[Author's Note: As promised, here's your happy ending! Thanks to all who are reading and reviewing, please review this chapter if you feel so inclined. Also, just curious - I'm getting all my emails from this site about 24 - 48 hours later than I should - for example, if I post a chapter I get the alert about a day and a half later. Same for review alerts. If this is happening to more than just me, send me a PM if you can and let me know, it would make me feel better. Also sorry to those who may have gotten two alerts for earlier chapters, I was thinking at first that they weren't loading. Similarly, forgive any delay in responding to reviews.]
Logan struggled towards consciousness. His head was pounding, and every muscle and tendon in his body ached. His eyelids were heavy and sticky as he struggled to open them.
"Miss Frost!" he heard a strange voice call.
By the time he got his eyes open Miss Frost was there, dismissing the girl who had apparently been watching for him to awaken. She sat in the chair next to his bed and regarded him, the expression on her face unreadable.
"Is she okay?" he rasped, his throat aching. With economical movements, Miss Frost poured water into a glass from a pitcher at his bedside, and handed it to him as he struggled up to his elbows.
"Miss D'Ancanto? She's fine. You, on the other hand, look like hell."
Logan managed a smirk. "Don't tell me you were worried about me?"
Miss Frost smiled coldly. "Of course I was. Disposing of corpses is so effortful."
Logan managed to drag himself to a sitting position.
"What the hell happened?"
Miss Frost sat back looking thoughtful, as if she was deciding how much to tell him. In the end she shrugged. "Turns out the lovely Miss D'Ancanto is a mutant too. Her skin is poisonous to others - sucks their life force right out of them. Quite the talent if you ask me, but I can see how it could be a tad inconvenient. Apparently she recently learned control, and came here for...her test-run, you might say. She said it turned itself back on when she fell asleep, and she didn't have a chance to warn you. Poor dear was quite broken up about it."
Logan rubbed a weary hand over his face. "So she's okay?"
That same cryptic look. Logan could almost see the wheels turning in her mind.
"What? What aren't you telling me?"
"Give me a minute, Logan, it's not often I struggle with moral dilemmas." She sighed. "Oh well, I suppose you would be determined to know anyway, and I have to admit I do feel somewhat responsible for your current sorry state. You don't have to worry, Miss D'Ancanto looked healthy as a horse. But I have to admit that I checked in on her mind a little bit. I like to have all the facts, especially in a crisis. And there is a little more to her mutation than she told me."
"More than knocking me out cold for a few minutes? Like what?"
"More than knocking you out cold for a few days." Miss Frost smiled again, obviously enjoying Logan's surprise. "Like I said, quite a talent. But it's not just life force she gets when she touches someone." Her gaze turned distant. "How do I put this? I looked inside her head, and you were there."
"Huh?" This was a little too much for Logan's already pounding head to comprehend.
"Like I said, more than life force. Your thoughts, memories, even emotions. While she was talking to me, you were prowling around in her head. Quite comical actually, both of us trying to hold a conversation, neither of us willing to admit to the other that we knew about your presence there."
"Fuck." Logan leaned his head back against the headboard and closed his eyes.
"No kidding." For the first time, Miss Frost's cold facade seemed to crack. He saw genuine disquiet in her eyes, heard a slight tremor in her voice. "I saw in Miss D'Ancanto's head what they did to you. The metal, and the tank." She closed her eyes and shivered.
Logan felt something wrench in his gut. If he needed more proof that his memories were goddamn intolerable, seeing them affect a cold-hearted bitch like Miss Frost was it. The thought that he had forced all of that on Marie - not even just for her to glimpse like Miss Frost, but for her to have to live with like he did - it made him sick.
"Goddamnit," he said. "I shouldn'ta touched her like that. I promised her I wouldn't, and I did it anyway. And now she's got all that crap to deal with."
Miss Frost's eyes snapped open again and the cold facade was back. "Well, honey, we all have our crosses to bear."
Logan smoothed his hand over his face again and then ran it through his hair, spiking it even further. "You know we're done here, right? I'm not sticking around." There was no way he was going back on display, potentially being picked by another woman. The memory of Marie was going to be in every corner of this place.
Miss Frost looked mulish for a moment, and Logan felt her press on his mind. He tried to keep his thoughts off Marie while pushing Miss Frost out of his head, but knew he wasn't entirely successful. He was still spun for a loop, his mind in turmoil over everything that had happened with Marie and everything else he had just learned from Miss Frost, and his concentration was shot. Unbidden, a memory came to him - watching Marie in the early morning light, stroking back the lock of her hair...
He saw Miss Frost's eyes light with understanding and then a hint of pity, and he suddenly felt very exposed. Goddamn, if she started to try to talk with him about his feelings for Marie, he was going to sock her one. She simply nodded, however. "I release you from the remainder of your contract. I didn't get this far in life without knowing when to cut my losses."
