"Heh. It ain't that bad, darlin'."
"Not that bad? There's frost on the windows! It's damned cold!"
"Cold? I thought you were tough, kid."
"Even steel magnolias freeze, sugar."
He snorted. "So you're a delicate flower now?"
"You bet." She winked at him and he rolled his eyes.
"Ya know, I might be more inclined to believe that if you weren't flyin' a truck with a season's worth of provisions in the back when you said it."
Logan had welded four anchor points to the truck's frame before they left Westchester, just in case. Now he was glad he had. He was steadying the 'tow' chains while Marie provided the lift. It wasn't pretty, but it worked.
"Pfff!" She giggled. One did not argue the truth with the Wolverine.
Winter had come early. They'd left Westchester the last week of September and an unseasonably heavy snow had delayed them again an hour south of Banff. An avalanche had left the road impassable for several miles and while the idea of holeing up in a motel room with Marie for a few days sounded good, the idea of getting to the cabin sooner rather than later sounded better.
"You doin' okay?"
"Walk in the park."
"Mmph." Logan wasn't keen on the idea of her lifting the truck now that she'd had her IUD removed. Hank had told them that it often takes several months for a woman's fertility to return but that in Marie's case, her mutation was likely to heal any lingering damage immediately. It could be a matter of weeks for her.
Despite a flurry of lovemaking on their trip north in the wake of the freedom they had without the school's residents being in such close proximity, he knew she wasn't pregnant. Not yet. His nose didn't lie.
"This is crazy. I can't even guess where the road is anymore and my fingers are freezing!"
"Don't look for the road. Look for the mile markers. See the next one up there?"
"Yep. Got it."
"Set us down about ten feet to the left and I'll take it from there. I'll drive and you can blast the heat and curl up next to me."
The truck had a good heater and Logan always ran hot, but he'd be okay if he stripped off a few layers first. Lost the jackets and the flannel and just kept his thermal undershirt.
Marie was inside the cab and out of the icy wind before Logan had finished unhooking the chains. He took a moment to stop at the side of the truck, running his thumb over the finger-shaped ripples in the metal.
God, that had been a good night.
There was a set in the driver's side door now, too, and three accompanying cuts in the upholstery. If this old truck could talk, it would write the dirtiest novel ever written and make a killing. The thought amused him.
Shucking out of his leather jacket and the denim one underneath, Logan tossed them over to Marie to use. His flannel followed. When he looked up, her eyes were on him.
"Don't stop now. I'm enjoying the show."
"Heh. Dirty girl." He climbed in the truck and started it, turning up the heat before pulling her close. She tucked her freezing hands up under his shirt and into his armpits to steal his warmth.
"Mmph!" He shivered. "Damn, baby!"
"I can't help it. You know I'm just a big weenie when it comes to freezing my butt off."
"You sure you wanna do this? It's only gonna get colder. We could always ditch the truck and make a break for it."
"Oh yeah? And go where?" She was curious now.
"Dunno. Pattaya? Macau? Phuket's nice this timea year. Lots of little private islands. We could go be naked beach bums. I could stand to see ya without clothes for the next few months, golden brown all over with a round growin' belly."
"Not for all the tea in China."
"I wanna spend the winter naked in the cabin with you. A fire going inside. The wind howling outside. A nest of blankets. Your cowboy hat…." Her eyes sparkled and she touched her neck where he'd bitten her the first night. "You made me a promise. Besides, I'm pretty sure we can find a way to keep warm."
She pulled on his leather jacket. It was her favorite. It wasn't just that it was warmer than the denim one. The weight of it felt good. The scent, too. Leather and smoke over the woodsy scent of Logan's shaving soap and the crisp scent of the outdoors that always clung to it. It smelled a little like wintergreen mints too. They were his favorites and he'd gotten in the habit of carrying a roll on him at the school. Storm was less inclined to tolerate his cigars than Charles had been once upon a time, and he had a bit of an oral fixation. Marie had been delighted to help out there.
Marie wrapped the jacket around herself and snuggled into it, smoothing her hands down the front. Her brows drew together at the crackle of paper as her hands skimmed over the breast pocket. It wasn't the first time she'd heard the distinctive crinkle of paper, but usually her hands sliding over Logan's chest was a prelude to something much more interesting than a bit of wayward paper. Now that she thought about it, she'd heard that little sound dozens of times over the last year.
"What's that, sugar?"
"Couplea old friends," he rumbled cryptically.
"Go ahead and look if you wanna." He wanted her to.
He let the truck drift to the side of the road before putting it in park and turning to face her.
Marie opened his coat, her fingers searching the inside left front pocket. She withdrew an envelope and sucked in a slow breath when she realized it was the one she'd given him years ago. Folded from a piece of paper in Tibet the day she'd shorn her hair and renounced the world, wrapping herself in red robes in a city lost in the clouds.
She'd tucked a long lock of her hair inside. He'd kept it all these years?
"You kept this?"
He nodded, taking it from her fingers.
