Marie finally had everything she ever wanted. Her skin was no longer a barrier between herself and the world. She had a home. She had a family that accepted her no matter what. And the man that she'd lusted after since she was fifteen was lying next to her in bed.
So why couldn't she sleep?
She lay tucked against Logan's front, wide awake in the dark. She was sore between her legs, but in an extremely pleasant, well-used way. His light snores wrapped a comforting blanket around her, but for the first time since Logan had made it clear to the staff and students that she was his woman, Marie sensed something was…wrong. There was something she was missing, something that was hurtling toward her to crush the happy reality she finally managed to obtain. But what was it?
She could only assume the feeling was fear: fear that nothing this good could last forever. Fear that when that time came, when it was gone, she wouldn't be able to continue living.
Logan was happy. She was happy. They were happy. They officially moved in together last week; her stuff had been integrated into his as easily as a missing puzzle piece completing the picture. There were no fights, no awkwardness, only an utter contentment that she knew glowed as much in her eyes as it did in his. Why, she asked herself, why couldn't she just be happy?
Because nothing this good can last forever.
Marie scowled in the dark, and it turned into a sigh. There was no use lying around, waiting for dawn; she was buzzing with energy. Might as well work some of it off.
As quietly as she could, she slid from the bed and into a t-shirt, hooded sweatshirt, and jogging pants. She grabbed her running shoes and tiptoed from the room as quietly as possible. Logan didn't even budge.
It was still pre-dawn, and the mansion was quiet, save for the light sounds of the television coming from the Recreation room. Marie crept down the hall and poked her head in. Jean, her hair tousled and dark circles under her eyes, was flipping idly from station to station.
Jean looked up, and smiled. "Hey."
"Can't sleep?" Marie asked, balancing on one foot as she shoved her other foot in the sneaker and tied the laces.
"Some of the students are having major nightmares. They're projecting so strongly I can't sleep."
Marie lost her balance with the other shoe, and leaned a hip against the couch. "That sucks."
Jean's grin was enormous. "I'm surprised you still have the energy."
Marie had the good graces to blush, but she couldn't help the answering grin. "Is it that obvious?"
"Earplugs in the staff wing are now mandatory. But don't worry," Jean assured hastily, "everyone is thoroughly pleased that he finally got his head out of his ass."
Marie perched on the edge of the couch. "Even you?"
Jean muted the TV. "Especially me. I think you're the best thing that's happened to him in a long time. Plus," she grinned, "I'm a romantic at heart. I know how long you've loved him, and I know how long he wrestled with loving you."
Jean shook her head. "Friendly observation." Her eyes narrowed. "You're wiggling an awful lot for four a.m. What is with the energy? Seriously."
Marie looked down and found she was fidgeting. In fact, she was buzzing with pent up energy; the desire for a good run was overwhelming. "I dunno. Making up for sleeping in so much when I was a kid I guess." She stood and started to stretch out, going through a blend of yoga and traditional warm-ups. Jean started flipping stations again, finally settling on an old black and white movie starring Jimmy Stewart.
Marie finished stretching. "I hope you can get back to sleep." She held out her hand in support, Jean took it and squeezed it.
On her way out, Marie stopped and turned back. "Hey Jean…if you're still up when I get back, do you want to drive to town and get some breakfast? Just us girls."
Jean smiled a tad quizzically. "I was just thinking that! Absolutely, sounds great."
"Awesome. I could sure go for some sausage."
One red eyebrow rose. "I thought you didn't like bacon."
Yeah. She didn't like sausage. Logan was the one who liked plates of it, but right now Marie wanted it so bad she could almost taste it. She shrugged. "Call it a craving."
"Have a good run." Jean turned her attention back to the television and Marie slipped out into the night.
The moon, fat and full and low in the west, called to her. She had a normal route that wound around the mansion and the gardens, but she'd already circled it twice and still found herself thrumming with pent up energy. In the hush before dawn, everything was so beautiful. The smell of the frost on the grass filled her nose, the sounds of a sleeping forest filled her, exhilarated her, until she was no longer jogging or running, she was flat out racing through the woods. Her lungs were on fire and her breath was a heavy rasp in her throat; to her ears she sounded not like a woman but a heavy animal.
She could see perfectly well, even through the sun was only a small promise on the horizon. Must be the full moon, she mused, but still there was an itch at the back of her mind that wasn't being scratched. She was missing something. Her initial reaction was to analyze and then analyze some more; she didn't like feeling like something was off kilter. And something was definitely off-kilter, something more so than initial relationship worries…she just didn't know what.
Nothing good lasts forever, she thought crossly, but can't I enjoy it for one fucking week without nitpicking? That decided, she firmly shut down her brain and focused solely on the run.
Each time a foot hit the packed earth and the shock of impact ran up her legs, more adrenaline was released into her system until she felt she could drop down on all fours and lope through the fields as if she were a cheetah. Hell, she felt like she could breathe underwater if necessary, or if she spread her arms she could fly like a bird.
