Title: Portraits in a Gallery: You're Not
Gonna Take Her
A loud, booming sound broke the silence inside the motel, and it seemed to be located just outside the window beside Hank's bed. Disoriented - and understandably so, since it was about three in the morning - Hank sat up.
It was the worst possible thing he could've done at the moment. That loud, booming sound had been a gunshot, and before the echo could even die down, it was followed by another. This time, the shot wasn't muffled at all by the window; it broke the pane, and crashed into Hank's shoulder for good measure. He felt something like a particularly nasty pinch and then wetness before he felt the first twinge of real pain. He heard clicking noises, ones that his still-groggy brain sluggishly translated into the ones associated with re-loading shells into a double-barreled shotgun. But between that realization and the onset of the panic it prompted, he felt a large, strong hand haul him off the bed and rather unceremoniously deposit him on the floor.
"Stay down," Logan growled. Hank blinked in the darkness and tried not to cry at the snowballing pain in his freshly-jostled shoulder. Logan's eyes were fixed somewhere above Hank's recently-vacated bed – he was probably looking for the source of the shot, Hank's brain belatedly supplied – and Marie was barely visible beneath Logan. His body literally covered nearly all of hers, with the exception of her left arm, which was left defenseless when Logan reached out to pull Hank down.
"Wh-what's going on?" Hank whispered.
Logan didn't answer; he was absorbed in listening and smelling for the gunman. Abruptly, he rose from the floor, giving Marie a parting shove to scoot her underneath the bed as he rushed to the motel room door. Logan flung open the door with an angry growl, and caught the man in mid-grab for the doorknob, rifle leisurely slung over his shoulder. Logan snatched it away and tossed it backwards, onto his and Marie's bed, before it even registered with the assailant that the gun was gone.
"Hey – what'd you do that fer, huh?" the gunman queried, finally clueing in and displaying the bravado only the miserably drunk or completely insane could possibly conjure up in this situation. Judging by the alcohol content of his breath, which was so strong that it would make one think that the vapors coming off him could easily be bottled and distilled back into whatever cheap brand of whiskey the man had gotten tanked on, it was the former. "Where's Irma? I know you got my woman in there!"
"She ain't here, bub," Logan snarled. "And you just shot one of my friends, ya dumbass." Even as the panic that had hovered just beyond Hank's mind began to set in, something warmed at Logan's label of 'friend.'
"Irma?" the man called into the hotel room, undeterred. "I-I-I-Irma-a-a-a! I know yer in there! I know yer – " He cut himself off, sighting Hank. He belatedly thought about following Marie's example and ducking under the bed, but he was probably too large to manage that anyway. "Hey – what's that thing there?"
Logan had had just about enough of the man's antics. He answered the question with a jaw-shattering, adamantium-enhanced punch, sending the formerly gun-toting drunk straight back like one of those carnival knock-down dolls. Only, this one didn't bounce back for more; he remained laid out on the sidewalk in front of the motel room door. Giving a satisfied grunt at delivering the man into unconsciousness with one shot, Logan adjusted his boxers and gave the prone man one more kick for good measure.
Other guests were now beginning to peek out their windows to see what the ruckus had been about. Logan knew he couldn't just ignore the incident, but he didn't especially want to call any more attention to themselves than this idiot already had. Giving out a huff, he turned to give Marie a backwards glance as her curly-headed visage slid out from beneath their bed. "Gonna go get the manager. You hurt?" She shook her head no and Logan jerked his glance toward Hank. "You hurt bad?"
Hank twisted around to look at the wound for the first time, turning on a bedside lamp to get a better look. Expecting some horribly messy, large-caliber, burn-and-blood-spattered hole, he found merely a two-inch long, shallow gash in his shoulder. It couldn't even be a quarter-inch deep – maybe an eighth of an inch or so at best, just barely burrowing into his skin through the fur. It was comparable to the kind of scratch one might inflict upon one's hand during a small slip of the knife while carving the Christmas turkey. The bullet had only grazed him.
"Hank?" Marie queried. She looked scared, but trying for steady, and a quick glance at Logan showed him to be tight-lipped with concern.
"It is not bad," he finally replied, drawing sighs of relief out of both of them. "I can – I can bandage it. It is not bad," he repeated.
"Good. I'm gonna go talk to the manager. Marie – both of ya just go clean up in the bathroom, get me?" She nodded, and both she and Hank caught the meaning – keep Hank out of sight. He wasn't offended; he knew that he often drew unwanted attention and he had no desire to bring any trouble to Marie and Logan. It would not be a fitting payback for all the good they'd done for him. As Logan swung the door shut, Hank rose on still-shaky legs and headed for the small bathroom. Marie was at his side in a flash, bracing his gait with an arm around his waist.
