"We don't have to do this."
Logan gave Ariel a glare from the door of the home theatre room. "Right."
"I'm serious, Logan." Her expression softened as she watched his eyes, his control issues fighting with his trust issues. "Really."
He stepped into the room as if it were the testing chamber, tense, his voice taut as a drumhead. "Look, if the professor needs me for this… I hardly feel like I can refuse."
A voice behind him made them both look at the door. "While I would certainly appreciate your help, Logan, there's no debt to be paid." The Wolverine and Professor X stared at each other, a solid if complex connection. "It's entirely up to you." He turned his head to smile gently at Ariel. "Both of you."
Logan looked back toward Ariel. "And you think you'll be able to learn something?"
Ariel smiled nevously. "I don't know. I haven't worked on expanding my abilities in years. I'm hoping that I'll learn something." She shook her head and sighed. "I have to admit I'm a little worried."
"Yeah, you and me both."
The professor moved smoothly into the space between them. "When Ariel and I first began discussing her dream therapy ideas two years ago, we weren't sure quite how to proceed. Your recurring nightmares and obvious closeness to her make this a logical choice."
"Logical. Right. You know the story, Prof. If something happens –" The expression on Logan's face was shock, then anger, as he realized he couldn't move. Five seconds was all it lasted, then the Professor released his mental hold. "What the hell was that for?"
"To make it clear. Logan, I won't let anything happen to either of you. That's why I'm here to observe and monitor this… experiment." He looked at the big screen and sighed. "However, I don't think you'll mind if I read rather than watch."
Ariel walked over to the bank of movies. "So. You just want us to watch movies?"
"I believe it's a good place to start."
She looked back at the professor and frowned suspiciously. "There's something you're not saying, Charles."
"Yes. Thank goodness."
Logan rolled his eyes.
"Alright. Anything but a chick flick."
"Haven't we had this discussion already?"
"I simply can't stress it strongly enough." Logan looked at her indignant expression, and slowly broke into a grin. "Fine. What do you have in mind?"
She went back to perusing the titles. "Oh, I haven't seen this in years. Seven Samurai." She looked back at Logan, expecting him to be annoyed, or at least curious.
"Okay, sounds good."
She narrowed her eyes. "It's in Japanese."
"And it's three and a half hours lo-"
"It's also classic Kurosawa."
Ariel's jaw dropped. Logan took the opportunity to look smug.
"I've seen it before. It's good. Nice fight work."
The psychologist looked over at the Professor, who was grinning quietly. "At your leisure, Ariel." She shrugged, sighed, and put the DVD in the player before plopping down somewhat defeatedly on the couch.
"So let's watch some movies." Logan sat down near her and shook his head.
"I don't see how this will work."
"Me either. But I should ask now if it's okay for me to come in at some point." He nodded. "Oh. And we should be holding hands." He raised an eyebrow at her and she laughed out loud. "Alright, so maybe I should have let that happen a bit more naturally."
He shook his head and threw a look back toward the professor. "And I'm the one with intimacy issues."
The professor had been updating student records on a computer in an office across the hall during the first movie, coming back to the entertainment room halfway through Ghostbusters. He noticed that Ariel and Logan were sitting together on the couch closer and more comfortably than when he had left, her head resting easily on his shoulder. Taking a breath and closing his eyes, the Professor made a delicate suggestion, one that wouldn't register consciously. Within minutes, Logan's head shifted back against the couch. Charles heard a comfortable sigh, turned off the television, and waited patiently. In about half an hour, he saw signs of REM sleep in Wolverine, and began monitoring more closely as Logan began to dream.
It was that dream again. Logan thrashed sideways, trying to free himself from the restraints. Faces blurred above him as he pushed himself up, splashing, punching out at someone who was trying to hold him back. With a convulsive leap, he was standing, screaming out as he pulled tubes and wires free from his flesh, skin tearing and beginning to heal almost immediately. He clawed his way free, turned and stopped dead.
"Logan!" Ariel was standing in the lab, a little breathless, her eyes wide. She was wearing a black turtleneck and jeans, and a leather jacket. "Over here." She frowned for a moment, then pointed at a man who was heading toward the Wolverine with a needle in his hand. As she pointed at him, he froze in place. She laughed ferociously, and rapidly stopped everyone in the lab, simply by pointing at them.
"How the hell…" Logan turned, confusion battling with pain and fury in his eyes. "You're not supposed to be here. You can't be here."
