Portraits In The Gallery:  I Like You

Title: Portraits in a Gallery: I Like You
Author:  Terri
E-Mail:  xgrrl26@yahoo.com
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don't own any of them. Poo.
Archive: Dolphin Haven, Peep Hut – anyone else, please ask ;)
Feedback: Please? With a nap on top? Good, bad, and ugly welcome…….
Summary: Logan and Marie talk some things out, as do Chuck and 'Ro and Logan and Hank (no, not in a slashy kinda way!).
Comments: RL = evil. Must rake leaves. Must shop for Thanksgiving dinner. Must wrap and mail two birthday presents. Yet. No. Energy. Left. For. That. Or. For. Comments!


"Hey, darlin'," Logan greeted. He'd taken his time coming back to his room after the talk with Jean. He didn't want any of his residual anger to bleed through to this conversation with Marie. He knew it would be plenty difficult enough for her to talk about any of it without bad vibes from him. "How's the cat?"

"Better. He's sleeping. I'm really glad he's going to be OK."

"Me too," Logan allowed, as he shut the door, and locked it, then moved to sit beside her on his bed. "How're you doin'?"

"OK. The fight shook me up a little, but – but I'm doing OK now." She leaned toward him a little, closer, but still not touching. "You want to talk about it, don't you?"

"Yeah," he sighed, not quite able to be this close to her without touching her. He laid his bare hand atop her thigh, hoping now-familiar the gesture would soothe her as much as it did him. "Whatever you're ready to say about it, I wanna hear. You can trust me, Marie."

"I know that," she whispered. She fell silent then, but Logan didn't push, he just waited her out. Eventually, she spoke. "When my mutation hit, my parents kicked me out. I was on my own, and I did OK for a while. When – when my money ran out, it got harder, but I still……" She started to choke up, and decided to cut to the chase. "I was walking along the side of a road, way up north. I don't really remember exactly where. I know that could be important, but I don't remember, I'm sorry. I was walking along and a car pulled up, and he jumped out. He was ready – he was covered, well-covered so he wouldn't come into contact with my skin." She had to stop then, and take a few deep breaths. She felt Logan's strong, warm hand begin to rub her back. "They got me," she continued in a small, faraway voice. "They cut off some of my skin. That's why I think – the experiments, the government, that's why I think it was them. Sabretooth……..worked for them, I think……he did….things to me. Not sexual things, not – he, um – he – "

"Shhh." Logan didn't know if he could really stand to hear much more. He took her in his arms and, after a beat, she returned the embrace. "You don't have to say, Marie. You don't have to tell that part, baby." He wasn't looking for a detailed account from her, far from it – he knew that would just be making her relive what had happened.

"It was bad," she summarized. There were more than a few tears in her voice now.

"OK," Logan whispered, making no move to let her go.

"They must've let him – let him do things to me, maybe as a reward, I don't know. I do know that he liked that, hurting me. I think he must've taken me, kind of stole me or something. They didn't let him rape me and I think he wanted – "

"Oh, God."

Marie heard the grief in his voice and the last of her resolve to tell as much of the story as she could had fled. All she could get out was, "He didn't. He made a mistake and I – I had a chance to kill him first. And I did. I did. I did kill him." He said nothing, but squeezed her tight. Her next words came in a hushed tone, but one infused with pride. "Logan, I - I want you to know that I'm still a – a virgin. I didn't let him take that from me, or from you."

"Oh, Marie, you don't hafta worry about that," Logan rushed out in a thick voice. "I wouldn't be upset about that, baby. I just – I'm damn glad you're all right now. Oh, Marie….."

"I'm sorry."

"Shhh……..what do you hafta be sorry about, baby? You survived, you were strong, you found me and we – "

"You found me."

Logan sighed deeply. "You know, sometimes I get lucky. Not too damn often, and I've never been this lucky before, but findin' you was a helluva good time for a hot streak." That got a little gallows laugh, and Logan let a moment pass before turning his tone serious again. "You don't hafta be sorry. I'm proud of you. Get it, Marie? I'm *proud* of you. I'm sorry you went through it and I could rip my own heart out for not bein' there to protect ya from it. But you made it through and you – you didn't let it change ya. You turned out so beautiful. I dunno how you managed that – but I'm damn glad you did."

