Reflections in Red

Dum spiro, spero.
As long as I breathe, I hope.

Comforted by Scott's strong, secure presence, Marie's breathing eventually evened out and she fell into a deep, exhausted sleep, curled against Scott's chest like the rabbit he'd named her for. Wishing for the same kind of blissful sleep, but knowing it wouldn't be coming to him tonight, Scott carefully placed Marie back in the bed and pulled the covers up over her tiny frame, a little surprised by the rush of familial emotions that assaulted him as he tucked her in. It was a completely foreign experience for him and more than a little unnerving. While he ran this base and looked after all the people within it, there was an emotional distance inherent in his position as camp leader that made caring for them entirely different than caring for Marie.

When dealing with the people who looked to him on a daily basis for protection, that emotional distance was a godsend. If he allowed himself to feel each person's individual hurts and woes, he'd be so mired in grief that it would make functioning as a leader impossible. By the same token, the emotional distance he relied upon so heavily in his day-to-day dealings with people would cripple his relationship with Marie. Scott sighed heavily as he gave his small charge one last look and softly pulled her door shut behind him.

God, how he wished he'd had more time with Charles. His guidance would be without measure now. Charles had not only taught him how to use his mutation to the best of his ability, but he'd also taught him the rudimentary elements of command while helping him hone his natural leadership abilities. As a boy of eighteen, carving out a place for himself and those dependent on him for survival, those lessons had been invaluable. But now, as he took his first tentative steps into what was essentially fatherhood, he wished he'd had the presence of mind at fifteen to absorb an entirely different kind of wisdom from Charles.

What he wouldn't give to exchange just a few words with his old mentor now. What did he know about being the head of a nuclear family? He could keep the people under his protection safe, could provide for them, could pull his team's asses though a shit-storm of Extermination Squads with minimal casualties. He had a gift for tactical thinking and could calculate probables and trajectories as well as, if not better than, Hank. He knew how to survive off the land and how to teach others to do the same. Hell, he could take apart and rebuild nearly anything with an engine in it... but he had absolutely no idea how to raise a child. And for a man who liked concrete, logical answers, in his mind, this pseudo-fatherhood was just one big jumble of unanswered questions. He didn't feel like a father, but he hoped he could be a passably decent big brother.

Back in his own room, Scott swiftly divested himself of his pants and slid back into bed, shivering as his large body slowly warmed the chill from icy sheets. He thought better of it a moment later and got up and put on some boxers before slipping back into bed. Who knew when Marie might need him again?

It hadn't even been one night and things were already changing. The man who had so few personal comforts was already having to give some of them up to accommodate the addition of Marie to his home and his life. Dammit. He liked sleeping naked and he couldn't help but feel a little resentful about the change. On the other hand, there was something settling about not being the only person sleeping under this roof.

Despite all the things weighing heavily on his mind tonight, he couldn't help but wish he hadn't returned to an empty bed. He was only twenty-six for God's sake. He was fit and healthy, a young man in the prime of his life. It was only natural for his thoughts to wander to women and sex. And they did so. Often. Tonight was no exception.

Though it felt a little odd to transition from being the familial rock Marie needed to being a man with needs and desires of his own, Scott let his mind wander a bit. He indulged himself in fantasies about how nice it would have been to return to bed tonight to find warm sheets and an even warmer woman waiting for him. While he had the same graphic, carnal fantasies most men had, what he really longed for was a partner. Someone to share his life with, both in bed and out; a lover and a friend. Satisfying a physical need for release was one thing, satisfying an emotional desire for a life partner was another animal entirely.

It wasn't that he was totally lacking in feminine company. He did have a woman, but their situation was... unique, even for this time and place. To begin with, she was human. That was part of the reason they did not live openly together. The other mutants at the base knew of her existence, but left her in peace, partly because she was the leader's woman and partly because she made herself as unobtrusive as possible. In fact, she lived an almost hermitlike existence.

Scott smiled as he thought of her. Eve. The first woman. The name she'd chosen for herself was fitting, seeing as how she'd been at this base when he'd taken possession of it seven years ago. Scott's smile faded at the memory. That battle hadn't been pretty. Meticulous reconnaissance on his part had shown the ragtag band of men holding this ground to be little better than animals, a handful of the base's original complement of soldiers who'd apparently proved immune to Legacy. They did not, however, prove immune to his optic blasts. He felt no guilt for dispatching them as he had, coldly and with exacting precision. After he'd secured the base, his stomach had turned at what he found below in some of the lower levels. Eve and her mother had been the last in a long line of human women the men had tortured and raped for sport.