Marie was floored when he carefully lifted the flap and removed the white paper crane she'd folded for him fourteen years ago, on the night he'd stabbed her and she'd taken a piece of him into her keeping for all time. The crane was worn and battered. Spotted with old blackened blood and there were a few little hairs sticking out of it. It took her a minute to realize he must have folded the lock of hair she'd given him inside it.
"This one is Logan," he said softly, putting it in her palm.
"This one is Marie." His fingers slipped back into the envelope and he removed the second one. The little green crane she'd left atop her cloak the night she'd left for Bali. The night he'd asked her to let him go by the lily pond. He put it in her hand next to the first. It looked like it had been touched a thousand times.
"All these years..."
She could barely believe her eyes.
"Yeah. All of 'em. Carried 'em in the pocket over my heart almost every day for the last fourteen years. Not when I was with Mariko. Not then. That didn't seem right to her or you. But I always had 'em close. On me or in my wallet. A talisman, even then. A light in the darkness." His two loyal companions. His only friends.
Marie was overwhelmed. No words would come. Just tears and a shining brightness that seemed to glow in her chest until it filled up every last shadowy place inside her.
"I had 'em in my wallet that first day I ran into you in the garage when your hair was all short and wild. They were in my jacket pocket that night you put me down hard." Logan brushed away her tears. "They were there when I called you that night after Carol..." He kissed her softly. "And still there when the firecracker sent me after ya last year."
Hell, they'd been there every single time he'd put his mouth on Jean. That was a sobering thought. He'd belonged to Marie since the beginning. She knew it. Wolverine knew it. He'd just been too damaged to recognize it and too scared to reach out and take what was his when he finally did.
She kissed the tears from his face like she had that night at the lily pond.
They'd both bled for the marks they carried with them. His blood spattered the paper. Her body had bled under the needle. He had cranes. She had a tattoo. They both had a connection that no amount of time or distance could sever.
"It was always you, kid."
"For me too."
That's why it had never felt right with anyone else. It was because none of them were him.
"Here, baby…" He took the cranes from her hand, pressed them to his lips out of habit and tucked them safely back into the envelope before sliding it back into his coat and pulling her into his arms.
"That night…. the night I tried to wake you from the nightmare…. the night I gave you the white crane... I went to see you after - when you were sleeping. I wanted to write you a letter, only I didn't know what to say. I guess somehow what I was feeling came out after all. I looked down and realized I'd folded that. I left it for you instead."
"You know what it means?"
"Not then. Not consciously, anyway. There was a lot of you in my head. I was feeling so much that night. Things I was too young to really even understand."
"But you'd called to me and some part of me knew how to answer."
"I heard." He stroked her hair lightly. "Or he did. Wolverine took that down deep. Dug in and stuck fast when I was still too scared to do anythin' but run."
"You're not running now."
His fingers rubbed small circles over her belly.
"Nope." He smiled down at her. "You know a white crane's a symbol of eternity."
"That's a helluva thing to leave behind, darlin'."
She smiled. "You made one hell of an impression, sugar."
"Heh. Back atcha." His hand found hers. "The Japanese have treasured them as a symbol of honor and loyalty for thousands of years."
"That's beautiful." Love and honor and loyalty. She'd been feeling all of that the night she folded the first crane.
"They're strong. Graceful. Beautiful. A majestic bird that mates for life and is extremely loyal to its partner." He touched his forehead to hers. "I guess it just takes some of 'em a little longer to find the way home, kid."
Author's notes: So? Verdict? After I wrote the hotel scene, both my betas were like, "You know there's no coming back from this, right?" I purposefully wrote Logan and Marie into that position to see if I could write them coming back together in a believable way... and I'm curious to see if you think I managed it!
I wanted to thank everyone for coming along on this long, bumpy ride. I had originally intended this story to be five chapters. That's right. FIVE! The first four (as written) and then the end where they're talking about the tattoo and the cranes. And then I got to thinking, that none of you would get why what was such a big deal unless I wrote all the stuff in between. 150k words later…. we're finally putting this story to bed. Whew! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with me along the way!
While I was writing this story, I took several breaks along the way and hammered out half a dozen short stories. Most are one-shots, but some are a few chapters long. They're all over the place; romantic, dark, AU, passion, sexytimes, pornography! lol Let me know which one(s) you'd like to see first. :)
In the pipeline:
A Work of Heart
Logan comes back from Japan to find a very different Marie than he remembers. Chalk. Ink. Gouache. Watercolor. A young artist reveals a man's heart, one colorful stroke at a time. W/R
Cry the Moon
Logan meets a Cree girl at a bar in Mexico. She wants to make a memory. He wants to forget. Logan/OC, W/R (A "Run" outtake.)
In Pride's Shadow
Monstrous dark things live in the shadows and the Wolverine is the darkest of them all. Marie works behind the bar. A certain cage fighter has caught her eye. AU. Dark. W/R, W/OC
At the threshold. On a mission for Xavier, a random meeting between the wildest X-Man and a sharp lawyer with a southern drawl sets fire to the night. AU W/R
Logan turns up unexpectedly at Marie's apartment one cold December night. Marie makes a confession. Logan makes a move. W/R
The sequel to Reflected. Heat…. spice… and a test of endurance. W/R
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)
Definitely still certifiable!