Marie straightened and pulled back a little from him to look into his eyes. Some of her resolve had returned, and there was one more thing he should know. "I wasn't always – I went a little crazy afterwards. A lot, actually. That's how I wound up in Chinatown – the man who's my landlord now, he found me wandering around naked, scrounging in the dumpsters for food. He helped me, a lot, and he was very kind, but you - knowing you made it out of something similar, knowing how you crawled out of that and got back to yourself helped me so much. I couldn't have done it without you. You were protecting me, Logan. You were."

He didn't argue the point. He just held on to her, and let her hang on to him. He needed a chance to think now that he knew all of the important parts of the story. His instincts immediately told him that not much of what Marie had just shared with him should make it to Chuck's ears. The part about the experiments, yes. The part about Sabretooth being captured by someone, probably the government, yes. But the parts about Marie getting hurt, no. He'd meant what he said – he was proud of her for not just surviving but flourishing, he was not ashamed of what she'd suffered. There was just something wrong about telling other people – what had happened should be Marie's to share or not, and once he told Chuck, he'd be taking that away from her. Logan didn't want to do that, and he saw no compelling reason that he should. The fight with Jeannie was a fresh reminder that, although Chuck could be counted on to be discreet, he might decide to share it with the team, and that would only give Jean more ammunition against Marie. Ugly scenes of his ex-lover berating Marie over what had happened played through Logan's head, and that was something he was altogether determined to avoid.

No one needed to know she'd killed Sabretooth, either. Logan had thought a lot about what Hank had said back on the road, and he knew that the genius was right. Chuck would want Marie, so would Magneto. The FOH would put a bounty on her above all other mutants. She was *the* prize. Logan thought darkly that those forces weren't the only ones that prized her. Well, he was the one who had her now and he intended to keep it that way. No, Chuck might need to know Sabretooth was dead and no longer a threat, but he didn't need to know it had been Marie who'd felled the bastard. That little piece of knowledge would stay buried, and he would reinforce with Hank that that's the way it was going to be.

"Darlin'," Logan ventured quietly, but in a tone that couldn't be mistaken for anything but gravely serious. "I don't wantcha to tell anybody what you just told me. There are people out there who would be way too damn interested in you if they knew you put that fuckhead Sabretooth down."

"But if they know what my powers are," she whispered, still snuggled in tightly to his chest, "they'll figure out what's possible, what I might be able to do."

"Yes," Logan allowed, and he knew that they could not hide the danger her skin presented, not while keeping Marie safe from further absorptions and keeping the kids at the school alive. "But all they'll know is that you can hurt with your skin, real bad. You don't needta tell 'em about takin' on other powers. Nobody needsta know that. And no one needsta know that your skin is strong enough to kill a mutant nobody thought could be killed. Marie, that's the dangerous part. That's what makes you the trump card, darlin'. That's what'll scare the shit outta everyone and make 'em try to getcha for themselves, try to control you. If they know you can put anybody down, even muties like me who've been damn near impossible to kill – if they know that, and they know that you got Sabretooth's healin' now, that it'll be hard as hell to kill ya – well, that's what'll make 'em scared shitless. And I don't mean just the humans or those rat bastards who run the labs. I mean everybody. They'll think they'd be better off puttin' you under their thumb than takin' a chance you could turn against 'em. Marie – you don't belong under anybody's thumb. Understand, darlin'?" He felt her nod, and he knew that she really did understand. By the way she was clinging to him, though, he also knew he'd scared her, maybe more than a little. He needed to fix that. "You and me, we're a team now. I'm gonna take care of you. I promise."

"I'm going to take care of you too." Logan couldn't help but smile at her immediate and sincere response. That's exactly what he'd meant when he'd said he was proud of her. She hadn't let all that had happened make her hard or selfish. He couldn't really say as much for himself. Before Marie, there was a big part of him that he'd kept closed with just about everyone. Somehow, she'd not only preserved that within herself, she'd brought it out in him as well. It seemed like some kind of minor miracle to Logan. "Logan – speaking of taking care of people – we said we'd check in with Hank."