"Let me help you," she smiled up at him.
"It really is all right. Just a scratch, really. Really, I can take care of it quite well myself. I really – "
"Let me help you," she repeated in a softer but firmer voice. "It's OK, Hank. That scared the living crap out of me too, and I didn't even get shot. You were very brave. I hid under the bed."
"Ah……." He wasn't quite sure how she'd intended the words until he caught her relieved expression and sincere look. "I am sure that Logan was pleased that you did hide. I am sure he would not wish for you to be injured. But I am also sure you would have heartily kicked that man's posterior if the need arose."
Marie broke and let out a laugh at Hank's earnest tone. "I guess I would've but I'm glad I didn't have to find out. Now let's go get you cleaned up."
After Logan talked the motel manager out of calling the cops (which turned out to be easier than anticipated – the sought-after 'Irma' was the manager's sister, and the gun-toting assailant was his perpetually-inebriated brother-in-law Ernest), and helped him bring Ernest back into the land of the conscious with the help of some smelling salts, he headed back to the room, fully intending to pack and get the hell out of there before anything else happened. It just wasn't good to stick around where there had been trouble. That seemed like a simple, and fairly self-evident rule, but it was one that Logan had observed that most people seemed to ignore. Most people thought – well, if it's already happened, nothing else will happen – kind of like thinking that lightning can't strike twice in the same spot. Having been on the receiving end of more than his fair share of toastings, Logan never bought into that mind-set. He tended to think – if it happened once, it'll probably happen again, and it'll probably be a damn sight worse than the first time around. He was just glad that no one seemed to be taking Ernest's rantings about a 'scary Cookie Monster thing' hiding in the room too seriously. After all, who would believe a drunk telling tall tales? Cracking his neck out of habit moreso than need, Logan slowly opened the door to their motel room.
He was surprised by what he saw – a tense-looking Marie perched on the edge of their bed and Hank nowhere in sight. Logan wordlessly shut the door behind himself, and crossed over to Marie. "Everythin' all right?"
She nodded, tension written across every inch of her body. She gave a small glance toward the closed bathroom door. "I think everything's OK," she answered cautiously. Catching Logan's eye, she gestured with her head to their packed bags at the foot of the bed. "Is everything OK on your end?" she asked slowly, meaningfully.
Logan gave her a broad, reassuring smile, finally catching on that she was waiting for his reaction. "Yeah, I took care of it. Turns out he's the motel guy's brother-in-law. He ain't gonna call the cops." At that, the tension fled Marie's body and she let out an audible 'whew!' Logan couldn't keep a smirk from his lips as he poked one bag with his foot. "Ready to high-tail it outta here, huh?" He was teasing, but inwardly, he was pleased – she'd responded well in a crisis, and she obviously shared some of his self-preservatory instincts.
Marie shrugged with an embarrassed blush. "I wasn't really sure what would happen. I thought it wouldn't hurt to be ready." Logan's amused expression didn't change, and so she added, "I don't get shot at in the middle of the night a lot. I didn't know what to expect. I kind of flipped out there, huh?"
"Nah," Logan said, taking a seat beside her on the bed. "You did good. You did what I toldya. You got down and stayed there. I'm just sorry I didn't hear him sooner. If I wouldnta been asleep – "
"Hey - everyone's asleep at three in the morning. Everyone except well-armed drunk guys, I guess." Her tone was light, teasing, and she took the time to give Logan's hand a squeeze with her own gloved one. He was still only wearing a t-shirt and boxers. "Let me go get Hank."
"Is he OK?"
"It looks like he just got nicked," Marie replied on her way to the bathroom. "Come on out," she said kindly to Hank, who was sitting on the toilet with a worried look on his face. "Everything's OK. There won't be any police. We can unpack and go back to bed."
"Uh, hold on there, darlin'. I know I was givin' ya a little shit about packin' up, but I do think we oughta get outta here. Let's give it a while – maybe a half hour or so – to be sure all the peepin' Toms are back in their rooms, and then let's hit the road. I'd rather just get outta here. Looks like you got just about everythin' in there, so – "
"Oh!" Marie started. "Binky! I forgot all about Binky!" She immediately fell to her knees and peered under the beds. "Oh, Logan, I can't believe I forgot all about him! He must've been so scared by all the noise and the commotion – the poor little guy. Do you see him anywhere?"
