What Might Have Been, Chapter 7

Magneto was little more than a blur hidden behind a red haze as he back-handed her across the mouth. Her head snapped back as she reeled with the blow. Sabretooth, Magneto's feral henchman, had inflicted most of the punishment at Magneto's nodded commands, but the Master of Magnetism had been unable to resist dealing the final blow himself. He had barraged her with words, haranguing her with his anger and disappointment, ranting over how she had failed him and all of the Brotherhood by not returning with the girl. She had been disloyal to him, Magneto had claimed, betrayed his trust and teachings, and at first Vixen had genuinely listened. However, as the beating had gone on, his lecture had become little more than a background hum, almost indistinguishable from the ringing in Vixen's ears. Long ago, she had learnt to deal with his vicious treatment, which had so often been followed by him forcing himself on her in his heightened emotional state, and even now, as she swayed gently on the spot, she had to wonder if she could dig deep enough to fight him off if he tried it now.

He didn't, storming out of the room instead with Sabretooth on his heels. Vixen managed to stay standing long enough to ensure that he was truly gone, before crumbling into a heap on the floor. Unable to move, she simply curled up in a ball on the cold, metal floor, knees clutched to her chest. Her body shook viciously from the beating she had taken for failing to bring Blaze back to the Brotherhood's lair, but in her heart, Vixen knew that she had done the right thing; that she had left Blaze in the best possible care and the safest place for the fire elemental, rather than bring her back where Magneto could twist and bend the fiery mutant to his will as he had done Ilehana herself.

Time passed without recognition for Vixen, her head pounding with every heartbeat. It seemed that an age passed before the door opened slowly, and the almost predictable "Chere...?" reached her ears. Gambit came into the room slowly; his footsteps hesitant, as if he was afraid that she would leap up from her foetal position and attack him. To be fair, there had been occasions when she had surprised him like that, but not this day. She felt his gloved hand grip her chin and gently twist her face towards him. Her face had swollen enough so that Vixen could barely see him, but Gambit's gasp of horror was enough to tell her that she looked as bad as she felt.

"Oh Chere, Gambit hate to see you like dis." His voice was soft, soothing. "What happened? Why'd you leave the girl with Xavier?"

Gambit knew she wouldn't justify herself to him, even if she'd had the voice or the energy. He'd only asked in order to give him a moment to assess the damage Sabretooth had done. And he'd done some good ol' damage to the Vixen's beautiful face. Gambit's red-on-black eyes filled with concern for the only person in the Brotherhood that he considered a friend. Her face was swollen on the left side; both eyes were nearly swollen shut. Blood oozed from the corner of her left eye and mouth. She groaned in pain as Gambit mopped her face with a damp, rough cloth. "I got your back, Cherie, rest easy." He felt her telepathic assent and gratitude, then a wave of pain that was not his own ate at him as he lifted her gently into his arms. "I swear, Cherie, that feral fur-ball will pay for dis."

**No need.** Vixen's telepathic voice was exhausted but grim. **Sabretooth will get what he deserves sooner or later.**

"Gambit pray it sooner rather than later, Vixen, before he kill you."

**Takes a lot more than a roughing up to kill me...** Vixen laughed soullessly in Gambit's mind. Her fingers curled in the front of his shirt. **But I appreciate the lift.**

Gambit barked a humourless laugh in response, shifting her carefully in his arms, and was amazed when she relaxed completely. He had never known the woman he was now carrying to give herself so completely to anyone. Always with Vixen came guards and barriers, preventing Gambit or anyone else from getting too close, despite the intimate nature of their acquaintance. She did not even protest when he bore her up to her attic room, a place that Gambit had never before been allowed. He paused for a moment at the top of the stairs to look about the room, as tidy and soulless as Vixen's life with the Brotherhood. He lay her down, struggling to push the duvet aside before he did so. Covering her gently with the duvet, Gambit noticed that some of the swelling in her face was already reducing.

**The advantage of being an ani-morph.** She sounded so tired to Gambit, whose frown deepened.

"I let you sleep, Cherie, you be better in the mornin' non?" He leant over to kiss her forehead, then went to turn away, only for Vixen to grip his hand in her own.

