Disclaimer: You know who i own and who i don't by now...this is here so i don't get in trouble...:) Also, just a head's up here...this is a very long update, because i decided to add the epilogue to the end of the chapter to make sure the entire story was posted all at once...otherwise, you'd have to wait 2 weeks for less than 3 pages...you're welcome...:)

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Interlude: Northern Alberta

He awoke in a room that smelled vaguely of disinfectant, but there seemed to be something wrong with his eyes. Try as he might, he couldn't open them, yet he felt nothing restraining them. He tried to move his hands up to his face, but he could only lift them about six inches due to the restraints on his wrists. He noted bitterly that his feet were free, for all the good they would do him. He struggled to remember exactly what had happened.

He remembered going back to Alkali Lake with Sam, to say goodbye to Jean. It had been a very hard thing to do, but after he was done he did feel a little better, like he had the rest of his life to look forward to instead of clinging desperately to the last happy moments of his past. He still hurt, he still missed her so much, but there was hope again. He had the Professor, a man he thought of as a father. He had friends who cared about him, even Logan in his own left-handed kind of way. There was the school with its students and all that they could mean for the future. He hadn't forgotten these people in his grief, but he'd let his sorrow get in the way of everything he'd held dear.

He remembered turning away from the lake to get Sam and go back to the jet for the night. They'd planned on staying here a day or so, to give him a chance to say anything he wanted to say Jean. But something had happened, someone had attacked him. She'd moved impossibly fast, faster than Angela and she was the quickest fighter he knew, quicker than Logan and that was saying something. She'd worn him down in no time and he was too slow to block the kick that knocked him out.

He heard a door open and the sound of several people entering the room. He raised his head a bit and turned towards the sound. "Who are you people?" He asked, his tone hard. "What have you done to my eyes?"

"We'll be asking the questions, not answering them." A man said, his accent pure Canadian. "Why were you and that other man at Alkali Lake?"

"Screw you. I have nothing to say to you."

"That, dear boy, is where you are wrong. Tell us what we want to know or we'll take it from you. Either way, we'll have our answers."

If he'd been able to glare at the voice, he would have. However, even if his eyes hadn't been stuck shut it would have been lost behind the ruby quartz lens of his visor. "Tell me what you did to my eyes!"

"Very well. I'll trade information for answers. We glued them shut. We lost a very good physician when he tried to examine them and he was hit by the blast that came out when he lifted your eyelid. It's for our safety."

The pronouncement hit him hard. Bad enough his hands were restrained, but they'd restrained his right to see as well. "You bastard. You have no idea what's going to happen now, do you?"

"I have no interest in your posturing. Just tell me why you were at Alkali Lake and who your companion was. That's all we want to know."

Drawing on a reserve of stubbornness that he'd learned from Logan, he sneered. "Fuck you."

"I see." He heard the sound of shuffling feet and the door opened again. "Bring him in. Take it from him." He heard another person enter the room and walk to the side of the table he was lying on. A moment later, he felt a hand rest on his forehead and the familiar feeling of someone in his mind overwhelmed him. It was nothing like when Jean would join her mind with his. That always had a feeling of peace about it, of joy and promise and love. This person, whoever it was, felt slippery. Like he was covered in a thin film of oil. The telepath took hold of his mind roughly, with no finesse at all and proceeded to dig through it the same way he might dig through a box of junk, examining and discarding memories that didn't match what he was looking for. The process probably only took a few minutes; to him, it felt like an eternity.

"Sir, we have a problem." The telepath said, backing away from the table.

"What?" Answered the first man. "Just tell me why he was there!"

"Sir, he was there because his fiancée died there, when the dam burst last spring."

"What, was she stationed there or something?"

"No sir, she was with a group of mutants who came to stop Stryker and save the kids he took from their school. But that's not the problem, sir."

"And that would be?"

The telepath cleared his throat before speaking. "Sir, this guy here…he's friends with Wolverine. And Hellcat."

Silence shrouded the room, so thick you could almost feel it. He could hear the sounds of people shifting in place, suddenly not comfortable with this situation. The first man coughed. "She's alive?"

"Yes sir. And as far as I can tell, she's responsible for the loss of Totem from the Hudson Bay facility."

"You're telling me that Wolverine, Hellcat AND Totem are together and haven't ripped each other apart yet?"

"Yes sir. This guy is affiliated with Charles Xavier. He's a better telepath than I am, though not by much. He broke the conditioning. On all of them."

"So they're all free? Completely?"

"Yes sir. But I have to warn you, this guy here…he thinks they'll come after him."

The silence returned, thicker than before. He couldn't help but laugh at the reaction of the people in the room with him. They thought they had the upper hand. They had no idea. "Yeah, they'll come after me. And God help you when they get here."

"Shut up. They'll never find this base." The first man said. "Not before we're done with you." He heard the man moving back to door, still speaking. "You, go in there and get me everything. I don't care what's left when you're done, just get it for me."

"Yes sir." The telepath said and took his position again next to the table. He felt that hand on his forehead again and the oily presence in his mind. This time, the telepath was brutal in his search and the last conscious thought Scott had before passing out was how he wished he could see it when Logan took this guy's head off.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Chapter 21.

(Logan)

With so little to go on, finding One-Eye was going to be difficult at best. But we had to try. The same people who'd fucked up so many lives had him and that wasn't a fate I would wish on my worst enemy. We'd been flying in a spiral pattern with Alkali Lake at the center for about an hour when the Professor finally contacted us.

"Storm, I located Scott but before I could get an exact location he disappeared again." He said, a touch of regret in voice. "But I have Buzz searching for military facilities in that area. For now, focus your search in the northeastern part of Alberta near the border with British Columbia."

"Got it, Professor." She replied, changing course. "We'll find him, don't worry."

"I know you will. Everything is still quiet here, no sign that anyone's trying to attack. Delta team is a bit disappointed."

"Tell them to thank their lucky stars." I said with a snort. "Keep in touch, Chuck."

He broke the connection and we sped through the sky heading to the northeast. There's a lot of empty in that part of Alberta, but that would be an advantage to us. We had detailed maps of what should be there, so anything else would automatically be suspicious and we'd have more intel for Buzz to work with. I glanced back at Angela, who was clutching Colossus' hand so hard that had he not been in metal form, it would have been crushed. I really wanted to go back there and comfort her, but we were still on a mission and it was no time to indulge ourselves.

Storm noticed me looking back there and smiled. "Logan, I know it's a mission and you have rules. But if there's anyone I know who likes to bend the rules, it's you. Go to her."

"You sure?" I replied, looking over the gauges.

"Positive. Sam can take over for you until we land. Go on, you're making me crazy."

I thanked her and smiled, unbuckling my harness and moving out of the way so Sam could take the co-pilot's seat. I moved down the aisle and took the seat next to my woman. "How you holdin' up, darlin'?"

"Logan, you're breaking the rules being back here." She mumbled, looking very pale.