"He ain't under there?" Logan joined her on the floor, searching also by scent for the cat. Picking up something vaguely Binky-like near the bags, he sniffed over them more intently, drawing Marie's attention. "Think he's in this one."
Marie raised her eyebrows, but unzipped the bag Logan had pointed to. Sure enough, a small, black, feline head peered out at her. "Oh, thank God," Marie exhaled. "I was worried about you," she chided the cat.
"Mrow!" Binky responded, not giving any signs of leaving the bag.
"I didn't even notice," Marie said, this time addressing her comments to Logan. "I was packing so fast, and he must've just jumped in."
"Smart cat," Logan commented, his respect for the cat bumping up from non-existent to marginal. You had to give a little credit to anything with the smarts to find a way to survive. And to stick with Marie.
Binky accepted the compliment with a loud meow and kneaded his paws into the clothing packed in with him. He looked content to stay put, and Marie let him, after giving him several affectionate pats on the head coupled with some indulgent ear-scratching. "I'm a horrible owner. I forgot all about him, I just did."
"Eh, people're generally more important and you were focused on Hank. Give the cat a few chunks of tuna and he'll make up with ya over it." Logan gave the cat a brief but not-unkind pat on the head himself before turning his gaze to Hank. "You sure you're all right?"
"Quite," Hank answered confidently. "I apologize for my former, ah, my former poor reaction. The wound is not nearly as bad as my facial expressions must have intimated."
"Never feels good to get shot. Don't worry about it. I'm just glad he didn't hit ya bad." More than you know, Logan added silently. He liked Hank, and he would've been sad to lose him, but the loss to Xavier and his cause would've made it doubly bad. "Marie patch you up OK?"
"I believe so."
"Actually, Hank helped me figure it out. He's studied anatomy, and medicine. Logan – he really is a genius." Marie's voice held the muffled awe of unfolding realization, but Logan had already known about the true extent of his capabilities from Chuck. He simply nodded.
"Let's get goin' in a few. Make sure we got everythin'. Then we'll get outta here and we'll just hafta drive on through the weather. Let's try for Calgary before stoppin' again." Marie and Hank nodded their general agreement to that plan, and they each tried to relax a little before heading out on the road again.
"And remember – we're not telling Jean about this."
'Ro sighed as she maneuvered the Blackbird into the hangar at the mansion. Scott had said that at least a dozen times on the flight. "As I have said, repeatedly, I shall not be the one to mention it to her. I do not feel it is necessary. Whether you tell her is your choice."
"Sorry. Sorry, 'Ro. I don't mean to…….I just don't think she should ever find out."
"Well, it is good that that is entirely in your hands, then, is it not?" Her tone was a little more clipped than she intended, and Scott actually flinched. "Scott," she said, consciously gentling her tone, "I do not regret what we did. But it does not present a threat to your relationship with Jean."
"I don't have a relationship with her." He blinked, surprised that 'Ro would use that word.
"Yes, Scott, you do." 'Ro set the plane down inside the large underground hangar, more relieved than she would've thought to be back home at last. Her interlude with Scott had been deeply physically satisfying; these discussions were far less so.
"She's – she's dating Warren, she's – "
"She is dating Warren, yes," Ororo explained with more than a hint of impatience, "but you still have a relationship with her nonetheless. Scott, she is never far from your thoughts, and your life is still quite centered around her. I understand. You still love her, and – "
"I do not!"
"She is meant for you, and you for her, Scott," 'Ro wearily concluded, trying to head off further conversation as she pushed a series of buttons to close the doors above them. "That is how it is, whether or not the two of you choose to acknowledge it or not. Laws of nature do not change, Scott, regardless of how well we understand them or abide by them. It is the same with this. It is how it is and neither you nor she can change it. You can fight it if you so choose, but that will only bring you misery."
"I'm not the one fighting it. I'm not the one who broke up. She did."
'Ro heaved a sigh. He just wasn't ready to hear it, to see it yet. There wasn't much she could do as long as that was so. There are none so blind……."Scott, I am tired. Would you mind briefing the Professor on our mission?"
"Excellent." She unbuckled herself and rose, shaking her legs a little to work the kinks created by the long flight out. "I shall see you later."
"'Ro – " Scott called, catching her by her arm as she turned to exit the plane, " – I'm sorry." There was something genuine in his voice, something nakedly vulnerable, and it stopped her much more effectively than his arm ever could. "Here I am, acting like an ass all over again. You – you've been very kind to me. I don't regret what we – we shared either. I didn't mean to make you feel like – like it was meaningless to me or like I didn't care about you. I do. You're – you're one of my best friends. I'm sorry for being such an idiot, 'Ro."
