Wolverine: Shattered Silence – Chapter 8 – Sacrifice

I will give the secrets you request
and you will be the one to sacrifice
So lay your olive arms across my breast
and sing the poems, free the butterflies

I feel my body weakened by the years
as people turn to gods of cruel design
Is it that they fear the pain of death
or could it be they fear the joy of life

Pray your gods who ask you for your blood
for they are strong and angry jealous ones
Or lay upon my altar now your love
I fear my time is short
There are armies moving close
Be quick, my love

~ Pray Your Gods (Toad The Wet Sprocket)

*****************************************************************

“I don’t know her name; I don’t think she does, if she even has one. I called her Hellena.”

Jean leaned in, eager for the truth. “She’s a very powerful mutant and obviously dangerous. How did you –?”

“Her parents gave her to me,” Reece interrupted. “They probably would have killed her, or allowed the local mob to do it – I had to take her away with me.”

Logan snorted at that.

Jean met his skeptical gaze and sighed. “He’s telling the truth.” Looking back at the man that her telepathic talent was invading, she nodded. “Go on. What exactly is her power?”

“Or a better question is,” Logan interjected, “what’s ‘er damage?”

“I can answer both – partially. I was studying her and I hadn’t discovered much when I ended up trapped here.”

“Partial info won’t get ya killed, bub – partial truths might.”

Reece winced, having learned the value of avoiding Wolverine’s anger. “She’s a telepath, but perhaps not as strong as you,” he told Jean. “I don’t have a name for the other power, but as you’ve guessed, she can make elements of her imagination real – real enough to kill, or even to be eaten.”

“Tell us somethin’ we didn’t figure out fer ourselves, Waldo,” Logan threatened.

Slumping lower where he sat with his back against the cave wall, Reece continued and managed to surprise them. “Hellena doesn’t have a body – not much left of one, anyway. She’s like a ghost, but not, keeping a minimum connection with what remains. She uses her powers to contain her spirit, like a pocket of air, or gust of wind, to achieve movement and to effect things in the world. Yet what she wants is another body, a working one that is – that’s why she had the monsters capture … the woman.”

Jean swallowed hard. Her connection to him filled in the blanks between his words, tapping into the swirl of feelings and events he was attempting to express. “She wanted you to help somehow – but you refused…”

“How could I agree? She was irrational, unwilling to wait to find a better way. She tries to dull the senses, to stun the spirit and mind, so that she can force the soul out of a new body and claim it. When I told her that would be murder, she didn’t seem to understand, or care. The longer she remains in her current state, the stronger her powers become. If she took a body now, I don’t know what would happen. It might dull her abilities, or exponentially increase them and I couldn’t be responsible for unleashing another murderous mutant on the world. Anti-mutant feeling among the general populace is volatile enough.”

“So when she attempted to make me fall asleep…” Jean gasped when Reece nodded.

“Now we know why everyone above ground goes all ‘of tha apes’.” Logan grunted. “Just more attempts t’ get a new skin – but we were diff’rent, Red.”

“Astonishingly so,” Reece agreed. “Your regression was utterly feral, not addled or weakened. It seems the less civilized you are, the more powerful you become.”

“That’s tha breaks, bub.”

“Yet Phoenix hasn’t regressed to an animalistic state,” he added. “Perhaps Hellena cannot manipulate another telepath, or one with your level of power.”

Jean and Logan exchanged a look. I haven’t regressed? she thought privately. Oh, no – I just turn into a callous nymphomaniac with a scarlet letter on my chest and a mean streak … no problem at all. Dread filled her at the thought of Hellena gaining control of the Phoenix Force, too – a fear that was mirrored in Logan’s mind. Clearing her throat, she looked away from her friend and back at Reece. “Maybe not – not as effectively, anyway.”

Reece sighed, staring at his hands. “My refusal to help her caused my exile and she continues to pull in others, to take their bodies if she can.”

“She keeps failin’, too – might be handy if we could figure out why.”

“Yes, and why won’t the bear-dogs enter the caverns? Or Hellena herself?” Jean pressed her mental probe deeper into the anthropologist’s mind, but he didn’t appear to have those answers.

“I don’t know,” he whispered. “She didn’t seem afraid of them when I brought her here.”

“If tha bear-dogs are a part o’ ‘er power – a part o’ whatever’s left physically – figments o’ imagination or not, what if killin’ ‘em weakens ‘er? Hell, maybe makin’ ‘em solid an’ edible weakens ‘er even more. Seems if it didn’t, she’d just make a body from scratch like she’s makin’ tha rest o’ ‘em.”

“Not a bad theory,” Jean answered.

“While we’re jawin’ on tha subject – just call me curious – where is what’s left o’ ‘er?”

“I have no idea.” His head lifting, Reece stared out into the gathering dusk. “Somewhere out there … possibly even in the ‘real world’.”

“What harmed her body?” Jean asked.

When he turned his head to look at her, the last red rays of sunset flashed off of his glasses. In another moment night had come and with it, more howls of the monsters. Again and again, their cries sounded in the dark.

“You have to ask that? Can’t you just take the memories and see for yourself?” His voice was bitter, with an edge of anger to it. She abruptly realized that it wasn’t Logan’s brutality alone that had terrified and offended him – something in him naturally detested telepaths, even as he admired their power.

Jean didn’t feel the least hesitation after that. She plunged into the images he had called to the front of his thoughts. It was a jumbled collection and every one was a scene of horror.

The form of Hellena didn’t come clear because she was surrounded by others – people full of hate. They struck her with rocks, hit her with sticks and worse. Then one of them, a massive man with limited intelligence and boundless cruelty, began to beat her. When he stopped, the body before him was broken and bleeding.

Was she even breathing?

She gasped when the parents stepped forward as the crowd dispersed – they had come from the center of the mob. Seeing them as if she were Reece, she heard them tell him to take their daughter if he wanted her, and that if she should survive, they never wanted to see her again or even to be told if she died.