"I know. But I'm in charge and you need me." I gathered her into my arms and I could feel her barely controlled shudders. "Besides, Storm said I was making her crazy and told me to come back here."

"Ooh, insubordination and everything." She buried her face in my neck as she wrapped her arms around my waist. "I don't give a fuck. I hate flying."

"I know, tiger. That's why I'm here." I just sat there holding her, something I normally wouldn't have done in front of so many prying eyes, but I could feel her relaxing so I decided not to care. If they wanted to say anything about the "softer side of Wolverine" when this was done, let them. Besides, I didn't know how long it would be before I'd have a chance to hold her like this again and I had no problem stealing whatever moments I could.

We made it up there in less than half an hour, Storm pushing the jet to nearly sub-orbital to save time. I checked the time, surprised to see how late it was, nearly three in the morning. We'd all been up since the previous morning and although Sam, Angela and I can mostly ignore fatigue, the rest weren't so lucky. I kissed my woman on the forehead and worked my way back to the front. Leaning against the back of Storm's seat, I checked the gauges and the jet looked like it was in need of a recharge too.

"Hey, why don't we set down somewhere and get some rest?" I whispered.

"Do you think we should?" She murmured. "How much time do you think he has?"

"Unknown. But they'll know by now that he ain't like Angela and me. They'll still probably test the shit outta him, but he's tough. He'll hold out as long as he has to."

"I just hate to think of what they might be doing." She sighed and there was an undertone of fear and sorrow to her scent. "Just imagining it…"

"Storm, don't. Believe me, you don't wanna know." I rested a hand on her shoulder and she reached up absently and gave it a pat. "C'mon, I know you have to be tired, the kids look ready to drop. Me and Sam can keep watch, listen for the radio."

"You're right, I know you are. Besides, the jet could use a recharge."

I gave her shoulder a squeeze and turned to face the cabin. "Listen up everyone. We're settin' down for a few hours to recharge the jet. Might as well grab some rest while it does."

From the grateful looks I received, I knew I'd made the right choice. Within minutes, the jet was on the ground and Iceman and Rogue were setting up the tents. There wasn't much in the way of food on board, but there was a supply of energy bars (which is a code for "tastes like shit but keeps you going"), which were passed out and eaten before everyone took to their tents.

I settled in next to the small fire Angela started before she went to the tent we'd both sleep in but not really share. At least, that was supposed to be the plan. Sam had other ideas.

"Logan, go to your woman." He said and it wasn't a request. I raised an eyebrow at him as he sat down. "I'll keep watch."

"Last time I checked, I was the one in charge here." I reminded him.

"And the last time I checked, there was a beautiful woman in a tent that was carefully set up far enough away from everyone else to offer a bit of privacy to those so inclined to take advantage of it." He countered.

"I'm not gonna win this, am I?"

"You lost before you even started." He gave me a hard stare, challenging me to try and argue my way around this.

"I'll go on one condition." He kept staring, waiting for me to continue. "You let me relieve you in three hours. I'm pretty sure there's another beautiful woman who would like some attention of her own."

It was hard to tell in the firelight, but I'm pretty sure a flush crept up his neck. "Fine. Now get out of here."

I smiled and stalked silently back to the tent Angela had vanished into. It was still within sight of the others and as long as she didn't decide this was a screaming night, we were far enough away that no one (except maybe Wild Child) would hear anything. Leave it to Bobby to think of this.

I unzipped the tent as quietly as I could and slipped inside, closing the flap behind me. Angela sat up immediately, claws out, but relaxed when she saw it was me. "Logan, what are you doing here? I thought you were keeping watch tonight."

"More insubordination." I replied with a smirk as I knelt down next to her, pulling off my gloves and unzipping my jacket.

"Good." She replied and pulled me down for a kiss. She'd stripped down to her tank top and panties, since the uniforms are really not made for sleeping. I, on the other hand, was still fully clothed. "Mm, all this leather. It's kinda kinky."

"This from the woman who's afraid to have sex in our classroom." I pointed out as I shrugged the jacket off.

"Spoilsport." She pouted. I chuckled and sat back down to pull off my boots and pants. I'd barely gotten them off when she slid around and straddled me, her hands clutching my hair, her mouth on my neck. I couldn't help but notice that she'd gotten rid of her panties and I groaned and slid my hands under her tank top, pulling it over her head so I could sit back and just enjoy the view. I gently cupped one of her breasts, tracing circles around her nipple with my thumb and she answered me with a moan of her own. She leaned forward to kiss me, her hair spilling like silk over my face. She shifted herself upward a little, then lowered herself down on me with agonizing slowness, her eyes locked with mine.

"God, you are so beautiful." I gasped, looking into her eyes.

"Shh, don't say anything." She whispered, placing her fingers over my mouth. "I just want to feel you, remember this."

I nodded and she leaned down to kiss me again. I slid my hands up her back, burying them in her hair, letting her set the tempo. I would have sat there like that all night if she wanted to, but fortunately she didn't want to. She buried her face in my shoulder and started to move. I clenched my eyes shut, enjoying every sensation, every touch, every moan. It took me a few minutes to realize she was also crying. I grabbed her by the hips to stop her.

"Darlin', what's wrong?" I asked, cupping her face and wiping away her tears with my thumb.

"I just have such a bad feeling about this mission." She murmured, her mouth quivering. "Logan, I'm scared."

I pulled her back to me, gently pushing her head back to my shoulder. "Shh, darlin'. Don't cry. There ain't nothin' to be afraid of. We'll be all right."

"You promise?"

"Yeah, I do." I stroked her back to calm her, wishing I could magically take her fear away. "Nothin's gonna happen to us, ok?" She nodded and lifted her head to look at me. She gave me a weak smile and I pulled her down into a kiss. I wrapped my free arm around her waist and in one smooth motion I flipped her over without breaking any contact. I gazed into her eyes as I took over, telling her the best way I knew how that I loved her and would always be there for her.

Later, as she slept in my arms, I thought about what she'd said. I could understand her fear. This was the first real combat mission we'd been on together since our Alkali Lake days and back then, we'd denied ourselves what we had both wanted so badly. Now, it was more complicated and there were more people to worry about. But, if nothing else, we'd had this night together and no matter what happened, it would be one memory that I'd cherish until the day I died. I closed my eyes, breathing in her scent and dozed off.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

My eyes sprang open when I heard the soft footsteps outside the tent. Whoever was out there was trying their best to be quiet, but most people don't have ears like mine. I lay still, tensed for a confrontation out of habit. I didn't have to look to know that Angela was awake as well, having heard the same thing I did. We were on a mission and whatever sweet oblivion our lovemaking had given us, our training was simply too ingrained to be denied. I inhaled deeply and over the faint musk that still permeated the tent was a scent that was unmistakably Sam. I relaxed.

"It's ok." I whispered to Angela and I felt the tension leave her as well. "It's my turn to watch."

"Do you have to?" She mumbled, snuggling closer to me.