"Yeah, we did," Logan agreed as he and Marie gently began letting each other go. They both seemed spent by the conversation. "I'll find him and see how he's holdin' up, OK? You wanna get ready for bed? I'll join ya after I talk with him."

"You mean you'll join me and Binky," Marie smiled. Logan mock-glared. "Although he *does* look pretty comfortable on the pillow I gave him." Her eyes slid to the slumbering feline, comfortably ensconced on a puffy pillow placed on the floor, next to the heating register. When she looked back, she was about to tease Logan just a little bit more, but he'd moved closer to her, almost on top of her. Before she knew it, he was tangling both hands in her hair and pulling her toward him. Warm lips pressed a wet, lingering kiss to the top of her head. "Logan…." she sighed.

"I coulda lost you before I ever found you. I'm not gonna lose you now that I gotcha. It's you and me, Marie." He'd mumbled it all against her hair, not willing to remove his lips from what he could safely touch of her body.

"You and me," she returned solemnly. When she felt him let go, and saw a light smile try to form on his lips, she added, "And Binky, of course."

Giving her a throaty chuckle, and a gentle slap on the rear end, he rose and set off to find Hank.

Kitty settled herself in for the evening. The new guy seemed nice, and he definitely seemed as smart as everyone had said. If he was really willing to tutor her, God, that would help her grades immensely. He'd said he would, but she knew that might change if he got involved in the team and the school – spare time was a rarity if you were an X-Man.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a soft knock at her door. "Come in," she hailed from her desk.

"Hey," Scott greeted. "I didn't mean to bother you, but I just got done talking to our new arrival, and I wanted to tell you that you made quite an impression on him. You did a real good job with him, Kit."

"Thanks," she said in an even tone. When she didn't speak further, Scott took it for the signal it was.

"Sure. I just wanted to say thanks for coming through on the assignment with McCoy. Good night, Kitty."

"Good night."

Scott closed the door behind himself, and Kitty let out a sigh. She wondered if he was trying to 'stay friends' or something like that with her. She was pretty sure that he was done trying to get back together with her romantically, and that was a relief, but she really wasn't sure how she wanted things to go between them in the long term - and the breakup was still fresh enough to make the 'let's still be friends' concept sting. Having him out of her life, completely out, would be easiest, but she also knew it wasn't realistic. That was one downside to mansion life – it wasn't like it was for everyone else, who could avoid their ex-lovers and school-days crushes if they so chose. With a resigned sigh, she mentally chastised herself to just deal with it, and she turned her attention back to her studies.

"So, that's what I'm gonna tell Chuck and you keep the rest of whatcha know under your hat, all right?" Hank nodded his agreement to what Logan had outlined. He certainly had no wish to jeopardize Marie, and he was glad to keep mum if that's what would keep her safe. "Good. Now – how're you doin' so far? You OK here? I kinda thought they'd give you the big suite upstairs."

"They offered to, but I preferred something closer in proximity to the only two souls in this vast mansion that I am acquainted with – you and Marie. I hope you do not mind my taking the room next door." He hoped it didn't seem silly to Logan, but he really did feel better nearer people he knew and trusted.


Relieved, Hank continued. "You were correct in that the Professor does desire my presence here greatly – he was quite direct about wanting me to join the school and the team."

"Thought so. You don't hafta decide now, you have some time. Try it on for size and see." The men exchanged brief smiles. "Chuck givin' you the tour tomorrow?"

"Yes, he is, although – never mind."

"Although what?"

"No, no, never mind."

Logan huffed. "Look, Hank, I like ya but I ain't a patient guy – either spit it out or quit doin' that." Hank grinned in spite of Logan's gruff declaration, and weighed whether to say what was on his mind. He kept the impatient Logan waiting a moment or two before answering.

"I was about to say that yes, the Professor will be giving me the tour of the school and grounds tomorrow, although I would prefer the company of Kitty, who showed me to my room this evening." When he saw Logan's mouth pull into a frown, he hastily added, "Not – not that I have any designs on the young woman, oh no, not – not anything like that. I merely – it merely popped into my brain and I had the stupidity to actually speak the thought aloud as well. I assure you, I would never - "

"Hank, she's datin' Scooter – Scott, Cyclops." Hank's entire bearing fell. He'd spoken to Scott, just minutes ago. The man resembled a Greek God as closely as Hank resembled a horror film monster. If that was what Kitty's preference was in terms of looks, he didn't even have the slim ghost of a chance with her that his foolish heart had hoped for. "Sorry."