Wrenching herself away from it and him, Jean broke her probe and left his mind. Her breath came fast, her skin shivering with more than cold. “I will never understand how they can hate us so much.”

“Practice,” Logan remarked. When she turned to face him, her expression full of pain, his callous glare melted. “Sorry, Red – but if any mutant sticks their head in tha sand an’ pretends people don’t hate ‘em, they’re riskin’ not hearin’ tha bastards when they sneak up t’ murder ‘em.”

Jean stood and turned her back on him. She didn’t need a probe to tell her Reece was starting to slip – the glazed look of the beginnings of regression was plain on his abruptly lax face.

“We have to get him out of here, back down deep.” She didn’t wait for Logan’s answer, but when she entered the tunnel, she could hear him pick Reece up and follow her.

~ ~ ~

In their dark cave, wrapped in a fur as she straddled Logan’s nude warmth, she had not found peace, her mind and will torn by all that they faced. Groping in vain for comfort, she had reached for him again, not caring if she regreted it. His touch and his love were a balm, but she knew they couldn’t hide in each other for much longer. It made every moment, every sensation, precious.

I was angry and hurt … but he was right – pretending the world is safe for mutants has gotten so many of them killed. Jean sighed softly. Reece will be recovering for a few hours and we should be using this time to sort out what we can do to deal with Hellena – and to escape this insanity. Her hand moved, gently stroking down the thick hair of Logan’s chest and sculpted abdomen, feeling his breath as it slowed. That’s the question, isn’t it? she asked herself. Do I want to leave?

For the moment, she wanted to stay right where she was and feel him grow hard again while still inside her, just as she had done not long before. Lowering herself to kiss him, she shivered.

Logan wrapped her in his arms and gave her the passion she needed without question or hesitation. When he broke the kiss, the warmth of his concern for her only drew her in deeper.

“Are ya still cold, darlin’?”

“No,” she whispered, brushing her lips over his throat. “How you feel – it makes my whole body react. Good shivers,” she added, and smiled against his skin.

“Ya don’t hafta try t’ go fer a marathon just cuz ya peeked in my head an’ found out I want it…”

“I want it, too. Does it bother you – how much I read your thoughts?”

“If it did, wouldn’t leave tha door open fer ya.”

“You’re such a private man in so many ways; I guess … sometimes I’m surprised. I almost never feel you block me; only the occasional mental jukebox comes up to hide this or that. Yet most of those moments seem to be more about respecting me or not wanting to burden me, than trying to hide yourself from me.”

“My brain hides myself from me; what I do know, don’t feel a need t’ protect it from ya. I ‘spose if ya wanted t’ go explorin’, ya’d see stuff ya’d rather not, sooner or later.”

“Would that be a problem?”

“Only if it drove ya away. Want ya t’ feel welcome, whether it’s my den or my head. I think ya need tha connection an’ I like bein’ what ya need. I like … knowin’ ya care ‘nuff t’ wanna look.”

“Even when you’re angry with me?”

“Not entirely sure what yer used t’ in tha free rein o’ tha head department, Jeannie, but I love ya … that don’t budge over bein’ pissed. ‘Sides, that puppies crack was yer version o’ goin’ feral.”

“It was, but I’m sorry I said it, all the same. I didn’t plan to move until you were … ready again, but…”

“Now yer ready fer a break?”

“No, I … want to see you. We can’t have any fire in here, but we could go out where the fire is… It’s not as fun not being able to see each other, right?”

“Ya had ‘nuff o’ ‘missionary in tha dark’ t’ last a lifetime, huh?”

“Yes, I have. I can feel your emotions, hear your thoughts, but want to see you. Call me greedy, if you like.”

“I can see ya, but if ya wanna have tha next round in tha livin’ room, lead tha way.”

Jean kissed him and moved. Keeping the fur around her, she left the bedroom cave and sat by the fire. Watching him join her there was worth letting him see her crawl out ahead of him. He had all the grace for crawling over stone on hands and knees, and she didn’t have a bit of it.

“Gonna make me blush watchin’ me like that, darlin’.”

She smiled. “I’ve never seen you blush, ever, in what – a decade?”

He crawled up to her and nuzzled her shoulder. “First time fer everythin’…”

Very true… I want more, she thought to him. Slipping back into his mind, deeper into the jumble of lustful thoughts and the singing feeling of his love, she went looking for things he might want. He felt her there and merely opened to her more. It was a trick Charles had taught him when he was helping Logan heal some of his fractured memories. Yet it had always been difficult to explore his mind, even with him yielding so sweetly to allow it. Tell me what you want; I need to give you something … just for us.

He growled softly deep in his throat, hard and ready, hungry for her. She almost felt a moment of resistance – his fear that she would be offended – but then it broke and let her in, let her see.

Yes, Logan, I want … that.

Ain’t gotta do that, darlin’ – know ya never have, figured it wasn’t yer thing.

How can I know if I never try? Combing through the heat of those desires and his surprise that she was willing, she kissed him and then lay down on the fur they’d been sitting on, rolling to her stomach and looking back at him. Teach me, Logan… I want to feel this.

Swallowing hard, he moved to lie beside her and ran his fingers down her back, pausing at her tailbone. “Fuck, Jeannie,” he whispered.

Her smile was soft, as inviting and yielding as his mind was to her. “Show me.”

“It can be… We ain’t got…” He growled in frustration. “Can’t ya just read my mind fer all that?”

“I don’t know what it can be; I want you to show me that. We have lubrication…” She took his wrist in her hand and guided his fingers to the wet slick they’d both made inside her.

He sucked in his breath and the riot of curses in his head might have alarmed her if she couldn’t feel that they were torn from his shock and near-blinding need. “Yer just gonna…”

“Yes, I am. I know you will make it good because I can feel that you wish to and you know you can. I trust you, Logan; I want to give you this.”

