AN: First of all, let me just say that I am so very sorry at taking such a terribly long time with this. It was rather inexcusable to leave it for so long. Thank you all for your encouragement, for your congratulations on the birth of my daughter, for the lovely emails and the wonderful reviews you've left. I appreciate it all more than you can imagine. The reason for the delay was simply that I backed myself into a corner in the plot. It was such a mess that I wasn't going to bother about it. But because there's been so much interest in seeing how the story ends, I'm desperately trying to figure out a way to make it work. I do know how it ends, and I very much want to write the sequel, but it's these middle bits that are driving me mad. Hopefully I'll get the rest of this bloody story out within the next few months, and just get on with things. It's exciting to be writing again.

Again, thank you all so very much for everything. I never expected such a response to this silly spy story. ---Sakura (The Last European)


Hand to Hand, Hand to Mouth

Chapter Twenty-Seven

I was back on the Helicarrier. I was running the corridors in a hospital gown, my bare feet slapping the cold metal floor. My breath came hard and rasping. My legs were burning, but I pushed on, begging them for speed, for strength they didn't have.

There was something chasing me. Something terrible.

I didn't call for help. It wouldn't matter if I did. There wasn't anyone who could help me. So, I ran. On and on, as fast as I could until, choking for air, I rounded a corner and found myself at a dead end. I slapped at the wall, pounding it with my hands, as though that might make it disappear and allow me to escape. I turned and pressed my back against the wall. The only thing I could hear was the sound of my own fast breathing. There was nowhere left to run. There was nothing more I could do.

It was coming for me, that terrible thing.

In my hand, I felt something cold and smooth. I looked down. It was my knife--the Fairbairn-Sykes I kept strapped to my leg--resting comfortably in my palm. I closed my fingers around the grip, squeezing until my knuckles turned white. A feeling of peace settled over me. I knew what I had to do. It was the only thing left. My only option.

Before I could act, though, a scream cut through the unnatural silence, jarring me. The knife fell out of my hand and kept falling. Down, down, down it fell into black nothingness. The floor was gone. The Helicarrier was gone. There was nothing but dark, empty space around me, and I was falling, too.

And then I wasn't. I was lying down, and my skin was cold, and my tongue felt like it was glued to the roof of my mouth. Opening my eyes felt impossible--like I'd need the Jaws of Life to pry them apart.

And there it was again--that scream, that awful scream. I couldn't tell who it was, or even if it was a who at all. There was something inhuman about it. It was a scream of terror and agony, that animal instinct to vocalize horror. My eyes opened, though my vision was fuzzy, and I struggled to sit up. The screaming grew louder and louder until it seemed to be right on tope of me. There was something restraining me, and I fought against it. Struggling silently, I tried desperately to get away.

The noise stopped, cut off mid-scream. In the new quiet, I heard a voice. At first, I could only comprehend that the voice was soothing, and then, finally, there were words I could understand. The voice said, "Easy, kid. Easy. You're okay." And then more sharply, "Knock it off, Jubilee. You're gonna hurt yourself."

It broke through. I stopped fighting so hard, and focused on my surroundings. There were hands, two strong hands, both holding me up and keeping me from thrashing. My own hands were bruised and scraped, and there was a drip injected in the left. I wasn't wearing anything, but was bandaged from shoulders to navel. The rest of me was covered in a blanket that didn't do enough to keep out the chill. I was in a bed, uncomfortable and half-reclined. There was a curtain drawn around the bed and the lighting around me was dim. I smelled disinfectant and something else, something horrible that, though it took me a moment to place, was a scent that had become much too familiar--burnt skin and hair. I focused harder, still breathing in painful little gasps. I recognized this place, that voice, those hands.

I really was on the Helicarrier, in the medical bay, and it was Logan who was holding onto me.

"Hey," Logan said after I'd quieted, his face pressed into my hair.

I tried to reply, but all that came out was a dry croak. Logan carefully let me go, making sure I eased back onto the half-upright bed. There was a lidded cup with a straw on a stand next to me. He handed me the cup, and though my hands shook, I managed to get the straw into my mouth. After a first careful sip of the water, I drank in big, greedy gulps. When I'd finished it, I tried speaking again.

