Title: Portraits in a Gallery: Before a
Hank finished washing himself top to bottom for the third time. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so thoroughly clean. God, it felt wonderful. Even if he was having some lingering suspicions about his good luck in finding these two, he was firmly instructing himself to ignore those for the moment and simply enjoy being somewhere safe.
It seemed like he was not the first mutant that Logan and his wife had picked up. There was definitely a familiarity in the way Logan approached him. He wondered if they might be right about Xavier – if he might be not such a bad person after all. If he'd sent them out looking for mutants, then surely he must genuinely want to help his own kind. Hank tried not to hope for too much, but if Logan had been telling the truth and he could find a place in Westchester – well, it would be a massive understatement to say that his life would be taking a turn for the better.
And there had been so many turns for the worst. First, the mutation – which itself wasn't so bad, but oh no, Hank had been so confident in his own abilities to 'fix' himself, and look what had happened. He made it a thousand times worse and couldn't find a way to reverse it. Pride, he thought to himself, always goeth before a fall.
He'd had to learn to let go of that pride when his family kicked him out, and he had had to abandon it completely after his car was demolished. Reduced to stealing meals from trash cans and hiding during the day, he had learned humility well. And if he sometimes thought his punishment for the crime of hubris was a bit excessive, he thought that it was at least a lesson he would not forget.
Or at least that's what he was aiming for. He'd been a little pompous and high-handed with Logan and Marie under the dock. He hoped they understood, and judging by how friendly Marie had been and how not-quite-surly Logan had been, they had. Hopefully, he'd get to know them both better and would be able to show them that that had merely been a self-defense mechanism of sorts, a way to retain not pride, but simply some sense of himself.
Toweling off and dressing, Hank steadied himself before opening the door. He guessed that Marie was already gone – she'd mentioned a party she needed to attend, and he'd been curious about why her husband hadn't accompanied her, but he hadn't wanted to pry. It would be just him and Logan for a while, and Hank thought that was good – it would give him a chance to ask some questions about Xavier, since Logan seemed to know him better. Taking one last deep breath, he emerged.
"Hey," Logan greeted. "I called down for some dinner. Didn't know whatcha liked, so I got a coupla different things."
Hank's wide eyes surveyed the buffet before him. He thought he must've died and gone to heaven – first friendly, helpful fellow mutants, then hot showers and clean clothes and now this. He saw two steak dinners, two chicken ones, a bowl of pasta, a pizza, some salad, breadsticks, sandwiches – it covered the entire king-sized bed. Literally. "My stars……"
"Dig in," Logan said softly as he snagged one of the steak dinners for himself. "Silverware's on toppa the TV." Hank eagerly did so, taking one of the chicken dishes for himself. "Feel better?"
"Absolutely," Hank replied between shoveled-in mouthfuls of food. "I cannot thank you enough."
Logan grunted out a "You're Welcome" before turning back to his own meal. They ate in silence for a while, each man enjoying the simple pleasures of hot food and easing hunger. After Logan had finished eating and Hank had slowed a bit, he sat back and began to broach what he'd talked about with Xavier. "Talked to Professor Xavier on the phone while you were washin' up. He was damn glad to hear about ya. He invited you to come to Westchester to meet him. If you like it there, then you got a place with us."
Hank swallowed and for once in his life was speechless. It just couldn't be this easy, could it? Logan seemed to sense his emotions, and he leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees, confiding to Hank, "I know it's a lot. But it's for real. Look, Hank, I ain't gonna bullshit ya. The real deal is this – Xavier's been lookin' for ya. Heard a lot about ya and thinks you can really make a difference at the mansion." He omitted the fact that the Brotherhood had been looking for him as well. No need to give any mention of that at the moment and needlessly stress Hank out. He could always tell Hank the whole story if it became necessary. "A guy like you, with your brains and your talent, well – there's a lot you can do to help him out. But it's only if you wanna. You decide. Me and Marie – we'll getcha there. But once you take a good look around, meet the people – then it's up to you. Deal?"
"Deal," Hank stammered out. It was a very good deal, a godsend.
"Good. We'll get movin' in the mornin' then."
"Thank you – thank you. You – you have my most sincere thanks. I cannot thank you and your wife enough."
Logan sat back with a start and Hank wondered just what he'd said wrong. Then Logan's shocked expression eased as quickly as it had come over him, and his lips played at a sardonic grin. "My wife – you mean Marie?"
