Disclaimer: X-Men and its characters don't belong to me, and I'm not making any profit from this fanfic.
- - -
I was standing at Jean's grave when I noticed it.
They had almost become a ritual, these trips to the little cemetery. They always started with a relentless need to get away from the mansion—not that that was anything new, but the urge had become a lot more frequent in the months after Alcatraz. I didn't know exactly what was causing it. Maybe it was that I could still pick up her scent in the mansion's rooms and hallways, lingering like a ghost from one of those dumb stories the older kids liked to tell at Halloween. Maybe it was the hooded, almost pitying glances that were constantly thrown in my direction, or the hushed voices that would abruptly cut off whenever I walked into a room. I didn't have to rely on my hyper-sensitive hearing to know they were whispering about the events at Alcatraz.
Or maybe it was the fact that Jean was buried next to Scott, their side-by-side gravestones a constant reminder that despite what I'd felt for her, she'd never been mine. And now she never would be.
So I would run, taking the bike and leaving the mansion for hours or days at a time. I never had a particular plan or destination in mind, never had a specified amount of time to stay away. It was relying on pure instinct in a way that I hadn't done since my years of roaming in Canada. But no matter how long I stayed away, I always seemed to end up coming back, always found myself standing at this same spot in front of her grave, staring at the plain gray stone.
I stood there, hands hanging by my sides, fingers clenching and unclenching, jaw set tightly. The wind stirred suddenly, blowing a few stray leaves in my direction and distracting me from my grim contemplations. The breeze was stiff and cool, signaling that colder weather would soon be upon us, which was perfectly fine with me. I'd never been a big fan of summer.
Not taking my eyes from the tombstone, I automatically tilted my head into the breeze and took a deep breath, picking out the individual scents on the wind. Dirt from Storm's garden, the musk of the groundhogs devouring the plants in Storm's garden, gasoline from the road nearby…and mixed in with all the rest, a familiar human scent. My eyes narrowed and I finally tore them away from Jean's gravestone.
It didn't take me long to find the source. Marie was sitting on a bench across the yard, more than a stone's throw away but close enough that I was surprised I hadn't smelled her already. Her knees were pulled up against her chest, her gloveless hands wrapped tightly around them. Whether she was trying to protect herself from the wind or from her own personal demons, I didn't know. She was alone, which made me raise an eyebrow in mild surprise. I'd figured she and Bobby would be inseparable now that they didn't have to worry about her skin anymore.
I hadn't seen much of Marie since Alcatraz. I'd passed by her in the hallways a few times, mumbled a quick "hey, kid" or "how you doing?" every now and then, but that was about it. Part of the reason for the lack of contact was, of course, the fact that I wasn't around much these days. But even when I was at the mansion, I mainly kept to myself. Didn't feel a whole lot like talking to anyone, especially since most conversations seemed to inevitably degenerate into "Are you all right, Logan?" or "How are you really doing, Logan?" or "Do you want to talk about it, Logan?" People didn't seem to get that I was re-hashing Alcatraz enough already, and no, I really didn't want to discuss it with every one of the mansion's wanna-be psychiatrists, thank you very much.
I guess I'd be lying, though, if I said I didn't feel just a little guilty that I hadn't had a real conversation with Marie in…well, a long time. After all, she was the entire reason I had ended up at the mansion in the first place. If it weren't for her crawling into my trailer that lifetime ago, I'd probably still be trekking around Canada in my beat-up camper, living from cage-fight to cage-fight. And she had made a pretty monumental decision a few months ago—taking the cure and all. The prick of guilt dug in a little deeper as I realized I really hadn't bothered to ask her how well she was coping with the aftereffects of that decision.
I looked over at her again, feeling torn and disliking it intensely. On one hand, there was that stab of guilt that nagged at me to go talk to her—reminding me that I hadn't been doing a bang-up job lately of keeping the promise I made her on the train. On the other hand was the instinctual drive to stick to my loner's ways, to prowl around the mansion's hallways and brood to myself.
Suddenly, I stiffened, staring hard at Marie. A low, involuntary growl sounded at the back of my throat. Something wasn't right. In that instant, the decision was made for me. I stalked out of the cemetery and strode relentlessly towards her bench.