Marie raced all the way out to the lake, five miles easy, in under half an hour. It was much too cold by now to even consider a swim, and dawn was fast approaching when she turned around and started back to the mansion at a mild run. The idea of breakfast with Jean was making her drool, and she was starting to fantasize not about Logan's ass but about a plate of sausage.
She was passing by a section of forest that ran parallel to the state highway, when the scent of something disturbing made her trip over her own feet and sent her sprawling into a thicket of thorn bushes. Cursing under her breath, she extricated herself as gingerly as possible. She felt thorns swiping at her bare hands and an especially stinging slice across her cheek that she was sure had drawn blood, but when she checked, there was nothing but smooth skin.
Before her mind could wrap around this new piece of information, that out-of-place scent reached her nose again, and she reacted like a horse who caught wind of a rattlesnake; she set off at a dead run toward the mansion. All of her rationale was gone, replaced with an animal instinct that Logan would have been proud of, and she made it back to the mansion in seven minutes.
The front door to the mansion was ajar.
Deep in her throat, Marie growled. Her head dipped down, wary of every angle as she eased into the entryway, her nose lowered to the ground, testing the air. There. There it was: that odd scent that triggered her unease. She followed it down the hallway and into the kitchen where she ran smack into-
"Bobby!" she exclaimed, her mind automatically halting the fist her hands had formed, trying to cancel the attack mode she was in. "What are you doing up this early?"
Bobby smiled and cocked his head. "I might ask you the same question."
Marie laughed shakily, the tension she'd carried for the last twenty minutes draining and leaving her feeling very foolish. She rubbed at her sweaty neck. "I went for a run. Couldn't sleep."
"I couldn't sleep either."
"Hey…did you see something…weird…just now?" She peered into every corner of the room and analyzed every shadow, but everything seemed to be in place.
"I saw you."
She shook her head. "No, I mean…I thought I...never mind. You sure you didn't see anything?"
He glanced over her shoulder then back at her. "I'm sure."
She half-turned, saw an empty hallway, and frowned at Bobby. "Am I keeping you from something?"
"Good." Her heart was getting back to normal, and her brain was functioning on a full tank of gas again instead of emergency reserves. She rubbed at her face, a very Logan-ish gesture. "I guess I just need more sleep."
He raised an eyebrow, but didn't answer.
Bobby's non-conversation and the tense line of his body starting to worry her. "Are you okay?" He looked like he didn't want to be anywhere near her which was odd; despite their past history, they were still teammates and friends. Not as close as they used to be; he'd been busy with his girlfriend and she'd been busy with-
"Ohhhhhhhhhhh," Marie said, realizing. "I know what's wrong."
Bobby's tone was succinct. "You do?"
She nodded. "Yeah. Look…let's get everything out in the open, clear the air."
"Clear the air," he repeated in a monotone.
"What are your thoughts on…?" She stopped. Bobby was looking at her so oddly, and for some reason her tongue was stuck to the top of her mouth. She'd seen this situation before in soap operas; women discussing their current lover with ex-boyfriends. Usually in the soaps there was yelling and tears and sometimes gunplay involved. Marie shook her head and grinned; they'd dated five years ago. It was all ice water under the bridge. "…Logan and I?"
She expected a sheepish grin and an assurance. What she got was a deadpan stare.
"Well?" she finally asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
"What about Logan and you?"
In five words Bobby was causing her to re-evaluate their friendship. Dear God, was he jealous? She started to get angry; he was the one who had dumped her when her skin became too much to handle. She was the one who had to watch him saunter around with various girlfriends while she'd spent her formative years as a quasi-nun. "What the hell's wrong with you?" she demanded, sounding harsher than she'd like but unable to help it. She'd been expecting someone to oppose her relationship, but she thought it would come from Cyclops or Xavier. Not-
Bobby was as still and cold as ice. "I don't have a problem with Logan and you," he finally said.
Marie was taken aback and relieved all at the same time; she'd been gearing for a fight. "Oh. Okay. Well…good." It was good. "I mean…we don't need people's blessing or anything…but acceptance is nice, you know?"
Bobby snorted violently, his lips pressed together in a grimace, his blue eyes widening and somethingflared in their depths that turned her blood cold. She just saw the perfect definition of realization in Bobby's eyes.
For some reason, Bobby didn't know she and Logan were together.
It was impossible for Bobby not to know.
Unless it wasn't Bobby in front of her.
Her eyes widened in alarm. Marie opened her mouth to call for help, but the breath locked in her throat as his hand shot out and clamped around her windpipe. She gagged on the unuttered scream, her bare hands clutching at the Bobby-thing's grip of stone. She was lifted off her feet and the pressure at her throat made her feel like her head was swelling like a balloon.
Bobby began to change. His image swam even as the iron grip was released and she collapsed on the floor, clutching at her throat.
On her hands and knees on the cold tile floor, gasping for breath, Marie looked up. Her heart lurched painfully behind her breast and the scent she'd been tracking all morning slammed into place. "You."