"Yeah. Occupational hazard of bein' in charge." She cursed softly, nuzzling my neck before sliding up to kiss me. "Don't worry, I'll see you in a few hours."

"Sure, but we'll be all business by then." She whispered, pouting a little.

"I promise, I'll make it a rule that it's ok for couples to have at least one kiss before the teams are deployed."

"Mm, you better." She kissed me again and then curled up under the sleeping bag. I got dressed as quickly as I could and unzipped the tent flap. I looked over my shoulder before exiting and saw that she'd already rolled over and gathered the pillow I'd been sleeping on into her arms, curling up around it possessively. I smiled and stepped outside.

"Hey Logan." Sam said as I zipped the tent back up. "I assumed you'd know it was me whether I said anything or not."

"You assumed right." I replied. "Any word from the Professor?"

"Nothing yet. He said he wouldn't call until he knew something."

"Fine." We walked back to the fire, since I didn't want to disturb Angela. "Everythin' quiet out here?"

"Pretty much. Just the sounds you'd expect around a big campsite like this."

He nudged my arm and I saw that he was holding out a flask. I raised an eyebrow but took it anyway, drinking deep. It was some of the finest whisky I've ever tasted and I handed it back with a smile. "Good stuff. Anyone but you or me with it, I'd have their hide."

"Probably. But you know I can take it." I nodded and sat down by the fire, which had burned down to mostly coals. "I have to say, I really hated to wake you. You deserve as much time with her as you can get. She's a hell of a lady."

"That she is. But thanks to our mutations, we'll probably be around long after everyone here is long gone." I tossed another piece of wood on the fire and poked it to bring it back to life. "We'll have plenty of time together."

He nodded and stood staring into the flames, his expression carefully guarded. I got the impression he wanted to ask something, but didn't know how. After a couple minutes, he sat across from me and cleared his throat. "How do you deal with it, Logan? Living for so long, watching people you care about…" He trailed off, not wanting to give voice to what I thought about every day.

"Tell you the truth, I don't know." I said, poking the fire some more. "I only have about sixteen years of memories to work with. Haven't lost anyone permanently in that time." I set the stick I was using aside and motioned for the flask again. He handed it to me and I took another long drink. "Now Angela? She remembers everythin' back to her childhood. Some days, I envy her that. Others…she tells me I got the better deal, with the amnesia. On some stuff, like what they did to us, I tend to agree. It was almost easier when I didn't remember all of it. But I tell you what, I'd give almost anythin' just to remember my own real name."

"For what it's worth, I'm sorry as hell you guys had to go through that."

"Bub, you ain't got nothin' to be sorry for. You didn't do this to us."

"I know, but…Logan, I've tried for a hell of a long time to hide from all this. I really, truly believed that if I waited long enough, I could come back out of my little cave there in Washington state and the world would be all shiny happy people holding hands with their mutant brethren. That the world would just wake up one day and realize that we weren't different from normal humans, not where it counted." He shook his head bitterly and took a swig from the flask. "I was a damned fool and it took a complete stranger to open my eyes."

"You mean Angela?" I asked, taking the flask again.

He nodded. "Yeah. I didn't want to come back, you know. Storm pleaded her case and it was a good one. Scott's like a brother to me and I'd go to hell and back for him. I was going to try and convince them to bring him out to my studio, get him away from all the reminders. But then Angela told me her story, what happened to her and her daughter. And you." I handed the flask back and he recapped it, stashing it in his pocket. "I didn't believe her, didn't WANT to believe her. It was just too wild a tale. Sounded like something you'd see on the Sci-Fi network to me. So, she proved it."

We sat there and I listened as he recounted the story for me, the whole thing playing out in my head as he spoke.

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Sam opened another bottle of his finest whisky, imported from Ireland. Ororo had gone to bed some time ago, so it was just him and Angela in the study, drinking into the wee hours of the morning. She held out her glass and he graciously refilled it before pouring himself another measure. She swirled it around in her glass, savoring the aroma before sipping it delicately. "Sam, my friend, you have excellent taste."

"Most of the people I know call it snobbery." He replied, smiling.

"Ah, what do they know? Backwoods morons, the lot of them." She sat back in her chair, folding her legs underneath her. Sam looked at her curiously, still trying to figure out how much of her wild tale was actually true. She carried herself with an easy grace, not at all like someone who supposedly had a hundred pounds of indestructible metal fused to her skeleton. Rather than be offended by the blatant scrutiny, she brushed it off as no big deal. She took another sip of the amber liquid, enjoying the slight burn as she swallowed it. She met Sam's eyes and cocked her head to one side. "Something on your mind?"

"Yes, there is actually." He said, leaning forward and setting his glass on the coffee table. "I have to admit that I really don't believe your story. I'm not saying you're lying, but you already admitted that you had false memories implanted, telepathic compulsions, and all that stuff. So how do you know the rest of it isn't fake, too?"

She sat very still, her eyes narrowed a little. Had he known her better, he would have known this was a warning sign that her temper was heating up, which was usually followed by blind, feral rage. However, she took a deep breath, followed by a long sip of the whisky before replying. "Sam, I wish to all the gods that you were right. I wish I'd never done the things I've done, seen the things I've seen. I wish I could wake up tomorrow in my old house and be pissed off that my daughter had left her school books and make up strewn all over the house. I wish I could open a door and it would be her bedroom, decorated with posters of movie stars and all the trophies she won for whatever it was she would have been. But I won't wake up, because this isn't a nightmare. I understand that you have a nice little bubble here, a world you created because the real one was too ugly. Trust me, you ain't seen nothing yet."

She set down her whisky, stood up and went to the kitchen, returning with a very large, very sharp knife, a clean towel draped over her arm. She took up her glass and downed the last of the whisky, shaking her head a bit as the shock of it wore off. Sam sat in his chair, unsure of what all of this was about. Angela sat down next to the coffee table and before he had time to react, she took up the knife in her right hand and plunged it straight through her left, effectively pinning it to the table. Sam jumped up to help her, but she whipped her head around with a snarl before returning to the task at hand. Gritting her teeth, she pulled the knife back out, laying the towel under her hand. She carefully inserted the knife under the layers of skin and tissue on the back of her hand, almost as though she was filleting a fish. Finally, with a grunt of pain, she finished her work, flipped back the flap of skin she'd loosened and blotted away the blood. "Look closely, Sam. Look really close. THIS is my nightmare."

Swallowing hard, he forced himself to lean down and look into the wound she'd given herself. Gleaming in the dim light of his study, instead of the ivory white bones he'd expected to see, were the brightly shining adamantium covered bones of her hand. Without thinking, he reached out with a finger and touched one, not believing they were real. She let him do it, do whatever he wanted to prove to himself that it was real. When he looked into her eyes, a single tear was running down his face. "My God. How did you ever survive this?"

