"That's how it all started, if you have ta think of it like a story: the smell."

Sequel to 'Tender', because I just couldn't leave it alone. Wolverine/Rogue.

Disclaimer: Not mine. Sigh.

Series: Tender, Sensitive, White Wedding

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So, okay, I have sensitive hearing. And a phenomenal sense of smell. It's not like it's my fault or anything. I didn't ask to be able to hear a pin drop at 500 yards, for fuck's sake, or to be able to track a kid through a sandstorm just by a scent. Everyone's been giving me this look like I'm some kinda bastard, but really, it's not my fault. I just can't stick around all the time, when it's like this. I gotta get out, get away from the cooped-up, noise-enhancing indoors, and out into the open air for a while. I always come back, usually after only a few hours, give a guy some credit. I just need a break sometimes. Anyone would. Anyone.

Even Marie. Sometimes even she wants a break. She doesn't get given the oh-how-could-you-be-going-out-at-a-time-like-this looks. She gets sympathy. It ain't fair, just 'cause I'm a guy, and I'm me, and therefore I'm some kinda cruel, insensitive... Okay, okay, I know, take a chill pill. It just gets to me sometimes.

And just 'cause I went to a freakin' bar the other day, they've been givin' me the extra hard I-know-I-couldn't-kick-your-ass-but-I'd-sure-as-hell-like-to-try looks. I wasn't plannin' to go, but Marie ordered me - what the hell else was I supposed to do? She said she couldn't stand me around for one more second, and if I didn't go out and get a goddamned drink or several, she wouldn't be responsible for her actions. Her words. So I went out - wouldn't you? The next night, they dragged her out - Jubes, Kitty, Jeannie, and 'Ro - and gave me these looks, like I was some kinda thing they'd found under a rock. Geez.

I don't think she even wanted to go. Well, okay, she was pretty happy when she got back, so I guess it did her some good, but she hadn't been complaining in the first place. Before you even think it, no, she hadn't been hidin' it, either. I'm not dumb. Yes, I'm a guy, and yes, I'm not a pansy, ass-whipped, New Man kinda idiot like Scooter, but I. Ain't. Dumb. I can see when my woman is tryin' ta hide somethin' from me that's buggin' her. Marie - she's learned never to try that sorta shit with me, not after I got through to her just how offended I was gonna be if she did. I guess the others ain't got that sorta relationship in their lives, though, 'cause they all seem to think she's bein' noble or somethin'. I try to tell 'em: look, she's happy, and I'm makin' sure of that - it's my fuckin' occupation at the moment. But it hasn't penetrated certain thick skulls as yet.

But anyways, like I said, somedays I can't stand the noise, and especially the smell. Those things reek, believe me. That's how it all started, if you have ta think of it like a story: the smell. There was this appallin' smell, creepin' into the mansion one morning. I caught it when I was goin' down to breakfast. No one else seemed to have noticed it, but they're not as sensitive as me - when it comes to smellin' stuff, I mean. Just a brief whiff, so I thought nothin' of it - lots of things smell bad, you know, when you've got good senses. Went past the front door again later on my way outta the dinin' hall, and it was still there. Marie ran into me there, and she said I looked puzzled, so then I decided to check it out. Told Marie to stay in the house, but that woman's never listened to reason. It was worse outside, comin' from the direction of the gates. Went down there, tryin' to persuade Marie to go back all the way, but no such luck, and when we got there I was glad for once that I hadn't succeeded. The smell was chronic, even Marie could detect it just about by then. It was comin' real nice and strong from a basket in the bushes by the gate. I ain't never been precognitive, but just then I got an awful feeling... Marie opened up the blankets, and I tried not to guess.

"Is it a stink bomb?" I asked, more hopefully than expectantly. Marie shook her head, shock on her face. Then she reached in and pulled it out. A wrigglin', smelly, whingein' little critter. A baby. Hallelujah. My morning was complete.

"I think it needs changin'," said Marie, statin' the obvious.

"Put it back, maybe someone left it by mistake," I said. I think maybe I was panickin'. Marie chose to ignore my advice, which was probably a good thing in retrospect.

"I'm scared it might touch me - could you carry it?" She held the thing out, and it looked at me resentfully.

"You'll be okay," I said, tryin' not to sound like a sissy.

"Come on, Logan, it's just a baby. It's adorable. It won't hurt you."

Against my better judgement, and in the full knowledge that I'd have to burn this shirt, I took the kid. Marie smiled wistfully at us, and I could see she was thinkin' about the kids she'd never be able to have.

I looked down at the kid. The kid gazed up at me, all pink face, wide eyes and tears. And it chucked up.

Yeah. Fuckin' adorable.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Jeannie gave the kid the once-over in the med lab, but there was nothin' the matter with it - or her, as it turned out. There was still some baby stuff around that Nathan had grown out of, some jumpsuit sorta things, so they dressed her in it, even managed to find some diapers, thank god. I thought she smelled bad outside, but inside it was enough to make my eyes water. I was kinda irritated when Jeannie said she'd carry her to Chuck's office. I found her. They needn't have looked so surprised when I said I'd carry her. I mean, I'd wiped the worst off me, but I knew the shirt was a goner, so I might as well. Aside from the first bit, she hadn't wriggled too much, and she was a whole better ball game now she'd been changed. Still, Jeannie handed her over, and when we got to Chuck's office I sat her on my lap, just 'cause it made Scooter look even more constipated than usual. Jiggled her up and down like I'd seen people do, and that seemed to throw 'em all nicely. Kid gurgled a bit, seemed content enough. I began to think this baby lookin'-after thing wasn't too difficult.