Eve's mother had done what she could to spare her daughter the worst of it, but Eve too had known her share of pain. She was lucky enough to have been spared the multiple rapes her mother had endured, but someone had cut her face up badly. From the left, she was flawlessly beautiful; a pale blue eye under a gently arched brow, creamy skin, soft honey-brown hair. It was only when one looked at her from the right that they saw the horrible crisscrossing of thick scars that marred her face. They had faded over the years from a vivid, angry red to a softer purply-pink, but no amount of time would ever bring back sight to her opaque right eye or bring back her missing right ear.

Even after all these years, Eve had never told him her real name, or exactly what had happened to her before he'd saved her, but Scott knew what damage from a box-cutter looked like and there was no mistaking what had caused her crude scars. Even though he'd intended the base to be a haven solely for mutants, Scott found he didn't have the heart to force her to leave, especially after her mother had died from her extensive wounds shortly after he'd taken control of the base. It was as if once she'd realized her daughter was safe, the fragile threads holding her to this life had been sheered away. In the wake of her mother's death, he'd allowed Eve to stay on and instructed Hank to look after her injuries.

That decision had proved to be incredibly lucky. While treating Eve, Hank had discovered she carried a rare, dormant form of the Legacy virus. It had been his first opportunity to study the mutated strain of Legacy that attacked human physiology. Hank could find no reason for her immunity, but studying it over the course of nearly seven years had given him a unique understanding of the disease, how it worked, how it spread and ultimately, how to fight it.

Unfortunately for Eve, it was also something of a ticking time bomb. She knew full well someday the virus that had lain dormant inside her for years might reassert itself. She didn't carry the strain harmful to mutants, but she knew that ultimately, it didn't matter. Eve was a realist. Even if she'd wanted to be with Scott, he could never have a mate like her. Not only was she disfigured; she was also a human and a carrier of the disease that had ravaged mutantkind worldwide. They would never accept her, and truthfully, she had no desire to lead anyone. She only wanted to be left alone.

While she was a virtual hermit, rarely wandering out of the small cabin she lived in, she did welcome Scott's visits. He was a kind man who treated her with respect. She also felt a kinship with him born of similar experiences. Though his scars were nowhere near as horrific as hers, the fact that his face was also imperfect put her at ease with him in a way no words ever could. Although they enjoyed each other's company and eased each other's loneliness, they both knew she wasn't the woman for him. They were friends and on occasion lovers, but they were not in love. They were simply two people giving as much of themselves as they could to make the most of a difficult situation.

Scott shifted uncomfortably and ran a hand through his hair, wishing he could go to Eve tonight, but he knew that Marie's presence made that all but impossible now. Another change. For a man so used to being in control, he was feeling decidedly off balance after the day's events. Watching Hank with Noriko this afternoon had made him feel both jealousy and envy, but also a sense of sadness that they shared something he didn't have and wouldn't have until Kitty was of age.

Rationally, he knew intimacy with Eve wasn't a permanent fix for that hollow, empty feeling inside him, but he also knew he'd feel better after visiting her, partly because of the physical release sex would bring him and partly because, for the time he was with her, he didn't have to be Cyclops. He could simply be a man spending a few hours with a woman who brought his tired soul a small measure of peace. Despite that, he'd never let her see all of him, to truly see into him. He was guarded even with her. Even then, there was distance. In some ways, it made the time they spent together sweeter. Easier. It wasn't two adults giving all they had. It was two damaged people giving what scraps they could while still keeping their walls strong.

Scott's full, sensual lips turned up in a small smile. He wasn't too sure he brought Eve peace-pleasure, maybe, but not peace. They might not be in love, but their odd relationship did work. He gave her security and kindness and she gave him a safe haven of sorts to just be a man and not a leader for a little while. He could be man with her, but he was rarely Scott. He almost never gave up intimate pieces of himself despite the pleasure they found together.