“Yer gonna kill me dead, Jeannie.” His fingers were steady as they entered her to take what they needed, though his thoughts trembled, heat and fear of hurting her tangling.

She gasped at the feel of his touch, the thought of being touched where she’d never been, and the need to have him be the only one. “Please tell me you love me,” she whispered.

He moved, shifted, and the hand that touched her leg was gentle as he spread her legs wider. The fingers entered her again and she felt his tongue lick her above them. “I love ya, Jean… God, I love ya so fuckin’ much…”

The tongue licked more and it felt strange at first, and then his desire, his body aching for it, enveloped her when she touched his mind again. She pushed deeper into his thoughts as his tongue writhed and pushed into her. His fingers below toyed with her too, until he withdrew his tongue and let a thick finger push in, slow and easy.

“Don’t wanna hurt ya,” he whispered, his voice a wreck.

“You won’t.” She searched for the connection, that bond she’d created and drawn out of his depths when she had spoken to his feral mind. For a moment, she felt discomfort as she realized it went deeper than his conscious human psyche – then she dismissed her fear. It is him, I trust him. Jean could feel everything he was doing to open her body, but she didn’t want to experience how she perceived it as strange. That will pass. I want to feel his need for this, what it means to him. She opened to it as if taking his body inside of hers in spirit and the strength of his heat took her breath away.

Jean knew she didn’t need the words, but he did, so she gave them to him. “It doesn’t hurt, keep going… Logan, I … it’s so beautiful…”

His body shuddered as he pushed himself inside and the groan he gave her made her body twitch in an orgasm she barely noticed – she was too enthralled by him. He hadn’t hurt her and her responses reassured him of that, but she was so caught up in how he felt, she almost disconnected from her own sensations.

“Jeannie, come back t’ me…”

“I am here, I am inside you…”

Logan made a sound that was so animalistic and hungry that it had the power to make her come again. “Ya might have that backwards, darlin’…” His lips kissed her shoulders.

Sensing the thread of fresh worry, she backed away from his inner fire and returned fully to her body. The shock of pleasure, her own pleasure, not his, made her open to him even more. That beautiful cock was buried and thrusting, slow and sure. His fangs found the nape of her neck, pausing there.

“Yes, I want that, too,” she whispered. The sharp fangs pinched and held her, not breaking the skin. She caught his concern and the question he didn’t want to ask and simply answered him. “No, don’t – not until you come.”

His answering growl was nothing but pure hunger. Hips snapping, he thrust faster, his weight pressing her down. She felt full, just on the edge of discomfort, which only drove her deeper into pleasure. His breath caught and then the fangs bit just a fraction into her flesh. Grasping the connection again, she cried out when her perception of his release filled her senses as his body filled hers.

~ ~ ~

Jean woke from a telepathic haze to feel Logan’s lips kissing her back and shoulders. She had to grope for the memory of him leaving her limp and sweating body. He had lain at her side, covered her with a fur, and began kissing her as though he needed to more than he needed to breathe.

“Welcome back, Jean darlin’…”

She shifted, turned and cuddled into his arms, ducking her head to bury her face in his chest. “You are the most intense, passionate man I’ve ever even sensed, let alone…”

“Are ya okay?”

“Yes.” Lifting her head, she kissed him. Her body and mind felt emotionally drunk. Smiling against his lips at the question in his thoughts, she snuggled closer. “I did like it – I loved … feeling you even more.”

“Slurrin’ yer words a bit…” He kissed her forehead. “Sleep awhile, I’ll keep an ear open fer any trouble.”

~ ~ ~

Jean woke wrapped in furs beside the fire. Logan was awake and covered mostly by her, his fingers softly stroking her hair. She wanted to rest, bask and enjoy, but one tentative peek in his thoughts proved that their troubles had found both of them again. He wanted her – wanted to keep her, forever. As often as casual sex for the sake of joy and pleasure was a part of his life and his travels, he wanted more with her.

The thought made her conflicted feelings come crashing over her brief peace. She was still haunted by the pain of this decision – to lie with him without the excuse of their enemy altering her personality. Yet though the guilt and confusion warred within her, she hadn’t been able to deny the passion that burned them both. It was destroying any attempt either of them might have made to stop themselves and the more they submitted to it, the worse the hunger became.

As if he could sense her thoughts, Logan spoke, his voice a hesitant whisper. “What if we just said t’ hell with it an’ stayed, Jeannie?”

“That’s a tempting fantasy.” She tried to smile and failed. “You know we can’t and you know why.”

“Cuz we gotta fight tha good fight, save tha world? Ain’t no end t’ that. Yer speech before we left home, ‘bout so many li’l fires burnin’ us all down? That was gospel.”

“A speech I made to Scott … my husband.”

“Ya think I forgot? Don’t need tha reminder, Jean.”

She lifted herself away from him, sighing as their skin no longer touched. Lying at his side, she whispered, “I think we both need it. I’m sorry, Logan – I shouldn’t have done this again, not now – but I’m used to reaching out, having this, when the world crowds in too close. I needed what we shared … it was beautiful and healing for me.” Taking a deep breath, she added, “It doesn’t make it right – and it never will be right. I’m married; we’ve been through so much together, I can’t just run away from him.”

“Maybe ya do need remindin’ – ‘bout how he’s been treatin’ ya. Face it, Jeannie – he ain’t tha man ya knew.”

“How many times did I give up on you when you’d gone through one of your changes? Did I ever turn my back and walk away?”

“Only once.”

Her hands rose to cover her face as tears slipped between her fingers. She didn’t need to ask what he meant – the memory was clear in his mind. She had fought with him, accused him of forgetting all that it meant to be an X-Man, even of betraying what they’d so long fought for. Then she had turned her back – because he had married Viper.

