Ever since he met her, all she's done is fucked him up. Got him thrown out of a car and bent up by Magneto and falling in love with Jean and playing the hero, got him giving up his life to save her and then having her save him back in an entirely different way. She's made him soft and made him strong, made him so weak he can't fight when she's nearby and made him so impenetrable that even the most menacing of enemies couldn't frighten him.

But everything they were together, everything about them that just worked so well, was based on the idea that he could protect her. That he could save her. And now, it would appear, he couldn't.

Some mutant with the power to turn people's gifts in on themselves had swung up and punched her, and she'd grabbed him so that she could do her vein-popping, life-sucking thing, but instead she'd hit the ground like a rock. Just like that, she was down and out and barely living. Just like that.

Logan, of course, had caught the whiff of her in the air and sprinted over, flung himself onto the ground beside her and tried to give her his healing, touched her face and her stomach and shoulders. All he felt was smooth warm skin, touchable and healthy. It was just what she'd always wanted: to be normal and safe. Who knew it would end up killing her.

Who knew.

--

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

Anne Marie D'Ancanto wakes up and cannot breath. Or, at least, she can't breathe for herself. There is something stuck down the back of throat, and her mouth feels very dry and she wants to throw up. It's very cold. She opens her eyes with great effort and finds the light excruciatingly bright. She sees something dark and tall standing over her.

"Marie," The shadow says in a deep voice. It sounds angry. Or very, very sad. "Marie, turn your skin back on."

Anne Marie D'Ancanto does not understand what he means. Her skin is fine. White and smooth and warm.

Soon enough, she is asleep.

--

"What's wrong with her, Jean?" Logan is pacing anxiously back and forth at the foot of Rogue's hospital bed.

Jean sighs, flipping through the girl's chart for perhaps the hundredth time. "Her body - it's just not working, Logan. Her body is just failing." Jean looks up and lays her hand comfortingly on the Wolverine's forearm. "I think it's her power. I think it's turned inward somehow, and is slowly sucking out her life force. That's the only thing I can think of."

Logan takes a deep, uneven breath. He is not accustomed to dealing with things like this. He is not accustomed to feeling grief. "What can we do?"

Jean rubs his arm and then his shoulder, but he makes no response. "I don't think there's anything we can do, Logan. I'm so sorry."

He can't help it - the claws always come out when he feels frightened or angry, and right now he's feeling both. They spike out of his hands and Jean leaps back. "You're saying she's going to die? That's what you're saying, right?"

A hiccup in the steady suck and wheeze of the respirator makes Logan jump. Marie shifts ever so slightly in bed and then settles down again, and the monitor evens out. Logan releases a long breath.

"What's Chuck say about it?"

Jean shakes her head. "The professor's tried to reach her, but she's getting farther and farther away. She's fading, Logan."

The Wolverine shakes his head. "No. I mean, I know. Okay. Just - just give me some space, okay?" He turns to her with imploring, heart-broken eyes. "I was supposed to protect her, Jean. I promised I would protect her."

She tilts her head to the side, feeling her own heart cracking at the pain this man is going through and the girl that he's losing. She understands. She does. "I know, Logan. I'm so sorry. But you did everything you could. We all did."

He scrubs his hand over his face wearily, groaning low in his throat and feeling the beast inside of him writhe and roll. "God, Jean. You're talking about it like she's already dead."

--

Marie is having a dream about Ollie Myers. He was a little boy who lived down the street from her when she was small. He went missing when she was eight years old and six weeks later he washed up on the shore of a lake nearby, chains wrapped around his little swollen body and weighted with cylinder blocks.

But this was before all that. Much before.

"Ollie! Give me that! That's mine!" Marie stomps the sand hard with her bare foot, arm extended. Ollie Myers looks reluctantly at her and then at the plastic sand castle bucket in his hands.

"I wanna make one."

"You made one last time, Ollie! It's my turn now. Give it to me!" Marie reaches forward and grabs his hands, yanking hard. Ollie starts back and drops the bucket.

"Ow! Gosh, Marie, that hurt!" He rubs his wrist. "What'd ya do to me, Marie? That really hurt!"

