Title: Portraits in a Gallery: No, You Don't
Moonbeam shuffled into her car, some bookkeeping sheets in one hand, and the note intended for her feature artist in the other. Really, she thought to herself, Rogue has to stop attracting the knuckle-dragging type. That first one that had come by – he'd actually scared her, not like the one tonight. No, you could tell that tonight's was mostly bark, not bite – well, at least at this point. She could definitely see a hardness in him, one that might kick in if he were pushed too far. The other man seemed more the type to revel in losing control. Moonbeam was glad that he'd never darkened her door again after that first time. Rogue never said whether or not he ever did find her, but Moonbeam's money would be on 'not.' He gave off a very confused, violent aura, and if he had gotten to Rogue, the poor, defenseless girl probably wouldn't have survived to tell the tale.
Turning down Johnson Street and heading for the mainland, she turned on some soothing new age music to help her round out the day. She'd stop by Rogue's on her way home and grab something from Hon's Wun-Tun House. God, she knew she should be a vegan, but their beef broccoli was just too good. Yes, she'd drop by Rogue's, get some dinner (and maybe even some potstickers too), and then head home for some meditation.
Why the girl insisted on living in Chinatown was a mystery, and the fact that she'd gotten along reasonably well there was an even bigger one. The ethnic Chinese were usually quite vehement about avoiding the 'yuppification' of their part of town and even though Rogue was hardly some upwardly-mobile, spoiled middle-classer, any Caucasian face tended to have that connotation associated with it. It must be her way with people, Moonbeam reflected as she buzzed across the city, that had allowed her to fit in even there. Rogue was one of the most unfailingly pleasant people she'd met – and that was true for *people,* not just artists. She doubted that the residents of Chinatown were any more immune to those big brown eyes and broad smile than she'd been.
Turning up Columbia, she fingered the note the man had written. She was more than sorely tempted to take a peek. Not that she was nosy, oh no – she was simply looking out for the welfare of her favorite (and most profitable) artist. But after a few moments' thought, she laid the note back on the car seat. It just plain wasn't right, and it was a violation of the girl's privacy even if it was done with only her best interests in mind. Besides, Moonbeam thought, Rogue would probably let her read the note when she opened it up herself.
"So he told you he thinks he's the guy in my paintings?" Rogue quizzed Moonbeam after she recounted her tale of the tall, gruff man and the elegant woman that had visited the gallery that afternoon, and after they'd both read the note he'd sent. At times like this, when they were just chatting, just talking, Moonbeam always wondered at the contrast between Rogue's private, down-to-earth persona and her public one. The elusive and mysterious artist was actually a rather ordinary young woman, all of twenty years old, who hovered just above the poverty level and lived in a small studio apartment with her cat, Binky. Hardly the worldly woman of sophistication and intrigue that her name and refusal to divulge personal details hinted at, but then again, Moonbeam thought, that was perhaps the point of it all. The only eccentric thing that surfaced once you got to know her was her habit of constantly being almost completely clothed – to the point of wearing scarves and gloves to cover any skin that might show. She did have one other unusual detail - the white streaks in her hair – but those were barely uncommon, Moonbeam thought, and not exactly interesting. Lots of kids did odd things with dye and bleach nowadays, and Rogue was just one more of them. Smiling, she answered her friend's question.
"Yes - he seems positively convinced, and, well, more than a little unhappy with that fact." Rogue's eyes widened and she let out a wordless, questioning hum. "He was desperate to speak with you, though, in a not-entirely-scary way, and I got the impression that the imbalance in his aura wasn't due to any desire to harm you. But you never can be certain with those kind of things, you know. Maybe I should've insisted he have some tea and then I could've read the leaves after he left…….."
That drew a smile from Rogue. Moonbeam was a little weird, but it was a good weird. "Don't worry about it. If it is the guy…….."
"If it is him – what?"
"If it is him, then I don't think I am in any danger."
"And if it isn't?"
Rogue's eyes hardened, and she wound a finger through one side of her white locks. "If it isn't, then I can take care of myself."
Moonbeam left, in search of her beef broccoli, and Rogue was unsurprised to hear a knock at her door a few moments later. If she'd been right, if it really was him at the gallery today, then he'd definitely track her down. Rogue welcomed it – heck, she'd been looking for him for the past thirteen years. Straightening her clothing and taking a deep breath, she swung the door open.
The sight that greeted her there took her back in time and put a smile on her lips. It *was* him. And he looked almost exactly as he had the last time she'd seen him in person. Well – except this time he was wearing clothes. "Hello," she greeted.
