[Author's Note: This is the first time I'm posting a story on here as I write it. I usually update at least weekly, and I can guarantee that unless I get hit by a bus or something I will never leave a story unfinished. I've been burned myself too many times by getting sucked into a work-in-progress that never gets completed, so if you are willing to take the risk of reading a work-in-progress know that I appreciate it and I won't leave you hanging.]
Logan sighed as he felt the phone in his pocket buzz again. He had only reluctantly agreed to carry the damn thing, and that was before he had realized that Chuck had apparently taken to texting like a 12-year-old girl.
Have you made contact yet?
Logan took another long gulp of beer and surveyed the place from his table in the corner. The roadside bar had pretensions of being a restaurant, and was succeeding at neither. The fact that it was fairly crowded just underlined how little else there was going on out here in the boonies. A game played on a small t.v. high in the corner, and the late afternoon light streaming through dirty windows emphasized the dust motes hanging in the air over the bar that edged the back of the main room.
A muffled ruckus from the doorway next to the bar signaled that the group in the back room was becoming rowdier, their voices now drowning out the occasional crack of the billiard balls. Logan wasn't surprised, he had assessed the number of pitchers of beer that had been carried back there relative to the small group of men he had already numbered by scent and sound without ever having to lay an eye on them. He squinted at the phone's keyboard in the dirty light and laboriously pecked out a response.
He didn't even bother putting the phone back in his pocket, and sure enough within moments there was another message from Xavier.
She is close. Eyes open.
He slipped the phone back into his pocket. "Gee, thanks, Chuck. 'Cause I was planning on takin' a little nap here," he grumbled under his breath, and then wondered if Xavier had been able to catch any of that. He was keeping tabs on Logan with Cerebro, but Logan knew the adamantium in his head made it hard for Chuck to get a good read on both his location and his thoughts.
Apparently the target had a similar issue, although they didn't know why. Xavier had been trying to pin down the mutant for months and for all that time the information that had been gleaned was minimal. She was powerful. She was always on the move. And she was, for some reason, at least mostly shielded from Xavier's powers. Logan had spent the last two weeks in a frustrating pattern of hurry-up-and-wait, going in whatever direction Xavier pointed him, maddening incremental steps trying to ensure that his path intersected with the target's. At least now Xavier calculated she was within a mile of Logan's position, and since this was the only damn place to be within a mile, she had to be here.
Logan had already assessed every woman in the joint, but he took another draw of his beer and methodically looked them over again. A few waitresses - unlikely candidates, given how the target had stayed on the move. A middle-aged couple, eating chicken-fried steak in the comfortable silence of a lengthy marriage. A slim young girl, eating a burger by herself at the bar. Nice rack, Logan noted automatically. Pretty, but odd hair - auburn with a white streak at her temples.
A family was at the table nearest him - parents, a girl in her tweens, and a toddler cheerfully throwing french fries. The girl looked a little young to have manifested, but who knew - it seemed like it was happening earlier and and earlier these days. Logan had even seen some seven- and eight-year-old brats around the mansion lately. A few other women were scattered among the tables nearby, but like the men who greatly outnumbered them most had exchanged enough conversation with their waitress to be designated by Logan as locals. Right now Logan's money was on the target being the only other woman at the bar - a weathered-looking middle-aged blonde who looked tough as nails. She was sitting at the bar, nursing a vodka, and periodically sending a hard stare around the room. No one was that edgy without reason. Once she left he would have Xavier confirm that the target was on the move again and then he would make his play.
The tween girl headed for the bathroom, brushing past the waitress bringing Logan his check. At least food was cheap out in the boonies - two burgers and three beers and he had change to spare from a twenty. The game had ended, and a news announcement caught Logan's attention. "The Mutant Registration Act has once again failed to pass the Senate despite considerable revisions to appease mutant rights activists..." Logan smothered a smile. Xavier, Jean, and 'Ro would be celebrating tonight. And if he guessed right, their role in the defeat of the Registration Act had been considerable.
Logan felt his shoulders tense reflexively as the group of men staggered drunkenly out of the back room. Only five of them, but they were making enough noise for a football team. The voices had been boisterous but jovial when they were in the back, but now there was a different edge to them - bitterness and bravado, always a bad combination. The television in the back room had apparently been tuned to the same announcement.
"Fucking muties...kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out..." one was saying, and Logan subtly slid his table away from his chair a little to give himself room to move if needed. He hoped it wouldn't be necessary. As much fun as it might be to school a few local bigots, he was on a mission and as close to the target as he had been in weeks. This wasn't the time for a diversion.