"I didn't." She replied, her voice tight. She replaced the flap of skin over the wound and wrapped her hand tightly in the towel. "That's part of my mutation, I don't stay dead. They just kept killing me over and over until it was done." She moved back to her seat and held out her empty glass. Sam refilled it, all the way to the top this time, and she gratefully downed half of it in one shot. "The claws you know about, you saw those earlier. I also have a healing factor." She motioned with her injured hand. "This'll be gone in a couple hours. Won't even leave a scar." She settled back in her chair, her injured hand clutched to her chest, her whisky glass in the other. "I don't know what you're thinking about why we're here. I just wanted to help Scott. He's become a good friend and I hate to see people I care about in pain. I don't give a fuck about your reasons for not wanting to go back there. I think part of you needs to go back there just as much as you're NEEDED there. So if my little self-mutilation is what it takes to get you to agree, so be it."

"Angela, I didn't…you didn't have to do that." He murmured, refilling his own glass. "It's just so hard to believe that people would be so cruel to other people like that."

"See, that's the point I'm trying to make here! We AREN'T 'people' to the ones who did this to me. We're nothing but mutants, a step above animals. They're too stupid to know that we're a step above THEM. Now, I'm no Magneto, I don't want to use my advantages to take over the damn world. It's a fucked up place and I don't want it for myself. But there are those out there who do want that or worse. The X-Men need a leader and Scott's the best one for the job. But he's no good to the team right now, he's too crippled by his own grief over Jean, he's angry because she left him here alone and he's guilty because he's angry. I've seen it all before, I went through it myself. I'm just not the person to help him, I don't know him well enough to do that. He won't go to anyone else. YOU know him, you said he was like a brother to you. Prove it, Sam. Come back with us and help your brother."

"Why did you do it, Angela? Showing me your bones has nothing to do with Scott. You have another agenda, something Ororo doesn't know about."

"Damn straight I do." She snapped, finishing her whisky and holding her glass out for a refill. "Scott doesn't need you for a little while. He needs you permanently, part of the team. I know what you told me over dinner, why you left and it's bullshit. So you can't control your mutation, so what? You're not the only one. I'm a half-inch from complete feral right now and the only thing holding me back is concentrating on my next drink. In a little while, the pain in my hand will fade and the animal will go back to sleep. But it's always there, waiting for a chance to come out and wreak havoc. Having these powers means I have a responsibility. So do you. It's about time you took it."

Sam looked down at the floor, ashamed for the first time in over a decade because of his powers. Before, it was because he'd used them. Now, it was because he wasn't. He downed the rest of his whisky and rolled the glass between his hands. He had to focus carefully so he didn't accidentally break it. That had always been the problem, his strength. Unless he was extremely careful, he'd break anything he touched and had on so many occasions. He couldn't count the doors he'd ripped off their hinges, the bottles he'd broken, hell even the rocks he'd crushed in his massive fists. It had taken him years to learn exactly how much force every substance could take before bending or breaking. He was so used to it now that he could make the calculations in the blink of an eye, for everything from glass to diamonds. He wasn't sure he could break the latter, but he couldn't be too careful, just in case.

He looked back up and Angela was simply sitting there, staring at him. Her demeanor had changed, she seemed a little more relaxed than she had before and Sam wondered how long he'd been trapped in his reverie. With a sigh, he refilled both of their glasses. "Angela, you're right, I have been hiding out here. I was just so embarrassed by my powers, how hard it is to control them. I have to be hyperaware of everything I do or things just break all around me. But you were right, it's just an excuse." He raised his glass to her in a silent toast. "I'll go back with you. I can't promise I'll rejoin the team, but I'll stay as long as they need me to."

Angela raised her glass in answer to his. "That's all I'm asking." She replied, downing her whisky. "Besides, I'm not officially an X-Man either. I just said they needed you on the team." She smiled and stood up, giving him a small nod before going off to the room she was staying in for the night. Sam stayed up much longer, greeting the dawn with the birds. He knew he'd been tricked there, in the end, but he also didn't mind.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"…She's a tricky one, that woman of yours." He finished, fishing out the flask again. "She knew just which buttons to push to get me back to the school."

"Now look at ya, out here in the field." I replied as he handed me the flask. "Are you gonna stay? Rejoin the team?"

"Yeah, I think I am. I feel like I have to. I can't be afraid of what I might do anymore, not when I'm so much more frightened of what others might do."

I nodded in agreement and took a long swig. The flask was nearly empty when I handed it back. "Yeah, I hear ya there. I keep hopin' someday that it'll change and I'll be out of a job."

"It'll take time." He mumbled, emptying the flask.

"Yeah well, I've got plenty of that." I stirred the fire again, watching the sparks spiral up towards the sky. "Now get outta here. Go cuddle up to that lady you've been courtin' and get some quality time with her." He smiled and made his way to Storm's tent. I purposely tuned out any sounds that came from that direction, listening only for those that would signal the approach of people from outside the perimeter. They deserved as much privacy as I could give them, not that it's easy with ears like mine. Fortunately, the rest of the night passed without incident, which unfortunately meant we didn't hear from the Professor, and I waited until the first gray light of dawn to wake up the troops.

We broke camp and got everything squared away in an acceptable amount of time, the younger team members only grumbling a little at the unholy hour. We boarded the jet and this time I let Sam take the co-pilot's seat without hesitation. I stayed in the back with Angela, helping to soothe her fear while we continued our search for wherever they were holding Scott. A little under an hour later, the Professor called.

"Storm, we think we've found the base." He said, sounding tired. He must have been up all night. "I'm sending the coordinates now, but Buzz informs me that getting in might be tricky."

"Why's that?" I asked, moving towards the front of the jet.

"From what he's been able to hack out of their central computer, they used a telepath to extract information from Scott. They're expecting you."

"Damn it!" I exclaimed, wishing I could punch something. "Can he find us another way in?"

"If there's a back door to the base, he hasn't been able to find it. However, it seems they haven't done anything to him yet and he hasn't found anything to indicate that they're planning to start. You might be better off waiting until nightfall to make your move."

"Roger that." He signed off and I looked back at the teams. Everyone looked disheartened at the thought of waiting the entire day to go in, but I didn't see where we had much choice. I turned back to Storm. "Find us a place within a klick of that base to set down. We'll have to wait til sunset to move in." A chorus of protests erupted behind me and I raised my hand to silence them. "Stop!" I barked. "I know, I don't wanna wait either. But there's no sense in goin' in there right away. The longer we wait, the more they'll relax."

"They could be doin' anythin' to him in there!" Rogue shouted, clearly unhappy with this decision.

"I know. But we need every advantage we can get now. This gives us plenty of time to plan. Now buckle up."

I went back to Angela and she gave me an agonized look. She knew more than anyone besides me what could be happening in there. I just hoped we'd make it before they got too far.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Tension grew as the day wore on and it only got worse when the skies darkened and the sound of thunder echoed in the distance. However, instead of looking at this as another obstacle, it made me happy. If that storm came in soon enough, we could move earlier under the cover of the weather. Storm asked me if I wanted her to hold it off and I shook my head. "No, it'll work to our advantage. We'll be able to use it as cover."