Logan had done it to repay a debt of honor and she had come to understand that, if she’d never accepted it. Yet her tears weren’t born of shame over her regretful actions that awful day. Logan’s marriage had been a cruel joke to him, but he had tried to honor it while it lasted, even as unconsummated and twisted as it was. She and Scott had not been married long, but they’d been a couple for most of their lives – and she hadn’t been treating her marriage built on love with even a portion of the honor that Logan had given to Viper’s forced union.

As she lay there, she could still feel the heat of Logan’s touch, the strength and skill that had eclipsed her marriage. She tried to focus on her love for Scott, but all she could sense was the soul-deep need within the man beside her – a need that called to her to have him again. At the same time, her troubled and psychically damaged husband waited beyond this strange world – needing her help, whether he would admit it or not. Torn between the two of them, her heart couldn’t make her choose.

Her life had been with the X-Men, leaving them was unthinkable. Scott was a big part of that – their shared dreams and convictions, his strong leadership and quiet private vulnerabilities almost no one ever saw. He was always just a thought away, as steady and known to her as herself.

What of Logan’s maddening wanderlust? His love of violence, bar brawls, and how he thinks nothing of killing… I’ve known since I met him that his rougher edges weren’t easy to deal with, not for me. With Scott treating me as he has, it seemed easier to turn to Logan, but could I live with him? Compatible in bed doesn’t make us able to share a life every day. Will I try to cling to saving a marriage that we may not be able to fix? Is it even what I want anymore, knowing what I could have with Logan? We are already such close friends; could sex be a bridge to finding a way to become more, despite our differences?

If it was just the three of them, it became a problem of choosing one. Yet it wasn’t only these two very different men – it was the others, too. The school, their friends, how they would have to try to make it work and still be a team … and what if they couldn’t? Logan often acted like it wasn’t true, his alpha nature and instincts hard to ignore, but he and Scott were friends.

Would the others take sides? Blame me, or Logan? Or blame Scott…

Jean felt the pain she’d known when she had thought her husband was dead. She had dreaded being alone in their suite, knowing the loss would just go on and on. His smile and laugh, the intelligence and insight into so many things and how she loved to talk with him about any of them. Discussions on politics, civil rights, and his passion about them had made her admire him from the start. He had been her best friend and they had discovered love and sex together, slow and tentative, but sweet and deep. There was a rhythm to their lives at the school and her partnership with her husband and friend had been a pillar of strength for them and for many others.

Logan talks of staying in this strange place, which is impossible, but there are other places we could go. He’d adapt and probably not miss much, except maybe Jubilee, Kitty, and Storm. Tears spilled at the thought of leaving Storm. I couldn’t run away, hide, leave them all; yet if I returned, left Scott and tried to make a life with Logan – my whole world would be torn into pieces.

Beside her, Logan’s thoughts were as much a mess as hers. Pushing to see some of the things she never wanted to see, they came to her easily – claws opening flesh, the bestial joy of the kill, both for food and revenge. Hunts and fights – how he would allow Sabretooth to goad him just to rip and tear each other with abandon and then call it … fun… The wilderness, the bars, the women…

He might try to change if I asked, but it wouldn’t work and wouldn’t be right. All that would do is make him resent me. I can’t just go running in the woods, eat raw things he kills and live like an animal with sticks in my hair… If I go back to my marriage, will I end up missing Logan’s touch for the rest of my life when I lie with Scott? Worse, Logan would be there, just a whispered thought away – willing and drowning my senses in a need for me that makes me ache for him. I just don’t know what to do… The tears turned to sobs.

“Jeannie … don’t…”

He turned to her, the hands and body that had shattered her peace trying to comfort – but all he did was stoke the hunger. Even his kindness and his regret, thinking his words had hurt her, drew her back to the fire.

She had never known a man so passionate, in bed and out. Every aspect of his complex and wounded being, a mystery even to himself, lured her to forget everything else that had ever mattered to her. Yet yearning for an all-consuming passion didn’t cure her fear of it – the fear of losing herself completely within it – and so, shuddering, she retreated from it, as she always had.

“No, it’s my fault – all of it. Logan, I – I need to think.” He was silent as she rose, clutching a fur around her. She went to retrieve the clothes she’d left in the smaller dark cave. He would let her go, let her walk away from him as he always did. Pausing, she looked back and whispered, “We have to do what’s right – stop Hellena from hurting anyone else and end this madness. Whatever we do about … us … can wait.”

Logan sat up and faced her, naked and unashamed of his wants. “Wait. Like we’ve been doin’ fer years? Sayin’ nothin’, but feelin’ this thing between us every damn day? I’d rather stay here an’ give up tha world an’ everythin’ in it, than give up bein’ with ya, even if this was Hell.”

“Leaving here won’t end our relating – I just have to sort out … what to do, what I want. Logan, I don’t know what I want … I never did.”

“I know.”

“Also, I haven’t been … completely honest with you. I don’t want to get into who’s at fault for what, but you have a right to know: before all of this started, too long before, Scott stopped making love with me, at all. It was tearing me up and I was confused and … needy.” She couldn’t read the carefully neutral expression on his face, but his thoughts were slowly turning bitter and growing cold to her. Afraid of what he was thinking, but unwilling to pry, she continued in a rush. “Maybe if I had sorted out my own mess sooner, I wouldn’t have – what?”

His voice was low, gruff, the pain in his thoughts freezing her. “Ya think I dunno he ain’t been touchin’ ya? Fer years, Jeannie, I knew – every time, every place that he put a hand on yer skin. Pass ya in tha kitchen, or out in tha field, I could smell ‘is scent on ya, smell what ya had done with each other. Never even mattered that ya bathed, darlin’, an’ that’s tha hard truth o’ what sorta hell my senses can put me in. I can tell ya tha day he quit, down t’ tha minute, probly. Know what ya smell like now? Me. Ain’t many places he’s ever been I ain’t covered by now, huh? Plus a few he’s got no clue how t’ stroke. Now ya wanna confess, tell me ya were just gettin’ me t’ scratch an itch? Already knew that too – even offered, if ya recall. Fact is, I ain’t what ya want, no matter what ya decide ‘bout Slim. A few itch-scratchin’ bed tricks ain’t gonna change that.”