And truthfully, he knew she'd have been lonely without his companionship. Even if his status as the base's leader didn't keep everyone else away, she'd have wanted him to be the man in her life for another reason-when he was intimate with her, he never wore his glasses. For a small span of time, she got to pretend she was once again whole and beautiful. It was only then, when he was truly blind, that she could let her self-consciousness go enough to be intimate with him. It was a price he willingly paid for the pleasure it brought to each of them.

And it was a good arrangement. They met each other's immediate physical needs and offered each other a bit of respite from the terrible loneliness felt by so many in this war-torn, disease-ravaged world. She was also someone with whom he could be more candid than was usually possible, even with his close friends. Not completely candid, but her unique perspective as an 'outsider' was quite valuable. They spent as much time talking in bed as they did having sex there.

Still, they had exchanged a rare few emotional intimacies over the years. She knew more about him than anyone, except perhaps Hank. Eve knew a little about his past and about his plans for the future. She knew he'd sent Rogue to meet Logan with the hopes he would see the same thing in Rogue that he'd seen in Kitty. Eve knew about Kitty too. And she knew why he now wore a ring on a chain around his neck.

That had been the first tangible change, he realized. The first harbinger of the things to come. That little circle of precious metal between them when they were intimate. Falling onto her as he moved over her. Dragging across her skin as he thrust and shuddered.

While it might seem odd that he spoke of his future mate with his current lover, he was as much a realist as she, and just as pragmatic. And the fact was, besides Hank, she was his only real confidante. To be frank, there were things that men just didn't speak about with each other. Some things were easier shared with a woman. Over the years, Eve's input and uniquely feminine perspective had been invaluable to him both as a leader and as a man. She was a good friend. That above all.

Tonight, Scott's emotions were a jumble of things, all seemingly at odds with each other. He felt relief that Hank and his two small charges had made it safely back to the base. He felt pride in both Bobby and Noriko for the job they'd done this afternoon. He felt envy and longing for what he knew Hank and Noriko were sharing together this night. God, how he wished for a true partner to ease his burden and to share the joys of life the same way they did. He felt uncertainty about his new position as the head of a family that now included Marie. He felt gratitude towards Logan for accepting Kitty and giving her his protection.

He felt relief that Hank, Rogue and Jubilee had returned safely and he had wasted no time in using their unreliable internet connection to relay the information to Logan that his mate was safe. He felt amusement and surprise at the reply. The caustic tone was classic Logan, but the words themselves gave him pause. Genuine thanks from the Wolverine? There was a first time for everything, it seemed.

What he felt for Kitty was more complex. It was part hope that he'd made the right choice, part excitement that he might one day have what Hank and Noriko did, and part frustration that he'd have to wait years before he'd even begin to have those answers. What he felt for Eve was similarly complex, but also bittersweet. If the virus did not take her from him unexpectedly, it would be several years before their odd relationship ended, but they both knew it would end, and for as much as he was looking forward to a true partnership with Kitty, he loathed the idea of causing Eve even the slightest bit of hurt. He might not love her, but he cared for her in his own way and she'd been hurt enough in life already.

Still, she knew as well as he did that he needed the kind of partner she couldn't and wouldn't be-and in truth, the kind she didn't want to be. He and Eve, they were the road, before it diverged in the wood. Eve would take the one less traveled. Scott would blaze his own. They had long since made their peace with that.

Scott switched from his glasses to his sleep goggles and rolled to his stomach, sighing heavily. His body needed sleep, but his brain wouldn't slow down, and on top of everything else resting so heavily on his heart and mind, he also felt the urge to indulge his more base, carnal desires. It was a need that would go unanswered this night, despite the urgings of his body and the heavy pressure building uncomfortably between his legs. A solitary release would appease the demands of his body, but it would leave him feeling even more alone than ever when he finished and lay there sweaty and breathing hard with nobody to wrap himself around as sleep took him.

That didn't leave many options. Eve would never come to him here. She rarely left her cabin and he knew with Marie here, he couldn't go to her. What if she had another nightmare and needed him? Even if she didn't, she was a child and he couldn't leave her alone. While he was happy that Logan had made a connection with Marie strong enough to warrant sending her into his keeping, a small part of him resented the restrictions her presence placed upon him. He enjoyed very few personal freedoms and he felt the loss of this one keenly. Clearly, the addition of Marie to his life was going to take a considerable amount of adjustment. He'd anticipated it would, but he was beginning to realize the extent of this commitment went far deeper than even he'd imagined.