She moved towards the door, but then hesitated, one hand on the doorjamb. Without turning to face him, she spoke again, her voice carefully neutral. "She told me to let her know as soon as you recovered. You could go find her, you know. See how she feels."
Logan snorted. "You're a romantic all of a sudden?" She turned at that, a shadow of hurt crossing her face, making Logan wonder. Maybe there really was a soft heart under that diamond-hard exterior of hers. His voice gentled. "She just wanted to get experience. Wanted to feel normal, so she could go find a nice normal guy to be with." He smiled bitterly. "Last thing she needs is a fucked-up mutant she met in a whorehouse showing up on her doorstep, asking her how she feels about him." He shook his head. "I've hurt her enough."
Logan bounced off the metal fencing that formed the side of the cage, gasping from the blow to his gut. He straightened up and rolled his shoulders, shaking the sweat out of his eyes. Christ, he needed to get his head in the game before this asshole got in a lucky shot that took him down.
His concentration was shot to hell lately, and if he didn't get it together it was going to land him in trouble. He either finished his competitors off too quickly, causing angry rumbles to circulate through the crowd, or he got distracted and almost got taken down. He narrowed his eyes at the big bald lug coming toward him again, and watched for his opening. A wet smack of his fist to the guy's chest, opening up his guard, and then he took him down with one well-placed uppercut.
He didn't even wait for the emcee to call the victory. Yeah, yeah, King of the Cage, he thought cynically. Lord of the Shitheap. Some accomplishment. He shrugged on his shirt, grabbing his leather jacket and making his way towards the bar, brushing off congratulatory backslaps and the come-ons of the fight groupies with no attempt at politeness.
The bartender set him up with the glass of whiskey without needing to be asked, and Logan hung his head wearily, lifting the glass and inhaling the scent. He had always been more of a beer guy, but since that night two weeks ago with Marie, he had pretty much been drowning himself in whiskey. Not that it mattered, thanks to his healing factor he could drink gallons of the stuff, and none of it helped to numb the pain. The restless dissatisfaction - despair, a voice in the back of his head corrected - that had haunted him since that night had pervaded his every waking moment.
For the thousandth time, he wondered where Marie was right now. Some moments his imagination tortured him with thoughts of her curled up in a ball, shaking from his nightmares, haunted by his memories. Other times he thought maybe she had pushed him out of her mind with little effort, sloughed off his consciousness like a change of clothes, and was now happily dating and bedding the next man - the normal one - with Logan dismissed from her thoughts as no more than a means to that end. He didn't know which image tormented him more.
It should have been so easy to slip back into his former life. It had never really bothered him before - being constantly on the move, living moment to moment, finding fights and fucks with little effort. It was his time at the Manor House, his night with Marie, that had been the aberration. And yet...nothing had seemed right since. The fight circuit depressed him, the fight groupies repulsed him, the beer tasted bitter in his mouth.
If he was being truthful with himself, and he was probably just dejected enough tonight to actually be truthful with himself, he drank the whiskey because of Marie. Not to forget her, but to remember her. When he smelled it, when he sipped it, he could almost imagine the taste of the whiskey mingling with the taste of Marie in his mouth that night, the smell of whiskey mixing in his nose with her own, sweet scent. Pathetic, he told himself, but he dipped his nose into the glass and took another deep inhale of the amber liquid anyway.
His eyes closed, nose still buried in the glass, he heard someone sit on the barstool next to him.
"Molson's. Make it two," a woman's low voice said, and he heard the clink of the mugs as the bartender handed them across. He heard the slide of a mug towards him, and opened his eyes in time to stop the skid of it in front of him.
"Sorry, darlin'. I'm drinkin' alone tonight," he said gruffly, sending the mug skidding back over, not bothering to even look at her, his eyes following the movement of the mug instead.
"That's a shame," she said, her voice clearer now, just as she stopped the mug herself with one slender gloved hand. "After all, you're the one who gave me a taste for the stuff."
His eyes snapped up to hers in disbelief. Marie. She was even more gorgeous than he remembered, her beautiful face looking at him seriously, color high in her cheeks. He downed his whiskey in one shot, and reached back over for the beer. She looked like fucking sin, in tight black leather pants and heeled boots. He could just make out some kind of sheer top under her fitted leather jacket, tantalizing in how it covered her completely and yet revealed a shadow of what was underneath. A sheer scarf was wrapped around her neck, and her hands were encased in thin leather gloves.
"What are you doing here, Marie?" It came out harsh, not like he had intended, but he was afraid to know the answer.
She looked down into her beer and then flicked him a sideways glance, smiling a little. "Would you believe I was just passing by?"
A grunt from him, indicating that no, that would not be believed.
She lifted her chin, meeting his eyes again. "I wanted to apologize."