"Goddamn freaks of nature..." one of the others was saying, and Logan's eye caught a flurry of movement at the table where the family was eating. The mother was hurriedly packing up the toddler's sippy cup and bib, and the father's face was tense and pale as he pulled money from his wallet. Their plates were still mostly full.
Fuck, Logan thought, just as the tween bounced out of the bathroom, oblivious to the new tension in the room, her long sweater not pulled down enough this time to entirely conceal her tail.
Logan's nostrils burned as the unfocused drunken hostility of the men sharpened into violent intent.
"Where do you think you're going, mutie bitch...?" One of the men grabbed the girl roughly by her arm, forcing a shocked cry from her. The room was suddenly deathly silent. Logan made some rough calculations. The other four men and the girl's parents were between him and the redneck holding the girl. The mother had her arms clenched around the toddler so tightly he was squealing and crying, the sound grating in the otherwise silent room. The father stepped forward, hands shaking. "We don't want any trouble," he said. Like that ever works, Logan thought cynically.
As Logan started to stand, the slim girl with the odd hair slipped off her barstool and casually walked over to the redneck holding the tween. Maybe she knows him and will talk some sense into him, Logan thought. "Hey," she said to him, her voice warm and sociable, but Logan saw no recognition in the man's eyes. She reached out and put her hand on his arm. The action looked almost reassuring, but the effect was instantaneous. His eyes wide, mouth pulled open in a silent scream, the man collapsed to his knees. The girl's hand on his arm had changed to a firm grip on his wrist as he buckled, and now she let go, appearing unsurprised as the man sprawled at her feet, unconscious.
She gave the stunned tween a gentle shove towards her parents. "Go on," she said. The father seemed to snap out of it first, grabbing the tween with an arm around her shoulders and pushing her and his wife towards the door. The motion seemed to rouse the other rednecks from their shock. "Fucking mutie freak..." One of them stepped forward, but the girl stood coolly between them and the escaping family.
Logan was moving stealthily, closing in on the group of men from behind. From that position he had a clear view of the girl, and he watched in fascination as her brown eyes flickered in a way he had never seen. Her eyes focused again, and she directed a razor-sharp gaze at the man who had spoken. "Carl," she said, and the man's face paled in shock. She looked at the other three in turn. "Rob. Jimmy. Duke. Which one of you wants to be the first to join Danny here on the floor?"
Logan saw Duke reach for his back pocket. He pulled a switchblade, snapping it open as he started towards the girl. Logan almost snorted at the four-inch blade. From the corner of his eye he saw the girl shift into a fighting stance as he grabbed Duke by the back of his collar and yanked, tossing him into two of his buddies. Logan stepped up next to the girl, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with her, between the rednecks and the door. "Hey," he said, giving her a nod of acknowledgement as he snapped his claws out.
"Hey," she answered softly. She gave him a keen look and spared another for the claws before redirecting her attention to the rednecks. Logan registered and then dismissed the shocked noises and flurry of movement behind him as the rest of the patrons hurriedly cleared out of the place. He saw the blonde he had originally figured for the target easing out the back, just as the man the girl had called Rob made a pathetic attempt to whack him with a chair. A few moments later, having reduced the chair to kindling, Logan turned just in time to watch the girl take the one called Jimmy out of commission with a vicious kick to the gut. Duke had found both his courage and switchblade again and was moving in, but something else was nagging at the back of Logan's mind. That's three, he thought. Where's the fourth?
Just as he thought it, he saw the fourth redneck come up from behind the bar with a shotgun pointed right at him. Goddammit, trust the locals to know where the bartender stashes the gun. He saw the man's eyes narrow with malice as he suddenly shifted his aim to the girl. Fuck. Logan grabbed the girl, shoving her behind him and toward the door as the first round went off. The second round caught him squarely in the chest and face, slamming him into the girl.
Logan's gaze dimmed, pain and blood and rage rendering everything a haze momentarily, until he suddenly felt cool air on his burning face. He realized the girl had pulled them both out the door. Her eyes were stretched wide, her face pale and drawn with shock. He figured he must look pretty bad. His arm feeling oddly heavy, Logan got his forearm up to wipe the blood and sweat out of his eyes as the girl slammed the door. She put her hand against it, and Logan squinted disbelievingly as a layer of frost and then ice spread from her hand, sealing the door in a thick frozen wall as the men ineffectually battered at it from the other side.
What is she?, he thought.
He could feel the chill of her hand through his flannel shirt as she grasped his arm, pulling him towards the only car left in the lot, parked a few spaces away from his motorcycle. "My bike..." he started.
