[Author's Note: Here it is, the last chapter! I know this was a long one, thanks for sticking with me!]
Logan stared in numb disbelief at Marie's small body, crumpled on the floor. Dead. She was dead. He had heard her heartbeat grow sluggish and then stop, her last breath sighing from her body. He felt as if his heart had stopped with hers.
His stray thought from the day before rang through his head.
Nothing this good could possibly last. Not for someone like him.
"Logan!" He heard her voice and hope surged within him, but when he looked at her again her body was still lifeless.
He awoke with a jerk, his heart pounding, his body covered in a cold sweat.
Marie was standing a few feet away, but once she saw he was awake she got back into the bed, burrowing into his arms.
"Marie." His voice was rough as he squeezed her tight, breathing in her scent, feeling her warmth. "God...Marie."
"The lab?" she asked.
He shook his head. "The other one."
"Aw, sugar." He could hear the incipient tears in her voice.
He couldn't help it...he had to run his hands over her, reassuring himself. "You're here," he said, feeling foolish, but somehow hearing the words aloud helped.
"I'm here," she assured him, and that helped even more.
He lay back, pulling her with him, letting himself be soothed by her scent and nearness as she stroked his chest tenderly. Eventually his breathing evened out, his pulse slowing to a normal rate.
He closed his eyes, taking comfort in the feeling of her hands moving over him, her soft, sweet little body pressed fully against his. Skin to skin. She may still have to cover up for the world outside, but in here, with him, there were no barriers between them. That was another miracle her permanent absorption of his mutation had given them, second in Logan's mind only to the miracle of her resurrection. Thinking about it brought the bone-deep feeling of loss from his dream back for a moment, and he shivered.
"You're worried about tomorrow, aren't you?" she finally asked.
"Damn right I'm worried about tomorrow. I still think I should be there..."
"Logan." Her voice was stern, even as her hands continued their soft caresses. "You and I both know that's the worst idea ever. I love the hell out of you, but where Magneto is concerned you would be the biggest liability possible."
A low growl escaped him.
"I'm serious, Logan." She pushed herself up on her elbow, her eyes meeting his. "All he would have to do is hurt you, and I'd do anything to stop it. Give him anything."
Her intent gaze held his until he finally nodded. How could he argue with that? He felt the same way about her.
"I'll have Charles with me. It'll be okay, sugar, you'll see. I'll come straight back to you, and then you can be my shadow for the next year if it makes you feel better."
"I'll be your shadow for the next hundred years if you let me."
She smiled at that, and he pulled her up against his chest again.
"I just don't understand why you have to do it this way. Why I can't just kill the bastard in his sleep."
He felt her sigh. She pulled up on her elbow again, one hand stroking down his chest, her eyes downcast, her dark thick lashes casting shadows on her cheeks.
"The memories I take...they're private, Logan. But I knew you wouldn't understand this, and so I asked Charles for permission to tell you."
He sat up, his brow furrowing in confusion. "Tell me what?"
She sat up also, brushing her hair back absentmindedly. "You know that Lehnsherr and Charles go way back, right?"
He nodded. "Never asked exactly what happened, but I know that Lehnsherr is the one that put him in that chair."
She nodded. "I think that was probably the worst day of both of their lives." She looked at him now, pain in the depths of her dark brown eyes. "Logan, Charles and Erik Lehnsherr were more than just friends."
He didn't get it for a moment, and then her meaning suddenly hit him. "Lehnsherr? And Chuck?" It sounded absurd at first, but then he thought of the tension between the two men, the strange entangled relationship they had even now as rivals and mutant leaders. "Huh. I kinda get it now."
She seemed relieved, settling into his side again, her arm tight around his waist. "I didn't see too much of Lehnsherr's memories. And God, I never want to. The concentration camp, the violence, the incredible hatred. But I saw Charles in his memories. One of the only bright spots he had in all that darkness. At one point, long ago, they were everything to each other."
Logan thought about Xavier. He was always so surrounded by people - by the team, the hubbub of the mansion, all the kids he had taken in. He had never thought of him as being lonely, but Logan wondered now if the loss of Lehnsherr was why he had filled his life with so many other people.
She squeezed him in agreement. "If Charles feels anything close to what Lehnsherr feels..." She sighed. "I know what Lehnsherr is. He came damn close to killing you, and he probably would've killed me." A note of steel entered her voice. "And if it comes down to it, I will not hesitate to end him."
He rumbled his agreement.
"But...Charles gives so much. All the time. To you, to me...to all the kids here. To mutant society. If I can stalemate Lehnsherr tomorrow - tie his hands - that will be my gift to Charles. Letting Lehnsherr live, at least for now."
"I think I'm finally startin' to understand."
She kissed him gently. "I knew you would."
He kissed her back deeper, capturing her lips, his tongue tangling with hers until he broke away for a moment.
"Just promise me that if he even looks at you funny you'll snap his neck like I showed you."
She smiled against his lips. "Promise."