He leaned back against the bar on one elbow, looking her over with a lift of his eyebrow. "You tracked me two thousand miles to the middle of Bumfuck, Alberta Province, to apologize?"
Her bravado crumpled as a wave of humiliation rushed over her face. In a flash, she was off the barstool and headed for the door, weaving skillfully around the remaining few patrons.
"Fuck!" Logan chased after her, catching her just as she hit the parking lot. "Marie, wait...I'm sorry."
He caught her arm, but she jerked it free. Her whole body was shaking. "No, I'm sorry. I can't believe I did this. I've done enough to you, you were probably glad to see the last of me, and then I chased you down like some fucking teenage stalker..."
"Marie, no..." But her words were coming in a pressured rush, it was like she couldn't even hear him. She paced frantically in her agitation, her arms wrapped tight around her body.
"It's just that...Miss Frost said she told you about my mutation, how I have you in my head?" She didn't even look up to see his nod as the words kept spilling out. "I guess I got confused. Maybe it wasn't even you, maybe it was just me telling myself what I wanted to hear. I don't know anymore. I just thought - I just thought maybe I could let myself believe it for a little while..." her voice gave out abruptly on a sob.
She suddenly dropped to a crouch, balancing on the balls of her feet, her back against the door of the parked car behind her. She put her hands over her ears, rocking back and forth. "Shut up...shut up!" she said, and as Logan watched, frozen in shock, she jerked her head back, banging it hard against the car door.
"Jesus Christ, Marie!" He fell to his knees in front of her, the gravel of the parking lot biting into his shins even through his jeans, and laced his fingers through the hair at the back of her head. "Stop it!"
The agitation seemed to drain out of her suddenly. She sank down until she was sitting back against the car door and put her forehead down on her bent knees. Logan's hand was still in her hair as he made small, ineffectual soothing motions. They sat there in silence for a few minutes, Logan feeling his heart pounding in his chest as he watched her pulse flutter equally rapidly in her neck.
Finally, he took a deep breath. "What did he tell you?" She looked up numbly. "The me in your head. What did he tell you that you wanted to believe?"
A half sob from her at that. "Impossible things." She shook her head, and at first he thought she wasn't going to say anymore. "That I'm not poison. That I'm not cursed. That he didn't hate me. That he cared for me. And that he wasn't afraid of me." She put her head down again, and he saw the tears leaking out from under her eyelids. "I just thought...if there was just one person out there who wasn't afraid of me, maybe it might be okay."
Logan felt something within himself break - irrevocably, irreparably. He scooped her up into his arms, sitting back now against the car himself, ignoring her weak attempts to break free of his solid grasp. He tucked her head into the crook of his neck and rocked them both.
"Marie...it's true. You should believe it. All of that's true, and I shoulda told it to you myself. I shouldn'ta waited for you to find me. That me in your head is less of a fuckin' coward than I am, but what you said about the way I feel about you - it's all true."
He felt her shake her head against him, her voice so soft it was barely audible even to his keen ears. "How could it be? After how I hurt you? I know how people feel about me when they just know what I can do, and you've felt it. I knew I shouldn't have tried. I'm so sorry that I tried..."
He looked down at her, something that had been nudging at the back of his mind finally clicking into place. Suddenly he was furious. "Dammit, Marie, is that what you think? Is that why you're dressed like this, covered from head to toe? You think you're just going to be able to bury yourself away like that? Never touch anyone again?"
He laced his fingers into her hair again, pulling her face up to his. "On or off, Marie?"
"What?" Her eyes were dazed.
"Hell - it doesn't matter," he said, pulling the edge of the sheer scarf up to cover her mouth, his mouth warming and wetting the fabric until it was barely a barrier at all, tasting again the combination of whiskey and Marie - so unbearably enticing it made something in his chest tighten painfully. His hands dove under her jacket, feeling her smooth skin through the thin shirt, one hand rubbing her back and the other creeping up to palm her breast as his mouth continued to tease and invade and cajole.
Finally he drew back, leaving them both gasping. "I'm not scared of you, Marie. And I've been miserable without you. I don't care if your skin stays on, and we have to be careful. But if you want to try to practice your control some more, I'll give you all the practice you can stand." He flashed a wolfish grin at the thought of that, before his eyes met hers again, intent. "If I'm in your head, you know what I am. I'm screwed up in lots of different ways, and I can be a mean sonuvabitch sometimes. You deserve a lot better'n me, but if for some reason I'm what you want, I'm not stupid enough to let you go twice."
He pulled them both to their feet, setting her in front of him, steadying her with his hands on her waist. She still looked dazed, and an icy flicker of doubt whipped through him. Why wasn't she saying anything?
"Off," she breathed.
A slow smile started to spread across her face, lighting her eyes, making his blood sing. "My skin - it's off."
He felt the answering smile on his face. "Good." A deep, warm, blazing, rough kiss, with nothing between them. "Let's go."