Title: Portraits in a Gallery: Picking Teams
The next morning found them battling rain and high winds as they made their way across British Columbia. Thankfully, the SUV was spacious enough to make them all comfortable; driving in this weather was tension-producing enough as it was. One occupant of the vehicle – Binky – was especially comfortable. He'd snagged a prime spot in the back seat, close to the floor heating vent.
Marie was curled up in front, duly seat-belted but wrapped in a blanket. They'd had to keep the temperature in the SUV a bit on the cool side to accommodate Hank's fur covering, making Marie glad she'd thought to appropriate some pillows and blankets for the trip.
"We oughta be there in an hour or so," Logan reassured. "Weather sure is a bitch."
"We'll get in just in time," Marie mused, "Once the sun goes down, I wouldn't be surprised if all this turned into freezing rain."
"Hmph." Logan nonchalantly moved his hand to rest on Marie's thigh, as he'd done intermittently throughout the drive. Each time, she said nothing, but each time her scent changed, just subtly. He liked making her do that.
Last night, sleeping with her had been a good thing all around. She was very snuggly with him, and he was glad she didn't worry over her skin too much. He was also glad she hadn't had another nightmare – he wasn't at all eager to see her go through that again. He hoped that he hadn't woken her with his own dreams.
And what dreams they'd been – he thought they had to be some of the 'flashes' that Marie talked about having of him, only these ones involved her. He'd never remembered that he'd had them before, but being so close to Marie lately must've jarred something loose. He'd gotten a few fleeting peeks at them in the last few days, but last night's dream was the first full-on 'flash' that had come back to him. In it, Marie was not much younger than she was now, maybe a couple of years. Her hair didn't have the white streak in it and her face had a bit more baby fat, but otherwise, she looked the same.
"Are you thinking about something?" Marie queried, pulling him back from the pleasant remembrance. He nodded, gave her a cocky grin and a squeeze to her thigh, then turned his attention back to his thoughts after seeing her smile in acknowledgement, knowing she'd let him keep it to himself if he so chose. He let his mind wander back to the dream.
Marie approaches him out of nowhere, coming up on him just after he finishes undressing and before he can hop into the shower. She is all smiles and bare skin – for a fleeting moment, he wonders why she is walking around naked in his room at the mansion, but feeling her press her nude body to his soon diverts his attention from that line of thought.
"…………….and, of course, several texts in genetics. That, for obvious reasons has always been a special interest of mine." Hank's voice greeted Logan upon his return to the here and now.
"That's really impressive, Hank," Marie replied. "I can barely remember phone numbers, let alone memorize entire textbooks."
"Well, when one finds oneself unemployed and without an abode, one does tend to spend an inordinate amount of time devouring texts of interest, even if they must be nocturnally 'borrowed' from the local university library."
Marie laughed at that and glanced quickly to Logan. Seeing that he'd finished pondering whatever had been on his mind, she flashed a 'welcome back' smile at him. More than a little of the passion the dream had recalled lingered in his gaze, but instead of being puzzled or startled by that, Marie gave him a knowing look. He wondered if she knew what he'd been thinking, and if she did, whether she savored those flashes too, whether she was giving him that look because she recognized an expression she'd seen on her own features. Logan gave her a squeeze that was more like a caress, and then moved his hand from her thigh to the steering wheel once again.
"So you'd like this one, then?" The well-heeled woman nodded her answer to Moonbeam's question. The gallery owner smiled. "Will that be cash or credit?"
"Credit," the woman offered, proffering a platinum Visa card. Snickering quietly while Moonbeam processed it, the woman thought to herself that Xavier and his band of do-gooders weren't the only ones with virtually unlimited credit. Of course, Xavier's credit had probably been come by legally………
"There we have it. And let me congratulate you once again on your purchase. This is one of my own favorite artists."
"Rogue, is it?" The woman asked coolly.
"Yes. She's very private, doesn't toot her own horn much, but the work she produces is impressive."
