I honestly can't believe it. Seriously, what happened? I thought I'd pop on over just to see what was going on and I find not only some amazingly hopeful and faithful fans, but enough reviews to make my eyes pop. 700 reviews is . . . Wow. Really, I'm kind of speechless at the very idea. I never thought it would go this far. Like, amazingly good fics or shipper fics from much larger fandoms get this many reviews, not non-romance things in the X-verse.
And I really wasn't planning on posting today...or at least for a good while longer. I'm up to my neck in real life: teaching, applying for grad school, helping run a writer's club for my school and participating in a writer's group myself for my original fiction (which makes this story seem simple, straight-forward, and short) . . . But I feel obligated by the recent pleas to first apologize to you fantastic people for my terrible posting schedule, to assure you that I have not completely abandoned this, and to thank you for pushing me to get this next chapter up. Specifically: Silverthorne, my most faithful encourager; LOKI'D, my new and most excellent persistent reviewer; happy, with your periodical pleas for more; Wolverinerules88 for pushing me out the door again; raininthedark, another new reader who dared try this fic out even knowing it was unfinished; Sky Howlett, another new reader whose many reviews helped me push through the stupid action scene in this chapter; and so many other new and old reviewers that have visited this story the last many months. Sorry for not taking the time to respond to each of you, but know that I read and loved each of your reviews.
I'll even make a promise to get the next chap up within the next couple weeks. How's that sound?
I feel a bit anxious putting up a chap after so long, and am (as usual) rather dissatisfied with the fight scene (stupid fight scenes...), but hopefully it won't disappoint.
You're all the best!
Chapter 62: Reverberations
It was late when they got back. Wolverine started awake as Rogue settled the Blackbird into landing. He blinked, quickly taking in where he was, then straightened stiffly in his seat, dried blood stretching across his skin.
"I've got her," Kitty said, lifting Kylee away from him. Logan didn't protest, but stood up slowly, a hand discretely against the wall of the plane. He wondered if anyone would notice if he crashed in Jeannie's office. It wasn't as far away as his room—just down the hall from the hangar, in fact.
Probably not a good idea, though. He had enough nightmares as it was.
He sent the others to bed, insisting he was fine: there was no need for them to see him struggle to make his way down the hall. He used the excuse that he needed to check the Blackbird's systems, but once he made it to the pilot seat he just sat there, staring out the window to the hangar beyond unseeingly, his head throbbing, his body trembling occasionally against his will: his muscles were still crawling their way back into shape after being stretched to pieces.
God, he hoped Magneto'd put his metal back where it was supposed to be. He felt the sudden urge to run his hands over his skull, his cheekbones, his arms, to check for ripples and bends that shouldn't be there. His bones ached, still healing. What was to say if he'd broken something that couldn't be fixed? Would his healing factor keep pushing at it, a constant burning pain of healing that wouldn't ever end?
Like he didn't have enough to worry about.
He grimaced, swallowing against nausea at the memory. Turns out getting your insides squashed like meat in a tin can made you feel queasy. Who knew?
Finally figuring he was awake enough to make it down the ramp without falling on his face, Logan stood, leaning heavily against the side of the plane as he made his way down.
He was surprised—and more than a little disgruntled—to see Alex waiting for him at the foot of the ramp.
"I came to see if you needed any help."
"Got the plane shut down. Gonna need some work done on her, but it'll do 'til mornin'."
Alex nodded, waiting as he came down the ramp. He watched him until he reached the ground.
"Okay, I'll be straight with you. Kitty wouldn't go to bed until she knew someone was coming down to check on you."
Logan swore. Kids. "Look, I know you don't know me that well, but trust me on this. I'll be fine."
"I believe it. Still—I think Rogue might break my legs if I let you fall down the stairs."
Logan chuckled. "Be interestin' to see her try. You pack a punch, Summers."
He limped forward on his own. Alex fell in next to him.
Logan glanced at him briefly. "You know, you should be restin', yerself."
"Beast already wrapped up my ribs. You've been down here a while."