"You Rogue?" When she nodded, he pushed past her and into her small apartment. She simply closed the door behind him and seated herself on her bed, watching as he paced around, surveying the place. When he was finished, he fixed his best glare on her and asked, "You wanna tell me just why the hell you've been paintin' me? And how do you know anythin' about me anyway, huh?"
"I've been painting you because I like you. I know things about you because – well, basically because you saved my life."
"No I didn't," he countered quickly. "I don't even know who you are."
"Sure you do," she lobbed back. "I've grown up a lot since then, but I bet there's still a resemblance."
"You grew up since when?" Even as he asked, his eyes roamed her face, feeling that familiar tickle of memory begin.
"Since we first met. In the countryside, near Edmonton. That was thirteen years ago. I was seven then, but I had big hair even at that age." A playful smile tugged the corners of her lush mouth upward, catching Logan's eye. His memory was trying to tell him something, something important, but it was still just a tickle; he couldn't quite reach it. He refocused his attention on her words. "I was playing outside. My family had come up from Mississippi to visit my Mom's sister. Aunt Hilda sure was a true southern eccentric – she moved to Canada just to be closest to the world's biggest mall and she didn't even really like to shop. Anyway, I was playing outside at her house. I guess I didn't realize how far away from her property I'd gotten until I looked up and all of a sudden there was this big black bear rearing up on its hind paws. He was almost right on top of me, and I was sure I was a goner." Rogue shifted, and leaned her body toward Logan. "But then you were there. I saw these three sharp metal points pop out of the bear's chest and he fell to the ground. You were standing behind him, with your claws out. You killed him and saved my life." She stopped there for the moment, letting him absorb this much before starting on the really weird part.
Logan quietly mulled what she'd told him, trying to be patient as her words helped him tease the memory back. When he'd pushed it front and center, and it began to pound in on his consciousness, not just tickle at him, he whispered, "I remember. I was – I was mostly animal back then. I didn't know – " Suddenly, he stopped, and his far-away gaze slammed back to the here and now. "You been followin' me around since then? Watchin' me fight in the cages?"
"No," Marie demurred. "I'm a mutant. I – when you saved my life, I ran over to you. I remember it clear as day. I thought – gosh, those claws must hurt when they pop out. I grabbed your hand and saw the blood around your knuckles. I touched you. I touched you, and my – my mutation is absorbing people's life energy through touch. Back then – I don't know if it was the stress or what, but when I touched you something happened. My mutation didn't kick in, at least not in the same way it works now. Now, I can't control it at all and if I touch someone, I kill them." She lowered her head, all of a sudden unable to meet his gaze. "But back then – I touched you and kissed your boo-boos on your knuckles and told you thank you for saving me from the bear. Ever since then, I've gotten these flashes, flashes of your life, really. I'm pretty sure I got them from that touch. I can't predict them or control them any better than I can my skin now, but every once in a while, just for a few moments, it's like I'm inside your head, watching you, or-or watching from somewhere outside your body yet still connected to you and – well, you can see why I paint pictures instead of write words, huh? It's hard to explain, but that's what happens. I – I really don't mean to intrude on your life or anything, but the flashes just come. And I tried to find you, to tell you it was happening – heck, I visited poor old Aunt Hilda every summer, hoping to see you again. I never could find you, not even when I tried to pay attention to something besides you when the flashes hit – there were – there were never enough clues to give me a solid lead on where you were. I really wanted to tell you we were connected that way. I guess I just wanted to find you again. I'm glad you found me."
"What'd I do?"
"When you said thank you, what did I do?" His memory was flooding him with bits and pieces of the answer to that question, but Logan wasn't sure he trusted it, wasn't sure he wanted to believe it. After all, it would make him quite a larger bastard than even he had ever thought. But he couldn't run from the memories, not any more. The girl's words had flipped some kind of switch in his mind – all sorts of memories associated with her, ones he'd suppressed vigilantly, were pouring in, and he hoped to God that at least half of them were just his usual self-loathing popping up and playing nasty tricks on him.