"Hmmm," the woman replied. "This isn't the first example of her work I've seen. 'Impressive' is quite the correct word." A flash of her lover's bloated, fetid corpse flashed across the woman's mind. Shaking her head and willfully pushing the image away, she turned her smile back on Moonbeam. She was, after all, here on another matter. Finding the object of her most feverishly desired personal vengeance was simply a nice bonus, one she could give her full attention to once she'd found the blue-furred scientist she'd been sent after. "I am sure I will enjoy it."
Moonbeam nodded, and the woman turned to go. She could sense that the gallery owner knew something was a bit 'off' about her, but she also knew that Moonbeam couldn't quite put her finger on it. The woman smiled. She'd prided herself on being elusive and was pleased to know, at least in this small way, that her talents still served her well. Putting the painting under one arm, she emerged into the drizzling Vancouver afternoon, sliding on a pair of sunglasses just as her eyes flashed yellow.
"Looks like we got here just in time," Marie mused, munching on the pizza they'd snagged from a local restaurant on their way to their Kamloops hotel room. The hotel wasn't as nice as the one Logan had had on Granville Island, but it would do. And now, watching the rain/sleet/snow come down, Marie was simply glad that they were somewhere inside, out of the weather.
"Hopefully, it'll blow over by mornin'," Logan replied, settling next to her on their bed. She smiled when he joined her, and he knew she was pleased that he was true to his word about their continued sharing of a bed. It was a small thing, and it wasn't as though she'd been giving off signs that she was worried he might not do it, but it was meaningful nonetheless. Logan was beginning to realize that just because Marie had been very open with him, it didn't mean that he didn't need to build trust with her. One way to do that was to keep his word, on the little things as well as the big ones. He returned her smile, and tucked into the pizza.
"I have not had so much wonderful food so readily and so consistently provided to me in quite some time. Thank you again for procuring a pizza intended solely for my consumption."
"Welcome," Logan mumbled through his food. "Mind if I ask ya somethin'?" Hank gave him a cautious glance, but he nodded his permission. "How long you been livin' on your own like that?"
Hank felt a surge of appreciation that Logan had used the term 'on your own' rather than 'homeless.' It sounded so much more dignified that way, almost as though that way of life had been his choice. "About six months. I was………..I was not simply existing, moving from day to day. Oh, no. I attempted to continue my education, to, ah, 'borrow,' as it were, textbooks when I could, and I attempted many times to secure employment of some sort. However, after – " Hank stopped abruptly, and he was certain that both Logan and Marie realized that he was contemplating whether and how much to share with them about a difficult time in his life. Seeing Marie's kind gaze and Logan's matter-of-fact one, he decided to tell them *something*. "After a particularly unpleasant episode wherein I was promised employment but arrived for my first day of work only to find – to find that – that the job would consist of me being beat up by the local FOH, I was somewhat deterred in my search for gainful employment."
There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment, and Hank suddenly thought he'd made all the wrong decisions – not only in telling them, but also in being foolish enough to trust people again in the first place. But then Marie spoke, and her voice was suffused with plain and genuine concern, and that tipped Hank back to an even keel again. "Are you all right? Were you hurt badly?"
Hank swallowed and tried for a smile. "Yes, on both counts. It was about four months ago. I took to hiding most of the time after that, in no small part to nurse my wounds. But I am all right now."
"Fuckers," Logan commented, and Hank watched him let some of the anger slip through with the word. "Dunno why some people seem to think mutants are toys for their own fuckin' amusement." Hank appreciated the solidarity but the way Logan said it made him realize that it was more than mere sympathy – the heat in the words made him think that Logan must've gone through something similar himself. "I'd like to have a few minutes alone with those bastards." With that, he held up a fist and unleashed the claws on his left hand with a sharp 'snikt.'
"Oh my," Hank whispered. Logan had told him what his mutation was – healing, enhanced senses, claws – but he hadn't said the claws were *metal*. Hank now had more than a small hint at what Logan must've been through; there was no way that was an organic mutation. He'd been 'enhanced' at one of those labs, the ones Hank had heard about in rumor but had never quite believed really existed. He swallowed hard as the realization hit that he was very lucky it had been Logan and Marie who found him. Very lucky indeed.