She continued staring out over the lawn, looking both listless and contemplative at the same time. If she was aware of my approach (which I suspected she was—I'm not exactly inconspicuous, after all) she gave no sign.
I stopped next to the bench and crossed my arms over my chest, probably looking like some thunderous father who just discovered his teenage daughter got a scandalous tattoo behind his back. She finally looked up at me, her melancholy expression flickering a little before settling into a blank mask. My frown deepened. Since when had she started doing that around me, anyway?
"Logan?" she said after a minute, and it occurred to me that I hadn't actually spoken aloud yet.
"Marie," I returned. I didn't miss the almost imperceptible flare of…something (happiness?) in her eyes, presumably at the fact that I had called her by her given name instead of "Rogue" or "kid." The change in her expression lasted only a fraction of a second before she carefully put on the neutral look again. I felt a sudden surge of something between annoyance and anger, but tried to push it away. After all, I hadn't been the most approachable person in the world lately, either.
I stabbed a finger in the general direction of her head. "What did you do with them?"
The corner of her mouth twitched a little, but it wasn't a smile. She stared at me obstinately, an expression in her eyes that looked suspiciously like defiance. "Do with what, Logan?"
Another involuntary growl. She knew what I was talking about. I knew she knew it. Suddenly she was once again the mouthy teenager who sat in my truck and sassed me about my refusal to wear a seatbelt. The rush of annoyance came back, and this time I didn't try to suppress it.
In one swift motion, I stepped forward and seized a lock of her hair. The grasp wasn't hard enough to hurt, but she jumped anyway. She hadn't been expecting the sudden movement.
I twisted my hand slightly, loosening my grip, and let the hair slide through my fingers. It was brown. All of it was dark brown, her natural hair color. The white streaks were gone as if they'd never been.
Stepping back, I assumed my previous pose, crossing my arms again. "So, what did you do with them?"
She dropped the act, pressing her lips together and almost glaring at me. "I dyed them."
She shrugged one shoulder, as nonchalant as if we were discussing a change in the weather. "I felt like it was time to get rid of them." She looked directly at me and raised one eyebrow, as if to say, why do you care, anyway?
Why did I? I narrowed my eyes at her, considering the question. Girls' hair color was not normally at the top of my list of concerns. But this was Marie, first of all, and second, she'd gained those white streaks—or been afflicted with them, depending on your viewpoint—because of an event that wouldn't soon be forgotten by either of us.
I growled a third time and began to pace. It was ironic, considering the fits my memory had given me over the past decade and a half, that I could remember with perfect clarity the moment I first ran my fingers through those white streaks. Normally, at that point in my life, I hadn't allowed myself to feel much emotion aside from varying degrees of anger. But I admit, I ran the emotional gamut that night on top of the Statue of Liberty. Rage at Magneto for his self-righteous arrogance, for abducting Marie only minutes after I'd promised to protect her, for using her like a cheap object to be thrown away and forgotten after outliving its worth. Fear, as sharp and stabbing as my claws, when I saw her unmoving, not breathing, still strapped into Magneto's machine. Grief, maybe absurdly strong considering I'd only known her for a few days, when I tried to heal her and got no response. And overpowering relief when her mutation finally kicked in and she came back from wherever it was she'd been balancing on the brink.
The white streaks in her hair had been the only physical, ever-present reminder of that night. Considering that Magneto's little experiment had nearly cost both her life and mine, I was not overly fond of the streaks at first. They jarred me in a way that almost made me want to pop the claws, reminding me of hatred and terror and death. Back then, I probably would have been glad if she'd decided to get rid of them.
But she liked them. I'd never really asked her about it, but I figured on some level, they must have represented security. Maybe they'd reminded her of how we rescued her. And I didn't know how or when it happened—or eventhat it had happened—but somewhere along the line, I must've gotten used to them and accepted them as a part of her that wasn't going to go away.
Except that now, they had gone away, and it was bothering me a lot more than it should have.
I finally stopped pacing and leveled my stare at her again. "I thought you said you liked them."