"Well, you, um, kind of sniffed me and then you growled at me and said 'Mine.' I remember that word really well. You said 'Mine.' And then you – " The way she cut herself off hinted to Logan that she was holding something back, and her scent was screaming it. Before he could devote any thought to what it might be, more of the memories came slamming back, and he knew that he *was* every bit the bastard most people thought. Every bit and then some. He'd had feelings for the girl – and even if they hadn't been lustful, they hadn't exactly been paternal either. He remembered the sensation clearly, and it rocked him back on his heels, even as she gathered herself and continued speaking. "Something happened and you grabbed at your head and ran away. My Aunt was calling me and so I went back to the house. Believe me, I've wished a thousand times that I'd followed you into the – "
"No," Logan barked out at her in a strangled voice. Seeing her questioning look, he shook his head. "No. It's a good fuckin' thing you didn't follow me."
"Um, OK," Rogue said, rising from the bed to approach him. "Look, I know it's really very odd and like – like something out of some science fiction movie, but – but that's how it happened. I'd like to – I'd like to say thank you again and get to know you a little, you know, just – "
"What's your real name?"
"Marie – you stay the hell away from me, you got it? I'm dangerous." His face was red and his words were forced through a tight throat.
"Dangerous? Not to me, I – "
"Especially to you," he insisted, grabbing her shoulders. "Do you know what I woulda done to you if ya had followed me? Huh?"
"I don't know, probably sniffed me some more and – "
"I was a fuckin' animal then and I'm not much better now – get it?"
"Well, ah - no." She locked her eyes on his. She didn't understand this reaction, but she did know she didn't want to stay away from him. He'd haunted her psyche nearly all of her remembered life, and she wanted – no, *needed* - to know him.
"Marie," he ground out. "I remember that. I remember it now. I thought – I thought you were my mate. Christ, you were seven fuckin' years old!"
"Look, I, ah, I got that general idea from some of the flashes. I know that. Sometimes, over the years, I saw you thinking of us together. And I know that's, well, it's weird - but you never – you never thought of me really in a sexual way for a long time. Back when I was seven, when I got flashes in the years right after that, it was never – I was never scared. You were just possessive. There was just this feeling of wanting to have me, but not – not in a sexual way. Just wanting to keep me safe." Marie was lost in her own thinking-out-loud and didn't catch the mortified look on Logan's face. "Almost like you wanted to keep me away from any potential threats or rivals so that when it was time, I'd be sure to be yours. That's the impression I got from you then, and it didn't feel wrong or – or scare me. Of course, just after I turned fifteen, the flashes were sometimes, ah, rather sexual, and those were a little scary, but I still – I didn't think you'd really - "
"Goddamit!" He pushed her away, and hung his head. "Goddamn fuckin' bastards! They made me inta some kinda *thing,* some kinda perverted fuckin' *animal*!" Logan spat the words out, then raised his head to find her expression. "Don't you get it, kid? I'm all fucked up!"
"No," Marie answered patiently, "You're not. I know that better than anyone." She sighed, then tentatively, and very carefully, put her hands at his waist. "You saved my life, Logan." He started at the use of his name – he hadn't told her that. But it made sense that she'd know. "I can feel what's in you, and it's not twisted or perverted. You found me when I was too young – that's what happened, isn't it? If you'd found me now, or a year or two ago – you wouldn't think it was wrong. But even when I was seven, you didn't – you didn't hurt me. You didn't drag me off somewhere and have your way with me. You could've but you didn't. Doesn't that tell you something?"
"Yeah, it tells me you got lucky."
"Logan," she sighed, tugging him closer to her. "I know it's strange. I'm not saying that we're a model for – for perfectly functional people. But don't you think what happened is true? I do. I feel it, in both of us. What you thought back then – that I was supposed to be your mate – that's *true.* I wish you – there were a lot of times," Marie continued, tensing in his grasp and lowering both her eyes and her voice, "times after my mutation hit full force, that I wished you would've been there to protect me like you were thinking of."
Something about the sadness in her voice made him change his death-grip on her shoulders to a gentle touch. "I dunno if it's true or not, but I – I can't – just what the hell do you want from me now, Marie?" His voice was soft, and more pleading than accusatory.
"I want to know you, to have a chance to – to see if we were really meant to be together, I guess." He shook his head, but before he could get any words out, she barreled ahead. "Look – I'm not stupid, and I'm not as naïve as I just sounded there. I know – I know life isn't some big, romantic fairy tale where the prince saves your life and then, bam, a lot of years later you hook back up and live happily ever after. I know that. I just – I've felt like a part of me is missing, and I want to have the chance to know you, to see if you're that part, if what goes through your mind and mine is the way things really are. I think – I think it just might be, and I'm willing to take a chance to find out. I'm willing to try it. Are you?"