He must have lost track of time. "Busted ribs are a bitch," Logan commiserated, fishing out a cigar to take an excuse to lean against a railing for a moment's rest. He'd rather fall than have Summers catch him on the way down, but the best alternative would be to just stay on his feet. Alex waited, not pushing him. He seemed distracted, staring back at the plane behind them as Logan stuck his cigar in his mouth and took a moment to light it. He breathed in slowly, the scent blocking out the stink of his own blood in his mouth and nose.
When they started forward again, Alex was silent until they made it into the elevator. He spoke hesitantly. "I—I thought you didn't feel pain. Not like that, at least. I thought your healing factor made it better—blocked it somehow, or something—but it doesn't work that way." He swallowed. "Feeling that . . . I felt like I was losing my mind." He gave a weak laugh. Logan's expression didn't move an inch, and he swallowed again. "I can't imagine how you do it."
"Not much of a choice," Wolverine replied with another puff of his cigar, leaning heavily against the handrail on the side of the lift. "Pain's one'a the things in life everyone's gotta face. Runnin' won't help. An' it won't stop 'til yer dead. Me? Figure it won't ever stop."
"Then why—?" He didn't know how to continue, but Logan looked at him levelly and answered anyway.
"It ain't like I live my life t'not need to heal, kid, and it ain't like I'm ever gonna die," he said, with a crooked grin around his cigar, but it didn't touch his eyes.
Alex fell silent, wondering how he felt like that was one of the bleakest statements he'd ever heard.
He looked over at the diminutive man—he barely came up to his shoulders, though Logan's shoulders were broader his. His hair was matted and his skin pale beneath blood, but his jaw was clenched, and tired as he looked, his eyes were alert.
"Why do you do it?" Logan looked up at him. "Why have you stuck around so long? Scott told me about you, and you don't seem like the kind of man to be running a school. So why are you still here?"
Logan eyes were unnerving. Like being stared at by a big cat. Alex had run into a lion pride more than once in his time in Africa, and a particularly scarred alpha male had looked at him with the same intensity.
He sucked deep on his cigar, and Alex resisted commenting on the smoke in the small space, though he couldn't help but cough as he waved it away from his face.
"Hell if I know."
Not an answer. But Alex hadn't really expected one.
"Listen, Logan. I . . . I know we got off on the wrong foot, so I understand if you say no, but—I'd be honored if you would allow me and Lorna to join the team."
Logan considered him out of a blood-red eye. "You teach English?"
"Lorna has a minor in English. I'm certified to teach geography, though I may need to renew my license—"
Logan raised a hand, cutting him off. "Good 'nuff, Summers. You got guts—didn't give up back there—and that's half the battle." They shook hands. "Welcome to the X-Men, Havok." Wolverine let out another puff of smoke, recalling a memory of ghosts and first-meetings. It didn't seem so long ago that the whole code-name thing seemed ludicrous. Rogue had laughed at him when he'd made fun of it—but "Wolverine" was different. It'd been the first name he'd known.
"I'm not my brother, Logan. My name's Alex."
Logan pulled out his lighter and lit up his cigar. Alex didn't even raise an eyebrow.
"I know you didn't like him."
"Like?" Logan snorted softly. "Cyke was a boy scout and idealistic, bub, but that don't mean I didn't respect the man. Just easy as hell to piss him off."
Alex chuckled. "I hear you. He expected a lot out of everyone—too much, sometimes."
"Little brother talkin' there?"
Alex's expression was wry. "How could you tell?"
Logan scratched his sideburn, looking at him sideways. "I'm gonna go wash up and then head to grab a beer. You up for it?"
Alex stared at him. "Are you serious?"
"Ain't sleepin' again—not for a couple a' hours, at least," Logan said. Now that he was awake and up on his feet the pain was back in full force—might as well be drinking while he was waiting for it to settle enough to knock him out again. "You comin'?"
Alex chuckled, a hand braced over his bruised ribs. "You're buying the first round."