She interrupted, her voice shrill with fear. "Are you kidding me? You've been shot! We have to get you to a hospital. I'll bring you back for it." His brain kicked into gear, and he realized he should be looking for any excuse to stay with her. He had wanted their paths to intersect, and now they had, albeit in a somewhat explosive way. He let her shove him into the passenger seat of her car. Her tires squealed as she peeled out of the lot.
The bleeding was slowing as Logan's healing factor kicked in, and he wiped his face again, getting another clear look at her. The calm, competent fighter she had been in the bar had disappeared and she looked very young again, pale and shaking as she drove.
"Take it easy," Logan said. She shot him a glare.
"Take it easy! You haven't seen..." She choked back a sob. "Your eye..."
Logan flipped down the visor on his side and found a small mirror. Christ, no wonder the poor kid was rattled, half of his face looked like hamburger. As he watched, a piece of buckshot worked its way out of his right eye, and as he blinked it fell to the floor.
"It's all right," he said. "I heal." She shook her head slightly, and he knew he wasn't getting through to her. "Look," he said more roughly, pulling his shirts up to show her his chest, where the wounds were already visibly closing. "I heal."
She stared, almost running off the road, and he put a hand on the wheel to steady it. With visible effort she wrenched her eyes back to the road, taking a deep breath. "Okay," she said. "You heal. I'm still taking you to a hospital. You have to get checked out...what if you heal with that stuff inside you? Don't worry, it's not illegal to be a mutant yet..."
"No hospital," he snapped. "Don't worry, the shot'll work its way out before the wounds close." He realized his mistake as soon as the words left his mouth. It took her a few seconds, but he saw the sudden stillness come over her.
"You've been shot before," she said, and he could practically see her mind piecing it together. "And you don't want to go to the authorities." He saw that icy calmness creep back into her demeanor as her scent changed sharply. She was no longer afraid for him, now she was afraid of him. "Who do you work for? Did he send you to find me?"
Shit. Had she sensed Xavier was trying to track her?
Not much he could do now but flat-out lie. He had hoped to talk her around to meeting with the old man, but as edgy as she was now if he admitted Xavier sent him she would throw him out of the car right now and be long gone by the time he was able to get anywhere on foot.
"No one sent me," he growled, resorting to surliness to hide the unease he felt lying to her. "It's just that … I'm … " He saw her brace herself as he groped for a possible explanation. A felon? A Christian Scientist?" Well, there was always the truth. "...Canadian."
He heard her surprised huff of laughter, and spared her a sidelong glance.
"Canadian?" she repeated.
"Canadian," he said firmly, as if daring her to say more about it. He added grudgingly, "I didn't exactly fill out a bunch of paperwork when I crossed the border. Hospitals want forms filled out and ID cards and social security numbers..."
He saw most of the tension go out of her. Her mouth quirked up at the corner. "Okay. So you heal. No hospital. What can I do? Do you need antibiotics or Neosporin or something?"
He smiled, and then winced as the expression pulled at his still-healing skin. "Nah, just some rest. Healing takes a lot out of me." She had managed to get them to a major road. "Get some distance between us and those rednecks, and then maybe you could get us a hotel room. Somehow I don't think anyone is going to let me in the door looking like this." He had been trying to wipe up with his shirt, but it was so covered in blood it was just smearing everything around.
She snuck another glance at him. "There's a bottle of water in the back, and probably a sweatshirt or something you can try to wipe up with." He went through the complicated series of maneuvers required to recline the seat and retrieve the stuff from the backseat. She kept sneaking glances as his face slowly emerged from the blood and gore as he wiped, making him feel a little self-conscious.
"What?" he finally said.
She blushed a little. "Nothing. It's just...you really are healing up. Does it still hurt the same as it would for anyone else?"
He could feel the tension in his jaw at the question, but he didn't really know why.
"Yeah, it hurts." A shadow crossed her face, and he found himself sorry he had told her. She was the target, he didn't want her sympathy. "You get used to it, though," he said, trying to reassure her. She shot him an unreadable look, and they drove in silence for awhile.
He leaned his head back against the headrest, feeling the drowsiness start to overcome him as the adrenaline wore off and the healing factor worked overtime to repair his wounds. He felt surprisingly comfortable in the girl's presence, the humming of the car and the warm sunlight through the windows lulling him into a half-aware state.
He was almost on his way to sleep when she asked softly, "What's your name?"
He pushed himself towards greater awareness. Jesus Christ, he should have been gathering as much information about her as possible, in case they did get separated. Why did he have to keep reminding himself that she was a mission?
"Logan," he said.
She smiled. "Logan. I'm Marie."
Marie, he thought. It suited her. He knew he should press her for more information now, while she was being open. Instead he leaned his head back against the headrest again. Marie, he thought again, as he let himself slide into sleep.
[Author's Note: Please review!]