Title: The Border Fires
Author: Skybright Daye
Characters: Wolverine and John Allardyce/Pyro
Summary: Christmas Eve. Logan, in search of some time alone, retreats to one of the outbuildings on the Xavier campus -- and suddenly enters into an uneasy truce with a fugitive student, returned for the holiday night.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Marvel/20th Century Fox/Stan the Man are geniuses, and I am but a lowly Textual Poacher.
A/N: Written as a Christmas present for my friend Jordannamorgan. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
The Border Fires
Upstate New York
Christmas Eve, 9:34 pm
Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters
It isn't that Logan dislikes the Christmas season at Xavier's. He dislikes parts of it heartily – the chaos, the off-key caroling Jubilee keeps instigating, and the endless crowd of people who seem hell-bent on showering him with rampant displays of Holiday Spirit. But the overall experience isn't unpleasant – just overwhelming. Like his namesake, Wolverine is a solitary creature and set in his ways. "His ways" have always included Christmas Eve alone, somewhere, with a cold beer and a fire and his fragmentary memories.
Luckily for him Xavier's School for Gifted Youngster's is a sprawling campus, one he knows by heart from countless midnight prowlings; one with numerous outbuildings – including an abandoned groundskeeper's cottage, one room with a fireplace and ramshackle furniture. Logan's used it before, nights when he needed out of the Xavier mansion.
Tonight is deep with snow, great wet flakes that pile deep and make seeing the way difficult. Logan doesn't need to see anyway; he can move over every inch of the grounds by scent alone. He does so rapidly, duffle bag slung across his back, his fogged breath the only trail he leaves as he moves silently through a muffled white world whose visible boundaries extend only a few feet on any side.
He is almost to the door of the cottage before he catches the scent – strangely familiar, a sharp, hot smell that reminds Logan of something . . . someone . . . .
Logan growls and extends his claws as his memory kicks in, and he shoves the cottage door open and then shuts it behind him in a motion so swift that the young man in the single room has barely turned around.
It is John Allardyce, all right – John, who calls himself Pyro, who left with Magneto at Alkali Lake months ago and never returned. He is wet with melting snow and his hair, grown long and unruly, drips in his face. He is thinner than Logan remembers, harder and sharper than the boy who left. He says nothing, and neither does Logan; the two simply face each other in the dim room.
The kid smells like lighter fluid and gunpowder and sweat, like fire and fear. There's a fading tang of alcohol, too -- he took a shot of cheap whiskey before coming here, hours ago; liquid courage, Logan thinks, and wonders what the kid thought he needed it for. His eyes in his hardened face are still little-kid eyes, still frightened and angry at how the world has not gone as he wanted it to. He no longer flicks the Zippo lighter between his fingers, but his hand still twitches nervously, still looking for it, the way Logan's hand sometimes looks for a gun he can't remember carrying.
Logan is standing in front of the only exit, and John Allardyce swallows convulsively as the older man steps further into the single ramshackle room and lets the duffle bag drop easily to the floor. The kid is scared, Logan realizes – not just as part of his personality, but as part of the moment. He holds his hands out at his side, palms out and fingers spread -- unconsciously surrendering.
Logan remembers dimly another time when that deceptively passive pose burst into sudden flame. But that memory is blurred by the bullet his armor-plated skull had taken moments before, and besides which the boy is not here for a fight, not tonight. Logan can tell the difference between a brewing fight and an uneasy truce with such ease he can't even tell how he does so; and everything about Allardyce's manner says the latter. The boy didn't expect discovery and doesn't want a fight. What he does want is another matter, not something Logan can smell or hear or sense: finding it out requires conversation, the very thing he came out here avoiding.
He grunts at the young man, grudgingly adds a terse, "You lost?" His claws are still extended, and he makes no move to change that just yet. Maybe the boy will flee and leave him in peace.
Allardyce's pose softens and he nods, shamefacedly. "Forgot . . . forgot how big the place is." He speaks as grudgingly as Logan does. "I couldn't find the School in the snow."
Logan studies him. "Your boss know you're here, kid?"
At the mention of Magneto something passes over Allardyce's face, a shadow not even Logan knows how to read, and he shakes his head.
Logan growls, low and suspicious. "Then why are ya?"
Allardyce shifts, nervous and tense. He clears his throat and steps sideways, revealing what rests on the room's single, lopsided table.
It's a Christmas present, of all things: an awkward, lumpy, angular mass wrapped without much skill and with too much scotch tape, cheap bow taped crookedly over a tear in the paper. Just like a hundred other packages heaped around the big douglas fir in the School's great hall.