Logan wavered for a moment, and Marie thought he might kiss her. But then he said, "No. I can't. I just – I can't. I'm – I'm seein' someone else." Her surprise at that was plain. "I'm glad I was there for ya, before, but we – we can't be what you want. What I feel for you is sick, it's wrong. I'm sorry." He let her go, and made for the door. Marie wanted to break down crying, probably worse than she ever had before in her whole life, but she wanted one thing a little bit more.
"Logan," she called after him softly as he reached the threshold. "Did you see the picture of you and me?" His silence told her that he had. "That's how it could be, you know. That's how it could be – not sick, not wrong, just completely right. Have you ever felt anything that right in your life, Logan?"
"No," he whispered, before heading out the door and closing it behind him, not sparing her a backwards glance.
She collapsed to the floor, not even straying from the spot where she stood. As she buried her head in her hands and let the tears come, she noticed the note Moonbeam had brought her. Marie picked it up and delicately held the hand-scrawled note in her hands. It held only one sentence: I know what the paintings mean. She turned it over once, then again. No, you don't, she thought, no you don't.
Ororo listened worriedly to the bumping and crashing sounds from next door. Logan hadn't spoken a word on the way back to their hotel, not one. Now, he was apparently trashing his hotel room in frustration and anger. Whatever this artist, Rogue, had said to him had definitely hit a nerve. A big one.
She'd already gone over twice, and knocked. All she'd received in response was a gruff, panting, "Not now." While she wanted to respect his privacy, and his need to deal with things in his own way, she'd never seen him quite like this. Maybe she should go over and knock just one more time.
Her phone rang, abruptly tearing her from her worries and making her jump. A quick glance at the clock told her it was ten after ten. Ororo let he phone give another shrill ring while she pondered who might be calling at this hour – it was after one a.m. back in Westchester, and it certainly wasn't Logan calling from next door. No, the phone had been among the first casualties in his war against the hotel furnishings.
On the third ring, she shook her head a bit at her own hesitation and simply answered it. "Hello?"
"'Ro – it's Jean." Ororo understood now – Jean would've just returned from her gala and she probably got no answer when she tried calling Logan. "Is Logan in your room?"
"No," she answered simply. "How was your dinner?"
"Where is he then? I've been trying his room for twenty minutes now."
"He is, ah……." Jean was her friend, and she didn't want her to worry unnecessarily over Logan, yet she knew Logan would not appreciate her being the one to divulge the day's events to his lover. "He is unwinding with a little workout," she finished, grateful that Jean's telepathy couldn't work over phone lines. It wasn't a lie, technically, but it certainly wasn't the whole truth either. "Blowing off a bit of steam."
"He's still mad about our fight, hmm?"
"Well, you know what? So am I. I don't appreciate his attitude, 'Ro. I had to scramble at the last minute and ask Warren to go with me to the dinner. Thank God he was available. I just don't know why Logan seems to think that he doesn't have any responsibilities to this relationship. I try to hold up my end of things, God knows I do." Ororo knew her friend was referring to Logan's sexual appetites. Jean once said she'd never been so happy and so exhausted all at once, but lately, she'd really been stressing the 'exhausted' part. "Look, 'Ro, would you tell him something for me? I've got to see Warren out. He brought me back from the gala. Tell Logan that when he gets back here tomorrow, I expect an apology. And tell him – "
"Jean, I do not wish to get in the middle of things between you two."
Jean harrumphed. "Then just tell him he'd better come find me as soon as he gets here. We have a lot of talking to do."
"I shall relay that to him. How was your gala?"
"Fine," Jean said dismissively. "I'd forgotten how good Warren looks in a tux. Tell Logan that too."
"OK, OK. I've got to go. Thanks, 'Ro – and I'll see you both tomorrow."
"Good night, Jean," Ororo replied, hanging up the phone. She tried to ignore the noises next door and settle in for some sleep. Judging by this conversation, quiet would not be in her future even after they got back to the mansion.
Logan finally fell into a fitful sleep sometime around three a.m. The first hour or so of his slumber was blissfully dreamless, but before too long, he began tossing and turning – familiar signs of his infrequent but intense nightmares.
This time, his torment wasn't caused by the usual scenes of drowning, suffocation, or involuntary, anesthesia-free surgery. This time, he was thrown back thirteen years, and found himself pacing through a bucolic scene, just barely catching the scent of prey on the wind.