"You are forgiven," she smiled, letting the truth behind the words show through. "I shall see you later." She said it more kindly this time, and Scott knew by her expression that everything was back to normal between them once again. He let her go, watched her leave, then gave himself a few minutes to gather his thoughts before heading off to see the Professor. He really did have to try to get himself back together somehow – he couldn't go on this way, first mucking up things with Kitty then with 'Ro, one of his oldest friends. It wasn't behavior befitting a leader, and it wasn't what Charles expected of him. Hell, it wasn't what he expected of himself. Shaking his head in some vain hope that that might clear out whatever was causing this, he resolved to give it some serious thought as soon as he was done debriefing Charles. Something had to be done, after all. He couldn't go on this way. He just couldn't.
Marie, Logan, and a well-covered Hank crept to their SUV around five a.m. and got back on the Trans-Canada highway. They were all relieved to be out of the motel, away from the close call. Logan drove and Hank, spent from the stress, was soon asleep in back. Marie stayed awake, and Logan could tell that something was on her mind.
"I don't think I've ever been to Calgary," Logan said conversationally, trying to draw her out.
"Me either." Marie didn't add anything further. So much for that approach. Maybe he should just wait and see what she'd do. After all, it was her modus operandi thus far to bring things out into the open with him, to talk about it. She would when she was ready. Maybe she was just gathering her thoughts, trying to find the right words, giving herself time to process – "Hey, Logan?"
"Can I ask you about something?"
"Sure." He smiled, pleased that it hadn't taken very long for the out-in-the-open thing to happen. He'd read her correctly again, and that gave him great satisfaction.
"When you pushed me down and off the bed, you said something – do you – do you remember what it was?"
Logan blinked, then crinkled his nose. He'd been jolted out of sleep with the first shot and his lightning fast reflexes kicked in, protecting Marie. He didn't think he'd said anything at all. "No, I don't."
"You said, 'You're not gonna take her.' You seemed like – like you thought someone was after me or something." Logan looked at her with a strange expression and she looked back with an equally odd one. "Do you know what that was all about?"
"Dunno," he answered slowly. "Didn't realize I said that. I guess I was just – was just protectin' you from whoever was out there. Nobody's gonna take you away from me, I know that. Maybe that was just my reflex, my reaction."
Marie nodded, seemingly satisfied, and curiously relieved. "Nobody's going to take you away from me either," she said with surprising confidence. A second later, though, she seemed to catch herself and she glanced toward him with wide eyes. "I mean – I mean not like that and not – not if you don't want it that way. I mean – "
"I know whatcha mean," Logan replied. His hand moved to give her thigh a squeeze and this time he intended it to show possession, not to give comfort. "But Marie, you don't worry about me – you let me do the worryin', all right? I'll take care of you."
Marie lay her hand over his. The gesture was gentle, but there was fire in her eyes. "I've seen some of the things they did to you, in the flashes," she whispered. "There's no way - *no way* - I would ever let them take you again. Not while I live and breathe. No way."
He was surprised by the fierceness in her words, and a cold feeling settled in his stomach as he realized what had produced her surety, and her anger. "You said you saw it – Marie, did you feel it too?" When she didn't answer, he knew the truth, but he asked again anyway. "Did you feel it, Marie?"
She turned to face him squarely and met his pained gaze with a steady one of her own. "I used to think that the bad things that happened to me, that they were the worst things, just the worst things that could possibly happen to a person. But then I got the flashes of you being – being opened up, operated on, and I knew that what had happened to me wasn't the worst. Those flashes came to me at just the right time. It's almost like you knew or maybe I knew it would have been too much, before. It's almost like you kept them from me when they might've hurt and saved them for when they could help. And they did help me, Logan. They gave me strength – I knew that if you survived all that to come to me, to be with me, I could survive whatever I had to, to have a chance to be with you too. It showed me that I could be strong too, that surviving something like that was possible. You did it and I could too." She noticed all of a sudden that his eyes hadn't been on the road for some time. She broke their gaze, and he glanced ahead, out the windshield, but then he turned right back to her. "I know – I know you hadn't even met me then, that it wasn't until after they let you go, until years later that you even knew me. I - I know that. But I just thought that if this – if the universe or God or whoever, wanted us to be together and this is what you had to go through to get there, to get to that point, I could handle having to go through some bad things too. Happiness – I know what I said to Hank before, that things just happen and there's no relationship to whether you're a good person or a bad one, and I believe that, I do – but I also think that happiness, sometimes it doesn't come without a price. If you paid it, I could too." She thought it best to leave out that there was somehow a symmetry that they'd both paid in flesh, blood, and near-insanity, that seeing and feeling the way he'd clawed himself out of the black pit of madness helped her do the same. She'd already said more than she'd really wanted to.