Mrs. Myers walks forward, her pale blues eyes twinkling kindly and face blossomed into a patient smile. Only a few weeks from now, Mrs. Myers will be a tired and heart-broken old woman, her hair frizzy and wild and her eyes raw, hollow wounds of endless loss: always looking, searching for the little boy who wandered out past a thicket of bushes and never came back. But not now. Now she is happy. "Come now, sweetheart. Be nice and share, hm? We talked about sharing, remember?"

Ollie frowns and begrudgingly offers Marie the bucket. "You're a butthead." Marie smiles.

"But I have a bucket!" She holds it over her small head in victory, chirping happily and giving an impromptu dance of delight. "I have a bucket, and you don't!"

Ollie looks down at the hand that Marie hurt. It is pale and shaky and the veins bulge unnaturally. Ollie furrows his brow and rubs it, too young and carefree to may it much mind. This is his playtime and he won't have it ruined by stupid buttheaded Marie.

It won't matter anyway, not to him. Two weeks later and he'll be dead.

--

Logan spends most his days sitting in a chair by Marie's hospital bed staring out past her unconscious body at the dirt-freckled window overseeing the courtyard. The never-ending ache in his chest compels him to; he's not one to be sentimental, but just because his body can heal from the most horrendous of blows does not mean his mind is similarly talented. He feels like a piece of him has been severed in a most primitive and agonizing way - he is a psychic amputee.

Jean worries about him. She knows that he is physically out of danger, even weeks without food or drink will not seriously harm his extraordinary body. But that is not what concerns her. She wonders if this is the kind of thing that will break a man like him, eat him up from the inside out like some kind of cancer. She's a doctor and she wants to make him well, but she knows enough to recognize when and where she is wanted. He is locked down and out of reach, frozen in a bubble of grief that Jean fears only Marie can break through.

Logan sniffs and snorts with the foul scent of hospital chemicals. Yuck. He's too sensitive for such an utterly human environment and just about every noise, taste and smell in this place is abrasive. The animal in him wants to take Marie out of here; gather her up in his arms and drag her back to his cave so he can care of her himself.

If only he'd just kept driving away that night way out in Canada - but stupid fucking Logan, she'd been cute and sweet and he was lonely. Maybe she would've found somebody else, some tall handsome blue-eyed blonde who'd accept her for her differences and they'd live happily ever after. Or even if she just wound up cold and alone in some shit hole of a city, her legs slick with city slime and her cheeks hollowed from a hard life. At least she'd be alive.

"Logan." The calm voice of Charles Xavier ripples past the Wolverine's tender ears. He turns and grunts, the now permanent scowl on his face unmoving even in the face such a wise and powerful man.

"Hey," he grumbles, shifting back towards the girl with his elbows braced on his knees. The professor rolls up along side him.

"How is she?"

Logan shakes his head. "Bad."

Xavier nods and lifts a hand, laying it gently on her thigh. "Nothing is more terrible than losing somebody just as soon as you begin to love them. Believe me, Logan, I know. And I'm so terribly sorry."

Logan leans back, glaring menacingly at the white-washed wall. "Nobody said anything about love, Chuck. This isn't about love. I said I'd watch out for her and I didn't. She was relying on me: not cause she loved me but cause she trusted me. I let her down."

Xavier smiles. "Of course, Logan. She trusted you more than anyone else, and she loved you like family. But she knew the risks involved with being an X-Man, Logan. She didn't expect you to save her from everything." When Logan makes no response, Charles takes his cue and rolls slowly back out of the room. He pauses in the door and looks over his shoulder at the fallen warrior. "And Logan: it's always about love. Always."

Logan only growls and rests his forehead against the edge of the bed.

--

When she was ten years old, Marie's parents died. It was a very warm summer night, and she was sitting on the rug in front of TV playing with her pony dolls, Sparkles and Princess. Her babysitter Matilda was sitting on the couch reading Vogue magazine.

The phone rings very loudly three times before Matilda picks it up. "Hello?" She sits up and the magazine falls down between her legs, her ragged torn up jeans stretched tight over her bent knees. "What? When? Oh--okay. What hospital?"

Marie looks up, letting Sparkles and Princess fall to ground unheeded. "What? Tildy, what is it? Is it momma? Can I talk to her?"

Matilda hangs up the phone and looks down at the little girl, speechless. "No. No, you can't talk to your momma, sweetie. I'm sorry."

Three hours later in the ER, Marie is staring silent and wide-eyed at the grey mottled face of her mother. Blood on her mouth makes her lips look very red in comparison to her pale face. She is breathing, barely. Marie reaches out a hand and touches the cool skin of her cheek.