She turned to face him and held herself tightly, her tears gathering again at his harsh words. “It hasn’t – it doesn’t – mean nothing to me, Logan. How can you think that?”

“Didn’t think it, Jeannie, was too busy foolishly hopin’it was more – but yer body language an’ scent just said it, loud an’ clear. If ya had any intention o’ bein’ with me, ya’d still be lyin’ here.”

“You’re wrong. We have a deeper bond than ever, now. I wouldn’t want to break it – but I need to decide…”

Her throat closed and she couldn’t speak further. Logan was quiet, staring down at his hands, where his claws so often tore free. They were only the most obvious evidence of his nature, and they both knew it was that native savagery that had always been a barrier between them. When they left this place and the strange influence on her mind that helped her accept his feral nature faded, that barrier would still be there even if her fear was gone.

As she timidly touched his thoughts, the hopeless strains of a haunting song echoed there. It was The Chain by Fleetwood Mac and she knew it well. Her tears continued to fall as she left him, listening to the words in his mind: words he was using to mask private thoughts, even as his pain flowed like blood.

Listen to the wind blow, down comes the night

Running in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies

Break the silence, damn the dark, damn the light
And if you don’t love me now
you will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
you would never break the chain

never break the chain…

*****************************************************************

“Out, both o’ ya,” Logan ordered.

Andy and George hurried to obey him, leaving Reece alone in his cave. Logan frowned as he glanced over all of the bric-a-brac around the man, the expression souring into a glare as his gaze rested again on the preserved reptilian mutant’s head.

Reece watched him warily, without saying a word. The man looked no worse for wear through all of his trials to date in this place – but that was about to change.

“I’ve been ‘round a while, Reece. Learned a lot, too – an’ not all o’ my teachers wore white hats.”

The anthropologist stood as he approached, yet in spite of his caution, he seemed confident enough that he was safe.

Does he think Jean’s in charge an’ I won’t hurt ‘im cuz she said not t’? Probly. Watershed time, bub. “Ya said ya study mutants. Ever study me?”

“From a distance, yes, in public accounts and also, in interviews with various private witnesses who’ve had dealings – fortunate and unfortunate – with the man known as Wolverine. The whole paints an eclectic portrait.”

“I bet, whoever ya jawed with – but we’re gonna paint outside tha lines t’night.” Logan advanced again and smiled cruelly when he saw fear spark in the man’s eyes at last. “Told ya once I was curious – still am. Ready t’ throw down?”

“I don’t understand – I can’t fight you.”

“Yeah, ‘bout that – I’m prepared t’ take an unfair advantage.”

“Ms. Phoenix –”

“Is upstairs makin’ ‘er own decisions. I can’t help with ‘ers, but I can with yers.”

“My decisions?”

“Yup. Fer starters, tellin’ me what I wanna know.”

“You were so concerned about lies before – how will you know what I say is true without the telepath?”

“I got ways.”

His fist was a blur of motion, smashing the taller man to the floor before he ever saw it. Logan followed him down, leaning over him in a threatening crouch. In the ringing shock of silence after the blow, a metallic ~snikt~ upped the ante.

Glaring down into his victim’s widened eyes, Logan asked, “Hook don’t care one way or ‘nother ‘bout mutants, does she?”

“What are you –?”

“Wrong answer.” The single claw he’d popped pressed into the soft flesh of Reece’s belly, the point of it entering his shirt and shuddering flesh with frightening ease. “Here’s tha game, bub. Tell me tha truth, an’ tha claw stays still. Lie, it goes up an inch. Gimme half a truth, it goes down.”

“My God… How can I be assured you’d believe the truth?”

“That, Waldo, is up t’ how convincin’ ya are. I suggest ya make it good. I got six claws, so I get six questions an’ tha first one’s on tha table. Ready t’ play?”

He was silent until he gasped – the claw had pressed in incrementally deeper. “She doesn’t kill them because they are mutants,” he abruptly responded, his voice a babble of desperation. “I think she kills them because she cannot take their bodies – their minds, their wills, are too strong for her to overcome and throw out.”

“Huh. Ya know, I like tha fear, it’s healthy … but tha eyes shiftin’ ‘round – I think ya got more t’ say on that subject.” His arm moved and the claw began to cut downward. “Whattaya think?”

“Stop! I – okay, okay, she can’t possess them because of that but she kills them to protect her body!”

Grinning fiercely, Logan moved his claw down again. “An’ they die cuz –?”

“I don’t under – because I sent them! They die because I send them out to try to find her, and they aren’t strong enough to fight her and her monsters! Please,” he begged, as the claw finally stopped.

“Well, that was a solid round one.” Removing his claw, he held it over Reece’s face, letting his blood drip onto his chin from its point. Methodically, he popped the next claw on the same fist. “Time fer round two.”

Tears slipped down the man’s cheeks. “A lot of the normal humans have died on the same mission,” he whispered. “I don’t know why she hasn’t been able to possess them.”

“Extra information – ‘preciate it, bub, but guess what? Free confessions won’t get ya outta tha game.” Angling his second claw an inch to the right of the bleeding cut, he asked, “If Hook keeps draggin’ folks in, how come so few are trapped here with us?”

“I’ve sent most of them to find her body. From what you said about Wendy escaping, I assume the authorities have kept people away from the area, so she has no one to trap in the vicinity.” He screamed hoarsely when the second claw pierced him and cut down slightly. “It’s the truth,” he said, panting, “I swear…”

“Yeah, I know – just not all o’ it. Go on.”