Logan studies Allardyce intently, trying to scent a lie or a trap; but there is none. The young man refuses to meet Logan's eyes, sullenly studying the dirt floor. And suddenly the boy is just that, just what he was months ago -- a sixteen-year-old with a grudge against authority. The villain, if villain he has ever really been, is stripped away. He is just a teenager; his hair is messy and his jacket doesn't quite fit him. Only now does Logan sheath his claws and motion at the two rudely-carved benches by the fireplace.
Allardyce sits wordlessly, a little grudgingly; his posture expects a lecture. Instead Logan stoops and rummages in his duffle, looking up briefly to nod at the fireplace. "Get a fire going, willya?"
The boy reeks of surprise, but does as he is asked. Instead of the Zippo he now has a ring, a flint-steel-and-tinder contraption the workings of which Logan does not quite catch. Something Magneto came up with, most likely, but Logan approves of the design nonetheless. A quick motion in the boy's wrist and the flames seem to spring from nowhere, as Logan's own claws do -- simple, elegant, deadly. Soon enough a blaze is going strong in the old, dusty hearth.
From the duffle bag Logan produces cold ham and cheese, roast turkey, biscuits and Christmas cookies left over from the giant feast of a few hours earlier: and, after some moments' hesitation, the two long-necked bottles he picked up in town last night. He looks up. "You driving, kid?"
Allardyce shakes his head without turning from the fire. "Hitchhiked."
Logan nods, brings the food and the drinks over to the fireside and wordlessly offers half of both to Allardyce – not Pyro, not here. The boy accepts the food, raises an eyebrow at the bottle but nods in gratitude and eats hungrily, wolfishly, staring only at the fire. Logan wonders what mealtimes are like for the kid if Sabertooth is still running with Magneto's crowd.
They do not speak, only sit in the flickering warmth and the tenuous peace, alone together. Logan remembers something, an incident which (he has read) is from the first World War: a Christmas Eve when the trenches on opposite sides called their own truce, independent of the larger powers commanding their lives and deaths. What puzzles him, what on another night might send him spiraling into frustrated anger, is that he remembers the event -- not as something read or heard but as something lived. He remembers the stink of trench-mud, the taste of tinned plum pudding, the rough soldiers' greetings in the barren stretch of no-man's-land, the hollow off-key voices in two languages. He doesn't know why he remembers it this way; if he was there, he doesn't remember what side he was on or where it was at or anything else to connect the incident to anything. The memory – his or someone else's, real or imagined – is an island in a formless sea, like the firelit groundskeeper's hut in the acres of falling snow. But he thinks of it now, as he sips from the bottle and half-watches Allardyce from the corner of his eyes.
Logan wonders what the kid has learned from Magneto, if his anger has been sharpened into hatred yet. He wonders if Chuck is right, if the kid might really come back to the School someday. He wonders if tonight is the kid's first step back, or his last step away. He wonders, but doesn't ask: asking would break the truce, would step one foot too far into no-man's-land, would turn the warm, peaceful silence into a battle the kid doesn't want. Allardyce is out of Logan's hands, if he was ever in them; whatever way he is finding, it is his own. Logan is not Scott; it isn't in his nature to meddle with another man's way. Especially not tonight. Especially not during a truce.
Finally, long after midnight, Logan stands and stretches, tosses the empty bottles and food wrappers into the duffle bag. Allardyce half-stands and motions at the badly-wrapped package. "Would you . . . ?"
Logan nods in agreement and reaches out for the gift. It's heavy and smells metallic; he feels dull corners through the wrapping paper and raises a questioning eyebrow at Allardyce. "Who's it for?"
"The Professor. He – " Allardyce clears his throat. "It's a star. I made it for him. He'll . . . he knows what it means."
Logan makes a small noise of understanding and places the bundle into the duffle bag with something approaching reverence. Then he frowns at the kid, wanting to say something – rare, for him, but he does want to say something, something about the truce, about coming back. Not to meddle, as Scott would, but just to . . . to help, he supposes. Just to say something. Finally he grunts. "Oughtta stay here tonight. It's still snowing. You can head out after daybreak."
Allardyce nods and half-smiles, gestures at the duffle bag. "Thank you." Somehow it encapsulates everything said and unsaid, captures the wordless meaning of what Logan wants to say and has no words for.
Logan nods in return and shoulders the duffle bag. The air from outside the hut is cold, damp, heavy as only the night air of a holy day can be. He glances over his shoulder at Allardyce, who has already returned to the fire. "Merry Christmas, kid."
And he slips out into the night air. The duffle bag weighs on his shoulder, thumping against his side with a pendulum movement. Whether he carries a goodbye or a hope of return is more than Logan knows how to tell.
Logan does not look back; but something in the warm, quiet hut follows him back to the sleeping mansion, all the way through the white silence that stretches like a no-man's-land for as far as the eye can see.