"Logan, it's November." She replied and I just gave her a look. "It's cold enough without adding ice-cold rain to the mix."

"I know, Storm. But we need the advantage. Let it go." She gave me a hard look and walked away, back to where Sam was sitting with Piotr discussing art. I know she was trying to spare the kids as much discomfort as possible, but I disagreed with that. We couldn't run every mission under cloudless skies in seventy-degree weather. This was for real and the more they realized that, the better I'd feel.

About forty minutes before sundown, the skies opened up and we made our move. Angela took Beta team a little to the south of the base while I took Alpha a bit to the north a few minutes later. We hoped that whoever was watching for us would assume her team was the only one and we'd be able to slip inside with a minimum of fuss. We still ran into a few sentries along the way, but between Kurt and I, we took care of them quickly enough. By the time we reached the base, it was apparent that most of the sentries had gone to intercept Beta team. I broke radio silence just long enough to say "good luck" to Angela before taking Alpha team forward to the base entrance.

Over the course of my life, I've come to the decision that you can always tell how bad an operation is by how much of the base is underground. This one was pretty bad. We came up to the base and to all outward appearances there were only three buildings in the whole place, two of which looked to be warehouses. The third was a Quonset style bunker, hunched in between them. I nodded silently to Storm and she used the already existing thunderstorm to call lightning down on the base, which caused the men guarding the buildings to scatter for cover. With a little extra push, she called up a fog that was just thick enough to hide our movements. I'd taken the liberty of stealing Iceman from Beta team so we'd have a little extra firepower once we got inside. Rogue wasn't happy about it, but we needed him more than they did. Kurt bamfed me, Iceman and Atlas to the bunker while Storm flew in silently overhead.

I took stock of the surroundings, the rain making it damned hard for me to scent out Scott. Once we were all in position, I popped my claws and tore through the door, taking the risky point position. It doesn't matter how many people might shoot me, it would only piss me off anyway. The others came in quickly behind me, but it was for nothing. The bunker was devoid of life, the guards a decoy. I cursed softly and we dashed back outside and I led the charge to the warehouse on the left, where all the guards had taken cover. I hoped that wasn't a ploy as well, since I didn't much feel like letting Murphy's Law rule this mission.

I had just raised my claws to tear through the warehouse door when Atlas pushed me aside and ripped it off its hinges, tossing it aside like paper. We rushed in and were greeted by dozens of clicks.

"Freeze!" Someone shouted and we all instinctively skidded to a halt.

"If you insist." Iceman said beside me and raised his hands. In a matter of seconds, thick ice coated several of the soldiers from their shoulders to the barrels of their guns and a few of them fell over with the added weight. A heartbeat later, the rest opened fire.

I popped my claws and leapt into the fray, grunting slightly whenever I felt a bullet make impact. The X-suits are made to withstand most weapons, but these were just high enough caliber that the suit didn't make a difference. I didn't care. I sliced through guns and flesh with equal abandon, not caring if I cut off fingers, arms or whatever was necessary to get through. Nightcrawler was bamfing in and out so fast that no one could get a lock on him and I understood why Stryker had used him so long ago to attack the President. He simply wasn't where the weapons were yet he made quick work of the soldiers he encountered. Storm was calling lightning from her hands, shooting forked bolts to hit two at a time, just hard enough to take them out of commission. Iceman continued to freeze the men, even managing in a few cases to freeze weapons enough to shatter them. Sam simply grabbed weapons and twisted them beyond recognition or broke them in half before grabbing the soldiers and tossing them into the walls. All told, the skirmish took less than two minutes.

I took a moment to calm myself enough to sort through the stink of blood, sweat and cordite for any hint of Scott's scent. My eyes fell on a door near the back and I approached it cautiously. As I got closer, I caught a whiff of his cologne. I barked out an order to the rest of the team and slashed the door open. Sure enough, there were metal stairs that led down behind it. I reported my findings to Beta team and we descended into the bowels of the earth.

At the bottom of the stairs was a small anteroom with a door to either side. Both required a keycard to open, but my claws gave me better clearance than half the people stationed at this base. I took a moment to get my bearings and slashed through the door to my right. The hallway beyond was bathed in red light; they knew we were coming. But Scott was down there somewhere and we hadn't come this far to be put off by something like a red alert. Once again on point, I followed my nose in the direction of where they were holding him.

Naturally, we didn't make it far before more soldiers appeared, not bothering to say anything before opening fire. I took a shot high on my right shoulder and turned to the guy with a snarl. He had just enough time to register my claws as they sprang forth from their housings before I slashed down, taking his arm off at the elbow. A second slash across the throat all but took his head off. Nightcrawler had teleported behind the soldiers and was using every bit of his acrobatic ability to take out as many back there as he could. I heard the sound of bones snapping like twigs and a quick glance showed me that he'd taken Atlas with him who was simply grabbing people and snapping arms or legs to disable them. Another soldier pointed his rifle at me and I slashed it to pieces before shoving my right claws into his gut, slashing out to the left to open another man from neck to navel. Atlas picked up another soldier and casually tossed him into the remaining few, knocking them over and Iceman froze them to the ground. I kicked them in their faces to knock them out and we continued down the hall.

Scott's scent was getting stronger and we met with the last of the opposition near where they had to be holding him. I was covered with blood, most of it not my own and my claws were dripping with gore. "Easy way or hard way, fellas." I snarled. "Please, pick the hard way." A couple of guys in the back wavered a bit, but the one who had to be the squad leader barked an order and fired. I grunted as the bullet hit me in the thigh and I let out a roar as I leapt forward and buried my claws in his chest. Nightcrawler and Atlas once again disappeared, only to reappear behind the squad and start working on the men back there. Iceman was shooting large balls of ice from his hands, hitting them hard enough to crack skulls and shatter bones. I continued to cut my way through them, slicing the soldiers open and leaving them dead or dying in my wake. It was over far too quickly.

I once again took a moment to tamp down my rage but I could feel the animal prowling back and forth inside my skull. I took another moment to look over my team, assessing the situation as quickly as I could. There were many bruises all around and Atlas had been grazed on his cheek, but nothing more serious than that. As for me, I couldn't say how many times I'd been shot. It didn't matter, I healed. I always do. "We ready?" I asked and everyone nodded. I rounded the final corner and burst through the doors at the end of the hall.

You'd think they'd come up with a different layout for their labs, but this one was identical to the ones at Alkali Lake and Hudson Bay. The only major difference was the tank was empty and Scott was strapped to a table, electrodes protruding from every part of his body and a man hunched over near his head. About two dozen soldiers were between them and us along with half a dozen scientists. But the one guy I wanted most was in the back, his uniform identifying him as a colonel. He had to be the one in charge here.

All eyes snapped to us and I lifted my right hand, claws extended to point at the bigwig. "I'll have your head, asshole."