Some part of him knows he is dreaming – it is one of those dreams that makes you feel like both participant and observer – and he sternly tells himself to wake. His dream-self does not heed the command, though, and paces toward the scent of prey, moving quickly through the thick wood. His nose begins to pick up another scent – not prey, but definitely something animal, and something that is his. He does not question what his senses tell him; he only keeps moving forward to find what he seeks. Finally, the bear appears in view. Logan lunges for it, felling it with one blow. He issues the distinctive roar of the successful predator, and bends to sink his teeth into the fresh kill.
But as he does so, he sees the source of the other animal scent. It isn't like the bear; it is an animal of his own kind. And his nose had been right – this one is his. Definitely his.
Observer-Logan flinches, wanting to stop it all from happening, not wanting to relive it. Marie's recounting of the events and his own resurgent memories had been difficult enough to get through – this kind of up-close-and-personal experience of it was way too much to endure. But dream-Logan is stronger, and the pull of his young mate makes itself felt in both of them. In the dream, he moves toward her, issuing low, rumbling growls that try to communicate that she belongs to him.
Little-Marie innocently strides forward to meet the beast. He watches in wonder as she carefully lifts the hand that had killed the bear, the hand that still has three claws protruding from it. Withdrawing the claws with a 'snikt,' he watches as a delighted, curious smile spreads across the girl's features. She says some words he can't make out, then bends to press a delicate kiss to his bloody knuckles.
At that, the animal surges in him strongly. His mind hums with one thought, chanted over and over – 'Mine.' He grabs the girl by her shoulders, nearly desperate with the urge to communicate this to her, to make her understand it. Suddenly settling on an idea of just how to do that, he whirls her around so that her back is to him, then roughly shoves her long hair aside to bite her on the back of the neck, hard. Hard enough to draw blood. "Hey - ow!" little-Marie protests indignantly.
"No." Logan's own protest falls in a moan from his lips as he again tries, and fails, to wake himself from the dream. Instinctively, he knows that this was what Marie had omitted from her recount of the story before. "No…."
Back in the dream, she wiggles away from him and he lets her, but he also gives her a stern warning growl. "You bit me!" she accuses, wide-eyed. He growls at her again, a little louder. "Ow," she repeats, rubbing at the back of her neck.
Logan feels a sudden flood of panic – it feels like somehow, part of him is trying to desperately wrench himself away from the girl before he hurts her any further. He clutches at his head, then falls to his knees. The shock of it, the struggle, comes with pain - actual, physical pain - but it also comes with a measure of relief for observer-Logan – he knows that this is the part where he ran away. Marie told him that. The dream will soon be over.
But, this time, he doesn't run. This time, he fights back the pain with a snarl and, almost spitefully, picks up the young girl and hefts her over his shoulder, disappearing into the woods with her in tow. Helpless to stop it, Logan can only watch as his dream-self hauls little-Marie back to his lair.
They arrive at a deep-woods cave, a high and wide one, and the only signs that something even remotely intelligent lives here are the remains of a fire and some crude drawings on the walls. He plops the girl down with a grunt. She eyes him with interest, and some confusion, but no fear. He purrs at her, and gestures for her to lie down at the far end of the cave. After a few tries, and the addition of some gestures, she understands and obeys. Satisfied that communications are in working order, he sets about making a new fire, and periodically glances back to the girl as he does. Observer-Logan watches it all with trepidation, feeling overwhelming instincts toward the girl – instincts of protection, possession, and even softer feelings of care – but also fearing that his dream-self will not be able to keep from hurting her nonetheless.
But then something happens – the fire is lit, and the girl lays down closer to it, smiling up at him serenely. She is comfortable here, with him, and not in the least afraid. He lies down opposite her, with the fire between them. Logan can feel that he wants to keep a distance from her, that he knows he must – for now. He remembers the bite, and reassures himself that there is time. He has marked her as his, and she knows this. He can afford to wait until she is ready. Little-Marie favors him with another peaceful smile, and the dream suddenly slips away, finally loosening its hold on him.
Logan sat up groggily, still feeling the dream's after-effects. But instead of being drowned in terror or disgust, as he'd thought he would be at reliving this scenario, his body and mind surged with a sense of wholeness, a sense of peace – things he couldn't ever remember feeling before. He purposefully put off lying back down, wanting to consciously savor those feelings for a while. But, just like the more familiar sickness and dread that he usually woke with after a nightmare, the feelings eventually faded to a dull whisper in him.
When it was over, a quick glance at the clock told him it was nearly six. He and Ororo were supposed to get to the plane at nine and head back to Westchester. Grumbling, Logan hauled himself out of bed, and paced to the bathroom. He had some thinking to do.