She was watching me calmly. "I did like them."
"So what changed?"
Her eyes hardened a little, briefly, before that aggravating blank stare reappeared. There was a long pause before she spoke again. "You did."
I blinked once before I could stop myself. I stared at her, narrowing my eyes to slits. "Excuse me?"
She looked at me a moment longer, then shook her head and turned to stare sightlessly over the lawn again. "Nothing. Never mind."
My lips pulled back from my teeth in a silent snarl. This entire conversation felt wrong, out of place. At times in the past when Marie and I talked, she was the one who chattered on and tried to pry information out of me. The sudden reversal of roles raised red flags in the back of my mind.
I took a few steps closer to the bench. "Nice try, kid. What's really going on?"
Her jaw clenched, and I would have heard her teeth grinding even if I hadn't had super sensitive hearing. Finally, she blew out a long breath and looked up at me.
"Maybe it was really stupid," she began, gnawing on her lower lip, "but when I looked in the mirror and saw those white streaks, I didn't think of Magneto, or his machine, or his messed-up plan to mutate all the world leaders. I thought of waking up on top of the Statue of Liberty and seeing you, and being overwhelmed with all of your memories that I had just absorbed, but most of all just feeling amazed that despite everything that had happened, you were actually willing to go that far to keep your promise to me."
She paused and looked away, hesitating, still working her bottom lip with her teeth. Some detached part of my brain fleetingly wondered if she was attempting to draw blood.
"But, you know," she continued, "after the mansion was attacked and everything went crazy and I gave you your dog tags back, it was like…I don't know, you decided I didn't need you any more. Or you just stopped caring. It's not like there's one particular moment I can point to where I realized it, it's just a lot of little things adding up. Like when the jet was shot down and I was sucked out and nearly died. You barely took the time to find out if I was okay. You were too busy—" She broke off abruptly, but she didn't need to finish the sentence. I hadn't missed the quick look she shot through her eyelashes at Jean's gravestone.
"Anyway," she went on after a moment, her voice quieter and calmer, "I just feel like the more time passes, the less I see of you. So I figure you've moved on from your promise. And I guess it was silly and unrealistic of me to expect it to last for more than a few months anyway. So I decided it was time for me to move on, too."
I let the sudden silence hang between us as I absorbed her words. Some part of me, maybe the more feral part that wanted to be back in Canada beating the crap out of hapless bar thugs, was laughing at the absurdity of it all. The mighty Wolverine, faced with the task of explaining himself to a teenage girl. Another part was quietly seething, giving in to anger at the idea that this slip of a girl thought she had the right to dictate where I went, what I did, what promises I kept.
And still another part, a part I'd barely even been aware of before I'd met Marie, was battling a surge of guilt and the nagging feeling that she was right.
By this time, the silence had stretched to the point of awkwardness. I finally spoke.
"Is that what you want?"
She blinked at me, her mask slipping a little. She suddenly looked tired, deflated, and I realized she'd been lost in thoughts of her own. "What?"
"Is that what you want?" I repeated. "To move on? To pretend that the train station and Liberty Island never happened?"
Anger flashed in her eyes suddenly, and she shot me a flat glare that looked out of place in her normally even-tempered eyes. I grimly thought that she probably got the expression from me.
"No," she snapped, spitting the word like venom. Then she paused, drew a deep breath, and the anger disappeared as quickly as it had come. "No, it's not what I want," she repeated, looking and sounding far too weary for a kid her age.
I looked past her into the distance, where the sun was starting to set, coloring the sky blood-red. "Me neither."
She straightened a little and looked at me, unmoving, a strange mixture of hope and cynicism on her face.
I huffed out a short sigh of frustration and unconsciously rubbed my knuckles, almost wishing Sabretooth or Mystique would fall from the sky and provide a convenient distraction. This heart-to-heart stuff was for the sensitive geeks like Scooter or Bobby.
"Look—Marie," I began, catching the "kid" just before it slipped out. Something told me the old pet name was not what she wanted to hear right now. "I don't make promises very often. I'm not that kind of guy; you of all people know that. So when I do make a promise, it's probably about something important. Something I'm not going to forget about after a few months."