"Make one move and I'll have Curtis here pump enough electricity through your friend to kill him now." He said with a sneer, pointing to a man sitting at a console next to him. "Walk away, Wolverine. You're not worth the trouble anymore."

"Sorry bub. That's my friend you have there and I ain't leavin' without him."

The colonel looked over the party and frowned. "Where's Hellcat? We know she's with you."

"Sorry to disappoint you, but she's keepin' the rest of your troops occupied elsewhere." His eyes widened as he realized the truth. Two teams, split forces. He didn't stand a chance and he knew it. "You made us what we are. Now we're shovin' it down your throats." I didn't give him the opportunity to respond, I leapt forward and slashed the throat of the nearest soldier and the firefight began.

Nightcrawler bamfed to the console with Atlas and he took out Curtis while Atlas smashed the machine. Storm finally had the space to use her power, not an easy thing for her this far from the actual elements but she still had enough to strike out with the lightning and take out soldiers two at a time. Iceman was once again lobbing those huge ice balls in between freezing weapons and shattering them. I shoved and sliced my way through the fray until I reached the colonel. He pulled out a Glock pistol and shoved it in my face. "Why do you do this, Wolverine? Why do you keep coming back around? You should have stayed gone while you had a chance."

I lashed out with my claws and severed his arm at the elbow. He screamed in pain and fell to his knees, cradling the stump to his chest. I grabbed him by the back of his head and forced him to look at me. "Because I want to kill you all. You wanted to make the perfect killer, bub. How do ya like it?" Again, I didn't give him a chance to answer; I just shoved my claws in his throat and ripped his head off. I tossed it aside as his body fell to the floor and rounded on the last person in the room who interested me.

The man who'd been positioned near Scott's head was cowering in a corner, trying to avoid the fighting that was just now dying down in the rest of the lab. I stalked across the lab, grabbed him by his neck and hauled him to his feet. His eyes widened and the scent of his fear was the sweetest thing to me. A heartbeat later I realized I knew who this was. "You're that telepath that fucked up my head." I growled. "What did you do to me?"

"Just what they told me to do!" He whimpered, struggling against my grip.

"And what would that be?" I gave him a rough shake. "ANSWER ME!"

He gagged and I relaxed my grip enough to allow him to speak. "Th-they wanted your memories erased. If that didn't work, they wanted them suppressed, buried so deep they'd never come back. But we could never make it stick for long, they kept coming back no matter what we tried. They made that chip just for you, no one else ever needed one."

"Well bub, I don't have that problem anymore." I tapped the side of my head. "Got that thing taken out."

He closed his eyes and whimpered, trying to avert his face but I gave him another shake and his head snapped forward again. "Wolverine, you don't know what it was like for us! The things he'd do…I'm sorry!"

I growled low in my chest and bared my teeth. "YOU'RE SORRY? You stole my entire fuckin' life and you're SORRY?" I shoved him into the wall and popped the claws on my left hand and his bladder let go. "You haven't even BEGUN to be sorry!" I shoved my claws into his gut and he let out a gasp, his eyes rolling into the back of his head. I let him go and he fell in a heap on the floor, his blood pooling around him as he died. I turned my back on him and retracted my claws, head down and breathing hard. I calmed myself before looking back up to survey the damage.

The only people left standing were X-Men. Everyone else was either dead or dying and I didn't much give a shit about them. Atlas had finished getting the electrodes out of Scott and found him a set of scrubs to put on. He'd be cold once we got outside, but at least he was covered. There were a few more injuries to the team; Storm had a bruise forming on her cheek and Iceman was favoring his ankle a bit, but otherwise everyone seemed ok. I didn't even want to look at my uniform, I was sure it was riddled with bullet holes and would have to be tossed as soon as we got back to the mansion.

I walked over to Scott and clapped a hand on his shoulder. "You all right?"

He nodded. "Yeah Logan, I'm fine. Wasn't in here for long."

"We have to get him back to the jet." Atlas said, supporting him. "They glued his eyes shut."

I cursed under my breath and wished I could kill these guys again. "Right. Let's get outta here." I motioned to the team and we swept out of the lab, leaving the soldiers where they lay. If there was anyone left alive, they could pick up the pieces, in some cases literally. Once we were back on the upper level I tapped my earpiece. "Beta leader, check in." I waited a moment but she didn't answer. "Beta leader, report!" Still nothing. "Hellcat!"

"Sorry Alpha leader." She said and I breathed a sigh of relief. "Just finishing a little business." I heard her grunt followed by someone else's scream of pain. "There, all done. Hostile forces taken care of. Situation jigsaw."

I couldn't stop my smile. That had been our private code for when our target was in pieces. "Same here Beta leader. Objective acquired, we're comin' out."

"Roger that. Beta leader ou…wait a second." I heard a tiny burst of static, which meant she'd gone to the secure channel Beta team was using. A moment later she came back. "We have a problem. Rogue's missing."

I felt my stomach drop. "What?"

"Kitty reports they got separated and she can't find her. Said they ran into a couple other mutants. Descriptions match Asp and Tigress."

I clenched my fists, my claws itching to spring free. I took a deep breath to calm down a bit. "Beta leader, hold position. We'll be there right away."

"Roger that. Beta leader out."

I turned to the team and Iceman took a step back when I looked up. "Atlas, can you get Cyclops back to the jet on your own?"

"Sure." He replied. "What's wrong?"

"Rogue's missing. We need to find her." I dashed out of the warehouse and back into the teeth of the thunderstorm, the rest of the team hot on my heels. Once outside, Atlas scooped Cyclops into a fireman's carry and took off towards the jet. The rest of us headed towards the south to the area Beta team had used to draw off most of the firepower. It didn't take us long to find a trail to follow; Angela had left a lot of carnage in her wake. I tapped my earpiece again. "Beta leader, what's your position?"

"Less than half a klick to your south." She answered, sounding breathless. "Currently engaged. Beta out."

Storm immediately took to the air while Nightcrawler grabbed Iceman and teleported away. I ran full out, rain lashing against my face and running in icy trickles down the back of my uniform. A few moments later I arrived on the scene. Angela was engaged in a cat-and-mouse fight with another woman, a little taller than her with red hair: Tigress. Before I could pop my claws and jump in, a bolt of lightning streaked down and hit Tigress full in the chest, throwing her twenty feet into the trunk of a tree. She hit with a thud and fell to the ground, out cold. Iceman was there a heartbeat later and encased her in a thick coat of ice to immobilize her. I ran to Angela.

"You all right?" I asked, placing a hand on her shoulder.

She nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine." She replied, breathing heavily. "Shadowcat lost track of Rogue about ten minutes ago. They were about half a klick west of here. They were fighting her," she gestured to Tigress, "and that other guy and they got separated. Shadowcat went back to find her, but she was gone." She swallowed hard. "She's not answering her com."

I clenched my jaw and tapped my earpiece to bring everyone into communication. "All teams, fan out. Find her. Report if you see anything." I looked down at Angela who was visibly upset. "We'll find her."