Reece looked confused until Logan’s hand twitched. Then he gulped and spoke quickly. “She has a limited influence. I don’t know what the radius is, exactly, but she can’t trap people if they are too far away from her body.”

The second claw withdrew from the smaller cut and the third popped with a loud ~snikt~. “We’re makin’ progress, Waldo. Ya explained why tha Wild Bunch is such a small club, if ya been shippin’ ‘em up t’ do yer dirty work fer ya. We got tha truth ‘bout how mutants factor in an’ why we ain’t got new neighbors arrivin’ daily. Ready fer round three?”

“Please … stop. I’ll tell you anything…”

Without hesitation, he pricked the man with the third claw. “Yer smart ‘nuff t’ figure this out: if yer not answerin’ me, shut tha fuck up. Ready fer three?”

Stifling a sob, Reece nodded.

“Good. Ya gotta love a man who can be trained. Here it is – think carefully. Why won’t Hook or ‘er creatures enter tha caverns?”

“I believe – it’s the stone. I don’t know if it limits her range, or if the density of it weakens her power. I have suspected both may be true, as evidenced by the fact that the deeper you are, the more the regression leaves you.”

“I’m impressed.” Logan withdrew the claw and retracted all three of them with a ~snakt~.

“Thank you,” Reece murmured, his body starting to unclench.

Logan shifted where he had been crouching, turning his torso slightly. “Did ya forget somethin’?” Raising his other fist, he popped the first claw there. “I still got three left.”

*****************************************************************

The fear and horrid pain of one man, and the savage satisfaction of the other had finally permeated Jean’s troubled thoughts and sent her rushing to stop Logan’s Machiavellian questioning.

When she passed the other two men skulking outside of the cave, one look told her neither of them had had the courage to protest, though they were obviously listening. She gave them a scathing glance before bursting in on Logan and Reece.

“Wolverine, stop this!”

She didn’t use her TK to make him, but he could see and scent that she was only a breath away from doing so.

Two of his claws were dripping with blood; the third was actively cutting down the anthropologist’s abdomen when she shouted out to him. The claw stopped, but did not withdraw.

“We’re almost done, Red. I’ll catch ya up on tha rest later, unless ya wanna just ream it out o’ me now – but Reece just admitted that if he’d found Hook’s body, he woulda killed ‘er. Before that, he agreed with my theory that takin’ outta mess o’ tha bear-dogs at once would weaken tha bitch. Now I’m findin’ out who that cavewoman was – if yer feelin’ curious…”

“Stop it now. I can dig the rest out of him.”

Growling, Logan removed his last claw. “Not necessary, darlin’. Is it, Waldo?”

“No,” Reece answered, gasping.

“Well?” Logan moved away and stood, leaning against the rock ledge.

The casual pose didn’t lessen his threatening appearance. The trio of claws still dripped with the man’s blood, as well – no doubt for intimidation overkill. It was hard to tell if Reece hesitated out of fear or if he was going into shock. Jean held her ground. Logan’s volatile thoughts told her he hadn’t wounded the fool seriously.

“Spill it or I’ll spill yer offal instead, an’ if ya think she can save ya, think o’ this: everybody sleeps – sooner or later.”

“She was … my wife.”

~ ~ ~

Jean wasn’t gentle with the stitching or bandaging, but remained silent as Reece explained himself. Logan stood at the entrance to the cave, his back to both of them.

“We were separated, more than two years. Lynn never approved of my study of the mutant culture, or of mutants in general. I’d told her I wouldn’t give it up and so she must have come to find me – probably to tell me she wanted a divorce. I came here to find Hellena, having heard of a girl with ‘upsetting’ powers in Bowling Green. When Lynn was trapped here, Hellena’s powers affected her quickly. I never saw a rational woman in her face until just before she tried to escape.”

“Watch it, Waldo,” Logan muttered.

Jean felt the man’s fear freeze the attempt at a lie.

“Not to escape,” Reece amended, watching Logan’s back with wide eyes. “I sent her up. I told – told her … that if she ran far enough, fast enough, she could get free and return to the world.”

“You must have realized she’d be hurt, after what you told Wolverine before. Why…” Jean frowned, feeling the answer in his thoughts even as her voice dwindled away in disgust. Taking a breath, she asked the question anyway, just to make him admit it. “Why did you do it?”

“It seemed the shortest route to simplifying my life – on many levels. When he brought her back alive, I couldn’t risk either of you talking to her.”

Oh, God – the woman regained her mind and I never sensed it. Why? With a wince, the truth came clear. Because I was rutting with Logan like a … a…

I think tha phrase yer lookin’ fer is ‘bitch in heat’, Logan thought, his mind voice bitter, angry.

Jean almost lashed out at him before she realized that she had trespassed into his mind, not the other way around. Shaking her head, she broke off the instinctual connection.

“So why didn’t Hellena posses her body … or kill her if she couldn’t?”

Reece looked at her, guilt twisting in his face. He wanted to deny, lie, hide – but his terror of Logan changed his mind. “Lynn was fighting lung cancer. I felt sure Hellena would destroy her because of that – but it is possible she wanted to use her as bait to draw me out.”

Uncomprehending Reece’s ability to allow another man to rape his sick wife as a conquered possession, to coldly send her out to die … and then to suffocate her when that plan failed, Jean sought a deeper understanding – in the form of a reaming probe.

It caught Reece by surprise, but she was finished with it before it could hurt him much. Burdened with her new knowledge, Jean regretted that a little.

“For a list of petty sins and a fat inheritance you didn’t want to lose, you murdered your wife.”

“Now ya done it, Waldo,” Logan said, and chuckled. “Tha lady’s got issues lately with errant husbands. She might give ya back t’ me if yer not careful.” Hands fisted, his claws retracted with a loud ~snakt~. Without looking back, he left them.