Her mother dies five minutes later.

--

Sometimes, he feels like crying. Other times he feels like putting a bullet through his head even though he knows it won't kill him. No harm in trying.

He watches the lines on the monitor fall away like drifting snowflakes, watches and waits and knows that he can't do anything about it.

So this is what death feels like.

All he wants to do is push his hands on her body and let her suck him to death, let him die in the most excruciating, wonderful way: it felt like every nerve on his body was aflame with the most intense pain and pleasure he'd felt in his life. That's how he wanted to die.

But he's not the one who's dying. Unfortunately.

Even Scott pities him. He stops by every couple of days, pops through the doorway and gives the Wolverine a somber, sympathetic look. Logan hates it almost as bad as the waiting. But at least One-Eye knows not to say anything.

The other day Storm came into the room and stroked Marie's face, and Logan felt a blister of rage: how easily she touched Marie's body, how easily she reached out bade her farewell when Logan was still trapped in a limbo of anguished denial. And then the stupid woman started talking.

"God, it's so awful to watch her die, isn't it? She's so young." She shakes her head and turns around to exchange a knowing look with him. "At least you have Jean."

At least. Logan feels a spear of guilt knife through his abdomen. If he'd just ignored the goddamned doctor and looked after Marie like he'd promised her he would. He just wished he'd spent that time with her and not fucking Jean Gray. He had the rest of eternity with Jean Gray, and he only had another week with Marie. He'd felt so in love with Jean. What'd happened? Now he could hardly muster a flicker of affection when the woman came in the room. The only thing he felt now was pain and guilt and hopelessness. All he could remember were those times she'd been waiting for him and he'd blown her off, thinking he could make it up. Thinking he'd had time.

He'd been wrong. And he'd been too late to do anything about it.

--

She'd never known what love was until she'd met the Wolverine. He was somebody who was reachable, somebody who was just as neglected and cast aside as she was and ready to make a friend. Just like her. He was different, and dangerous. Noble and powerful and protective. She'd loved him almost from the moment she saw him.

She believed very much he loved her back, but she was not foolish enough to think he was in love. She was nothing but a child to him, someone who he could protect and adore and hold close to him without all the complications of a relationship. No, his heart belonged solely to Jean Gray. Marie knew that.

Even so. It felt good to dream.

She remembers sitting curled up on the patchy rec room couch at four in the morning, watching America's Most Wanted and wondering what it would be like to be famous. Or infamous. She senses him coming near without hearing or seeing him; that's her gift with him. If she doesn't get to understand him like Dr. Gray, at least she gets to feel him.

He sits down on the couch right next to her, and she falls naturally into the curve of his side. He is warm and soft, swathed in a flannel over-shirt and jeans. His arm settles around her shoulders and her head rests on his shoulder. "What're ya doing down here this late, kid?"

She shrugs. "Don't know. Couldn't sleep, I guess."

"Yeah? Somethin' bothering ya?" His voice vibrates deeply through his body, and she delights in the feeling. She knows that this is something just for him and her; even Jean Gray has no power here.

"No."

"Then why couldn't ya sleep?" He won't drop it until he knows she's alright, knows that he's fulfilling his self-imposed obligation of looking after her. She's used to it, and doesn't mind.

"Maybe I just came down here hoping you'd follow," she says with a smile, and she's only half-joking. She's misses him. Now a days, he's so busy out fighting and working and wooing Dr. Gray that she hardly sees him anymore. Apparently, four am is the only time she can reliably access him - and even then, that's only when he's living at the Mansion.

He laughs, the sound rich and warm through his solid chest. She snuggles closer to him, and his thumb traces absent-minded patterns over her arm. "What're you watching? This show's stupid. Let's watch a movie."

The fatigue is starting to catch up to her now, and all she manages is an arched brow. "You don't like movies."

It's his turn to shrug. "Depends on the movie. I was thinking I might wanna see that one about that kid who wakes up in a pod and has to fight some crazy FBI agents. I heard that one was real good."

Marie giggles. "You mean the Matrix?"

"Yeah."

She sighs into his shoulder and nods. "Okay. That's sounds fine."

The movie is sitting on the shelf a few feet away, but neither of them have the energy to get up and grab it. If Marie thought that Logan only did this for her benefit, she now realizes she was wrong. Everybody needs to feel loved every once in a while. Even the Wolverine.