He felt almost exactly the same as he had the day he'd stared at the base for the first time and realized he not only had to carve out a place for himself, but for everyone who depended on him for survival. Marie's arrival, and the idea that he was now part of a family unit, garnered many of the same feelings he'd experienced sizing up the base that day so long ago, and many of the same fears.

Once again, a task of monumental proportions sat before him, and as he'd done that day as his red gaze swept over the base for the first time, his thoughts turned inward. Was he strong enough, wise enough, to rise to this new challenge? And again, the answer was the same.

He must be.

He had to be.

The price for failure was too dear. He knew all too well what demons waited in the chasm of darkness, ready to swallow Logan if he failed. They were the same demons that whispered in the depths of his own dark dreams.

Scott thought again of Charles and of his continuing search for hope. How strange that life repeated itself so. His mentor was gone, but that hope for the next generation still remained. It lived on in him, in Logan, in all mutants who dreamed of sweeter tomorrows to get themselves through the horrors of today. It dwelled in the hearts of men who dreamed of a life no longer lived alone and in the children who flourished under their fierce care. And for Scott and Logan, hope lived in the knowledge that Kitty and Marie would one day cross the threshold from child to woman and join them as full partners in life, bringing light to their darkness and solace to hearts that for too long had held their ground alone.

~ End Book I ~


Author's Note: Thank you all so much! I don't think I've ever had as much fun reading feedback in my life. :) As for the story, yep – this part ends there. Sorry! I know what you're thinking: WTF?! A coming-of-age story where nobody ages up? Where's my W/R nookie? Scott and Kitty? Nothin' for them either? Screw you and the bunny you rode in on, you non-delivering piece of crap…

Heh.

Before you guys prepare to burn me in flaming effigy, I wanted to say that the story arc does NOT end here. I've already written three chapters of Holding Ground II. The next installment (Book II) will begin when Marie and Kitty are teenagers. You'll get all the stuff you want to see. Kitty and Marie manifesting. Everyone getting to know each other through letters and presents. The face-to-face meeting Logan promised Kitty she'd get with Scott before she turned eighteen. (Logan will get his turn for a face-to-face with Marie too! Can't you just see Logan's stunned reaction to Marie coming down the Blackbird's ramp, all curvy and sultry as hell? Heh.) The claiming(s). The sexytimes. ;) The fights! The resolution of the (ahem!) Jean issues, plus Bobby, Jubes, Remy and 'Ro, too.

I'll be slapping an underage warning on this one because you know that Scott and Logan won't be able to resist stealing a few smoochies and whatnot from their prospective mates here and there as the girls get closer to being claimed. They were never any good at following the rules anyway…

Coming soon: (Like tomorrow or the day after)

Since I feel like you were shortchanged a bit with Holding Ground's W/R sexytimes (or lack thereof), next up will be a sensual little story packed full of…. well, let's just say this. Logan said it best: "Strip Chocolate sounds like a game where gettin' licked ain't entirely a bad thing."

Strip Chocolate
Logan discovers that not all board games are boring when he and Marie give an adult board game a whirl. 4 (steamy!) chapters. (complete)

After that one, I'm going to start posting my new novel, Run. I am SO excited to share this one! I think it might be the most favorite thing I've written to date. I'm a huge fan of stories that are told through little slices of intimacy; those moments when people are truly real with each other. This one is all about that. It's seriously adult in theme and content. It's also currently the most citrusy thing I've ever written….(yes, more than Bittersweet and Strip Chocolate!). I know, I know. I'm shameless!

Run
Logan's claws were in her chest. His life force filled her body. His thoughts echoed in her head, shouting one thing over and over. Run. She does... and it takes him a decade to catch her again. 33 chapters (nearly done!)

And if you all are still with me after that…

Shine Against Me
Logan and Marie and talk about pornography… and then things get crazy. 20+ chapters (and counting!)

Walk the Line
Marie comes back after taking the Cure. "She'd always defend him though, even now – powerless and helpless, and they both knew it. It didn't even need saying. The care of this beautiful man was written in her bones." 9 chapters (at least 4 more to go)

Yep. Still certifiable! ;)