They met in Central Park again, Xavier and Marie winding their way toward the small chess table where Lehnsherr sat, his cold eyes watchful. The boy - Johnny, Marie remembered - stood sulkily behind, still flicking his lighter.
"You had something you wanted to discuss?" Lehnsherr asked Xavier, but it was Marie who sat down at the chess table, slowly drawing her gloves off under Lehnsherr's cautious gaze.
"I wanted to show you something." She reached a hand out towards his, slowly enough that he could draw away if he wanted.
"Hey!" Johnny said, but Lehnsherr gave him a quelling look. He looked back at Marie and nodded. She took his hand in hers, feeling the tension in the bony fingers until it was apparent that her mutation was not going to start. Lehnsherr's fingers eased slightly under hers.
"So you can control it. Are you looking for congratulations, little girl?"
She kept her eyes steady on his. "It's not control." She gestured with her head to the boy, holding out her other hand. "Ask the firebug to come here."
Lehnsherr looked over at Johnny and nodded.
"Are you kidding me?" Johnny's face paled.
Lehnsherr's icy voice lashed out, his eyes never leaving Marie's. "Do it, Pyro."
She continued to hold Lehnsherr's hand firmly in hers. From the corner of her eye she saw Johnny move hesitantly in the direction of her other hand. His right hand continued to restlessly flick the lighter as he held out one finger of his left hand, touching it tentatively to her palm. For a moment nothing happened and she saw him start to smirk. Suddenly thick veins popped out on his arm, his knees buckling just as she pulled her hand away.
Marie picked up the lighter from where it had fallen to the table, flicking it open. She held out her palm, watching as the flame jumped into it, forming a burning sphere before she closed her hand, snuffing it out.
"Fun," she said.
Lehnsherr's cold gaze jumped from Johnny, slumped on the ground, to Marie. She could see his mind whirring, calculating.
"Not control," she said again. "Just immunity. Turns out when I touch someone, I take them in and get their power. For a little while. And then they fade, but I stay immune." Her voice was hard and cold. "You blew your shot, Lehnsherr. If you ever get that machine of yours up and runnin', you're going to have to be the one inside it. Understand?"
His hand fell away from hers. He gave no answer, but she saw defeat in every line of his body, his shoulders hunched, his head drooping.
They left him there, Marie guiding Xavier's wheelchair back up the rocky path.
"He bought it," she said softly when they were far enough away.
Xavier nodded curtly. "For now. But the day might come when he will realize the truth."
She couldn't help herself from putting a comforting hand on Xavier's shoulder. "And on that day, we'll deal with him. But not today."
His hand crept back, shaking slightly, to cover hers. He bowed his head, his voice thick with emotion. "Thank you, Rogue."
She squeezed his shoulder. "You're welcome, Charles."
She lifted her head from the chart, surprised by the urgency in the man's voice.
"We finally got a hit on the collar - Argentina."
His face was flushed, excited, and she felt her own heart start to speed.
The one they had been looking for, for so long. "Send everyone. The whole team. I don't want anything screwing up this rendition, do you understand me?" Her voice was a cold lash. "I want Number 39 in my hands by this time tomorrow or heads will roll."
Foster nodded, his excitement somewhat dimmed. "Yes, ma'am."
Foster wiped the sweat from his brow, gesturing silently to the team behind him. He stepped gingerly up onto the porch of the rickety little shack. If Number 39 had holed up in this godforsaken place in the middle of nowhere, she must be pretty damn desperate.
With one strong kick his booted foot came up, smashing down the door. He stormed into the hut. Empty. He kicked over a dilapidated cot, watching dust billow up as it hit the ground. No one had been here for months.
"Check the signal," he snapped to the ones who had followed him in.
The followed the signal to a patch of dust out behind the shack. The receiver beeped faster and faster until the stuttering beeps turned to a solid whine.
"Goddammit," Foster muttered.
"Dig," he barked to the men.
They dug for hours, until the shovels started to scrape against something metal.
"Get it clear enough, and then stand back," he ordered sharply.
The men cleared away the crumbling red dirt for another few minutes, and then heaved themselves out of the hole. He jumped down, his bootheels ringing against the metal of a crate. Two half-doors were padlocked in the middle.
He held his hand out for one of the shovels, slamming the shovel's edge into the padlock until it snapped.
He pulled the padlock free, and then heaved hard, opening the upper door to the crate.
He reared back, choking against the smell. A decaying corpse, the suppression collar tight around its neck, but it wasn't the slim body of Number 39. This corpse was massive, blond shaggy hair falling in patches from the disintegrating skull.
Foster threw the crate's door back fully. The corpse had something on its chest, covered by its crossed arms.
Foster pulled aside one fetid arm, revealing a black plastic case. He pulled aside the second arm, and froze. As the second arm was moved it revealed a nest of wires, and the case suddenly lit up. Red numbers flashed in sequence across the front, a beep accompanying each.
Foster felt his breath squeeze from his lungs.
[Author's Note: Nothing like ending with a bang, huh? Thanks so much for reading...and if you read, please review! :-D]