**Stay.** It was not a request, and so he stayed.

The following day found Vixen in a melancholy mood. She had woken to find Gambit still sleeping beside her, his back turned to her. Careful not to disturb him, she had risen cautiously, expecting her body to protest the previous day's mal-treatment; however her ani-morphing body had begun to heal the deeper wounds. She could do little for the surface bruising, her face was still a bright shade of purple, and she would not have even if she could. Let the rest of the Brotherhood see what Magneto was capable of, if they had any doubts. Vixen avoided any further glances in the mirror, ashamed of her appearance. After dressing, she had given Gambit an irritated nudge. Once convinced that he was waking, she disappeared from the Brotherhood's lair before Magneto could get his hands on her again.

She rode for hours, unsure where to go or what to do. The way she saw it, Vixen had made a clear choice the previous day. When she had advised Blaze to remain with the X-Men, she had chosen her thin loyalty to her father over her thinner loyalty to the Brotherhood. Now, she found herself questioning whether she could remain with the Brotherhood having made that choice. For want of anything better to do, Vixen made her way to a bar not far from the X-Men's mansion. She ordered a beer, politely declined the cheekily made offer to sit at the bar with the owner, and sat in a booth at the far end of the bar. Lost in her own thoughts and slowly drinking her beer, Vixen missed the arrival of another mutant at the bar, until he placed another beer in front of her.

"Somethin' on your mind, darlin'?"

"More than what's going on in yours I should imagine." The words were harsh, but tempered by the dull, bored tone. Wolverine raised an eyebrow in response, unsure how to reply.

"Mind if I sit down?"

"Free country." She gestured her permission. He slid into the booth opposite her, leant back and lit a cigar. He watched her nose twitch in offence but she made no comment other than to ask "What are you doing here?"

"Place that size filled with kids and nothin' in the ice box but soda?" Logan smiled. "Man has to get out once in a while." He smiled with her; Vixen's merely the twitch of the corner of her mouth. Logan watched as she mirrored his body language, relaxing back in her seat after lifting the beer he had supplied for her, though whether it was a conscious thing, he was unsure. She, too, watched him for several moments. Logan shifted uncomfortably under her scrutiny which was as open, frank and appreciative as ever. Finally, she frowned.

"Why do I get the feeling that's not why you're really here?"

"The Professor thought you might need some company after yesterday."

"I thought he might have had something to do with it." She commented wryly.

"He's concerned about ya." Logan frowned harshly, nodding at the state of her face. "By the looks of it, with good reason."

"This?" Vixen gestured at her face sharply. "This is nothing."

"I know." Logan answered softly, but it was a denial of her statement not acceptance. "Your father told me. Seems these telepathic cries for help work both ways."

"Mmmmmm." She hadn't realised that during her beating she had let her carefully built walls slip. Clearly her closer dealings with her father had made her careless. Vixen shrugged to herself; what was done was done, but she would not be that sloppy again.

They talked for a while about inconsequential things, and when Logan challenged her to a game of pool, she readily accepted, not wanting to return to the Brotherhood's lair. Vixen found herself warming to the feral mutant all the more. Wolverine demanded nothing from her, and though he offered little of himself, he was generous with his time and beer, though for every round he bought, Vixen insisted on returning the favour. The pair of them were warm and fuzzy with beer, laughing at themselves and each other as they moved about the table, barely acknowledging the way they flirtatiously brushed past each other to make a shot. It was the most pleasant and wasteful time that she has spent in many months, and she felt more at peace that she had in a long time.

"So." Logan had just beaten her for the fourth game in a row and was returning the cues to the rack in the corner. He glanced at her over his shoulder as he did so. "What's next?"

"I don't follow." She walked up to him and leant on the wall beside the rack, arms folded in an unconscious imitation of one of Logan's favourite poses. Logan leant beside her, hand resting on her elbow. He smiled, and Vixen found herself expecting a corny along the lines of "your place or mine?" Instead, what she got was an invite to join Logan on his next mission. "Mission?"

"Your father's detected a developing young mutant. He thought he'd send me along to keep an eye on her." Logan looked at Vixen with a smile. "When he discovered that her power is the ability to transform into a wolf, he suggested I might need someone who thinks as a wolf does. He suggested you."

"And you thought you'd need to get me drunk to get me to agree?"

"No." Logan's tone was husky with desire as he reached out to pull her close and into his arms. She resisted only long enough to unfold her arms and push herself off the wall. Simply and easily, she melted into him, fitting her body to his. "I got you drunk to do this." And with that, he kissed her soundly on the mouth, groaning into her as she responded with a feral ferocity that he could understand. Logan took this response as an affirmative to his request.