Insane yellow eyes glared out from a cobalt blue face, and Mystique smiled. "Hello!" The smile turned into a snarl. "Good-bye."
She snagged Marie by the hair and dragged her to her feet; a syringe in her hand filled with God knows what. From the way Mystique held it, Marie knew it was aimed for her.
Marie's reaction was a perfect blend of animal instinct and trained fighter. Up came her arm to block the needle while she moved into, not away from, Mystique's grip on her hair. Mystique, for her part, reacted just like Marie had two weeks ago when Logan pressed into her blade; she loosened her grip. That was all it took for Marie to kick the syringe out of the shape shifter's hand. Bracing herself, she shoved the shape-changer as hard as she could.
Mystique tripped over one of the kitchen stools, sending her crashing over the island that was in the middle of the kitchen. Pots and pans clattered to the ground in an explosion of noise.
God, someone has to be coming down soon, Marie prayed. With all this racket, she just had to keep Mystique here until back-up arrived-
"Why'd you come back for me?" Marie rasped, trying to stall. "Haven't you done enough?"
"Silly girl," Mystique's metallic voice chided. "We're not here for you." She smiled cruelly. "You were just a means to an end."
Marie experienced a moment of perfect understanding. Who was the one mutant that never stuck in one place long enough to track down? Who was the one person he'd come running back for?
Marie felt like she'd been kicked. "No."
"Won't Wolverine be pleased to know that this time," Mystique hissed, "it IS about him."
The blue mutant leaped over the island with catlike agility and wrapped her hand around Marie's throat, slamming her up against the cabinets.
Marie couldn't break the grip, couldn't land a solid kick, couldn't do anything but wait as the breath was squeezed out of her. She was trapped, the kitchen was starting to blur as her oxygen ran out, and the panic she'd been keeping at bay suddenly simmered over. An adrenaline rush washed over her, ten times greater than anything she'd felt during her run. Her body seemed to swell and grow hot, and amidst the burst of energy and the fact that she was most likely dying, the itch that had remained in the back of her mind for the last few days suddenly decided that it needed to be scratched, and it needed to be scratched…
A familiar tingle crawled over Marie's skin. And suddenly she understood why she'd been feeling like something was coming. Why did she have Logan's craving for sausage? How had she known Jean wanted to go to breakfast? Why could she run and smell and see as well as the Wolverine?
Who had she touched recently?
There was only one answer.
Horror at dying was replaced by the horror of what was happening, and Marie's realization bled onto Mystique's face.
Both women started to scream.
Logan woke up to a nightmare.
Everything was hazy, blurry, like he was underwater. For a horrible moment he thought he was, he was back in the tank, back at the lab, and panic gripped him. He tried to move, tried to rip and tear and break free, but he felt like he was trapped in molasses.
And there was screaming.
Marie was screaming.
Hearing Marie scream from two floors below and being unable to get to her ripped his heart in two. But for some reason his joints wouldn't work and he felt every ounce of his 300-lb adamantium skeleton weighing him down. Actually, what he felt like was exactly how he felt after close encounters with Marie's mutant power.
He fell out of the bed. Growling, he pawed his way to his feet. The first step felt like it took him minutes, the second step longer. But it didn't matter; Marie was screaming.
Lunging out the door, Logan barreled down the hallway. He felt like Frankenstein's monster with the way he was lurching and weaving with each step, but the more he moved the clearer his head got.
With the sound of metal on metal, he sprung his claws. Anyone who wanted to keep their head on their shoulders got out of his way as he leapt off the second story landing to the marble-covered foyer below. He broke one ankle but he didn't even notice the pain as he tore down the hallway to the kitchen, following Marie's scent.
He exploded into the kitchen with the force of a neutron bomb. And thought that's what it looked like the kitchen had been hit with: a bomb. There was shattered glass and dented pots everywhere, all covered in a fine layer of spilled food.
"Where is she?" he roared.
Jean and Nightcrawler had beaten him to the scene. They were around the corner of the island, staring down at something with a look of horror on their faces.
Logan was a metal fucking statue. He sheathed his claws and mentally tried to prepare himself for the worst possible scenario: that he had lost her. He was an emotionless robot as he moved into the kitchen, his eyes drawn to whatever they were looking at like a pedestrian at a car wreck.
A cobalt blue body lay on the electric blue tile floor. As Logan watched, she moaned and stirred.
Out came his claws again. He was going to carve her up like a fucking turkey.
"Logan, no-" Jean moved in front of him, blocking him from Mystique.
"She's mine," he rumbled so low he doubted she heard him. "She'll tell me where Rogue is, and then I'm going to make a wallet out of her fuckin' skin."
Jean, for some god unknown reason, was shaking her head 'no' over and over again, and Logan wondered if she knew exactly how close he was to gutting her just to get to the shape shifter. He had a score to settle with that grinning bitch, and no one was going to stand in his way.
"Where is she?" he howled at Mystique.
"Logan," Jean said, horror and awe married together in her voice. "…this IS Rogue."