So instead they sit quietly together, just soaking up the feel of being close: Marie because with her poisonous skin, he's the only one brave enough to hold her; and Logan because with his snarly exterior and single-minded devotion to a woman who's already engaged, she's the only one who loves him enough to want to.

--

Precisely two months from the time of her injury, Marie falls into a coma. "Won't be long now," Wolverine overhears Jean Gray mutter to the neighboring Iceman. The popsicle boy has been going through a rough time, sure, but nothing like Logan. Not even close.

The pain he feels is beyond imagining and beyond endurance. It is like a crushing weight is on top of him every minute of every day, pushing and pushing and pushing until he might just fall down and die. Or so he hopes. Marie, meanwhile, is dying from the inside out; the very gift which made her so mysterious and powerful is killing her breath by breath.

He can't stand this anymore. He doesn't know what to do. He is the edge of precipice and doesn't know how to fall off it.

He does, though, whether by destiny or mistake. Scott Summers, as always, is the one who pushes him over.

The Cyclops is standing in Marie's hospital room, arms crossed and legs braced and face impassive. He is unreadable behind his magical shades, and Logan, not for first time and not for last, envies him. Scott moves his head imperceptibly towards the Wolverine.

"You know," he begins, speaking low and authoritatively, like this is a time to assert his dominance, "If it makes you feel any better, Marie told me something before she went out on that mission."

Despite himself, Logan's head jerks at the words. He can't help it. Any piece of her he can save is irresistible.

"She was telling me not to be jealous of - of you and Jean. Not to be possessive. She said that when you really love somebody, you should let them be with who they love. Let them choose. Even if you know absolutely that they won't choose you. She'd said that's what she'd done when she'd fallen in love with you."

The Wolverine explodes then, like a spring that's been coiled too tight and finally found a way to loose itself. He flies out of the shitty hospital chair and rushes the Cyclops before the man can flinch back, and grabs him by collar so that he can punch him once, twice, three times right in the face. A few students and X-Men burst through the doors and they all do their best to control the wild beast that is Logan, was Logan, but only when the Wolverine feels something deep inside of him break and give way does he stand back. He becomes distantly aware that he's sobbing, probably hysterically, but finds he doesn't care.

Jean Gray is there in a moment, first to check on her fiance and then to tame the wild thing. She sits him down and wraps him up tight, presses his head into her shoulder and tries to calm the violent, wrenching cries being torn from his body. "I know, I know," she murmurs into his ear, rubbing his back like child.

"I told her - I promised her - but I didn't, I couldn't..." He is incoherent and doesn't give a damn, writhing out of her grip and leaning back so far into the dingy hospital chair it might just collapse. Jean ushers the kids out of the room and helps Scott to Storm, who escorts him to a bed and an ice-pack.

"X-ray his face. Logan probably shattered his cheekbone."

And then she's back at the Wolverine's side, stroking his coarse hair and listening silently as he cries. If she'd known he loved the girl like this, maybe she would have tried harder.

She hates herself for even thinking it.

The Wolverine leans heavily against her, panting into her neck and trying to control himself. Thank god for Jean. He's sure he'd be dead without her.

All the while, Marie lies quiet and unknowing in her drab hospital gown, breathing steadily in and out through the uncomfortable plastic tubes and being totally deaf to the world. She has no idea the pain she's causing.

--

Marie dreams that Logan and Jean Gray are getting married. She wonders what Jean's last name will be now, because Logan really serves as both his first and last. Maybe she'll be Jean Wolverine. That has a nice rhyme to it.

Logan's clean-shaven and his hair is buzzed short, and he looks dashing and handsome in a tailored suit. Marie is one of Jean's bridesmaids, and Scott Summers is Logan's best man. It's funny how dreams are like that.

Marie is holding Logan's hand. He is nervous, shifting back and forth and fighting a ridiculous grin. "This is it, kid. The Wolverine gonna be a house husband. God, I never thought it'd come to this."

Marie feels horribly sad, but she feels happy, too. It hurt her to know that the woman Logan had loved was attached to another man. The idea of him being loved and cared for and happy with a woman for the rest of their lives was a pleasing one, despite the blister of grief at knowing that woman wouldn't be her. "That's right, Logan. You're officially un-available. I know a lot of girls who are gonna be pretty darned disappointed to know that."