She immediately opened her mouth, probably to protest or throw back some acidic "could've fooled me" comment, but I held up a finger, stalling the outburst.
"Over the past few years," I continued, "I guess you could say I've gotten kind of attached to this place. Developed respect for Chuck and what he was doing here, what he was trying to accomplish. I know all that stuff is important. But in the end, all that aside, there were only two main reasons why I always ended up coming back here whenever I left." I paused. "You and Jean."
Any normal person observing us would have said that Marie was sitting as still as if she were carved from stone, a complete lack of emotion on her face. I knew better. My senses picked up on her breathing, her heartbeat, both slightly quicker than normal. Her hands, clasped in her lap, were clenched together tightly enough that the knuckles were slowly turning white, but even that couldn't completely disguise the nearly imperceptible trembling.
"You're right," I went on after a moment, dropping my gaze from hers and examining my knuckles out of habit. Even to my own ears, my voice sounded more gruff than usual. "I haven't been doing the best job lately of keeping my promise to you. And I'm sorry."
I glanced at her face. She accepted my apology with a tentative smile and a nod, but at the same time there was a guarded look in her eyes. "There's a 'but' coming, isn't there?" she stated rather than asked.
I let out a sigh, my eyes involuntarily drifting to Jean's gravestone.
"Did you love her?" Marie asked quietly after a moment, her tone sounding almost resigned.
I didn't answer right away, letting the question echo in my mind. Marie sat patiently, awaiting my response, although from her scent and her body language I could tell she thought she already knew the answer.
"I don't know, kid," I said finally. "Been asking myself that question a lot lately."
I half-expected her to probe for more information, but aside from a raise of her eyebrows, she didn't respond. For some reason, I kept talking anyway.
"Some days I think, yeah, I definitely loved her. But then there are other times when I realize I didn't even know her that well. Between me hunting for my past at Alkali Lake, and her being at the bottom of the lake for all those months, we never really spent that much time together. I was attracted to her, no question about that. And part of it was the challenge, the thrill of the chase—she was a beautiful woman with an irritating twerp for a boyfriend, and the more she insisted she loved Scott, the more I wanted her for myself."
I paused for a moment, feeling a vague sense of incredulity at how much information I was voluntarily spilling. Not that that was particularly new. Again I thought back to the first few minutes after I had met Marie, when she sat in my truck and asked, with all the innocent curiosity of the kid she'd once been, whether my claws hurt me when they came out. Instead of grunting unintelligibly or ignoring the question altogether, I'd told her the truth.
Some things, apparently, never changed.
Marie was looking past me at the cemetery, her eyes picking out Jean's tombstone. "But you cared about her a lot."
This time I didn't hesitate. "Yeah."
Avoiding my eyes, she looked down at where her hands were twisted in her lap, studying them like they were a particularly difficult homework assignment. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
I frowned. "For what?"
She continued to avoid eye contact. "I guess I came across as pretty selfish. Especially considering what happened at Alcatraz. I know Jean was important to you, and I can't blame you for needing time away from everything."
I grunted. "Don't beat yourself up over it, Marie. Are we both done apologizing now?"
That got a smile out of her, and she finally looked up at me. "Yeah, I think so."
"Good." I watched her for a moment, feeling an unfamiliar but welcome sense of relief. On an impulse, I reached over and brushed my fingers through her brown hair again, more gently this time. "When did you get it dyed?"
She watched my hand out of the corner of her eye. "A few days ago."
I raised one eyebrow at her. "Is it permanent?"
A slow smile spread across her face. She understood what I was saying. "No, it's not."
"Good to know." I grinned and removed my fingers from her hair. By now the sun had set, and it was getting darker by the second. Through the mansion's windows, I could see lights starting to go on. "C'mon, let's go inside."
She climbed off the bench and we walked towards the mansion, passing the cemetery on the way. I glanced over Marie's head, looking at Jean's gravestone once more, just for a moment. I missed her still, and I knew the feeling wouldn't go away overnight. But at the same time, I suspected I wouldn't be spending quite as much time in front of her grave from now on.
I had a promise to keep, after all.