"It is all right. I was not thinking of – of her in that way." It came out in an utterly unconvincing tone, and both men knew it, but both men ignored it. "Thank you for telling me. She was – she was very nice."

"She's a good kid," Logan gently agreed. "And you never know – her and Scooter – hell, anyone and Scooter ain't gonna be together forever. He's still mooney over Jeannie, always will be." For the first time, Logan spoke about Scott's feelings for Jean with a hint of compassion and regret along with his usual disdain. He never did understand why Scott had kept chasing Jeannie so hard after she'd made it clear things were over between them. It just wasn't the kind of thing a man with any pride would do, in Logan's opinion. But now, Scott's unrelenting affections for Jean were beginning to make more sense. Now, Logan had Marie, and the feelings she'd stirred in him gave him a reference point. He wouldn't let Marie go without trying every damn thing in the book, and that included pleading, begging, and everything else Scott had tried on Jean. It had never hit him until now, how much it must've hurt Scott to see Jean with someone else, to have her throw him over so easily and so decisively for Logan. Still, Logan's newfound empathy only went so far. Another thing Marie had opened his eyes to was the fact that the quality of the woman you committed to made a difference – Jeannie wasn't the same kind of person that Marie was and it was Scott's fault that he hadn't realized it, not even after seven years with Jean. It didn't occur to Logan that Scott might've known Jean inside and out and loved her anyway.

"Do you mean to say that – that he does not love Kitty?" Logan could tell by the way Hank had asked the question that he'd been pretty taken with the girl, and that he found the concept nearly unbelievable.

"Aw, shit, I dunno, Hank. I'm just sayin' – it might not work out over the long haul. Whatever happens there, she's a good person, and she'd make a good friend to ya."

Hank nodded, satisfied for now. "Is Marie doing all right?"

"Yeah, I think so. We just – we gotta look out for her a little. I think she'll bounce right back, but the fight did shake her up some. The fact that Binky's pullin' through is helpin' – thanks again for patchin' him up, Hank."

"It was my pleasure."

"Ya know, she gave the thing my pillow."

"My condolences."

"Hmph." Logan finally broke and smiled, and Hank did too. "See ya tomorrow. Get some sleep. Knock if ya need anythin'."

"I shall. And, Logan – thank you. Thank you for finding me, and bringing me here. I do not know – I have not made up my mind as to whether I will stay and in what capacity, but – it has been a very long time since I have had so much good fortune. Thank you."

"Welcome," Logan grunted, then headed out the door. Hank watched the closed door for a few moments, thinking, then sank into his bed. This could be a place where he could fit in, where he could even be valued, a place where he could have friends - and even if there seemed no chance for anything more than that, that was still quite a bit more than he'd had just a few days ago. Nevertheless, he knew he couldn't let his optimism run rampant. Tomorrow, he would have to make a steely-eyed assessment of the place, warts and all. It was important to know the facts going in, to have expectations based in reality, not wishful thinking. Yes, tomorrow would be an important day indeed.

Marie came awake in the middle of the night, not from a nightmare, not exactly. It was more like her mind had somehow kicked into waking gear while she'd been sleeping and she'd suddenly begun worrying about Binky, about Hank, and about what she and Logan had talked about earlier in the evening. Not more than a second after she surfaced, though, she felt Logan give her a reassuring squeeze. They'd both fallen asleep on their sides, she with her back to him this time, and he'd plastered himself to it. It was deeply comforting to her, and she was very glad that they'd begun sleeping close.

"I'm OK, Logan," she whispered in the dark, not wanting him to worry over her any more than he already was. "I just woke up. My brain started."

His body shook both of them with a chuckle. "It turns off at night, does it?"

"Heh. I guess so." She started giggling and he followed with his own manly, gruff version of it, until they were both flushed. After falling silent again, smiling still, Marie felt something brush the back of her neck – in a moment, it registered that it had been Logan's gloved thumb, running over the bite mark he'd left on her so long ago.