She managed a weak smile and took off to the north. I struck out due west to her last known position. If she'd encountered Asp on her own, it was certainly possible that he'd subdued her and carried her away somewhere. I vowed to find him and tear him apart if anything had happened to her.

Lightning cracked the sky, immediately followed by a crash of thunder so loud it made my heart skip a beat. I ran through the trees, my head sweeping back and forth in an attempt to use my senses to track them, even though it was pretty much futile in these conditions. The ice-cold rain pelted my skin like a hundred thousand needles, but even its frigidity didn't compare to the frozen pit that was now my stomach.

I traveled much farther than half a klick with no sign of her at all. The woods grew denser, tree branches whipped against my face opening cuts that bled only slightly before closing over again. I don't know how long I jogged through the forest, but every minute that passed was a minute too long. I came to a clearing in the woods, a tiny cabin sitting in the center of it looking for all the world like the witch's house in a fairy tale, its owner ready to take in unsuspecting children to make a meal of them. Painted white with pale blue gingerbread trim, a neat flowerbed under the single front window and a rose vine climbing up next to the door, it still managed to give off the distinct feeling of wrongness. I slid my claws out slowly and approached the oversized dollhouse with caution. The lone window was dark and I detected no movement inside, but that didn't mean there wasn't someone hiding in there.

I couldn't help but feel like it was my fault she was out here. Maybe if I'd never stabbed her that first night at the mansion and if Liberty Island had never happened, she wouldn't be. She'd almost died both times and only by using her power to absorb mine had she survived. Unfortunately, that also meant that she'd absorbed ME. I am what I am: a fighter, a survivor, a killer. But that didn't mean she had to follow in my footsteps, become what I am. I never asked her when she told me she wanted to be an X-Man what her reasons were, so now all I could do was wonder if any of it was because of the parts of me that still whispered in her head.

We'd talked about the things she'd gotten from me once, a couple days after Liberty Island, the day before I left to search for clues at Alkali Lake. She'd told me it was all right, that she was learning to separate what was her and what was everyone else. But I've never been sure if she ever got over what happened that first night at the mansion. God only knows I love the kid like she's my own flesh and blood, but there are times where she looks at me and the guilt that I see in her eyes is enough to break my heart. She doesn't say it, but I know.

And now I was slogging through the mud in another godforsaken forest in the middle of a thunderstorm, looking for one of the few people I care enough about to die for. I shuddered inwardly, thinking of the last time I'd had to search for someone in a storm like this, the time Angela had been struck by lightning and almost died. I hadn't known then that she'd have survived it even if it had killed her. All I'd seen was someone I was drawn to like no other in a heap at the base of a tree, not breathing. I prayed to anyone who would listen that there wouldn't be a repeat of that situation, because Rogue wouldn't survive it and I didn't know that I could survive losing her.

I prowled around to the back of the cabin, still trying to catch even the tiniest bit of scent in the rain-scoured air. Another flash of lightning illuminated the scene and I finally caught sight of something that was even more out of place than this gingerbread creation in the middle of the woods. I threw caution to the wind and ran to the figure lying on the forest floor, face turned to the sky. My claws retracted with a "snikt" and I threw myself on the ground next to her.

I knew immediately something was wrong. Her face was icy beneath my fingers and she didn't seem to be breathing. Worst of all was the fact that there wasn't a single mark on her and she didn't smell like she'd been hit by lightning. I knew what that smelled like; I'd been around it before. If my senses hadn't already been telling me the worst, I'd have thought she was asleep, she looked so peaceful. Cursing silently, I removed one of my gloves, pressed my naked hand to the side of her face and waited.

And waited. And waited some more. At least five times longer than it took for her mutation to pull me in at Liberty Island, I waited. The beast inside me was already screaming in rage, knowing what the man didn't want to admit. A low keening sound filled the clearing and it took me a moment to realize it was coming from me. I shook her a little, begging her to just do it, drain me dry, but just come back. We've been there before remember? You can do it, kid. Just don't let this be real.

I sat there clinging to her for what seemed like hours, trying to will my healing ability into her even though I already knew it was too late. Tears streamed down my face, mingling with the rain. I'd had so much taken away from me, so much I didn't know about my life before Alkali Lake. And now the first person that had been able to crack the walls around my heart was gone. What pained me the most was that I'd never told her how much she meant to me, that I loved her. Now I'd never get that chance.

I clenched my eyes shut, hoping that when I opened them again I'd see her smiling up at me. But instead, I was struck forcefully by a memory. It was crystal clear, the most vivid thing I'd remembered since that clearing in Pennsylvania when everything about Angela came flooding back to me. I don't know where I was, but there were people all around me and the clothing they wore was from before the turn of the century. I was fighting someone and as I brought a hand back to slash my opponent with my claws, I felt them impact with someone. When I turned to look, there was a girl impaled on the three ivory protrusions. Horrified, I drew them out and she fell to the ground. I picked her up gently, saying her name over and over again: Rose. This was Rose, a girl my father had hired to help take care of me when I was a boy. As fast as it had come, the memory retreated.

I threw my head back and the animal raged to the surface, screaming in pain with a grief so black I was a helpless passenger in my own body. I lowered Rogue back to the ground and stalked across the clearing, intent on finding someone I could blame for this. Angela had mentioned that Asp was around here somewhere, too. As soon I found him, I was going to rip him to shreds. He might be like me in a lot of ways, with the healing factor and all, but even I knew I couldn't survive having all my guts removed. There wouldn't be a piece of him big enough to fill a thimble when I was done with him. I felt the animal taking more control and I welcomed it. I didn't get very far when I heard a sound over the rain and I spun around to face it.

"Logan?" I heard a voice say but the animal didn't recognize it. A brief flicker of lightning illuminated the figure in front of me. A little over five feet tall, long brown curls streaked with bright orange that was now running in rivulets down her face. Clad in a black leather uniform with gray piping, I also noticed her boots were toeless. I took a couple steps forward and managed to control the animal long enough to make the connection.

"Angela?" I asked, but I couldn't make the claws go away.

"Logan, I know what's happened. I just found her myself. Look, we have to get back to the mansion. The jet's not too far away. Come on."

"No. I'm not goin' back there til I kill that bastard!"

"Logan, he didn't kill her! I don't what did but it wasn't him!"

"How do you know he didn't cause this, huh? Just cuz she ain't got a mark on her? No obvious wounds? He coulda done anythin' to her, poisoned her! But he's gonna pay for this!"

"Logan, we don't have time for this! We have to get her back to the mansion. We can…"

"I don't give a fuck!" I shouted, the animal raging close to the surface again. "I ain't goin' nowhere til that bastard's dead!"

"Logan, you can't do that. We…I'm sorry, but we saw a chopper take off a few minutes ago. Tigress is gone too, we didn't leave anyone there to watch her. We don't know where they went."