Wolverine knew his way in the woods, moving silently yet quickly. But this girl flowed, barely seeming to touch the forest floor with her toes as she slipped through the trees, a white shadow with her long pale hair unrestrained behind her, but the branches didn't catch at it. She seemed to ride the wind, flit through the shadows, and the forest itself seemed to part before her.
It was a ridiculous notion, but Wolverine knew the wilderness, and if he belonged in the woods she was somehow more than that. A part of the land itself.
They weaved around trees, almost neck-and-neck as they pressed through the forest. But the girl didn't glance at the ground, or at the occasional fleck of blood or catch of white fur in the brambles. She seemed to look forward and upwards—eyes fixed on something he couldn't see.
Wolverine jumped down a short decline, pebbles scattering around him as he landed, and Anne stepped after him—actually taking two flowing steps through the air downward before continuing to run. Wolverine blinked, but he was sure it hadn't been a trick of his eyes.
"You a . . . mutant too?" He lowered his voice as he asked it, though he didn't know why; there was no one to hear. Not here.
"No," she said. "My powers come from . . . other sources." She left it at that.
Whatever that was supposed to mean. Her scent seemed to shift as she moved, changeable as the seasons. She smelled like the colors of aurora borealis made physical: vibrant light mixed with the white wind off glaciers. It wasn't completely animal, let alone human.
Her old man thought he could do some kinda magic thing, but was this supposed to be related? Not that he cared—that wasn't his business. Keeping her alive was.
"You can fly?" Dunno if you could count a little bit of walking on air as flying, but the girl didn't deny it. "Can ya handle yourself in a fight, kid?"
She frowned at him sharply. A fallen tree blocked her path, and she caught at it with her hands and leapt over it with a grace rivaling a pale wolf, not even slowing. Had he seen her eyes flash gold for a moment? No—he blinked, and he was sure. Her eyes were black—solid black, with a ring of otherworldly blue marking her irises. It hadn't been like that a minute ago, he was sure.
"I can take care of myself."
"How you trackin' it?"
"Postcognition. I can sense things up to six hours in the past of where I am, or of objects. And people." She glanced at him, her otherworldly gaze expressionless and somehow hooded, and Wolverine wondered what she saw when she looked at him.
He shifted under her gaze, popping his claws to cut through some brush to hide his discomfort as he ran. But if her eyes had been sharp before, he felt like he had a razor at his back now. He retracted his claws and the feeling lessened. He frowned at her out of the corner of his eye, sniffing the air.
"Gettin' close," he said.
"It passed here five minutes ago."
Wolverine pulled the radio from his belt, slowing to a walking pace. "We've got 'im. South of the station down a canyon to the east, some three kilometers."
"On our way."
Wolverine put the radio back on his belt and popped his claws. "Stay here," he said, stalking forward.
The girl ignored him—though had he really expected anything else? He moved forward, slower, but still at a good clip. Each step he noted his surroundings, figuring where he could hide the girl when the Wendigo burst from the trees.
He stopped suddenly, arms held loose and ready at his side, and Narya fell in behind him, looking confused.
"Where did it—?" Narya began.
Wolverine whipped around, claws already bared as the Wendigo stomped down. Narya dodged out of the way—taking into the air and hovering above their heads—but the Wendigo's whole mass wumphed downonto Wolverine's chest. His lungs deflated, but his ribcage held strong, unbreaking.
Wolverine stabbed into the beast's foot, and the Wendigo staggered back, surprised that he was still alive: he should have smashed him flat. Wolverine rolled to his feet and out of the crater the impact had made. He gasped a breath—bruised, but otherwise unhurt. He couldn't say so much for the radio, though.
"Go get your old man! I'll hold him here!"
"Why should I go?" Narya demanded, defensive.
"'Cause you can fly," Wolverine said through clenched teeth.
Anne frowned at him, but didn't argue before she disappeared into the sky.
The Wendigo staggered back on his partially-severed foot, and Wolverine followed him, head low as he bared his teeth, pushing the creature back against the face of a jutting cliff side. Backing a predator into a corner was rarely a good idea—Wolverine knew that personally—but he'd seen the Wendigo haul before, and he didn't look forward to having to track him down again if he ran.
