picked to trade with me. I actually know of them only what he could tell me. He might be able to tell you more in a few hours – with your … talents … you might be able to ask more probing questions.”
“I tried to find their names when we first got here. It didn’t work.”
“Ah yes – well, they live too close to the surface most of the time. Deep in the cave system, the animal sickness weakens. Andy is getting better already. So will you, if you remain.”
“What makes you think I’ve been affected at all?”
“Your telepathy would protect you from the worst of it, but I have many photos and television news clips of you and frankly, you look harder than you should, if a gentleman may say such a thing. I expect you’ve noticed behavioral changes in yourself and I’d certainly wager your companion has as well.”
Jean’s eyes narrowed. “If I didn’t know better, I’d accuse you of being a telepath.”
“I am merely adept at reading body language. He was uncomfortable in your presence, a factor I’ve never noticed before while researching your group’s activities. Simply put, if you avoid the surface, you will revert to your natural self.”
“You don’t go to the surface?”
“No. I have no desire to suffer the fate of the others. Here, I have water from Echo River, there is food to be had if one knows how to find it, and Andy brings me meat.”
“How can you escape if you don’t leave?”
“It’s not just a matter of avoiding the monsters and walking far enough away, Ms. Phoenix, you must know that. We are populating a very particular reality that shares the same space as the Mammoth Cave and Green River Valley. This situation was created by the same being that made the monsters.”
“Wendy called them bear-dogs. Did you help her escape?”
“She did get free? That’s fantastic. There’s no way to know, you see. Yes, I tried to help her. She was more like me – naturally less susceptible.”
“Wolverine told me she was wearing the skins of mutants.” Jean studied his face carefully.
“Yes, she was. I told you and your friend that mutants are killed here but they are feared, too. I hoped if she smelled like one, the monsters – bear-dogs, if you like – might be more hesitant to hurt her before she found a way out.”
“You didn’t just send her up to try her luck, I hope. An experiment?”
“Heavens, no. There is a better time and a worse time to be on the surface. Night is the worst and I’ve discovered, mostly with Andy’s help, that the times of twilight are the best. I sent Wendy up at twilight before dawn, for the best possible chance. Andy was with her, but obviously only she made it. Tell me, did she regain her human mind?”
“Yes. I found her name, buried deep, and made her remember herself.” Jean set her candle down on one end of his shelf and sat with the light between them. “How do you know twilight is best? What’s helpful about it?”
“The power that keeps us here appears to be weaker at those times. Andy swears you can feel it. He coaxed the others into a twilight trek into day to see if they could break out, but that failed. You both arrived not long after, possibly the key to this odd exile.”
“My dear, there’s no need to pretend ignorance. I know of your abilities and the unique talents of Wolverine. He can handle the monsters and you can handle our mutual enemy. The two of you have a lot in common.”
~ ~ ~
Jean lost track of time. The caveman, Andy, eventually remembered himself and she was fascinated as she listened to him. He turned out to be a park ranger and an intelligent, good-hearted man. When he learned that Wendy had gotten out safely, he broke down in grateful tears.
It was then that she heard the real story about the bear-dogs and why he and the others thought they couldn’t be killed.
Her candle had gone out. She was about to get more lichen for it when they all heard a distant howling far above them.
“That’s the one that did it,” Andy whispered, fear in his voice. “He carved it in half like it was paper.” Turning to Jean, he added, “Are you sure you’re safe with that … thing?”
“He won’t hurt me,” she replied, but she kept her eyes on Reece. She didn’t like the smirk on his face at all.
“You told me they were sharing a ‘den’, did you not?” When Andy nodded, he told him, “I wouldn’t worry about the lady then, my friend. That sort of sharing has … benefits.” His smirk stretched into a thin smile as an outraged roar sounded in the distance, echoing through the caverns. “It seems that your mate has found you missing, Ms. Phoenix.” He rose and helped Andy to his feet. “If you don’t mind, it would be best for you to go up and meet him.”
Once, she would have protested his insinuation – now, she found she didn’t care. Part of her wanted to put Reece in his place for being so smugly aware of her situation, or at least to deny it – but it abruptly seemed pointless to argue that she and her friend weren’t mates just to keep her secret; what these men knew hardly mattered.
“It’s okay, I can handle him.” I think. I hope.
“I am certain of it, but if he finds you with us, he might feel the need to challenge us for his mate. We are not equipped to handle him.”
She frowned at Reece, suspicion pulling at her thoughts, but there was no time. Logan was coming fast and his bestial outrage was intense. Carefully, she connected with his mind and felt the worried fears that fueled the ferocity. He thought his mate, possibly with young, was in danger.
An unnatural smile curled her lips as she added a fresh bit of lichen from a rock behind her to the candle. Lighting a match to it, she rose. She would have a lot to tell Logan when his healing factor restored his mind. In the meantime, she had the beast Wolverine to keep her company.
“Good evening, gents,” she said as she swept out of the cave.
Logan skidded to a stop in a crouch before her in the vast chamber of the Rotunda. He had snow in his hair and pelt, and murder in his eyes.
She noted the bristling piloerection, what he called raised hackles, along the back of his neck, down his spine through the shoulderblades, and at the center of his thick-haired chest. The black hairs stood stiff in patterns through the normal body hair on his forearms, too. She had seen it before, for years, as well as the lips pulled back over elongated and savagely sharp canine fangs. The claws weren’t out, but the lethal tips could be seen, tearing bleeding cuts through the backs of his hands.