"I like this," he mused, obviously referring to the mark. "I'm glad it didn't heal over." He felt the emotional shift in her, and pressed on, not wanting to dwell on grim topics. "I like that you don't put your hair up, don't show it off. It's just for us, huh?" She nodded. "I like that."

"I like having it too. It's more than just a reminder, a mark. It makes me feel distinctive, and special. It sounds a little weird, but I like that you decided to put it there, that you wanted me to know I belonged with you."

"I like how it looks – don't look like it hurts, don't look fresh. You know it's been there a while. It looks lived-with, like it belongs on you, like it's a part of you."

"It is. I like that about it too."

Logan fell silent, and they just breathed together for a while. Marie felt his hand roam down from her neck and across her shoulder in a tender caress. Logan lingered there momentarily and then slid his hand down the length of her arm, entwining his fingers with hers when he reached her hand. "I like you."

He'd said it softly and, in the first nervous tone Marie had ever heard from him. She didn't keep him waiting. "I like you too. I wasn't sure, you know – I had all these thoughts swirling in my head about how we could be and I felt so much for you, always, but I wasn't exactly sure if I'd *like* you – if I'd want to hang out, spend time with you, just do nothing together. But I do. I really do. I like you a lot."

He planted a kiss in her hair. "Good thing. 'Cause I'm gonna stick with ya, pretty much all the time."

"Are you thinking – are you thinking about us living here?" Now, Marie was the one who sounded nervous.

"Dunno. Don't wanna turn your whole life upside down, and I know – Marie, I really get how hard you musta worked to make a good life for yourself in Vancouver. I'd never take that away from you. But, I don't wanna leave the team. Chuck – he's a pretty OK guy, and this is a good gig for me. It's somethin' important and somethin' I like doin'. Somethin' that has value. We'll hafta work somethin' out – bein' on the team don't necessarily hafta mean livin' here all the time. We'll figure it out, but I don't want us to live apart." Something in his voice told Marie that he meant not even for a weekend, not even for a day.

"Hmmm. Where you go, I go, huh?"

"And vice versa."

She thought it over for a few minutes, then ventured, "I don't have to be in Vancouver to paint. I could live here part of the time if we wanted to."

"You're pretty agreeable," he teased. "Must be that brain kickin' in."

"I'm very agreeable when it comes to you," she returned, with more flirt than tease in her.

"That so?"


"Then let me do somethin', OK?" Marie nodded, even though he hadn't specified what, exactly he was going to do. He gently turned her to face him, and for a long while, he just looked at her. His gaze made her feel warm all over – a sensation that manifested in a blush that stained her cheeks and neck pink enough to be noticeable even in the dim light of the room. Soon, Logan was smiling too. He took a finger-full of hair and twisted it in his hand, then slid it across her face. When he stopped, leaving her thick, curly locks over her mouth, she finally clued in to what he was going to do. She wanted to tell him to be careful, but then, she suddenly realized that he would be – she remembered his promise to take care of her.

His lips pressed against hers behind her soft hair. There was nothing hesitant or stilted in the kiss; to Marie, it felt perfectly natural. She hoped it felt as good to him. Judging by the way he kept kissing her, it did. When he finally pulled back and smoothed her hair back into place, she purred, "That was pretty good."

"Only pretty good?" His eyebrow jutted skyward in mock-indignation.

"Oh, you know, pretty good – like gold is pretty valuable, like the stars are pretty bright. Pretty good." Her grin began to show even before she'd finished teasing him.

He smirked in appreciation, and then stroked her cheek. His eyes were still sparkling with leftover mirth, but his expression turned a little more serious. "How'd you wind up to be so damn beautiful?"

"I'm beautiful?"

"You know you are, darlin'."

"Well, I kind of like how I look, but I'm no Miss Universe."

"You'd look cute in one of those crowns. And in the bathin' suit part." He ran a finger across her cheek. "You look pretty damn good to me."

"Only pretty damn good?" she fired back. But his touch was affecting her – her words had come out equal parts teasing and breathy.

