A/N: I am bowing to public pressure and writing more of what was originally a one-shot. Thank you to everyone for their encouragement. It took me a while to find an angle that coalesced with the first portion, and I hope you enjoy the results.
He hated the Institute's lab. It was an irrational hate, he realized, as it was a center of healing, but hospitals and labs always made his blood run cold. Once in the confines of the Xavier Institute, Rogue had been shuffled to the basement levels for treatment, with Logan following closely behind. He had fought back the growing panic to assure her that he was still there, but his anxiety increased tenfold once the med-lab doors opened and Rogue was overcome by the same fear that gripped him. Though weak and disoriented, she started to struggle against the firm but gentle hands of Beast and Storm.
At seeing her distress, the Wolverine's instincts kicked in and he pushed his teammates aside and cradled the fragile girl in his arms. Through the stiff leather of his uniform, he could feel her nails digging into his forearms. Exquisite pain. Her staccato heartbeat matched his own, and he drew her in closer till they beat in time, gradually slowing.
He wove his hands through her hair, adoring the play of white and brown strands as they glided through his fingers. He cursed himself for not seeing it sooner, for not recognizing that the girl that had died in his arms two years previous was only a pale imitation of the girl he now held. The absent white streak had disturbed him at the time, but it should have been obvious to him that his Rogue always would bear the mark of their connection. Her breathing steadied and Dr. McCoy's low and temperate voice beckoned Logan to release the girl into his care.
He still held her tight, but he carried her into the medical lab, as requested. Placing her gingerly onto the bed, their eyes met for the first time since stepping out of the X-Jet. There was still panic in her gaze, but it was fading. He had hoped that some joy or understanding would trickle through her velvety brown eyes, but there was none. Just the ebbing panic being replaced by pain and recrimination. He stayed by her side until the sedatives kicked in and she drifted into a dreamless sleep. Only then did he allow himself to be led out of the lab by Storm into a nearby waiting room, where he sat and ruminated on his failure to protect the girl.
The others seemed to delight in telling him at the relief he was feeling at finding her alive. Funny, he didn't recall feeling relief. Shock, yes. And guilt. So much guilt he could fucking choke on it. She had been in that Hell-hole for over two years. He didn't remember how long he's been stuck in the government facility before they tore open his body and filled him with metal, but he was damn sure it wasn't anything close to two years. And the experience had cut him so deep that even he couldn't heal from it. He had no idea how she was expected to deal with it. He absently wondered if it wouldn't have been kinder to sink his metal claws into her, take away the pain and anger that would inevitably claim any shred of humanity she had left. But he knew he couldn't do it, even if she begged him. He would split open every vein in his body, bleed to death for her, but he could never harm her. Not again.
Rogue was malnourished and scarred, inside and out. Beast analytically laid out her situation to the senior staff. Wolverine barely heard a word he said. The doctor said some shit about therapy and helping her readjust. He would occasionally snort derisively at McCoy's clinical suggestions and the questions posed by the other mutants, who sounded more like students kissing up to their teacher than people concerned about their abused friend. Anger welled up inside him, realizing that few of her former teammates truly gave a damn about her. Part of him wanted to gut the fuckers, but a small logical part of him realized that wouldn't help a damn thing.
When she awoke the senior members of the X-Men slowly laid out their story for her, bit by bit, in hushed tones. They told her about their frantic search after she was taken, the horrors of laboratory where they found the body that was genetically the same as her own, and the steps, sometimes unethical, that they had undertaken to make sure that the organization responsible paid for its crimes. Every word out of their mouths dripped with apology and a deep need for her understanding. She sat there unmoved, seemingly unaffected by their tale. Only he picked up the distress that wafted from her when they told her about her clone.
When she was well enough to walk, he pulled on a pair of weathered brown leather gloves that had lay forgotten at the back of his closet for the last two years, and silently led her by the hand to the graveyard. She followed, angry and saddened, but mute to the world. He showed her the polished granite tombstone that bore her name and her breath hitched and lip quivered. The form of the scrawny, pale girl who had been stolen from him seemed to be revived at the sight of her supposed resting place. But as the proceeding weeks came to show, it was anguish that controlled that form.
She would rage and scream, cry and sob, be aloof and cold. No matter what form her outburst took, if it resulted in harsh words being hurled at him, her tears staining his shirt, or her pointed avoidance of him, he took it in stride. The short-tempered feral would meet her anger with abject apology, her sadness with comfort, her distance with kindness. None of the other mutants knew what to make of it. The Wolverine was anything but accommodating, even to the children at the Institute. But in her presence, he was different. He had the patience of a saint and the contrite heart of a repentant sinner.