The Wendigo roared, and Wolverine roared back, his lips pulling back from his teeth in a feral snarl. He met it eye-for-eye, both raging. Wolverine's fingers carved like claws themselves, and he didn't hold himself back any longer. A wave of rage washed over him, and he leaped in, just as the Wendigo made his move.
Logan didn't bother dodging the first strike—he dove right into it, digging both claws deep into the Wendigo's downward-swinging arm and ripping down even as he felt razor claws catch against his ribs. His own claws caught on bone, and the Wendigo howled, staggering back and diving in with his teeth. Logan jerked one of his arms free, raising it just fast enough to have the monster bite down on his forearm instead of his head.
His own blood spattered his face as he felt the odd reverberation of razor teeth grating against metal bones—teeth trying to cut right clean through his arm, and Wolverine had no doubt he'd be one limb short if he'd been close to normal. The beast wrenched him up, jerking his claws out of its arm. Wolverine whipped his now-arm around, aiming for the eyes, but the Wendigo dropped him—metal claws glanced down the side of the white-furred face.
Wolverine landed in a crouch, ignoring the blood that streamed down his forearm before the wounds sealed up. He lunged for the Wendigo's lamed leg, using the weakness to his advantage. But the beast saw what he was doing—Wolverine's claws raked deep, but the Wendigo's response was too fast to avoid.
A clawed paw bowled Wolverine head over heels, and he rolled, teeth rattling until he came to a stop in the brush—head reeling from the jolt. The Wendigo barreled towards him, rearing up. Wolverine raised his arms in front of him, baring his teeth. His gut clenched in not-distant-memory of how it felt to get disemboweled.
A red and white blur flashed from the sky, slamming into the Wendigo's muzzle and sending it sprawling. Narya followed, gliding down onto the ground with Twoyoungman in her arms. Wolverine blinked up at Mac, who hovered a few feet above him, garbed in his Guardian suit.
Mac landed, reaching out a hand to help him up. "You okay?"
Wolverine grunted affirmative, ignoring the offered help. He pulled his claws in as he scrambled to his feet, briars and twigs clinging to him. He managed not to fall back over, though the world was still keeling slightly. He had a job to do. "Get the kid back."
"I think she'll be just fine," Mac said.
Wolverine looked up as the Wendigo charged again. Narya had put down her father, and now stood like a delicate sapling before an avalanche. Her face was cool, her eyes dark and fearless, and mid-step, she changed.
Her small form was swallowed up under a sudden bulk of fur and muscle—larger than any natural bear, white as fresh-fallen snow. The white bear met the Wendigo mid-swing, stopping its slashing claws and ripping into it teeth first.
Logan stared. Well, hell.
"Come on," Mac said, lifting off the ground again. "It looks like Narya can use our help."
"Got it," Wolverine said, popping his claws again as the shaman started chanting behind them, one hand reaching into his satchel.
Logan ran forward, Mac flying just over his head.
The Wendigo lifted the massive bear, tossing Narya aside and tearing a tree from the ground. Wolverine dropped flat to the dirt as it swung the thick trunk around, the wind of its passing whipping his hair as it passed over him, but Mac lifted up a hand. Energy blasted from his palm, shattering the trunk into a thousand pieces. Mac flew right through the sudden explosion of wood, dropping down on the Wendigo feet-first and driving it to its knees.
Wolverine climbed to his feet again, and an arm behind him helped him up. He jerked back, claws raising, but it was just the shaman. The old man stared at his claws, but to his credit didn't let it slow him down. Twoyoungman eyes rose to meet his. "Keep him from running. It will make the spellwork easier."
Logan grunted an affirmative, pulling away and into the fray.
He could hear the shaman chanting unintelligibly behind him as he dove back in. Wolverine had to duck beneath the white bear to strike a passing blow to the Wendigo's side—his claws caught deep, and the Wendigo roared, lunging forward to bite Narya's neck at the same time as a clawed arm flailed out to try and catch the diminutive man. Wolverine pulled aside, dodging the blow and catching the mystical flesh with his claws as it passed.