"Yeah, like the desert is pretty damn hot and like water is pretty damn wet. You know – pretty damn beautiful, that's you." She smiled in a way he hadn't quite seen before. "You want another kiss, dontcha?"

"Well, if you wouldn't mind."

"C'mere." His hands found her hair again, and soon all conversation was lost. At the foot of the bed, comfortably ensconced on Logan's former pillow, Binky watched as his owner was well and duly kissed. The cat gave out a yawn, kneaded his paws into the down stuffing, and settled in to sleep for the night.

The next morning found Hank sleeping in. He'd just barely began to stir when he heard a knock at his bedroom door. Blearily, thinking it must be Logan or Marie, he kept his eyes closed while inviting, "Come in."

Unfortunately, it wasn't Logan or Marie. It was Kitty. When Hank slowly peeled open one sleepy eye, the sight of her made him immediately bolt upright into a sitting position on the bed.   Hank looked at her pleasantly smiling face for a moment, and almost smiled back despite his surprise, but then the realization that he was bare-chested, spiky-haired, and otherwise quite unpresentable for viewing flashed through his brain. "Ah, Katherine – I, ah, was anticipating someone else. I…." He noticed her eyes drop to his chest and he pulled up the sheet to cover himself. No need to foist the sight of all that blue fur, not to mention indigo nipples, on her. What a freak she must think I am, Hank mused.

"Oh, sorry. You said to come in, so I, um, did. Do you need a minute?"

"Yes. Yes. A minute. I need one. Er – several, actually. My apologies."

"No sweat," she said cheerfully, finally bringing her eyes back up to his. "I'm sure you were exhausted yesterday. The Professor will understand if you're a little late."


"Um, yeah – it's ten after ten. When you didn't come down, the Professor asked me to come up and check in on you."

"Oh my stars!" Hank's first reaction kicked in a little too quickly for his brain to stop him – he began to fling the sheet covering his entirely naked body aside and moved to get out of bed before he realized he'd nearly flashed Kitty. He quickly flung it back over himself and froze in place. "Oh dear! I – ah, sorry! Sorry! I am – I am not wearing any clothing beneath the covers. Would you mind terribly - "

"No problem," she cut him off, saving him even more fumbling for a graceful way to remedy the situation. She was still smiling pleasantly, and Hank was steadied by that – he couldn't have scared her too awfully bad if she was still smiling like that. "I'll, um, hang out in the hall. You just come on out when you're ready and I'll let the Professor know it'll be a little while." She turned to go, but Hank's voice stopped her.

"I did not mean to – to give you such an eyeful. My apologies, Katherine, I – "

"Kitty," she gently corrected. "My friends call me Kitty. Katherine sounds like someone's grandma."

"Kitty," Hank allowed. He'd mentally taken her offhanded comment about 'friends' and set it aside after Logan's revelation that she was dating Scott. But now, he reminded himself that even if there wouldn't be anything more than friendship between them, she apparently was quite genuinely offering him at least that. "Please let the Professor know that I am sorry. I overslept, which is highly characteristic. No! I mean – uncharacteristic. It is highly uncharacteristic for me to oversleep. Well – oversleeping, per se, is uncharacteristic. The truth is that I have a propensity to wake then ignore the alarm in favor of furthering my slumber. I attribute it to – to – ah, never mind. Please let the Professor know that I am sorry and that I will join him directly."

"Look – why don't you take your time?" she soothed. "We can grab some lunch first if you like – the dining hall starts serving it at eleven. I'm sure the Professor wouldn't mind. The school isn't going anywhere – you can tour it whenever you like." While the idea of lunch with Kitty was appealing, he didn't want to get off on the wrong foot with the Professor. Kitty seemed to sense his deliberation, and offered, "Hey – you don't have to impress us. That's pretty much a done deal. We're here to impress you. Take your time. Take a shower. Get some food in you. Relax. It's OK, it really is."

"Thank you," Hank said gratefully, noticing Kitty's eyes warm with the words.

"I'll check back in a bit, OK?"