Just outside, Jean heard him speaking to Andy. The park ranger’s response made her frown grow darker as she glared at Reece.

“Yes, he did,” Andy said. “He told me to help Wendy, but also to look for the body. Now I have to wonder if she was just bait all along. Then she escaped and I guess I regressed again. That’s all I remember.”

Logan stalked back into the cave, a malevolent expression on his face. Reece scrambled away from him, setting his back against stone with his arms over his bandaged belly. Jean watched, but didn’t interfere.

“Yer turn’s comin’, Reece. We’re gonna fight this bitch an’ when we do, yer helpin’ – no more hidin’ while others die. No more sendin’ a kid up t’ tempt a witch, neither. We’re gonna tempt ‘er with yer skinny ass.”

The man called Wolverine left them – and Reece slumped, relieved that he was gone.

“I wouldn’t relax too much,” Jean told him. “He only left to avoid the temptation to kill you outright.”

“Creatures like that – can make one see the viewpoint of mutant haters in a new light.”

“You should meet Sabretooth; what a shame that would be.” Jean stood and stared down at the man, contempt shining in her eyes. “Don’t assume you have a sympathizer in me. After what I’ve seen in your filthy mind, I’m more than a little willing to let Wolverine kill you. Make no mistake – if you survive facing Hellena, I’ll see that you are arrested for murder when this is over. I’m willing to bet Andy and George wouldn’t argue.”

“What of the man your companion killed? I imagine Mr. Kendall wasn’t the first, by any means. Or does your sense of justice not extend to your own kind?”

“Kendall’s death was an accident brought on by Hellena’s mental regression; also, he was far more deserving of what he got than you are, believe it or not. The sins of one have never absolved the sins of another. Don’t lecture me on morals after confessing to multiple murders, Reece – being this close to you has already made me feel sick.”

“Ms. Phoenix, you must –”

“I only have one more question for you. I am an Omega-level telepath – you may know what that means if you study mutants. If the animals are illusion made real, they wouldn’t have thoughts for me to sense. Hellena is a real person; why can’t I find her out there?”

“Perhaps only part of her is ‘here’ with us, or not at all. If she is physically outside of this reality, you couldn’t find her – because from within, the outside world does not exist. Surely you’ve tried to reach out to other minds beyond this place? Was it successful, in spite of your vaunted talent?”

A rage worthy of Wolverine burned her, but it was the same heat that rose within whenever she had tried to strain her telepathy to contact their team. Abruptly bathed in sweat at the thought of what it could mean, Jean drew a deep breath and glared at Reece, swallowing the angry words that would only feed the rage.

Turning on her heel, she left him. Passing the others outside, she spoke as she walked away from them to follow in Logan’s footsteps. “I wouldn’t stick around if I were you. You’re witnesses now and Reece doesn’t like witnesses. Watch your backs.”

“What should we do?” Andy asked her.

George added in a timid mutter, “The other man told us to bring our things to the Rotunda and wait there.”

Jean didn’t look back. “Then I suggest you obey him – unless you want him to pull the same Freddy Krueger treatment on you.”

She found Logan standing at the entrance to the caverns, his body stiff, his mind and emotions in turmoil. The last cigar was clenched in the corner of his mouth, its smoke white in the freezing night air. The metal case flashed when he threw it out into the snow. Staring at it as if he was waiting for it to disappear, he did not acknowledge her presence.

“I’ve changed my mind – I don’t blame you for getting vicious.”

He didn’t move, his blue eyes staring off into the dark, empty wild. “Now yer hedgin’ tha truth. My claws proved he was a dirty wretch – that’s tha only reason ya can try t’ justify it. Chuck’s Boy Scout might be prickly nowadays, but he ain’t a beast like me.”

“Don’t presume to know what I’ll decide,” she flared. Her fists trembled at her sides. “Sometimes, the two of you are obnoxiously alike – you both think you know me better than I do.”

“Face it, Jeannie – my nature turns ya cold. Once ya can look at that, ya know what yer decision’ll be.”

“Other aspects of your nature burn.” She reached out to touch his back, not to spark passion, but to comfort his pain. Yet neither the body beneath her fingers nor the mind that governed it warmed to her. “Logan, you owe me this – a chance to sort it out before you try to decide for me, either way.”

“Gotta point, Red; guess I’ll let ya think in peace.” He moved away and headed for the tunnels.

“Wait…” She faced him, but he didn’t turn. “I’m sorry … for what I thought at you. I was upset that I didn’t sense his wife and I didn’t mean to sound so…” Swallowing, she tried again. “I’m angry with myself, not you.”

Even with telepathy, she might not have been able read the look he gave her over his shoulder. Trembling with more than just the cold, she was afraid to try.

“Don’t stay up here too long, darlin’ – ya might prefer bein’ in yer own right mind when we draw up battle plans. Wouldn’t want Hook leanin’ ya more t’ my way o’ thinkin’ fer that.”

“Tell me why you suddenly started carving Reece for answers.”

“Figure it out.”

“Logan…”

He didn’t answer, and then he was gone.

Was it to get us out of here faster, since you’re convinced I’ll choose Scott? She didn’t pass the question on to her brooding friend. Jean faced the night as he had, trying to sense their enemy. Hellena – I’m sorry for what happened to you and I still want to help you, in spite of everything. I hope you’ll let me.

She startled when she picked up Logan’s gruff mental hail; she hadn’t realized how deeply she’d been trying to impart her thoughts to the unseen mutant out in the snow.

Time fer war games – I’m gonna go fetch Waldo. Meet us in tha Rotunda in five.

Jean sent back her affirmative, but remained a moment longer. Outside, the night wind howled – or was it the voices of monsters her mind couldn’t touch?

Sighing, she turned away from the wind and headed back down the winding stone tunnel to rejoin the others.

