The sun was just breaking over the horizon when Ororo spotted a rumpled-looking Logan walking into the mansion.
"Hello, Logan," said Ororo as she carefully looked over her fellow instructor. Ororo was pretty sure that Logan had been gone all night long. "Kurt will not be attending your Danger Room session."
"What's wrong with the elf?" Logan growled in his low, rough voice. He didn't look tired. Fundamentally, fatigue was a kind of chemical poison. And Logan was very resistant to that kind of thing. Oh, he couldn't ignore the need for rest forever, but he could stay awake and physically active for startlingly long periods of time.
Ororo sighed, "He injured himself during some midnight horseplay with the other students. 'Teleport Tag' is what they call it. Kurt missed his intended target and ended up materializing above the steps of the main stairway instead of on the landing. He took a tumble and landed on his ankle. He's not seriously injured, but Charles does not want him putting any strain on his leg."
A smile flickered across Logan's face, "If they've that kind of energy to burn, then they're not getting enough exercise. I'll have to do something about that."
Ororo concealed a wince. Logan's training sessions were already noted for their intensity.
"Do not be too hard on them," Ororo said firmly.
Logan nodded amiably, "Okay, 'Ro. What else is botherin' you?"
Not for the first time, Ororo found herself surprised at how good Logan was at reading other people.
"Logan, I do not want to intrude on your privacy," she began carefully. "But I am concerned about your overnight trips. If something should happen to you while you were gone, we would have no idea how to find you. Even Cerebro has problems tracking you sometimes."
Logan nodded slowly. As far as he was concerned, Ororo was one of the very, very few people who had the right to expect answers from him.
"I almost always go to Harry's Bar out on highway 77. I usually close the place down and then catch some sleep in the woods just off of the rest area at mile-marker 171. And I always carry my cell-phone with me. You guys got the number."
"Oh. Thank you, Logan."
Logan cocked his head, obviously noticing that Ororo clearly wanted to say more, but was hesitant to do so.
"You got anything else, 'Ro?" he asked. "If so, you better ask quick. You know I'm not usually in a question-answering mood."
Ororo paused before going on. "Well... you are spending nights away from the school more and more often, Logan. It used to be only once every two weeks or so. Then it was once a week. Now you are out of the mansion twice a week or so. Is something wrong?"
Suddenly looking unsure, Logan shrugged and said, "I've always been a loner, 'Ro. I just ain't good with people and... and the things they do. Sometimes, I need to be on my own, so I step out for a while. But I promise that I'm not ditching you guys."
"Very well. I think I understand," said Ororo, even though she was still sure that Logan was concealing something.
They were interrupted by Jean, Rogue, and Kitty. The three girls called out sleepy hellos as they drifted down the front hall's staircase.
Logan returned their greetings, nodded to Ororo, and then headed upstairs to take a quick shower.
The day's Danger Room session was surprisingly mild. In fact, Jean found herself wondering if Logan was feeling all right. For the last few months, Logan had been steadily cranking up the ferocity level of the Danger Room routines. Today's relative calm was a considerably welcome change of pace.
"Don't get used to this," Logan growled at them. "Yeah, I don't want you guys to over-train, so we took it easy today. But tomorrow we'll be back to normal."
There was a chorus of moans and groans that was a mixture of exaggeration and genuine sentiment.
"So that's it for the day," continued Logan imperturbably. "And don't try telling Hank that you were late to class 'cause the Danger Room session ran long. We're on to that trick."
There was yet more groaning and grumbling as the students picked up their gear and began straggling towards the showers.
"Jean. Ya gotta second?" Logan asked suddenly.
Jean paused, glanced at her fellow students, and then turned around to face Logan. The others continued towards the showers.
"What's up, Logan?" Jean asked.
"I gotta question for you," Logan said. It seemed to Jean that his eyes were a bit distant.
"Sure. What can I help you with?"
"I was wondering, can you turn your power off? Or can you always tell what people around you are thinking and... and doing?"
The question surprised Jean. Logan had never asked her about the more personal aspects of her abilities. In fact, Logan usually didn't talk to her at all. That bothered Jean sometimes, since it almost seemed as if he was making a point of avoiding her.
"Well, I'm not always reading the minds of everyone around me," answered Jean. "So, yes, I can turn my telepathy on and off. Is that what you wanted to know?"
Logan shook his head.
"Nah. I know that you have to make an effort to read someone's mind. What I'm talking about is more like... like always knowing what other people around you are feeling. The Professor once told me that some telepaths are like that."
"Oh," said Jean, finally understanding what Logan was talking about. "The Professor calls that 'telepathic empathy'. My power normally doesn't work that way - and that's a good thing. Back when I first found out that I was a mutant, my powers were out of control and I had some flashes of telepathic empathy. I found out pretty quick that it wasn't fun to always know what other people are feeling."
"What was the problem?"
Jean hesitated before answering. Something seemed to be bothering Logan, but she wasn't sure what it was.