"What happened to you, Marie?" He asked in a whisper, pleading, not demanding. She knew she couldn't give him the whole answer, not yet, but she also knew he needed some answer. She thought it over quite a bit before deciding what answer felt right, what would be what he needed.
"I survived. That's what happened. Or at least that's the most important part." Hazel eyes gave her one last intense look before reluctantly turning back to the road. "That's the most important part of what happened to you too, or at least I think it is," she whispered, trying to lighten things, if only incrementally.
"Unbuckle your belt. C'mere." Marie complied with his gentle instruction and pressed herself to his side. He draped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed her tightly. She melted into his embrace, and he felt his eyes sting hot with tears. Whoever had hurt her, whatever had happened, if it was that bad – well, he often joked about killing people who pissed him off, but this was no joke. Whoever had hurt her was going to be on the receiving end of a whole new level of pain, and they would die only when he tired of torturing them.
Those black thoughts troubled him little. Logan was a man who had never thought 'vengeance' to be a pejorative word; it was in the vocabulary of honor, of his code. 'Wrath' was most commonly associated with 'righteous' in his mind, and 'justice' with a sword-wielding, pitiless hand of God. At heart, he really was rather old-fashioned. But even those words wouldn't begin to describe what he'd do to anyone who hurt Marie. Words that adequately communicated what he would visit upon those people had never been spoken by men; the only appropriate words were in the language of the animals, of the savage beasts. And anyone who may have thought they'd seen the beast in him in battle, or when he loped through the forests, spending years as something more animal than man, hadn't seen anything yet.
"Are you OK?" Marie queried softly.
"I'm OK. Marie – you just rest now, all right? You rest." His mind was turning and turning with the revelations she'd made; he couldn't really respond to her right now in any meaningful way. Suddenly, his spinning memory flashed back to the first time he'd met her (or technically the second time, that first night at her apartment) and he winced visibly.
"Logan – "
"You said – you said when I came to see you that first night – you said things and I – I just looked at you and told you that we could never be lovers, that I was with someone else and it was good. I said that. Oh God, I told you that."
"I know," Marie said softly, tucking her head down into his shoulder.
Logan grimaced, and his one-handed grip on the wheel turned white-knuckle. No more words needed to be said – they both now knew the entire reality of what had happened that night. She'd pulled herself through something bad, something truly bad, seriously bad, life-threateningly bad, on the hope that they'd be together, on the hope of happiness with him. And what had he done when he first found her? He'd told her, essentially, that she was dead wrong about them and that there was someone else he wanted to be with more. He couldn't imagine the kind of suffering his reaction had caused – hell, if she'd told him the same thing now, he wasn't sure he'd be able to handle it without breaking and/or killing just about everything in sight. But what had she done? She'd let him go. She'd just backed off and let him go. His heart hurt just thinking about it. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
"I know," she repeated, wrapping her arms around his thick body, hugging him tightly. "But you can't just – you can't make decisions around that. The worst thing, Logan, would be if I made you do this and it wasn't right for you. I couldn't do that. It had to be right for both of us."
"It is," he whispered to her, kissing her hair for emphasis. "It is." He heard a squeak from her that sounded like a stifled sob, one that probably took her by surprise. He kissed her hair again, and mumbled against her curly locks. "I'm sorry, Marie."
"You didn't know," she struggled out, the tears clearly evident now.
"I'm still sorry." It was just the plain truth, and it came out easily.
"Thanks," Marie whispered, curling her whole body around his. "But – but you can't be with me just because you feel sorry about – "
"I'm not, darlin'. I'm not. Don't you ever worry about that. Just – you just rest a while, Marie. Just stick right by me. I'm not gonna let anybody hurt you, not ever again. Not ever." As she nestled her head against his chest, her hair fell away from the nape of her neck, revealing his mark. She was his, and he felt like a fool for ever having a moment of doubt about that. He held her, murmuring words of reassurance and comfort, until he felt her body go slack with sleep. Sharp hazel eyes peered out into the dawn, and Logan drove them on toward Calgary, silently vowing to protect the woman in his arms, and to avenge the wrongs done to her.