He deserved it all, he reckoned. All the bitterness and pain she presented him with were his by right. He had not seen the obvious, he had not searched hard enough, he had not been worthy of her. This was not only his penance, it was an opportunity to do right by her. And by the end of every tantrum, break-down, and stand-off, he found her once again in his arms. Soothed but sad, he would pet her hair, his digits fondling the blanched tresses amongst the ocean of mahogany. He likened those white strands to a veil, one that was unwillingly forced upon her when Magneto had sacrificed her, and in turn, Wolverine had sacrificed himself for him, binding them. It was her mourning veil, her bridal veil.
His unwavering dedication to her left room for little else in his life. He would go on assignments, but only after she would nod affirmative when he recited Storm's mission objectives to her. He would train, but only with her at his side, hoping that the sweat and exhaustion would be as distracting and gratifying for her as it was for him. The two would silently eat their meals away from the rest of the household. When she was busy being talked to by the resident therapist Betsy, or was dragged out shopping with Kitty, he would return to his old routine of stalking the grounds. He would wander into the woods, let his rage and self-loathing take over till his claws would unsheathe of their own volition. He would slash and howl and beat himself into a muddy, bloody mess. At those times, he was unsure if it was himself he wanted to destroy, or the world around him.
The animalistic fury would eventually die out, replaced by exhaustion. He would stagger back to the mansion, careful to avoid the prying eyes of the X-Men. He would return to his room, feeling ill at ease with the fine trapping of the cage that he had placed himself in. The remains of his pride revolted at the convention that he needed to clean himself of the grime and blood, to wash away the evidence of his feral nature. And so he would stand there, the wolf amongst the sheep, and wait. She would come to him, eventually, never saying a word. She would just look him over carefully, her eyes eventually meeting his.
Even since that first touch years ago, she had understood him better than anyone. She had a piece of his mind in hers, and while that had disturbed him at first, the fact that she still cared for him after seeing his true nature made him feel like there was something about himself that wasn't completely disgusting. For years she had understood him, but she hadn't felt what he felt. She didn't feel out of control, she wasn't overwhelmed by rage, she didn't have to put on one face to please society while hiding her own behind indifference. Now she did. He could see that every time her eyes trailed up his bloodied and soiled body to meet his gaze. They were the same now. Whatever the bastards had done to her, it had stripped her of her innocence.
Part of him, a selfish part that he wished he could beat into submission, reveled in the knowledge that she was like him; the rest of him mourned for the sweet sixteen-year-old runaway with the purest heart he had ever known. When their eyes met, he knew that girl was gone, she had died in the lab, just as her clone had. And while those feral threads of fury and rebellion were now a part of her, he saw that the loving, understanding, and strong-willed girl he had once known was still there. Her heart may have been turned to steel by her experiences, but that didn't bother him. He was already in her heart when it closed off, and by closing it to everyone else, she was trapping him in with her. Just as it had been with him when he thought she had died.
As the weeks turned into months, her ferocity and bitterness remained, but became increasingly internalized. Instead of hating the bastards from the lab, the X-Men, or Wolverine, she hated herself. Blamed herself.
And that's what killed him the most. That's what broke him. He barged into her room late one night to find her bundled up in grey flannel pajamas and begged her to let him help – help him find some way to make it up to her, to make it all better. She obstinately refused to even respond to him, unwittingly unleashing his wrath. Decimating the furniture in her room, he raged at her stubbornness, her inability to respond to reason, her determination to stay a broken shell of what she once was.
Exasperated but fearless, she yelled at him, "You can't fix this, Logan!"
He halted. She repeated in a whisper, "You can't fix this."
He knew she was right. He couldn't erase two years of fear and torture from who she was. He also knew that it was the first time in two and a half years that anyone had dared to call him by anything other than the Wolverine. The rage that consumed him disappeared, and all that was left was her name on his lips. He couldn't fix her, but he could try and make her understand that she wasn't alone.
He lunged at her, eliciting a startled gasp, but no resistance. His lips crashed down upon hers, and he only pulled away once he felt the agony of her mutation run through every nerve in his body. He backed away exhausted, resting his back on the wall, and stared at her shocked face.
Her eyes darted about the destroyed room, never focusing on anything. Her breath was rapid, and her scent ever changing – first fear, than anger, sadness, bemusement, and then finally, a hint of joy. Her eyes refocused and met his. A genuine smile, one that he recognized from her runaway days, made its way onto her face. He forced himself away from the wall and staggered over to her. She let him wrap his arms around her, content in their silent understanding. He breathed in her calm, and rested his weary head upon her own, shielded by her white streaked hair.
Despite kissing her, he didn't feel like he had crossed a line. There was no line to be crossed. They weren't lovers, they weren't friends, they weren't family, they were just them. A relationship that spanned all those categories and yet didn't fall into any of them. They belonged together – to each other, and that's all there was to it. Whatever they were, whatever they would be, they'd be it together.