She tried to explain as best she could, "When you have telepathic empathy, you 'hear' what other people are immediately experiencing and how they're reacting to it. That's odd enough. But then you add onto it the fact that what you're 'hearing' are people's crude, instinctive reactions to whatever is going on around them."
Jean paused and then went on. "I would sometimes hear things - feel things - from other people that I really didn't want to know about. I... well, it could be scary. And it could hurt. I'm pretty glad it was just a stage and it eventually went away."
"I'm sorry, kid," said Logan in what passed as a gentle tone for him. "That must have been tough. Thanks."
Logan nodded at Jean and walked off towards the elevator that led up to the control room. Jean watched Logan walk away and told herself that she really wasn't checking out her gym teacher's butt.
From ten yards away, Logan smelled Jean's flash of girlish interest and womanly arousal. Deep inside Logan, something grinned and told him that he should turn around and...
Logan shook the thought out of his head. Then he held his breath until the elevator doors closed between himself and Jean.
Logan knew he would be staying in the mansion that night. There were some things going on that he had to keep an eye on - even if he would rather be somewhere else. Somewhere that was still and calm.
As he tried to relax in his room. Logan's keen senses inevitably encompassed the mansion and the nearby area. He could hear and smell at a considerable distance - even through closed doors and windows. It was a process that he really couldn't control.
That ability was very much a part of Logan. And it had no 'off' switch. Once Logan entered an area, his senses inevitably began building a surprisingly detailed picture of his environment.
Logan wasn't built to live in an enclosed space with other people. Every day, every night, he was awash in the scents and sounds of the others. He knew things about them that he didn't want to know, and in some cases, things that he wasn't sure that it was right for him to know.
That was bad enough, but it wasn't the only problem.
He didn't really fit the role he was trying to fill in the school. Ororo and Charles were teachers. He was a thug.
This just wasn't him.
He could leave. Lord knows, he had come close many times. In fact, every time he got on his bike, the open road whispered to him like a lost lover.
And yet he stayed. Yeah, he wasn't the best choice for what he did here. But at least he could try.
Hell, somebody had to try.
After dinner, Hank sequestered himself in his room. Logan could pick out the odor of fine brandy and hear the soft strains of Italian opera coming from Hank's CD player. After a while, Logan also caught a scent with a distinctive chemical tang.
Hank was taking his pain-killers again. Hank had never said anything to the others, but Logan had long since figured out the problem. Hank's body had never completely adjusted to the massive changes that it had undergone. Hank was often in a lot of pain and he took pills for that.
Logan was pretty sure that Hank wasn't an addict. But if Hank wasn't careful, it would probably only be a matter of time.
Logan considered his options. This was beginning to get serious. He'd have to find some way to bring the subject up with Hank and give him a warning. Logan had seen too many men and women go down the path that was beckoning to Hank. And there was no way that Logan was going to let Hank destroy himself that way.
Logan heard Jean sneak out of the mansion. Her boyfriend Duncan often parked his car just down the road. This was a chance for them to have some privacy together.
As always, Logan's first reaction was to keep Jean away from Duncan. He knew instinctively that Duncan was bad news. And while Jean could more than handle herself physically, Logan wasn't too sure about the emotional side of things. Duncan was damn near the living, breathing proof of every bad stereotype you had ever heard about high school jocks.
But Logan let Jean go because he knew that she had to sort this out for herself. If he tried to intervene, that would probably just make Jean cling harder to Duncan.
Logan knew that if he was patient, then Duncan would eventually wreck his relationship with Jean. It was as inevitable as the rising and setting of the sun.
Around eight o'clock...
Rogue took her usual evening shower. It was a long, slow, and sensuous routine - as stylized and scripted as a formal ball. Rogue used expensive soap, fine oil, and a fragrant shampoo. She would change the temperature and intensity of the shower spray in order to maximize the experience.
Just before Rogue began caressing herself, Logan opened the window in his room and began breathing deeply, trying to clear his thoughts. The scent of the sea and the woods always helped to distract and calm him.
After Rogue finished, she turned the shower up to full blast and let water stream over her face and upper body as she sobbed helplessly.
Logan kept his eyes closed and inhaled the night air. He ran his fingers through his hair and let out a frustrated growl. He had no damned idea how to help Rogue. Nobody did. And Logan hated being helpless.
Between eight-thirty and ten o'clock...
Kitty and Kurt retreated to their hidden corner of the library for a study session. After an hour or so of German and Spanish, they got down to more serious business. Judging from Kurt's soft moans, Kitty's more... personal... skills were improving steadily.
Conventional wisdom told Logan that he should intervene. But was that really right? Kurt and Kitty were being careful - the school taught a pretty comprehensive sex-ed class. And while they were both pretty young, they were about the same age.
When you got down it, Kitty and Kurt were really just lonely and scared and were trying to deal with that as best they could. They didn't even pretend to be in love. This was just a way of stealing something for themselves from a world that seemed intent on giving them nothing but grief.
With a sigh, Logan decided to let it slide again.
Logan heard Evan call four girls one after the other, trying to get a date for Friday night. His approach basically boiled down to, "Hey, I'm doing you a favor by asking you out!"