Jean walked up to him with a confidence she wouldn’t have had days ago. For the first time when faced with the beast on full display, she didn’t feel the fear and repulsion she had before – only the fascination and desire. His wildness had always drawn some unnamed thing inside her and now the restraints of civilization that had kept her at a distance were muted … and discarded.
He sniffed at the hand she brought up to touch him and growled, but his hostile body language melted quickly.
“Let’s go home, Logan,” she whispered, her fingers stroking his long black sideburn. His face pressed into the caress. “I’d like to take another shot at puppies before you snap out of it.”
He didn’t rise. Looping a hand around her waist, he pulled her down to him. This time, she couldn’t feel anything but the heat of her own lust; all thoughts of right and wrong were gone.
With an abrupt ~snikt~, she was exposed and pressed under his weight, the slit halves of her makeshift fur skirt falling to either side of her hips. She rose off of her stomach and let him take her on her hands and knees, trembling with the heat of her need and the chill of the stone and the frozen air. As he entered her with short, sharp jabs, she gasped aloud in the echoing silence.
Solely to make him pin her, she started to slip away. The four fang teeth closed on the back of her neck, a sharp threat that carefully avoided breaking her skin. Physical pleasure pushed her out of her tenuous civilized senses in moments. Surrendering to it, she gave herself utterly to him – but the beast didn’t notice the change.
Her mind sought his, galvanized by the savage animal he had become. That nameless thing deep within her own psyche crept out to meet the beast that thrust in her body. Far from shrinking back in fear, it reached out and embraced him, binding itself to his strength and stunning ferocity of will.
Shocked by the union of flesh and mind at once, her pleasure intensified until she feared she might faint – but she made no attempt to back away from his fire.
The den was dark and Jean’s nude body was pressed against his. Her fault this time, or his – did it matter?
It doesn’t. She turned in his arms. “I want you again, Logan. Please make love with me.”
He was ready and he wanted her more than anything in his long muddled life. “I hope ya remember later that ya pushed fer this.”
“That bridge is far away. We can’t cross it until we get there.”
“Do ya even remember ‘is name?” Yet he was rolling her under him, his hungry mouth at her throat. “I’m afraid, Jeannie – ya could wind up hatin’ me when this is over.”
“Logan, I’m sorry for upsetting you before – but I could never hate you. I need you so much…”
“But ya don’t love me, do ya? It’ll always be ‘im.”
“Right now, it’s you.”
“Hush,” she soothed, with her mind and her voice. “Give yourself to me for now.”
Logan buried his face in her hair and sank into her heat. His eyes were wet when they closed, letting the darkness be complete and letting her take him – body, heart, and soul.
~ ~ ~
“Twilight, huh? Maybe ya could try hailin’ Chuck again then, dawn or dusk?”
“I don’t think it would work. I’ve tried over and over again, but being here – wherever ‘here’ is – seems to be blocking me somehow and I’m getting tired of the migraines.”
“Huh. Back t’ workin’ it out fer ourselves, then. Ya spoke t’ tha other one yerself, tha one we followed downstairs?”
Jean shifted slightly against his chest. “Yes. He’s a ranger named Andy and I could read him a lot better than Reece.”
“He trusts this guy?”
“With a blind loyalty that translates to worship in caveman speak. We might want to be a touch more circumspect.”
“Hop up, Jeannie. We should go on a fuel scout. My stogies’re goin’ t’ be tha last thing we sacrifice t’ tha home fire.”
She moved off of him and went into the main room first. He watched her go, stunned as always by her beauty.
Strapping on his loincloth as he emerged, he settled down by the fire to finish the clothing he’d started to make for her before going out and turning feral again. They’d burned her ruined uniform the night before.
He lit one of his cigars in the flames, half expecting Jean to protest, but she was silent as she watched its smoke twine up with the smoke from their fire as it slipped out of the ventilation hole in the dome of the cavern.
“Nothing too ‘Raquel Welch’, huh? I am an emancipated woman.” She looked down to watch him, and he couldn’t resist giving her a wink before getting back to his project. “Furry underwear. I wonder if it’ll be all the rage this year at Neiman Marcus?” She hugged herself, shivering. “It is getting colder, though.”
“Yup,” he answered. “That’s why this ain’t tha time t’ fuss ‘bout wearin’ fur. While yer waitin’, grab a scrap an’ make a cork fer our canteen. Just roll it. I got tha rawhide cord there beside it.”
“Will this really hold water?”
“It’ll seep a bit, but it should work.”
“Drinking cave water. How are we going to avoid E. coli and other nasties?”
“‘Sides givin’ it a good sniff?” At her dubious look, he chuckled. “Hook’s set tha dial back past human contaminants. Long as we fill tha canteen from an underwater source, not a pool, should be clean an’ safe.”
“Says the man with the healing factor.” Rolling a piece of leather and working it into the mouth of the canteen, she began wrapping the cord around it tightly. “I never thought I’d let you turn me into Ayla.”
“Another resourceful cavegirl, in a series of novels by Jean M. Auel.”
Logan smiled and held up her new clothes. “Raquel never looked so good, Red.”