Charles Xavier looked up from the book he was reading and frowned. "Something's wrong with Logan," he said, concentrating.
"What's wrong with Logan is you sent him to the mall with three teenage girls," Ororo Munroe replied absently, flipping through a magazine with her feet up by the fire. Kurt Wagner smiled slightly from across the room.
"They needed to go do something and he needed to feel useful," Charles replied absently, "and this has nothing to do with the mall." His frown deepened, and the two mutants enjoying the night with him sobered up immediately.
"I'll go get Scott," Kurt offered, slipping out of his chair. Ororo nodded her thanks, worry furrowing her brow. Sympathetically, the wind picked up outside. Charles ignored it; trying to focus. Logan's mind was, at best, difficult to read. The children, on the other hand, Charles could pick up loud and clear – they were terrified.
"Thanks, Wolvie," Jubilee sing-songed for what seemed to be the hundredth time as she scampered past him into some god-awful girls' store, chattering away with Kitty as they picked through the sales rack. Logan grunted at her, but couldn't find it in him to get mad about the pet name. Next to him, Marie smiled slightly.
"She likes you," the southern girl stated. He snorted.
"Mmm, yeah. I get that from the 'wolvie'." He replied, "But it's only 'cause no one else is crazy enough to take her out here." He watched as the excitable young woman accidentally let fly a few sparks, nearly setting a pantsuit on fire. "Hey, watch it!" He called to her. "You burn, you buy!" Jubilee just grinned and dragged Kitty further into the store. Marie laughed. Logan looked at her sideways. "And you? Why aren't you in there tryin' stuff on? You know you all got enough money for back-to-school clothes."
Marie shrugged. "I'd rather hang out with you," she replied shyly. Logan looked away, uncomfortable.
"You mean, you feel bad that I've got to deal with the mall rats, and you're trying to keep me company," he rephrased. Jean's words came back to him – 'I think she's a little taken with you' - and he ducked his head, a bit embarrassed. Then he started remembering the rest of the conversation, and Jean, and how Scott had wept in his arms the entire way back from Alkali Lake to Westchester, and he swallowed hard against the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. It had been eight months since her death, and the grief still took him by surprise sometimes. Damn, Jeannie, he thought, and then Marie's gloved hand touched his arm and he jerked back up, clearing his throat. "Hmmm?"
"You haven't heard a word I said, have you?" Marie replied, annoyed. "Look, Jubilee and Kitty have moved on to The Gap, and I'm starving..." Suddenly, a strange scent filled the air – a bad one. Logan shushed the young woman at his side with one hand, sniffing deeply. "What is it?" she whispered, stiffening. He shook his head.
"Go get the others," he replied, slowly turning around. The smell was vaguely familiar, masculine and metallic at the same time, like... like soldiers. Guns. That's what he smelled. Men with guns. He growled under his breath, startling a couple of shoppers walking by. Their presence reminded him – just in time – to keep his claws sheathed until he was certain there was a threat.
"What's going on? There's this really cool shirt I just want to try on before we do anything else – it's a bit more than I know we're allowed to spend, but I think it's totally worth it and maybe you could lend me the money? Logan?" Jubilee and Kitty had returned with Marie, and as always, the young Asian was talking non stop.
"Shut up," he replied, and Jubilee scowled, hands on her hips. She was about to reply something very rude when Marie let out a scream.
"Logan, behind you!" Logan whirled and saw soldiers pouring out into the mall from a nearby stairwell. Shouts and exclamations were heard all around them as shoppers took notice of the action and some of the soldiers moved off to keep the growing crowd away, but Logan kept his eyes focused on the half dozen men approaching him. He put the girls behind him and unsheathed his claws, oblivious to the gasps of shock that came from the onlookers. "Back off!" he shouted. The soldiers didn't comply, but pressed steadily closer. Logan took a few experimental swipes and they stopped their offense, but didn't back away.
"Kitty," he called, "I want you to get going – get back to the car, and drive back to the mansion." Kitty was the oldest of the three, and had been out to town a few times on her own. She had a good sense of direction. "Go now." Something in his voice made her obey without question, and turning, she ran right through the wall behind them, leading to another swell of voices from those watching. One of the soldiers swore and muttered something into his radio. Logan prayed that the girl would make it to the car before whatever backup the man was calling for came.
He took a deep breath. One kid out of danger, hopefully. Two more to go. Just then, Jubilee let out a terrified squawk. He turned in time to see a soldier put a gun to the girl's head. Her hands were immobilized at her side; they crackled, but she couldn't lift them to set off her fireworks. Beside her, Rogue had been captured in a similar fashion. Logan growled and stepped nearer to them.
"I wouldn't, if I were you," A voice behind him cautioned. He whirled around. A man with a long, thin face stood before him, hands clasped behind his back. He was wiry, but Logan could sense certain strength about him. Career military, he decided.
"What do you want?" he ground out, eyes narrowing.
The military man smiled. "I want you," he replied. "Come with me, without protest, and the two girls live. Cause trouble, and they die. It's as simple as that." There was a distinct clack-clacking sound behind him as two guns cocked. The soldiers stood ready to shoot at their commander's orders. The crowd fell silent for a moment at the ominous sound before the frightened – and excited – buzz of conversation picked up again.
"Let the girls go and we'll talk," Logan promised.
The commander shook his head. "No, I think not," he replied. "I've seen you in action. I have no intention of trusting you, not even for a minute. I think we will all take a walk outside, calmly and quietly." He gestured for Logan to proceed ahead of him, following the soldiers who held the two girls.
Logan complied reluctantly, his eyes darting left and right, trying to find a way out of the situation. For now though, it seemed impossible. He was fast, but he couldn't run faster than a bullet, and neither Jubilee nor Marie would survive one to the head. Behind him, he could hear one of the other soldiers reassuring the crowd: "It's okay, folks, the mutants have been apprehended." Murmurs rose amongst the spectators and Logan tensed in anger, but he kept his mouth shut.
"Good boy," the commander said in a quiet voice, directly behind the other man. Logan growled but did not otherwise respond. The military man was so close that Wolverine could have taken him out with a casual flick of his wrist, but he had no doubt that the men in front of him had orders to shoot to kill if something ever happened to their commander. He continued to walk, his eyes glued to the two frightened teens, seething in helpless fury.
"If you hurt them," he finally replied, lowly. "I will kill you."
"We'll see," the other man replied.
They walked out to the parkade, where a covered truck and a jeep were waiting for them. Logan glanced around surreptitiously, pleased to see that the car he'd taken into town was gone. That meant Kitty had gotten away, at least.
"Get in." The voice behind him brooked no argument, but Logan hesitated anyway.
"Let the girls go," he countered.
"Not yet. Get in." He watched as the two girls were loaded into the jeep, grudgingly admiring the planning that had gone into this little operation. The two vehicles appeared to be in constant radio contact; he couldn't attack his captors without potentially putting Jubilee and Rogue's lives in danger. Reigning in his temper, he got in the truck. Chuck, if you can hear me, he projected silently, send help now!