"We ain't married."
"Oh!" Hank suddenly got it – although he himself would have been quite happy to be mistaken for Marie's husband, most men shied away from any prematurely-bestowed indicia of commitment. "My apologies. Forgive me. I assumed that you were married. My mistake. You seem – you seem quite compatible, that is all."
Logan's grin turned from wry to genuinely amused. "We are. She's a good woman." Something inside him resonated with the truth of those words. He began to replay in his head all those things she'd said about them being 'meant to be together' and, once he set aside his concerns about how he'd behaved when he first found her, he began to think maybe there was something to all that after all. Hell, Logan thought, that *is* right, we *are* compatible, and not just in a she-doesn't-bug-the-shit-outta-me kind of way. Still, even if all of those things might be so, he wasn't quite sure what he wanted to do about them yet. Not quite yet. He was, however, certain of what he *didn't* want to happen – he didn't want to chance anything even remotely threatening to his bond with Marie. That included not leaving her here alone in Vancouver (which he'd done in instinct, without really thinking through what it meant until now); it probably should include giving her some clues that he did recognize that bond and that she could count on it; and, it definitely included setting straight any lovesick mutants who might get the idea that Marie was available simply because she wasn't Mrs. Logan. Logan leaned toward Hank again, and deliberately let the smile fall from his features. "She's a real good woman. And she's mine – got it?"
"Got it." Hank concurred, nodding solemnly. At that, Logan's smile was back. He eased back in his chair, and began filling Hank in on the other details of their voyage to Westchester.
Back in Westchester, Jean was heading to bed. She'd been happy with how the day had gone. She'd enjoyed a pleasant picnic lunch with Warren, who was showing signs of serious interest in her. They'd known each other for decades but never dated; she thought him an awkward, socially inept boy when they were both growing up together at the mansion. His wealth never impressed her – it didn't take much in the way of talent, brains, or ability to inherit a fortune. But now, he'd done well with the resources he'd been given, and he'd grown into a quite suave, polished gentleman. Lucky for her that he'd never completely lost that boyhood crush he'd had on her.
Yes, the picnic had gone well, and maybe Warren would prove a good match for her after all. Logan had been too uncivilized, too stubborn, too carnal, she could see that now. Her mistake was beginning a relationship with him. Logan was the kind of man you had affairs with, not relationships. She should've gotten him out of her system and never breathed a word to Scott about it.
Scott – now, there was an unpleasant thought. He was still so angry with her, and she didn't understand why. The words he'd said had hurt – especially his crack about not really ever having known her. She'd opened herself up to him through the psychic link and let him see all of her. Well – almost all of her. There were some things one needed to keep private; that was a lesson she'd learned well when her powers first manifested and she couldn't keep the most intimate, personal thoughts of the people around her out of her head if she tried. There had to be some barriers.
But she thought Scott had understood that, and understood her. This ridiculous 'relationship' he had embarked on with Kitty was proof that he never really did 'get' Jean at all. He should've known that she'd only feel sorry for him for dating Kitty, not jealous. After all, it was quite a step down. He was only embarrassing himself and confirming her judgment that he'd been too young and too immature for a relationship, at least for the kind of relationship she needed. Still, she missed Scott – he'd had a boyish charm about him and, with time and effort, he could've become someone she'd want to be with long-term.
Warren would be much better suited for that now that a relationship with Scott was no longer possible, she thought, resolutely turning her mind to a less painful subject. Warren was closer in age, he'd gone through some changes in life, he'd shown the capacity to mature. Yes, Warren was a far better choice. At the very least, Jean thought wryly, he'll never fling our intimate sexual acts back in my face in public. That had really been the last straw with Logan – anytime there was a disagreement or when she tried to express her unhappiness with some aspect of the relationship, his answer had always been – 'Well, I please you in bed, don't I?' – as though that were the be-all, end-all of the relationship. It just goes to show, Jean thought, that it was really only sexual to him, that he just didn't have the capacity to bring his heart into a relationship. She chastised herself – she should've realized that when he refused to mind-link with her.
Jean's thoughts were interrupted by the warm glow of light emanating from beneath Charles' closed office door. It was late – well past midnight. What was he doing up at this hour?