Not surprisingly, Evan got shot down all four times. Logan figured he'd wait until after the Danger Room session tomorrow and then try a quiet talk with Evan. After casually bring up the subject of girls, he'd see if he could draw Evan out. Then Logan would drop a hint about turning the cockiness level down a notch or two.
The irony wasn't lost on Logan.
Jean got back just before lights out. From the combined odor of cheap cologne, saliva, and semen, Logan knew that she had given Duncan a blowjob. Like she always did afterwards, Jean locked herself in the bathroom and brushed her teeth. After that there was a long, long pause. Logan wasn't sure, but he figured Jean was staring at herself in the mirror.
From three rooms and a long hall away, Logan heard Jean whisper to herself, "Why? Why are you doing this? He's an asshole."
Jean had long since figured Duncan out. But what she had yet to understand was why she was staying with him. Logan figured that Duncan was Jean's way of punishing herself for being a mutant. Deep down in some half-crazy part of herself, Jean was hoping that if she punished herself enough, then she could go back to being normal.
Scott had spent the evening in his room. He did homework, listened to music, watched some television, and surfed the internet. It was all pretty conventional. The kid was so unnaturally normal that it was beginning to bother the hell out of Logan.
Life has a lot of contradictions and surprises, and Logan knew that better than most. Against all expectations, he had somehow found himself riding herd on a bunch of people, trying to decide what was right and what was wrong, and then trying to nudge things in the best direction.
Sometimes, it wasn't obvious what he should do. But Logan tried to be careful and use common sense. That usually meant taking a cautious, conservative approach. All too often, he found himself deciding that the best thing to do was nothing.
So why did he keep thinking that he really needed to get Scott drunk and find him a girl?
Just past midnight...
The Professor and Ororo had a standard nightly routine. They spent the evening grading papers, preparing for the next day of classes, and taking care of administrative details. Then, after they retired to their separate rooms, they made love.
Their union was telepathic in nature, rather than physical. And judging from the heated moans and cries that tumbled every night from Ororo's lips, it was a very passionate one.
Logan had long since filed Charles and Ororo's relationship under 'weird, but it works'. But this was a lot more about them then he was comfortable knowing.
And there was no way he could avoid it. As Charles and Ororo made love, it seemed as if they were all around Logan - suffusing the walls of the mansion. He could feel their heat, smell their sweat, and hear the thunder of their racing hearts.
Logan figured that Charles put up a mental shield to prevent Jean from noticing the x-rated telepathy. But it apparently hadn't occurred to either Ororo or Charles that Logan was also quite capable of involuntarily 'listening in'.
Logan stared out the window of his room and tried to deal with what he was feeling. He could be a brutally honest man - even with himself. So he was able to admit to himself that he was jealous.
But he wouldn't allow that jealousy to wreck his friendship with Charles and Ororo. After all, he didn't have any friends to spare.
One in the morning...
There weren't any lights on in the kitchen. But, of course, Logan knew who was in there even before he opened the door.
"Hey, kid," Logan said with a nod. Rogue was sitting in the dark at the kitchen table. That wasn't a good sign. Her knees were pulled up to her chin and she was wearing a long, silk kimono. Logan had given all the girls a similar kimono for Christmas. The toes of Rogue's socks peeked out from under the hem of the kimono. A light pair of gloves covered her hands. Except for her face, her body was otherwise concealed.
"Hi," she said back. A cup of tea sat on the table in front of her.
Logan popped open the refrigerator, momentarily spilling light into the kitchen. He extracted a bottle of water and closed the refrigerator door. Then he sat down at the table.
Logan wasn't a communicator - his talents ran in completely other directions. But for the kids, he always tried his awkward best.
"Can't sleep?" he asked in a neutral tone of voice.
Rogue nodded, "Yeah. You too?"
Logan took a drink from the bottle of water, "Yeah. What's the problem?"
They'd done this dance before. Rogue wasn't given to talking about her problems. But Logan knew how to wait. After all, he was a hunter. And hunting's greatest lesson was about the need for patience. Logan just never thought he would apply that lesson to something like this.
His patience finally paid off. Rogue was silent for a long awkward moment. And then she spoke with a quaver in her voice that was very different from her normally cocky and confidant tone.
"I... I've gotta lot on my mind," she said hesitantly as she reached desperately for the right words.
Logan tilted his head towards Rogue and looked her in the eyes.
...and Ororo cried out Charles' name as she shuddered her way through another orgasm.
...and the mixture of brandy and painkillers had knocked Hank into a deep, snoring, artificial slumber that was a poor substitute for real sleep.
...and Kurt was shivering his way through a nightmare as he called out for his mother.
...and Evan was silent and sleepless in his room, probably lying still and staring up at the ceiling.
...and Kitty was tossing and turning in bed, uncomfortably aware that her period was starting.
...and Scott was mechanically pacing the floor of his room. He almost never fell asleep until two or three in the morning. In fact, the kid never got more than three or four hours of sleep in a night.
...and Jean had finally cried herself to sleep.
Logan nodded slowly, "Yeah, I know the feeling. Let's talk."