Hank nodded, and Kitty let herself out, closing the door behind her. Hank breathed a sigh of relief, then, after a moment to be sure Kitty really had gone on her way, he flung aside the covers, revealing a seldom-seen morning erection. He knew it was prompted by Kitty's presence, but he was unspeakably glad that he hadn't embarrassed himself and scared the daylights out of her by flinging that sheet all the way off when she was here earlier. Recalling her gentle urges to take his time, and musing on how long it had been since he last let himself have a bit of pleasure, he decided to lay back on the bed to satisfy himself before commencing his morning rituals.

"I thought you would be with our star guest," 'Ro teased as she made her way into Charles' office to drop off the grades for her science class. Charles greeted her with a warm smile, and a retort of his own.

"I do believe that our star guest prefers Kitty's company to mine. I cannot imagine why an attractive young woman would be more appealing than a balding old man, but.…….."

'Ro smirked. "Well, then, I must question our new arrival's intelligence. You are delightful company. And as for those self-deprecating 'old' and 'bald' comments – well, I cannot speak for the gentlemen of the mansion, but baldness is a sign of virility, and I cannot imagine any of the ladies would be unappreciative of that." Charles withheld a response for a moment. She'd occasionally said something that could be interpreted as flirty, but she'd never been quite this forward. He was torn between asking her outright whether she was flirting, and ignoring her comments altogether in favor of a complete change of subject, when she spoke again. "I have always thought you quite handsome."

Charles smiled, and Ororo moved closer to him, eventually sitting on his desk. "That is quite a compliment, coming from a goddess." When that made her blush, he realized asking her was unnecessary – she *was* flirting. Now, the question was why. Had he somehow been broadcasting his thoughts about her? Was he unintentionally influencing her own mind? Charles made a quick check of his mental shielding to be sure it was in place.

"I am no goddess, Charles. I am simply a woman." She leaned toward him, nearly purring. "You have shown me that, and what a marvelous gift that is."

"Am I projecting?" he asked, knowing he was not, but wanting to give her an 'out' before this got too far out of hand.

"No. Am I?" She sure as hell was, and the images in her mind were unquestionably erotic. If Charles had had any doubt that she'd been flirting, it was quashed now. Still, he didn't quite want to act on it and he didn't quite want to turn her away. "I suppose I am," she allowed, leaning back away from him and diffusing the tension between them. "Forgive me. I do not have your mental disciplines, Charles. I have a tendency to indulge in wishful thinking." There was just a hint of hurt in her tone, and Charles knew she'd felt rejected by his inaction.

"I, too, have indulged in wishful thoughts, Ororo," he said as she rose from the desk. "Many concern you," he admitted. "And that makes me uneasy. Not because of you. Because of our relationship, my child."

"I am hardly your child," she bit back, minutely blunting her words with some effort.

"I know," he answered softly, his tender look erasing a bit of the sting his words had caused. "I am having a difficult time convincing myself that I would not be unduly taking advantage of our relationship were I to pursue you."

"Perhaps you should work on that." Her tone was cool, but not uncaring. After spending a moment looking at his increasingly distressed expression, she softened. "Charles, I have long had more than a child's affection for you. I have long felt things far deeper and more profound than gratitude towards you. I realize that I have not chosen to address this with you directly before now. I was hoping that you would share my feelings and, I suppose, I am a bit of a traditionalist somewhere deep down – I was hoping you would make the first move. I had no wish to make you feel pressured or uncomfortable. But, Charles, the time is coming when I will no longer be able to keep my heart on a shelf. I would like to share it with you, but that is your decision. The last thing I would wish to do would be to make you feel as though anything you and I did was inappropriate. Please, think about this."

"I shall," he promised, a little taken aback by her directness and bare honesty. But then, that was who she was – willing to try a subtle approach until it proved unsuccessful. Then, she usually fried whatever was in her path with a searing bolt of lightening. He supposed he'd just experienced the conversational equivalent of that. "Please, do come and see me tomorrow. I should like to speak with you more after I have had a chance to sleep on this." She nodded, and turned to go, but there was one more thing he wanted her to know. "Ororo – your affections honor me, and they touch me. Do not think me unmoved; on the contrary – you have always moved me." That seemed to soothe her; she smiled.

"I shall see you tomorrow, Professor." She took her leave with that, closing the door to leave him to his privacy.

After she was out of earshot, he replied, "Tomorrow, my goddess."

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