Concerned, Jean reached out with her mind, just a light touch to make sure there was nothing distressing him. If there was one constant in her life, it was Charles. He'd taken her in, quieted the raging voices in her head, and to this day, he still understood her better than any friend or lover. After all, he'd walked in her shoes – he had the same mutation. She was always trying to return the favor, to take care of him when she could.
Finding excitement instead of distress with the light mental touch made her relieved, but it also incited her curiosity. Knocking softly, she called out to him, "Charles?"
"Jean? Come in."
She opened the door to find him busily typing away on his computer. She smiled. It was a gift from her and Scott, and she remembered how much Charles loved it. The laptop could go with him wherever he wanted to go, and Scott had even rigged it so that it could plug into Charles' wheelchair power source. Jean did love seeing her mentor happy, and every time she saw him with her gift, she was doubly pleased that she'd been the one to bring him a little joy.
"You're up late," Jean commented, smiling warmly.
"Indeed. I believe we have found a new mutant, Jean."
"Oooh." She indulged herself in a display of unfettered happiness. A smile lit her features, one that reached her eyes, and her entire body relaxed a bit. It wasn't the news itself that produced this reaction. One more new mutant was neither here nor there to her. It was the fact that this was what made Charles the happiest; he never quite came alive like he did when there was the prospect of a new, undiscovered mutant coming to Westchester. "Where are they?"
"In Vancouver." Jean's expression darkened at that, realizing that Logan must've been the one to stumble across the new find. "Jean," Charles soothed, "Do not worry. I know you must be distressed by your breakup with Logan, but my dear, you are far too special a woman to go unloved. You will find someone else, I am certain of it."
"Thank you, Charles," she said with genuine emotion. "So," she continued, clearing her throat and shaking off her dark cloud, "tell me about the new guy."
"It is Henry McCoy." Jean let out a soft whistle. She'd been one of the few people Charles had favored with the knowledge that the brilliant but disfigured scientist even existed. Charles hadn't told her so, but she knew instinctively that the Brotherhood would be interested in McCoy as well; part of her was relieved that Logan was with him despite her own current bad feelings towards the man. Logan would be McCoy's best hope if Sabretooth or Mystique showed up, and Sabretooth had been suspiciously quiet for quite some time now. It would be just like him to emerge again at the worst possible time. "Logan will be driving him here, cross-country. He feels it is best to give him some time to acclimate a little, and I concur. Apparently, Henry has been homeless for some time."
"Yes." Charles wheeled out from his desk and stopped in front of Jean. "Jean, Logan is also bringing someone he met in Vancouver. I do not wish for you to be surprised by this. Her name is Marie and apparently, she knew Logan some time ago, before we found him." Charles could feel a pang of turmoil from her before she returned to an even emotional keel. He smiled, half in pride at her emotional discipline, something so critically necessary for a telepath, and half in affection – she rarely let down her shields enough to broadcast and it had only ever happened in his presence. He knew it meant she still felt safer with him than anyone here, and he was pleased he could give his favorite student and putative daughter that feeling of security.
"I guess that's why he stayed," Jean said softly. "I hope it was worth it for him." Just the barest note of bitterness crept into her voice at the end, but Charles forgave her it; she was, as they all were, still only human.
"Would you help me make things ready for Henry? The medlab and the offices down there – "
"I'll take care of it, Charles," Jean smiled, taking his hand in hers. "We'll impress the socks off of him."
"I knew I could count on you," Charles returned, letting her go and wheeling back to the desk. No good nights were needed between them, and Jean silently set off to bed, wanting to put her weary mind to rest.
Marie crept back into the darkened hotel room late – very late. She'd told Logan she'd be back by midnight or close to it, and it was nearly two a.m. now. She was exhausted, but it had been worth it – she'd sold one painting tonight, and had four other interested buyers. If all went well, that income could carry her through the next six months or so. Definitely worth the trouble.
"Marie?" Logan called in a whisper from somewhere in the darkness. Letting her eyes adjust a bit, she saw a big lump on the couch and an even bigger one sprawled out all over the massive king-sized bed.
"It's me," she whispered back, in the general direction of the couch-lump. "I'm going to get changed – is my bag still under the desk?"
"Yep – lemme get it, though – you'll run inta the other bed." Marie heard movement, and her eyes slowly focused on Logan, retrieving her things and heading her way. "How'd it go?"
"Really well," she whispered excitedly as she took the bag from him. "I sold one, right on the spot, tonight."