"I'd like some time alone with them too," Marie said softly, without the fiery anger, but with a firm, icy determination behind the words. Hank watched as she placed her gloved hand atop Logan's clawed one. The fire in Logan's eyes turned from anger to something more animalistic yet less dangerous as he turned to look at Marie. Hank thought he heard the man emit a low, rumbling growl.
"Careful of these, darlin'." Now that – that definitely was a growl.
"I'm not afraid of them," Marie whispered, meeting Logan's intense gaze with her own level one. "But I will be careful. Always, with you." Logan rumbled again and shifted toward her. At that, she seemed to remember that Hank was in the room with them and she broke their gaze, putting a restraining hand on Logan's chest for good measure, and turning her focus to Hank. "I'm so sorry, Hank. You didn't deserve to go through that."
"Thank you," Hank said quietly, finding her apology unexpectedly powerful. No one had ever said that they were sorry for anything he'd had to go through, and even though Marie had not been the cause of the pain, it was a source of great comfort to Hank that at least someone recognized the horribleness of the situation and affirmed that what had happened wasn't some kind of divinely ordained or personally earned punishment. "That is very kind of you to say."
"I mean it," she said softly, her hand sliding from Logan's chest to his thigh as he calmed. "Bad things happen, and I don't think there's really any relationship there to what people deserve. Things just happen. You get some bad things you don't deserve and, hopefully, some good ones." She traded smiles with Hank, and gave Logan's leg a final pat before withdrawing her hand. "So – what do you think you'd like to do once we get to New York? If you decide you'd like to stay, that is."
"I should quite like to continue my studies – although I admit to a strong predilection to self-education. I have found it very rewarding. I am able to move at my own pace, and am not dragged down by the slowness others require. I can also go where my curiosity leads, and I can build on the knowledge I have already acquired." Hank paused, then took a breath. "That sounded quite egomaniacal, did it not?"
Marie gave out a gentle laugh and Logan contributed a soft grunt that was almost a chuckle. "Ain't no reason to be ashamed of the talents you got, Hank. Brains – that's a pretty damn good thing to be flush in."
"Yes, well – I – to be very honest, I find myself resorting to braggadocio when I am feeling – feeling a bit vulnerable." Marie nodded. "It is a defense mechanism, and one I am acutely aware of, yet I have not been able to ameliorate its appearance to the extent I would prefer."
"Everybody has those," Marie assured. "And Logan's right – you shouldn't be shy about the talents you have. Smarts are good. But there are other important things too."
"Yeah?" Logan queried before Hank could respond. "What do you think is important? 'Sides smarts." Hank was mildly surprised – he hadn't figured Logan for the deep conversation type. But then again, the man seemed to act differently around Marie than he did generally, in public. Hank had known him only a short time, but that propensity had been on ample display.
"Hmmm. I think the most important things are probably compassion, and a sense of responsibility. Maybe not responsibility, maybe that's not the right word, but making good on your word, treating people fairly, trying to do the right thing – realizing that you have a responsibility to the people in the world around you and to yourself. All the other things – intelligence, artistic or practical talents, strength, courage – all of those can be tools for good or for bad and if you're not guided by some compassion for others, and some sense of right and wrong - some sense that you owe it to yourself and the people in your life, both the good and the bad people, to be a decent person – well, then other good qualities only wind up being put to bad use or being wasted." Logan munched on the pizza, thinking about her words. "What about you? What do you think the important things are?"
"Honor," Logan answered immediately. "I think you're right about whatcha said about you hafta have a sense of responsibility to yourself, to your own code, and to the other people around you. Where I disagree with you, darlin', is that I'd say once someone fucks you over, the gloves are off. I think it's plenty fair to treat people how they demonstrate they're gonna treat you. I know some people say that only makes ya like 'em, that two wrongs don't make a right. But some people just don't fuckin' understand anythin' but their own language, know what I mean?"
"Yes," Marie allowed. "But if you act like they do, aren't you letting them dictate your behavior instead of running your life by the rules, the code, that you've decided on? Aren't you giving them power over you?"
Logan considered it seriously for a moment. "Maybe. But you gotta be practical about things too. It's nice to sit back thinkin' – yeah, I got the power, yeah, I decide. But if the only way you're gonna survive or gonna leave a situation standin' is to act like they are, then I say fuck all that." The words weren't angry; on the contrary, they were almost resigned.