Well, I didn't know, did I?

Marie read out the note that we'd found in the basket:

"This is Amiko. Please take care of her. I think she is a mutant. I can't keep her. Don't try and contact me." Brief and to the point, I guess - if a little short on hard facts. No obvious mutation about her, so I guessed one of the parents musta been a mutant or something.

Chuck smiled at Amiko, and she burped in his general direction. "Well?" he asked. That's the thing about Chuck. He knows to listen to everyone before he says what he's decided. He's pretty canny, even though I never say it out loud.

"I think we should try to find out who the mother is," said Scooter. "We need to find out if she's okay. We can try to do it without contacting her. The fact that she's left her child here implies that she may well be in some trouble herself."

Jeannie disagreed, saying that since the kid looked to be at least a coupla months old, and in good health, then surely the mother couldn't be in that bad a situation. Chuck said we should look anyway, but I think he was pretty sure we wouldn't find her. I mean, it's not as if we coulda contacted the authorities or anything - they hadn't passed that damn Mutant Registration Act yet, but it was gettin' more and more support. It wouldn't be safe to put the poor little thing into care.

Then they got onto talkin' about who was gonna look after her. "It might be best if Jeannie and I took care of her," Scooter said. He really seemed to be tryin' to piss me off. I'd seen the looks Marie'd been throwin' in the kid's direction, and I'd had an idea that I sorta thought I might regret. But Marie was agreein' along with the others, with her big, sad eyes, and I knew I had ta do somethin'.

"Why?"

"What?" Scooter didn't catch on, so I explained further:

"Why would it be best if you and Jeannie looked after her?"

Scooter looked flummoxed. "Well, because we have experience-"

"So? What happens if you don't find the mom? You gonna keep her?"

"Well-" he looked at Jeannie for support, but I think Jeannie had got an idea of what I was drivin' at, and she wasn't sayin' anything. "No. I suppose not. But who else is going to look after her?"

"We could. Marie an' me." I looked at Marie, and she was just starin' at me. I was suddenly worried that I'd read her wrong. "You want to, dontcha?"

"Oh, yes," she said, and I breathed a sigh of relief - inwardly, of course. "But I can't - Logan, my skin..."

"So you'd have ta be careful. Big deal. You were careful around Nathan. You're careful around me, and we get pretty close sometimes." She blushed at that, which was kinda what I intended. She wanted to, which was answer enough for me. We could work out the technical stuff later, but I knew she'd be extra-careful around a kid, and she never had any problems with Nathan. Scott and Jeannie - well, they had Nathan, and they weren't really expectin' to look after another kid any time soon, so they wouldn't be missin' out or anythin'. If they were honest, they'd probably admit that havin' two rugrats around wouldn't be easy on 'em. There wasn't anyone else who'd be an obvious better choice. If it came to givin' her back - well, we'd cross that bridge if we came to it. Chuck had the deciding vote, so I asked him. "Well?"

He stared at me for a good long while, but I don't think he was readin' me. I can sorta feel it when he does that. It was more of a thinkin'-about-it stare. Chuck don't rush inta things; unlike me, I guess. I jiggled the kid some more, just for effect. That seemed to do the trick. Chuck grinned. I'd almost swear he was laughin' at me. "Are you sure about this, Logan?"

Sure? Why the heck did he think I was askin'? "Yeah."

"Well, I don't see a problem. Jean? Scott?" 'Ro was away at a conference, and Hank was busy doin' something or other in the lab that was uninterruptible, so it was just us to make the decisions.

"I think it's a good idea," said Jean, firmly, and she didn't look at Scooter, but he got the message just the same, 'cause he gave his half-hearted okay.

"I don't know..." Marie was the one we were gonna have to talk around. I was really surprised when Scooter spoke up first.

"Don't worry about your skin, Marie. You'll just have to be careful. We never worried about leaving Nathan with you; you'd make a great mother." He glanced at me. "It's just him I'm worried about." Y'know, I couldn't growl at him, 'cause Marie's face lit up at that. She's always respected his opinions, god alone knows why. I've tried my best to change that, but for once it was useful.

"Thank you, Scott," she said, and I think she was about to cry. Well, that wasn't gonna help, so I stood up and held out the kid.

"Wanna hold her?"

She was still extra careful when she took Amiko, but she settled the kid on her knee with arms facin' out, so she wasn't likely to try and catch her face or anythin', which was the only bit of her skin exposed. The kid made a noise like "Wug-gah-frrp," and just beamed at everyone. I hope I wasn't grinnin' as goofily as I felt, but from their faces I think I was. Well, whaddya know? Instant family.

Hooooooo boy.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I heard somewhere that a baby's cry is actually louder than a street drill, if you're talkin' decibels. It wouldn't surprise me in the least. After a while you get used to the smell, but the noise - it just never gets better.

You think that's the end of the story? That's just half of it, bub. The real shock was what happened next.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------