"Hey, that's good." She could tell from the tone in his voice that he was smiling, even if she couldn't quite see it in the dark. She nodded enthusiastically, wagering that he could see her better than she could see him. His soft chuckle told her he could.
"I'll get changed and hop in bed – I'm pooped." Logan nodded and let her retreat to the bathroom. Glancing over at Hank to make sure he was still asleep, Logan decided to wait here for Marie – that way, he could guide her to her bed in the dark and make sure she wouldn't stub a toe or something along the way. When she emerged, she seemed a little surprised to find him standing there, but a smile quickly came over her features.
"Were you waiting up for me?"
"Yeah," Logan admitted, taking her gloved hand in his. "If you'd have been much later, I woulda been on my way over there to see what's what."
"Sorry," she apologized as he led her across the nearly pitch-black room. "The guy who bought the painting was very chatty. How's Hank doing?"
"Good. He's comin' to Westchester with us. Thought we'd stop by your place in the mornin' and get your stuff." He gently steered her into the bed, turning her around when they reached it and brushing the backs of her thighs up against it. Marie took the cue and sat down, but she didn't let go of his hand right away.
"That sounds good. And Logan – thanks again for taking me along. I'm really glad I'll get to help out a little with Hank and spend some time with you." He nodded, gave her hand a squeeze, and felt her finally let go. Feeling pleased and like all was in order now that Marie was back with him, he headed back to the couch for some much-needed rest. "And I'm sure you'll get along fine with Binky."
"Binky?" It wasn't that he didn't catch that final whisper; he just didn't quite understand it.
"My cat. He's – he destroys the house if I leave him alone and he hates Moonbeam. I was hoping you wouldn't mind bringing him with us." Logan harrumphed. "Please? He's very tiny and extremely house-trained."
"Hmph. I guess anythin' that don't like Moonbeam can't be all bad." Marie's wide smile was ample reward for his assent. "Now go to bed, huh? You're keepin' me up late, ya know." They both laughed a little at that before settling in to sleep.
The alarm Logan had set to go off at 7 a.m. performed its duties quite reliably, which is not to say that it did so to the satisfaction of all the occupants of room 203 of the Granville Island Hotel. Hank bolted upright immediately, then nearly smashed the offending noisemaker to bits with his large fist before remembering that alarms needed merely to be shut off, not ruthlessly exterminated. Apparently, he did not share Logan's lack of compunction about taking his irritations out on the hotel furnishings. After it was once again blissfully silent in the room, Hank flopped back on to the bed.
"It seems that it is time for us to wake," he said cautiously, noting that there had been no movement from either the Marie-lump on the rollaway bed or the Logan-lump on the couch. He wasn't entirely surprised. It was overcast and raining heavily outside – just the kind of morning tailor-made for sleeping in.
Finally, he heard a grunt from the vicinity of the couch. Not quite knowing how to interpret it, but deciding that it was probably sympathetic to his own predilections, Hank ventured in a soft voice, "I admit, I am most reluctant to rise and shine this morning. I would be quite content to remain ensconced in this very comfortable bed a bit longer."
"Me too," Logan grumbled.
"Unanimous," Marie drawled. Smiling, Hank settled back under the covers. He listened to the rain beat down outside, grateful that he was in here instead of out there. Soon, the sound of the water and the wind had lulled all three of them back to sleep.
Logan woke for the second time just a few moments before Marie did. It was an even more unpleasant wake-up call than the first had been; this time, what had pulled him from his slumber was the thoroughly unsettling scent of a terrified Marie.
Seeing no intruders in the room and no immediate threats, he crept quietly to her bedside. She was stock-still, curled up into a tight little ball, and grimacing as though she were in incredible pain. It was a nightmare, to be sure. Logan paused to wonder if this was what he looked like when he had them, before he tried to decide on how to soothe Marie.
He knew well from his own experiences that shaking her awake was probably the worst possible course of action. He couldn't recall anyone ever trying anything else with him, though, so he really didn't seem to have many options at his disposal. Wistfully, he looked toward Hank, hoping that somehow he'd wake and present a brilliant solution. He was supposed to be a genius, wasn't he? Logan sighed, seeing that Hank was deeply asleep, and bent close to Marie's tensed form.
"Marie," he whispered softly, trying again and again when he got no response. Finally, on the seventh or eighth try, her eyes snapped open.