"You have an excellent point," Hank ventured. "Survival is the first order of business. Believe me, it is not something I would have asserted prior to my own, ah, recent experiences. But now I do believe that that is correct. I cannot say that the highest value is survival at all costs – there are times, I think, when one properly lays down one's life for a loved one, say a child, or for a cause one passionately believes in. But outside of those extraordinary circumstances, I do believe that survival is the necessary pre-condition for all other moral issues. After all, if one is not alive, one cannot very well live a moral life."
"I guess I'd agree with that," Marie said, obviously still thinking. "And I'd agree that there have to be practical concerns taken into account. But I guess I think that there are limits to practicality. What's practical and expedient can't always be the main thing."
"True," Logan grunted. "Cause then people'd just do whatever the hell was easiest or best for them, for their own benefit. That ain't gonna lead to a good moral life. I guess you gotta find a balance, and figure out where one side needsta give in to the other." Marie nodded, and the two seemed to be in agreement. Hank, though, wasn't finished with the conversation.
"You asked Marie what she thought the important things were, and I believe that there is one thing that I would add that had been omitted from the discussion thus far. I would add love. In many of the experiences in my life, I have found that the lack of love has worsened the situation and has not – well, it has permitted the people involved not to be called to the highest, best behavior that they may have exhibited had they truly loved the person in question."
Logan was a bit lost in Hank's words, but Marie seemed to get it. "You're right," she said softly. "My family – they kicked me out too. They didn't stand up for me because they were more worried about what other people would think – people they didn't even know, much less have a blood relationship with. They were more worried about what other people would think of them for having a mutant child than they were about what could happen to me if they kicked me out. Sometimes I think – if they really loved me, they wouldn't have acted that way. I'm not saying that they should've put me above everything, or even above themselves. But I shouldn't have meant nothing; I shouldn't have been less important to them than the opinion of some stranger on the street. If they had loved me, they wouldn't have acted like they did." Logan was looking at her intently now, but her eyes were locked on Hank's. "I like to think that they didn't love me, not ever, not really. I know it sounds harsh, but I think to myself – if that's love, if they could just put me out like the Monday trash, then things are pretty bleak, you know? Then that's all I can ever expect out of love for the rest of my life, no matter who it is. I can only expect to – to be tossed out when they don't want me anymore or when I cause them trouble. And I don't want to think that way, I really don't. I want to believe that if someone loves me, really loves me, then they'll stick with me even when it's rough. They'll look out for me and won't really care what the people on the street think if it's something that's right for both of us. I like to think that I'll find that one day, and I can't reconcile my parents really having loved me with my ideas and hopes about what love should be like. If I say – yes, maybe they did love me, but they did this anyway, then I have to accept and expect that treatment from whoever else loves me. I'm not willing to do that. So – it makes more sense to me to think they never really loved me, even though that hurts, a lot. It makes more sense and it gives me hope that one day I'll find real love, love that isn't so easily tossed aside."
"I feel the same way," Hank whispered. "And I think – they were selfish. My parents did not wish to deal with the nuisances - and the real troubles - that a mutant child such as myself would bring to their doorstep. They chose their own ease over my survival. It conflicts with the stereotypically unselfish love of a parent that society promotes as the norm. That kind of selfishness is incompatible with love, I think. Love should be selfless, should be focused on the other person, do you not think so?"
Marie smiled, then gave him a surprising answer. "Not quite. I think love should be focused on the unit – the family, the couple, whoever. I think when there's love between people, it forms a new thing – a family or a 'we' – that supercedes any one of the people involved. I think if you love someone, you put the both of you first – what's best for both of you is most important. But I think that's got to be a pretty broad view – I don't think kicking out mutant children because it's easiest for the rest of the family is the same as doing what's best for the family. It's a balance, I think. I think you have to consider how much it's going to help one person versus how much it's going to benefit the others if there's a conflict. And I think you have to focus on what you want the relationship, the unit to be."
"I don't agree with that," Logan chimed in. "If you love someone, it's them – what's important is them bein' happy, them bein' safe. Not you."