It was different thing, fighting the Wendigo. Different than fighting against man, animal, or machine. Every nerve seemed to burn with awareness. His body on edge—responding without pause between thought and action. He ripped into the beast time and time again, heedless of the blood dripping down his arms and sides from healed slashes he hadn't been quite fast enough to dodge completely.
There was no holding back, no need for caution here. No room for thought or worry or how he should be—he just was. He snarled along with the beast, teeth bared and bloodied as his foe.
He remembered when he learned what death meant. But this? This is what it meant to be alive.
The Wendigo roared, the white bear snarled, and Wolverine laughed.
The Wendigo ripped sharp claws across Narya's arm, then whipped around, catching her with his tail and sending her tumbling, and she was slower to rise this time. Wolverine took the opportunity to twist in to slam his claws into the Wendigo's gut, full-up to his knuckles. He wrenched upwards, tearing resistant flesh, but it grabbed his head, wrenching him back and whipping him into the air. His legs hit Mac as he flew down for a strike—the suited man went flying to smash into the trees, and the Wendigo slammed Wolverine into the twice dirt before flipping him into the air and away.
He whipped through the air, disoriented and flailing.
Wolverine landed in a thorn bush. He took a moment to clear his vision of stars and black holes, and swaying began to try and rise. It didn't take long to decide it was easier to lose what was left of his shirt rather than bother with untangling himself. He'd lost part of an ear as he'd ripped through the barbed tangles on his way in, but the bruises were already fading from the landing.
As long as he kept away from the teeth and claws, the Wendigo could throw him around all day and he'd just come back for more.
He followed the sound of the fighting—Narya had recovered and turned back to the fight, now flitting around the beast as a pale white owl, digging at the still-healing wounds on its face—an irritation more than a threat, but enough to keep it busy. Wolverine bared his teeth, about to spring back in, when he saw Shaman stagger.
It was like a small shock to recognize the man, to remember why they were fighting. He blinked, darting forward to catch the shaman's arm before he could fall.
"I was afraid of this," Dr. Twoyoungmen said, his face pale. "His enchantment that created him protects him from the full might of our powers. Even my magic cannot bind him—much less cure him—while he is conscious."
Wolverine glanced up as Mac rose into the sky from the trees where he had fallen: the shoulder of his suit was sparking, but he didn't look injured. The Wendigo looked ready to turn and run from the unnaturally large owl darting around his head, but Mac dropped downward, picking up a tree of his own. He caught the beast in the still-healing gut. The Wendigo slammed back against the cliff face, face bloodied from talons and fur more red than white at this point. He took longer to get to his feet, but Mac flew back towards them, his flight unsteady.
"I'm out. Suit's leaking juice."
Wolverine realized he was growling-a low rumble at each exhale. Words. He needed words.
"'s slowin' down," Wolverine said roughly, "The kid and I can take him."
Twoyoungman didn't question him. He straightened, taking on his own weight again and reaching into his satchel as he stood on his own. "Then I will be ready."
"Kid!" Wolverine shouted, running forward. The white owl swooped upwards, and in a moment the girl hovered there, watching him out of dark eyes. "We need something to take him down."
The girl looked at him—and Wolverine felt a chill beneath her eyes that looked more inhuman than any he had ever seen: cold as coal, blacker: like staring into the edge of eternity. She nodded at last, driving forward in a white blur that changed as she fell—and when she hit the ground she was a girl no longer.
For a moment ice blue eyes glanced at him, and Wolverine's hair stood on end.
She'd turned into an animal far less impressive than the polar bear, and not so swift as the owl, nor graceful as a wolf. She hunkered close to the ground, long, razor claws digging into the earth, her body compact, her short muzzle drawn back to bare snarling teeth.
A wolverine. Bigger than any earthly wolverine, and white as the purest snow.