"What was that?" My voice was still hoarse. "That noise?"

"Don't know." Logan sat gingerly on the bed, leaving one foot on the floor. "There was an alarm and a lot of hubbub. Someone's hurt bad, I guess. I didn't look."

"It woke me up." I nodded and then frowned. "Something was chasing me."

"You were dreaming," Logan said gently.

"It felt real. Like it had happened before, but I can't quite remember. It's like it's right there on the edges, and I can see it out of the corner of my eye, but I can't quite get to it." I squeezed my eyes shut in frustration for a moment. "It's always like this. Dreams like memories that aren't really mine."

He shifted on the bed. I opened my eyes to find him looking at me intensely.

"You dream like that a lot, darlin'?"

I shrugged, wincing at the motion, and instead of answering, asked, "How long was I out?"

Logan frowned at my evasion. "Half a day, give or take. You fell asleep on the transport, and I couldn't wake you up."

"Shit."

"No fooling. Caused quite a ruckus on the deck."

I flopped my head back on the pillow. "I am so dead. Makris is going to have me shuffling paper for a year."

"Lady doc with gray hair?" Logan asked.

I nodded feebly.

"She was pretty upset when they brought you in."

I groaned. "Make that two years. The medical staff hates me."

Logan gave me a funny look. "The hell are you talking about? They love you here."

I snorted. "They do not. I'm a pain in their collective ass."

He looked at me skeptically.

"You're delusional," I told him. "They're always mad at me."

"'Cause they worry about you. You go off and get hurt, and they have to patch you up and send you back out, just to do it all over again. And then they gotta sit up here and wonder if this is the time you won't come back at all" Logan looked over his shoulder at the shut curtain behind him. "I don't envy them. Take my job over theirs, any day."

I bit my lip. "I never thought of it that way, I guess."

Logan nodded and looked down at his boots. He was quiet, then. We both were. For a long time, we sat there in silence, listening to the intense bustle of the room beyond the curtain. Finally, Logan shifted his weight. He rubbed his hand over his jaw and gave me a sideways look, before speaking again.

"Listen, darlin'. I have to go. There was a message from the Avengers waiting for me. Something they need me for."

I tried not to look disappointed. "Sure. I understand."

"Had to wait until you woke up, though." He leaned closer to me. "There's something I gotta tell you before I go."

"Ooo, you've got your serious face on." I tried to crack a smile. It was a weak one. Logan's featured darkened. It really was his serious face, now. I reached out and put my hand over his. "What's up, dude?"

He cleared his throat. "It's like this. Elektra's crazy, alright. Crazy as anyone I've ever seen. But she said a few things that were alright. About the truth. About how it always comes out. How it changes everything."

Logan shifted uncomfortably. Confused and tired, I watched him half get up and then settle down again.

"Well, I have to tell you the truth, now. Even if it changes everything for you. For both of us."

I'd never seen him look so uncomfortable, so hesitant and miserable. It was starting to scare me.
"You don't have to tell me, if you don't want to," I said. "I don't need to know anything you don't want to tell me."

"Yeah, you do." Logan hunched in on himself, turning away from me. "The mission in Latveria--you know the one I'm talking about? The big one?"

I nodded mutely.

"I didn't remember going on it. Before White Day. Before I got everything back. We done a terrible thing there. Hurt innocent people just to send a message. I ain't making excuses about that. I knew the score going in, better than anyone, I think. But until White Day, I didn't remember any of it." Logan paused. When he spoke again, his voice was rough with emotion. "Fury wiped me. He sent me on that mission, and then he wiped it right out of my head. Knowing all that he did, all that he does, about the holes in my head, and how I been used, he still did it. Went into my head and took my memories, my time, away from me."

"No, Logan…" I shook my head in disbelief. "He wouldn't do that."

"He did. Just like I told you before, he don't do what he has to. He does what he thinks he has to. It ain't the same thing."