"But – for example, if you got hurt, if something ever happened to you because of me, I wouldn't be happy."
"I would. I would if me gettin' hurt meant that you didn't."
They both huffed at one another, searching for the words to carry the discussion forward. Hank felt suddenly very jealous – these two were quite plainly in a very good, very loving relationship. For him, this whole discussion was, and probably always would be, only theoretical. "I do not think you can go wrong in considering the other person," Hank softly added, trying to blunt his swirling emotions, trying to turn the discussion to lighter topics. "But I think Marie has a point as well. Ahem. In any case – I do believe that I shall head toward the shower and prepare for bed. I am quite full and the pizza was excellent – thank you again for dinner."
Logan gave him a gruff nod, acquiescing to Hank's almost-not-awkward segue, but Marie called out to him as he rose from the bed. "Hank – sometimes things don't work out like you think they will. Life can surprise you." He wondered if she'd caught on to his emotions, or if his tone had given away some of the jealousy he felt. But she didn't seem inclined to seriously press it much – her lips turned upward in an impish grin. "After all, I bet at the beginning of the week you never thought you'd be eating pizza in Kamloops tonight."
"Quite true," Hank allowed, smiling tightly, then headed off to the bathroom.
Marie turned to Logan, still sporting a bright expression. "I like him. He's deep."
"Hmph. Smart guys usually are."
"I didn't mean to sound like I wouldn't put you first," she said more seriously, but still with a small, easy smile. "I would. But I think there are times when you have to think about the both of you, you know?"
"Darlin', I don't mind ya lookin' out for yourself."
"That's not what I mean," Marie said, scooting closer to him on the bed. "I mean – if you ever wanted to – to be a couple with me, to be a team, a family, I would want to do what's right for that relationship, for both of us, to make sure it keeps going and it keeps sustaining both of us and giving us what we need. I think that means that, yes, sometimes I do have to think about myself and I have to think about you too. Does that make sense?"
"Lots of it," Logan allowed. Seeing her brighten, he added. "You're a pretty damn sensible person, you know that?"
"Well, for an artist, sure," she teased back. Marie rose to begin clearing away the remnants of their dinner, signaling the end of the conversation, but Logan stopped her with a gentle hand to her arm.
"Hey – what you said about wanting to be a team with you – yeah, I think I wanna do that." Marie's mouth fell open and she froze. "I know it's kinda fast." His brows scrunched together in thought. "Or maybe not. I mean, you kinda knew right away and said we should be together and all the first night I came over. So maybe it's not so fast for you. But I – I think that I am a part of you and you feel like you fit in me. I wanna see, I wanna take a chance. Let's give that a try."
Her whole face pinched and her eyes clouded over with tears. For one terrible second Logan thought he'd made the words come out wrong somehow, that he hadn't really said what he'd thought he said. But then she launched herself at him and hugged him hard. "Oh, Logan…….."
"I gotcha," He replied, hugging back. "I wantcha to know that me and Jeannie – it wasn't like this. We didn't talk, and we never said things like – like you and me say. It was good – she wasn't a bad woman – but it wasn't……..it just was different. It wasn't like this. Hell, I didn't even know this was a possibility before I metcha."
Marie nodded against his shoulder then parted from him, wanting him to see her face and the truth of her words. "I want you to know that I've – I've never been with anyone, not in a relationship, um, ever. I wanted to see if I could find you first. I was willing to wait. There have been some things……." She trailed off as her throat tightened and the words became difficult. "There have been some things that happened along the way that we need to talk about, but – but not now, not yet. I just want you to know that it's never been like this for me before either. That's the important thing, that's what I want you to know."
Logan reached up to caress her cheek. "Tell me somethin'," he beckoned, hazel eyes meeting her glistening brown ones. "The things that happened – that's what the nightmare was about, huh?"
Marie smiled, knowing she should've realized he'd figure it out. "Yeah," she whispered. "But they're – they're hard things, and I need some time to – to think about how to talk with you about it. They're hard things," she repeated, "but I want you to know them."