Maybe if I can keep the peace long enough, we could all live to see the end of this mess.

She tried not to think about what she would do after that.

*****************************************************************

To avoid watching Jean as she brought the others up to speed on anything they hadn’t already overheard, Logan stared down at Reece. The man sat quietly through it all, enduring the shocked and scathing looks of the others. In fact, he was behaving obediently enough to make his interrogator suspicious.

The anthropologist hadn’t moved from the spot where Logan had dumped him when he released the back of the man’s neck. He studied his hands or the cavern floor beyond his worn hiking boots, looking anywhere but at the men he had led and misled for so long.

Andy the park ranger and George the tourist asked a few questions, but it was obvious that the mutants present were the only ones with any experience in a fight. The fear on the others’ faces showed plainly in the shifting torchlight.

Predictably, Jean didn’t want a death match. He could read her response in the calm way she sat, Indian-style, with hands resting on her knees. Logan couldn’t be so relaxed. He paced a short distance beyond them all, glaring at Reece with every turn. He also couldn’t be as charitable as he knew Jean would try to be.

“We aren’t going to kill her,” she answered George’s meek inquiry. “Capture, contain, restrain – that’s the goal.”

“Will that stop this weird reality?” Andy’s hands toyed with a trio of small stones, passing them back and forth as he watched the redhead.

“If it doesn’t, we should be able to convince her to stop it.”

“One way or ‘nother,” Logan muttered. When Reece twitched, he smirked. Crushing his cigar stub on a rock as he passed it, Logan walked back to Reece and tossed it onto his lap. He flinched again, but didn’t touch it. “Tha idea is t’ take out as many bear-dogs as possible. As tha theory goes, it should weaken ‘er power ‘nuff fer Phoenix t’ find ‘er body.”

“None of us have ever been able to kill even one of them,” Andy protested.

“Don’t worry, bub – monster liquidation is my prob.”

“So what do we do?”

Logan faced the park ranger. “Yer buddy an’ yerself are stayin’ put, right here.”

“What about him?” Andy asked. The contempt in his voice as he gestured to Reece indicated that he felt much the same about his former leader as Logan did.

“Can’t leave ‘im behind t’ try murderin’ tha two o’ ya, so he goes with us.”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Jean said. “I know I agreed before, but maybe we should consider other options? He can’t fight Hellena or her creatures – we’d likely just get him killed.”

“I got no prob with that scenario.”

“We can’t just sacrifice the man for no reason.”

“I gotta few reasons. So do they,” he replied, nodding to Andy and George. “I bet tha people he sent up had theirs an’ ‘is wife probly had ‘ers.”

“It’s still not –”

“It is – but I gotta better reason than payback. When I gave ‘im a shake in tha wind before, we suddenly had more bear-dogs than she needed fer one scrawny jackass. If tha plan depends on takin’ ‘em out hard an’ heavy, he’s tha right bait t’ guarantee good numbers.”

“Then we have to provide him with sufficient protection.”

“Be my guest, Red, but don’t jeopardize tha whole thing fer a piece o’ shit like that. I’ll be a li’l too busy t’ babysit, or t’ look fer Hook myself; ya can juggle a bit if ya want, but ya might hafta make a choice. More people die if ya choose ‘im – innocent people.”

“Don’t worry about me,” she responded, her voice chilly. “I can handle it.”

“That’s it fer tha plannin’, then. We gotta few hours left ‘til dawn; get some sleep if ya can, all o’ ya. I’m on watch.”

~ ~ ~

Logan?

Ya should be sleepin’.

I can’t. We’ll be risking our lives tomorrow –

Best reason fer a nap I ever heard.

Damn it, stop it! Stop pushing me away!

He lifted his chin from his chest and stared across the distance at her. Her angry emerald eyes snapped at him in the dim light of torches that would soon burn out.

She was wrapped in the cured bear-dog skin he had fetched for her after noticing her shivering in her sleep an hour before. Sitting up to face him where he stood leaning against the stone beside the exit tunnel, she broke his stunned mental silence.

I’m sorry – but I don’t want to go fight for my life in a few hours, and other people’s lives, too, while at odds with you. Can’t we just concentrate on what we have to do and worry about the rest when it’s over?

We’ll hafta, Red – nap time’s done.

What?

Yer subterranean clock’s off; tha sun’s comin’ up. It’s sacrifice time, darlin’.

Logan, you can’t risk Reece out there with us; he’d be helpless.

Didn’t mean ‘im; don’t worry – it’ll be me doin’ tha sacrificin’. If it makes ya happy, I’ll make sure they’re too busy t’ chomp on ‘im.

All of us surviving this would make me happy.

Wake Waldo up, then. We should be upstairs an’ ready before real daylight starts.

Logan watched her rise and approach, leaving the brindle fur in a heap near Andy. When she touched his shoulder and leaned in, attempting to kiss him, he turned his head. Stepping away from her, he backed into the tunnel.

“I only wanted…”

“Ya wanted t’ get t’ it an’ now’s tha time – sooner tha better.”

He walked off and left her, unable to face the pain in her eyes, or hide the need in his own. Yet he couldn’t focus on the fight at hand if he allowed her indecisive nature to pull him in two directions at once.

There’ll be plenty o’ time fer that after we collar Hook an’ get tha hell back t’ tha world. Don’t think I’ll rush home t’ wait while she makes up ‘er mind, though. Gettin’ outta this caper’ll call fer a real vacation: booze, stogies an’ maybe an ass t’ kick, just fer fun. Wonder what Sabretooth’s up t’?

The freezing pre-dawn wind blew through the entrance cavern, laden with the howls of bear-dogs. Behind him, he heard Jean and Reece, soon to exit the tunnel.

Here we go, Hook. May tha best mutant win. A fierce, cruel smile displayed his fangs to the wind. Oughta warn ya, though – that’s usually me.

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