He only got a glimpse—a bare flash of recognition that left him feeling like he'd been pinched in the gut—and the white wolverine lunged forward with a speed and grace belied by its size and shape. It hit the Wendigo in a frenzy, and howls and snarls echoed up into the sky.
Wolverine had intended to dive in after her, but in the madness of white-on-white fur, there was no telling the two apart. He waited, claws bared at his side, staring. Blood sprayed onto the ground, and the roars of rage turned into something new—howls of panicked pain.
The Wendigo dropped to the ground, writhing for a moment before falling completely still.
The sudden silence felt almost absurd.
The white wolverine turned, white fur splashed with scarlet—and eyed them with an inhuman rage. Wolverine met her eyes, and she snarled, bloodied muzzle bearing savage teeth—eyes glinting like the devil's.
Wolverine stared her: the giant white wolverine, snarling on the chest of her prey—ready to defend it to the death.
"She's lost in the mind of the animal—its rage has taken over her," the shaman said, walking up with Mac supporting him with an arm. "I'll draw up a transformation spell—"
Guy was worried—funny, 'cause he hadn't smelled worried, even when the fight looked like it was going south. But now he was just letting it get in the way of the job.
Logan gritted his teeth and moved forward. "Take care'a the Wendigo. I got her."
The wolverine's scruff bristled, its teeth bared in a ferocious grin. A normal-sized wolverine was enough to scare off a wolf pack, and this one had just taken down a Wendigo. Wolverine bared his teeth back. Narya snarled, ears going flat against her skull.
The wilderness stared back at him out of her eyes—wild and savage. It was like looking in the mirror.
Wolverine shook his head, straightening slightly, drawing in his claws.
He didn't remember the words that he spoke to get to her—but it wasn't the words that mattered anyway. It was a wild soul reaching to a wild soul—two minds meeting in a center of pure feral freedom: sharing an understanding that most human beings could never understand.
The beast was always there—waiting, hovering at the edge of thought. A berserker—a thing of pure rage, drawing them in. He'd pulled himself back from the brink a thousand times, and he reached out—calling out to the beast inside. He knew it—it was a part of him, more than flesh or bone or metal.
He called back thousands of years, to a place where man didn't walk, to a language that no human could speak—a language of blood and pain and death and life and rebirth: and the wolverine's eternal defiance: to never yield, to never tame, to fight until the last breath was cold in the artic air.
The white wolverine shuddered, then shifted suddenly. Narya stood there, trembling. "Oh Hodiak—spirits of the northern lights . . ." she said, tears dropping onto her pale cheeks. She looked down at her hands—bloodstained: the scarlet had splashed onto her white top, sprayed across her chest. Wolverine rushed forward to catch Narya as she staggered.
He was surprised when she didn't pull away, but grabbed a hold of him like a drowning woman to a branch—wrapping her arms around his neck and holding fast, trembling against his shoulder.
"Thank you," she whispered. "Oh, Wolverine—thank you."
Wolverine blinked, but then lifted his arms, awkwardly holding her against him—but somehow, it didn't feel like holding a stranger. He could still smell the scent of the wild in her—somehow, he could still sense it. And deep inside his chest, something both warm and bristling curled up—a protectiveness towards this girl, beyond human understanding.
A bond forged in a level beyond the physical—the feeling of us.
"'s okay, darlin'," he murmured. She'd be okay now. She'd gone through the valley, faced the worst part, and triumphed. It'd never be as rough again.
Still holding her, he looked at the Wendigo as it glowed slightly and suddenly shrink down, pale fur shrinking into thin limbs and pale nakedness: a man lying on the forest floor—the beast beaten, human again. Despite the still-crawling pain of healing and his exhaustion, Wolverine felt content.
Not managed to crawl away, alive but beaten—alive but running away. No: they'd beat the bad guy, saved the good guys, and there was nothing left to fight. Nothing left to do but go home.
Mac caught his eye and smiled: haggard, but undeniably pleased.
Blood-stained, shirtless, and hair wild enough to make his normal hair style seem tame, Logan couldn't help but send a crooked smile back.
TBC . . .