I didn't say anything. I just sat there dumbly, trying to breathe. The bandages around my chest felt too tight.

Logan stood up. He pulled his cowl over his face, again. He'd said what he wanted to, and now he was leaving.

"You're leaving," I said, stating the obvious.

"I have to go," he agreed. "Avengers."

"You just said what you said, and now you're going to go."

"You need to know who you're really dealing with, here."

"Well, thanks, Logan." I'd found my voice again, and it was cutting. "Thanks for the intel."

"You're angry," he said darkly. "You don't believe me."

"No, dude. I believe you. I'm not angry about that," I said loudly, almost shouting. I didn't care. I struggled to sit up more. "I just can't believe you're doing it this way. No, I take that back. This is so typical of you. You always do this. Always. You make some grand speech, drop something heavy like this on me and then take off."

At my loud, angry voice, the curtain around my bed was yanked back, revealing one of the nursing staff. He pointed one finger at me. I lay back down without disagreement. He turned the finger on Logan. "Mister Logan, you were told you could stay here only if you didn't disturb the other patients. And," he said, gesturing at me, "just until Agent Lee woke up. I see she has, so now it's time for you to go."

"I'm sorry," I apologized quickly, cutting off the argument that I could tell Logan was about to start. "I'm really, really sorry. Can we just have another minute?" The nurse frowned and crossed his arms. "Just a minute, honest. And we won't disturb anyone. It's just," I shrugged weakly, trying not to wince, "business, you know."

The nurse gave a long-suffering sigh. "Fine. One minute." He held up one finger at Logan again. "That's all. And you'd best be gone by the time I come back with Doctor Makris, if you know what's good for you."

Logan grunted. The nurse sighed again, raising his hand to massage his temple as he left.

"The makers of Tylenol are going to have a banner year because of me," I said wryly. "I should buy stock."

"You and me, both." Logan fiddled with cowl, needlessly adjusting it.

I breathed as deeply as I could, considering how tightly I was wrapped. My chest was starting to ache, and I wondered how much medication they had me pumped up on.

I hoped it was a lot.

"I'm sorry," I finally said, apologizing again for what seemed like the millionth time. SHIELD had turned me into a human contrition machine. "I'm not angry at you."

"Then who're you angry at?"

"I don't know. I just..." I trailed off, not knowing how to continue.

"S'ok, kid."

"No, it's not. It's just that I realized you thought I needed to know." I swallowed hard, my throat feeling tight. "That there's a reason I need to know what Nick did. But I trust him, Logan. I trust him with my life."

"Was a time I did, too," Logan said with significance.

I thought about that for a moment. When I spoke again, it was very quietly.

"You think he had me wiped."

Logan nodded, paused and then shrugged. "I don't know. Not for certain. But after all I've seen, after everything that's happened, I know something ain't right. I know something ain't right with you." He paused again, and then continued as delicately as he knew how. "There's something wrong about you. It's not just your scent. It's not just growing up. I can't put my finger on it, but I know it's not right."

It was a terrible truth. I felt like he'd cut me wide open, exposing something dark I'd covered with bright lies. My skin felt hot, and I cursed the damn bandages. I felt like I was in a straight-jacket.

And maybe that's where I belonged.

"Jubilee?" Logan queried.

"I'm scared," I said, and it felt like my own voice was choking me. "I'm scared of myself."

The moment they left my mouth, I knew they were the most honest words I'd spoken in a long time. Logan took them to heart.

"You listen to me, now," he said. "It's going to be okay. We're going to figure this out, you and me. And I might have to leave for a little bit, but I ain't going anywhere. Not really. Not while there's still questions that need answering. I ain't leaving while you still need me. Not this time. Not ever again."

I held up my hand, wanting to quiet him. "Don't, Logan," I whispered. "Don't make promises you can't keep."

He sat on the bed again, pulling me against him in a hug, gentle around my shoulders, but tight enough that I could feel how much he meant it. I rested my forehead against his chest and my eyes burned dry from the tears I wanted to cry, but couldn't.