The rage flooded over me again and I lashed out with my claws at the trees around me, howling with my grief. Angela simply stood there, unflinching, as she watched my display of emotion. I didn't care what she had to say; I wasn't going back to that house. Every moment that passed left me more and more feral until there was precious little of the man left inside. Once the foliage around us had been decimated, I turned to her as my last target. I approached her slowly, stalking her like prey. But in my rage I had forgotten that she had all the same training I did and she was ready for me.

"Logan, I don't want to hurt you. But I will if I have to. Maybe you can hurt me more with your claws, but I won't go down without a fight. Now are you coming back home with me or not?" I don't know what she saw in my eyes, but she relaxed a fraction from her defensive pose. "Logan?"

"I'm Wolverine." I snarled and the man retreated completely.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Epilogue

(Angela)

The last thing I remember before waking up in the mansion was Logan's fist flashing out, his face contorted in a snarl. Lightning flared as the fist connected with my head and everything went black. I came to five hours later and the first thing I noticed was how cold I was. It wouldn't be until later that I realized it was because there was a hole deep in my soul, a hole that was there because Logan wasn't.

"She's awake." I heard a voice say and turned my head to see Josh standing there, Sam just behind him. "How are you feeling?"

"Where's Logan?" I asked, sitting up. Josh looked at Sam, who nodded. Josh backed up a little before turning to leave the room. Sam took my hand gently and looked down. I swallowed hard, starting to panic. "Sam, where's Logan?"

"Angela…we don't know." He whispered. "The Professor can't find him with Cerebro."

Tears fell unbidden down my face, splashing on the back of his hand. "What? How can that be?"

"What happened out there?" He asked gently. I wiped at my tears as I recounted the story. When I finished, he nodded and looked away again. "That's what Charles thought. Logan's mind…he thinks that Logan's memory is coming back, too fast for him to deal with it. He thinks Logan has gone completely feral."

"Oh gods!" I whispered, falling back on the table. My tears came faster and I shook all over, frozen to my core. "Sam, we have to get him back!"

"I know, Angela. But you need to rest. We have to wait a few days. The weather up there's taken quite a turn and it's snowing now."

"I don't fucking care! I'm not leaving him out there!"

"We won't! I swear to you, we'll find him if we have to walk the whole way there, ok?" I nodded weakly and he took me gently into his arms, stroking my back to give me whatever comfort he could. He held me until I'd cried myself out completely and I curled up on the table, exhausted. "Feel better?"

"No." I said with a sniffle. "But I'll be ok."

"Ok."

I sat up suddenly, feeling like the world's biggest heel. "Oh shit! How's Rogue?"

"That's the other bad news." My face fell and he gasped. "Oh no! Not that, she's not dead. Josh…that kid's amazing. I don't know how he did it, but he brought her back. She's alive, but she's in a coma."

"What? How?"

"Josh did it. As he was healing her, he said that it looked to him like she'd suffered an aneurysm in her brain. Said that it was probably so quick she didn't even know what happened. He also said that had we been any later, he might not have been able to bring her back."

"So, why isn't she waking up?"

"As far as we can tell, she's not waking up because she doesn't want to. At least, that's the best that Charles can come up with. He's tried to reach her, but he's had no luck so far."

I lowered my head and swallowed as more tears threatened to fall. "This is bad, Sam. I don't think anyone can reach her, except maybe Logan."

"Yeah, that's what I thought."

We sat there in silence for a long time, both of us lost in our own thoughts. About an hour later, we heard the doors open and Charles came in with Storm. "How are you my dear?" He asked as Sam moved aside, slipping his arm around Storm's waist.

"Terrible." I replied as he took my hand. "I have to find Logan."

"I know and I'm not going to try and stop you. But I insist you at least wait until the weather up there improves a little." I opened my mouth to protest but he held up a hand to stop me. "No, I don't mean waiting until spring, but at least until the storm up there has passed, which should be about three days. Until then, I want you to rest and decide who you'll take with you." I nodded and he patted my hand again before going over to where Rogue lay, taking position by her head and closing his eyes.

Sam helped me get back upstairs to the room I shared with Logan, leaving me alone. I stripped down and took a long, hot shower, trying desperately to warm the icy pit in the center of my being. I stayed in there until the water ran as cold as my soul, stepping out and drying off mechanically. Once back in the bedroom, I started to reach for my underwear and tank top, but stopped myself and went to the closet instead. I reached in and pulled out a red flannel shirt that Logan had last worn. I clutched it to my chest, inhaling deeply. I could still smell him on it, that combination of cigar smoke, male sweat and just a hint of feral musk that was all HIM. I slipped into it, wrapping it around my body before lying down on the bed. I pulled his pillow out and curled myself around it, my body shaking with silent sobs. I hadn't spent a night without him in so long that I didn't think I'd be able to sleep at all, but eventually I exhausted myself and fell into a fitful slumber.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

He's running through the forest, tracking his prey. He has the scent fixed in his memory, there's nowhere it can go where he can't find it. Snow covers the ground and falls in thick flakes from the sky, but he's not affected by the cold. He will never stop until his prey is brought down. He runs for hours until he's overcome by exhaustion and he has to find a place to rest for at least a little while.

He finds a cave and by the smell it has most recently been used a lair for another predator. But the scent is faint, this place has been empty for a long time. He crawls towards the back and curls up, resting his head on one of his arms. When sleep finally overcomes him, flashes of memory assault him and he flinches in his sleep at what he sees.

A man breaks into his home and he kills the intruder with the claws that suddenly erupt from his hands.

A beautiful woman with red hair, accidentally impaled on his claws, dies in his arms.

A pack of wolves accepts him as one of their own, the leader, the Alpha male.

Another woman with red hair, holding off massive flood waters with a single gesture.

Silken brown curls cascading over his chest, hazel eyes twinkling as she moves in rhythm with him, gasping with pleasure.

Meditating in the midst of a cherry orchard in full bloom, his sensei somewhere behind him.

A sudden eruption from a mountain causes him to accidentally slash an opponent, failing the test of honor.

There's more, much more and it comes so fast he can't process it even in his dreams. He whimpers as though he's in pain, his hands coming up to clutch at his hair. He pushes these visions aside as well as he can, letting the simpler part of his nature take over and he finally falls into a deeper sleep, his thoughts focused on one thing. The hunt.

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The End.

(For now)

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AN: Well, faithful readers, that's it...the end of this story...in my defense, this is where it wanted to end, so please don't spend the next 12 days or so angry with me for leaving you this way...i swear, there's another story being written right now, so this is definitely NOT the end of the saga...i don't know how much longer it will be, that's up to Angela and the rest...as soon as my muse stops talking to me about them, i'll stop writing about them...I hope you've enjoyed this part of the journey as much as i enjoyed writing about it...i leave for vacation tomorrow (aug. 7), i'll be back on the 18th or 19th and i'll upload the first bit of the next story as soon as i unpack...:) I can't thank all of you enough for sticking with me!