"I gotta tell you some hard things too." He matched her soft tone. "You probably know some of it 'cause of the flashes, 'cause of what you've seen in 'em. You've seen the lab, and the cages. But I gotta tell you about it, all of it. I gotta tell you 'cause you deserve to know those things, at least all of what I remember about 'em. But you're right – not now, not yet. There's time. And Marie – those hard things you gotta tell me – they're not gonna make me run from ya, darlin'. I ain't like your family. I don't turn tail just 'cause there's some rough spots in the road."
"Me either." Marie held his gaze for a moment, then added, "I'm glad you found me."
"Me too," he grinned, and let her go. Enough serious conversation for one night. "Hey – you wanna grab me a beer? I think I'm gonna stop with the thinkin' and turn on Sportscenter. Wanna watch it with me?"
"Sure do," Marie shot back. "You don't have any deep thoughts on hockey, do you?"
"Oh hell yeah, lots of 'em. But that can be tomorrow night's talk." He settled into the bed, awaiting Marie's company and clearing his head of the serious thoughts the night's conversation had brought. For now, he just wanted to be content with having her near and having a quiet, uneventful evening.
Kitty tapped at her keyboard, her mind refusing to stay away from thoughts of Scott, even though she had sternly demanded it do so earlier in the evening. He hadn't called today, and while her sensible mind knew this to be a good sign - one that the things she'd said had finally sunk in and that he was beginning to accept that there was no future for them - her unruly heart was still stung by it. Even if she'd made the very painful decision that the man she'd looked up to, idolized, and loved from afar for so many years would not make a good partner for her, it didn't mean that she was at peace with that decision. She *wanted* to love him, to forgive him, and she wanted him to want that. But she knew that in order to be able to have that with him, he needed to be someone different than he actually was - someone *not* still in love with Jean, and someone who she wouldn't have to feel like she walked on eggshells around, lest the slightest comment cause him to blow up at her in insults and ridicule. In short – he had to be someone who loved her back, really loved *her*, or at least someone who could. That day in his room, he'd shown her pretty conclusively that he wasn't, and when Kitty let her rational mind get in a word or two, it put up a pretty convincing argument that Scott wasn't going to change any time soon.
And that caused a mild panic in her when she stopped to think about it – Scott had been the only man she'd ever thought of involving herself with romantically. He'd appeared to be brave, kind, stoic, smart, disciplined – all the things her own father was lacking and which, conversely, Kitty valued most highly. Scott, even now, seemed to her the antithesis of her father in many ways – Scott's intelligence, drive, and courage bore no resemblance to the characteristics she associated with her father, most of which were neatly connoted by the phrase 'unemployed chronic alcoholic.' But Scott had shown that there were similarities – he could be rude, unfeeling, and deliberately cruel. Like her father, Scott loved himself, and perhaps Jean, best; there was no room for Kitty in his heart.
And that was the one non-negotiable characteristic in Kitty's opinion - she'd vowed long before her mutation ever manifested, long before she ever laid eyes on Scott Summers, that there would be ice-skating in hell before she ever let a man dress her down the way her father did her mother. Some of the old man's more memorable insults flashed through Kitty's head – useless bitch, whore, fat pig, stupid cunt – before she clamped down on the memories. Scott, of course, would never be so crass as to use those words, but he'd mimicked her father's tone and attitude to a T. And she knew that if she let herself give in, if she took him back knowing that he hadn't really changed, that she'd be destined for the same life as her mother, whether she stayed with Scott in the long term or not – she'd eventually find herself trapped, wasting her own brains and energy on a man who had little respect for her and even less appreciation.
She sighed, and tried to turn her full attention to the laptop screen in front of her. Her AP Physics class wasn't easy, and she needed a B or better to get into the next level of honors sciences at the university. That's what's important now, she told herself, focus on that. Her education, her classes, her life – they'd all been neglected in favor of Scott while they were together, and it was time that that changed. After all, those were the things that were most likely to ensure that she never met her mother's fate. If she could provide for herself, fend for herself, take care of herself, she'd never have to depend on anyone to do it for her - she'd never have to put up with anyone's crap just to keep a roof over her head. Giving one last fleeting thought as to whether there were really any men out there that wouldn't eventually devolve into a clone of her father, she turned her mind back to her studies.