"You said I could come in."
"Yeah, but this really happened!"
She stepped closer to him slowly, cautiously, as if he were a wild animal cornered there. Logan was so agitated from the adrenaline rush of his escape that he was trembling, his muscles fighting his mind. "Listen to me, Logan. Do you know who I am?"
His sleek, muscled form was highlighted by the bluish glow of the emergency lights, still glistening with water. Ariel kept her eyes locked with his as he frowned at her, his breathing deep and ragged. "Ariel. You're Ariel." She watched his body slowly relax. "What the hell is going on."
"But this didn't happen!"
"Logan, dreams are dreams. This may be based on your memories, but it's still your imagination… look at the ceiling, for example." He looked up, still frowning. The ceiling was low, ridiculously low for a lab. "You see? You feel trapped here, so the room is smaller. That's your imagination, not a real memory."
Slowly he nodded. "But that doesn't mean it didn't really happen."
"Of course not. But that was long ago. You have a choice now, Logan. You can remember it the way it really was, think about it, go over it a million times if you want to. You can spend the rest of your life reliving this horror."
He stared at her. "Why would I do that? I don't try to think about it. I try not to think about it." His fists clenched, and she noticed for the first time that his claws were still out. "I can't help it if it I keep dreaming about it."
"Alright. Maybe you can't help it right now. Not yet. But you don't have to keep doing it the same way." She stepped closer, put her hand gently on his arm, trying not to react as he flinched. "It did happen. You were tortured, horribly, in a room very like this one." She looked around slowly. "But this is a dream. This is your imagination. And here, you have a choice."
Logan followed her gaze as she looked around. A look of sudden comprehension flashed in his eyes as they narrowed, looking at the men who had held him captive. He looked back at the ceiling. "You mean like –"
Suddenly the ceiling was gone, and the stars shone like diamonds on velvet overhead. The dank, burned, chemical smell of the lab was stirred with a fresh breeze.
Ariel smiled at him. "Yes, Logan. Yes. Like that."
He looked at the men in the lab again and an evil laugh escaped. "Anything."
She seemed to get a hint of some thought, and stepped back. "Just be careful."
"This could get a little messy." He stared hard at the man behind the lab table, who was still frozen like a still from a movie. The man's body seemed to glow, and abruptly vanished in a burst of blue-white flame. "Or maybe not." One by one the men around them burst into flame and disappeared, like pine needles in a campfire. The lab, slowly, began to melt. Logan laughed and grabbed Ariel's hand. "Let's get out of here."
They ran, laughing, down the spillway and out into the majestic Canadian forest. They ran until they were out of breath and found themselves in a grassy clearing. Stopping, Logan turned and caught Ariel in his arms, holding her close.
It was then that she really noticed, for the first time, that he was completely naked. His body was warm against her, and his excitement undeniable. "Logan-"
"So this is my dream."
"And I can do anything."
She tried to look serious, but failed miserably. "Logan, I can leave whenever I want to." Her eyes smiled warmly into his.
"But I only see what you want me to see, just like you. Right?"
She frowned, amused, and shook her head. "I'm getting worried, I almost understood that."
"Ariel. This is important to me. I need to know-" He paused, exhaled. "That I can't hurt you."
The warmth of her smile touched him. "No. You can't do anything to me that I don't want to happen."
"That's what I thought." His hands moved to the sides of her face, his dark eyes catching the starlight as he looked into her. "Thank you." He lowered his lips to hers in a gentle kiss, and stopped. "Wait a minute." Catching his thought, she looked startled, then laughed.
Leaving. Goodnight, children.
They felt the professor's monitoring withdraw, although they hadn't really been aware of him before that moment. As if someone had lifted a soft, warm blanket that simply wasn't needed anymore.
Logan shook his head and looked into her eyes again. She rested her hands around his waist, and this time, she initiated the kiss.
Twenty seconds into it, although she hadn't shifted, he realized that she was no longer wearing the leather jacket. A moment after that, she was wearing no more than he was. Their bodies reacted to the sudden contact, and he pulled away to look into her eyes again, to make sure he was reading her correctly. Ariel giggled.
"See? You're not the only one with a good imagination."
I believe this is the closing chapter of this little adventure… it was great fun to write, and perhaps Ariel will tell me another story sometime.
Many and multitudinous thanks to the reviewers! God love the people who know we writers need a pat on the back and a kick in the behind… Keep reading, keep writing.