He smiles down at her. "Yeah? Like who?"

She shrugs. "You know I can't divulge that information, Logan. It's in the deepest confidence."

He snorts and runs his hand through his short hair. "Okay, kid. Here it comes. Wish me luck."

She lets go of his hand and gives him a kiss on the cheek. This is goodbye. "Good luck, Logan. I think you're gonna be really happy now."

He's grinning excitedly, still rocking back and forth on his feet. "I think so, too, Marie. I think so too."

--

"I love you." Jean Gray says the words before she can stop them, but once they're out she doesn't even try and take them back. It'd be pointless.

The Wolverine says nothing, leaning against the wall of the hospital room. "I know."

She nods, and injects another syrum into Marie's IV. "Scott and I aren't together anymore."

He gives her a sidelong look. "Okay."

She's got her hand the doorknob before she finds what she needs to say. "If you need anything, Logan, I'm here. If you need me. I'd understand if you couldn't even stand the sight of me, but if you need me, I'm here."

He licks his lips and nods. "Alright. Thanks, Jean."

"You're welcome."

--

Marie thinks it's unfair that she doesn't get to be with Logan in the end. She thinks it's unfair that she's off in some half-real dream world while Jean Gray is with him every day. But she's a smart girl, and she remembers what her father used to tell her: if you can't fix it, you gotta stand it.

So she stood it. She learned to accept the fact that Jean Gray could make Logan happy. She learned to accept that she herself would never even have the chance to.

Logan is sitting down on the cement, blood draining out of a hole in his chest. He'd killed the creepy Gecko man, but not without taking a few hard hits Marie sees him and starts to run forward, then stops. Jean Gray is in the next building, and the doctor will be able to help him much more than Marie can.

She has to choose between what is right, and what is easy.

She makes her choice. "Jean! Jean, come here!" The fiery-haired woman jogs forward. "It's Logan. I think he needs your help."

Dr. Gray crouches at his side, and Logan smirks, letting out some sarcastic remark that Marie wishes she were close enough to hear. The doctor pulls apart the torn edges of his leather suit, brushes her fingers delicately over the bloody, gored flesh. He cringes, but not to fear. Jean knows just what to do to take his pain away.

Marie wishes it could be another way. She wishes that she hadn't grabbed the arm of that stupid Brotherhood mutant. She wishes Logan would fall in love with her and her skin could be normal and they could live together, just the two of them, and be happy and safe.

She wishes, more than anything, that she could live.

--

Logan has a dream. He is sleeping with his head resting on Marie's leg, his body propped up against the side of her hospital bed. He has a dream about her.

He's driving in a snowstorm. His truck is grumbling and bouncing, eating up the snowy road in front of it. He's only half paying attention. It's not like it matters if he crashes. He's been out on this snowy dark road a long, long time.

He sees something way out in the distance, maybe a wolf. He slows down. It's not a wolf, it's a girl. The truck groans to a halt, and the girl opens the passenger door.

"Can I come in?"

He looks down at her for a minute, taking in the green cloak that makes her look like a hobbit, the clear brown eyes that glow hopefully up at him. He grunts and looks away. "Yeah, sure. I don't care."

"Thank you." She climbs into the big truck and smiles at him. It's below freezing outside, but somehow when she gets in the whole car feels warmer. "What's your name?"

He starts up the truck and pulls back out onto the icy road. "Logan. What's yours?"

"Marie."

He looks at her. "I used to know a girl named Marie."

The girl's smile brightens. "Yeah? What happened to her?"

Logan sighs and fiddles with the car's vent. He doesn't know why he's even talking to this girl. "She left me."

Marie frowns. "How do you know?"

"She coulda come back. But she left me cause she thought I wanted to marry some other girl. I'da rather married her."

Marie reaches out and takes Logan's hand. He looks down and then up at her, into those welcoming warm eyes. "Are you sure she was leaving you?"

He's breathing hard now, not even paying attention to the road. The car has stopped and the snow is howling against the windshield, but he doesn't care. "What do ya mean?"

The girl smiles serenely at him. "Maybe she wasn't leaving you." She reaches forward and touches the side of his face. Her skin feels soft and warm and safe.

"Maybe she was just letting you go."

The next morning, Logan wakes up and the bed is empty.

So this is what death feels like.

FIN.