Logan jumped back. The look in those eyes was sheer, stark terror, the kind you see on a cornered animal. Her bearing was equally disturbing – and nearly surreal. Not a muscle had moved, save for her eyelids, and it was clear from her expression that she wasn't even really seeing Logan even though he was only inches from her face. "Marie," he called again, softly. "It's OK, darlin'. Wake up."
She blinked and, with that, seemed to finally wake. Tears formed in her eyes and Logan instinctively reached out a hand to caress her hair, trying to comfort her. She drew in a sharp, shaky breath and more tears came.
"Shhh. It's OK." Not really knowing what else to do, he gathered her curled-up body into his arms. She was well-clothed but Logan scooped her up with the blanket still wrapped around her just in case. Something told him that stripping away that small measure of security would not be the right thing to do at the moment. He cradled her in his arms and brought her over to the couch, covering them both in his own blankets for good measure. "You're OK. You're OK. I gotcha."
"Sorry," she whispered.
"It's all right, darlin'. Nightmare?" He felt her nod against his chest and wrap her arms tightly around him. "It's all OK now. I gotcha. You just hang on tight to me," he encouraged.
She broke and began softly sobbing at that, using his chest and shoulder to muffle the sounds lest she wake Hank. Logan held her tightly in return, stroking her back and trying to comfort her. After the worst of the sobs seemed to have passed, she whispered another "Sorry."
"It's all right, Marie," Logan assured. "You wanna tell me what gotcha so upset, darlin'?" She shook her head 'no' vigorously. "Well, OK….." Logan didn't push – he knew it wouldn't do any good, and besides, Marie hadn't pushed him on a single thing so far. "I just wantcha to know that whatever it was, if it hurt you, I'm never gonna let it happen. OK, Marie? I promise. Whatever it was, I'm not gonna letcha get hurt, baby."
He felt some of the tension leave her with those words and he relaxed as well. They had been the right words, the ones she needed to hear. Logan rarely came through with exactly the right words, and he allowed himself a moment of satisfaction at that. He felt her take several deliberate breaths, trying to gather herself. He let her, but when she pushed back from him, he resisted and held her close. "Stay right here, OK? I needta just hang on to you for a second."
"OK," she replied, hugging him back tightly. "Did I wake Hank up?"
"No," Logan confirmed in a soft tone. "You scared me there for a second. You smelled pretty frightened. You OK?" Marie nodded, and Logan gave her a squeeze. "Tell me somethin', darlin' – was that bad dream about somethin' you're scared of or somethin' that already happened?" If it was a fear, he'd tell her it would never happen, not as long as he lived. If it was a memory – well, then somebody was about to make his 'Fuckers That Are Goin' Down Hard' list.
"It happened," she allowed, shaking. "But I really don't want to – I just can't talk about it right now."
Logan bent down and gently kissed her hair. "Whoever hurt ya, Marie – they answer to me. And I know what I said – all that stuff 'bout bein' a do-gooder X-Man – but when people hurt me or mine," Logan paused, the thought occurring to him that only Marie ever had or ever would qualify as 'his' in that sense, "they suffer for it, and they suffer hard. I'll make sure of that, and I'll make sure that they never get the chance to do it again. Somebody hurts you, Marie – they go six feet under and they never draw another fuckin' breath. That's how it is."
She wept into his shirt some more, seemingly trying to get some whispered words out and failing. There was a lot he didn't know, and Marie wanted to tell him all of it. But not now, not like this, and not this soon. She couldn't take the chance that he'd grow closer to her out of a sense of failed honor or pity. That's not how she wanted things to be, and if there was anything that could compound her suffering over what had given her the nightmare, it would be damaging or coloring her relationship with Logan. So, in the end, she settled for a quiet, "Thank you."
"Welcome," he answered with genuine emotion. "When you wanna talk about it, you just let me know. Take your time. I ain't goin' nowhere."
Marie turned her tear-streaked face up to him, eyes shining with gratitude. "I'm glad."
"Why dontcha lay your head down on me? Lay your head down and get a little more sleep, darlin'. I'm gonna be right here, wrapped all around you, keepin' you safe. You just sleep."
She bent her head down to follow his gentle command, leaving a quick kiss over his t-shirt-covered heart along the way. For a moment, she thought she felt him shiver at the contact, but then he was squeezing her, caressing her all over, and she couldn't tell if it had just been her imagination. Giving herself over to his warmth, strength, and gentleness, she soon was sleeping again, this time with much more pleasant dreams