As they walked away from the Jeep, Logan couldn't help but smile as he overheard James spilling his guts to Jean.

"But, mom, he said ass— "

James' words were cut off as the door closed behind them, leaving Logan and Rogue alone in a quiet hallway. They grinned at each other and Logan gestured to the stairs on the left. "Heh. Ratted out by his own kid." He paused as his eyes followed Rogue's nicely-shaped behind up the first few steps before he started up after her. "Gotta admit, there's a certain justice in that."

"You think?"

"Hell, yes. Slim knows that whistle of his makes my ears ring for a good ten minutes." Actually, it was more like twenty due to his acute sense of hearing, but he wasn't too sure there was a way to tell her about that without sounding like either a braggart or a pansy.

Marie's mouth turned up. "You can say that again, sugar. I almost jumped out of my skin. That whistle'll take the paint right off the barn."

Logan's husky laughter echoed in the stairwell. She hadn't said much outside, but here her thick accent poured over him like warm honey, causing his already aroused body to tighten further, to say nothing of what hearing her call him 'sugar' did to his insides. A man could definitely get used to that slow, sweet drawl of hers. "True enough."

"Good thing none of us in the 'blast radius' were sound-sensitive or had some kind of aural mutation."

Logan grunted noncommittally, partly because the ringing in his ears had momentarily obliterated a few of her words and partly because he'd been distracted by the swing of her hips and the thin ribbon of creamy skin visible above her low rise jeans when she moved just right.

Marie drew in a sharp breath as the pieces clicked into place. She stopped and turned to face him. Oh crap. "You have some kind of secondary aural mutation, don't you? That's why you were rubbing your ear outside."

What does she mean 'secondary'? "Somebody already tell ya about the claws?" He wasn't angry, just curious. It wasn't like it was a big secret or anything. The claws regularly made an appearance, even if it was only one of them, aimed rudely in Scott's general direction.

"Claws?" Just how many mutations does he have, anyway? "No, Charles told me you healed."

Logan nodded as they started back up the stairs. "Yeah, that too. Healin', claws, and enhanced senses."

"Wow." Already feeling for him after her earlier discussion with Charles, in which he had divulged Logan healed from "almost anything," Marie felt doubly bad for him. If his enhanced senses included touch as well as sound and scent, healing had to be excruciating. He didn't, however, look to be the kind of man who would want her sympathy, so she held her tongue.

Logan shrugged. "Keeps life interestin'." He turned off at the third floor and stopped in front of the first door. "This is you." He set her bags down and fished two keys from his breast pocket. "Here's the one for your room." He pushed it into the lock and opened the door. "The other one's for the studio at the end of this wing." He dropped the brass key into her palm and slowly closed her fingers over it before picking up her two suitcases and carrying them inside. Marie's stomach fluttered. Warm from his body heat, she could feel the key burning into her palm even through the thin silk of her glove.

It took her a second to find her voice. "Great, thanks." Marie followed him in, setting her bag down on the desk by the bay window. The room was elegant and tasteful without being opulent. It was also quite a bit more spacious than she was expecting, although it suddenly seemed smaller to her with him in it. Logan's powerful male presence seemed to fill up the space, electrifying it until she was unable to notice anything but him. That he was seemingly oblivious to that fact only served to heighten its effect. Marie swallowed hard as he moved confidently through the room, and she tucked the key into the back pocket of her jeans, forcing herself to get a grip on her wildly unexpected response to this man who she'd only just met.

He grinned at her, almost as if he could sense her fierce inner struggle to appear calm and detached despite her intense reaction to him. "Bedroom's through that door. Bathroom too." He gestured to the space. "The whole place has wireless now. Chuck has the password. You'll get it at dinner tonight."

Her mouth turned up slightly at his nickname for Charles. She thought about what 'Chuck's' reaction to that nickname must have been, and her smile got bigger. She thought it was pretty amusing. Erik did too. "The laptop's a necessary evil, I'm afraid. But at least email is better than having to talk on the phone if you don't want to. I don't even like texting." Even as a young girl, she'd never been a phone person. She'd always preferred face-to-face, touchy-feely conversations. A little ironic, considering the nature of the mutation she'd developed.

"Heh. Good point." Logan nodded to the other set of doors. "There's another real nice set of rooms through there with a table and a couch with a pull-out in case you wanna have company stay over or somethin'. I just need you to run it by me or Chuck first on account of the kids."

Marie smiled at that. "I remember." She too had been on the receiving end of Charles' lectures about outsiders and students mixing. Lord knew anyone who stayed here had to expect just about anything with so many children still learning to control their mutations. "But that won't be necessary. It's just me."

Logan grinned at her, more than a little relieved she hadn't told him to expect a man coming and going from her room. "Just coverin' all the bases, darlin'." In more ways than one. He hefted the suitcases; aware her eyes had momentarily left his to watch the play of his muscles under his shirt. Heh. She wasn't nearly as detached as she'd like him to believe she was. "Where do you want these?"

"On the bed please, sugar."

Logan nearly bit his tongue in two imagining Rogue's words in an entirely different context. Any way you want, darlin'. The bed. The floor. The wall. Just say the word. Logan bit back the sexually charged retort that was on the tip of his tongue. "Can do."

As Logan disappeared into the bedroom, Marie wandered into the adjoining suite. It was as elegantly understated as the sitting room and she could only imagine what her bedroom would look like. Busy exploring the other two rooms, Marie didn't hear Jean come in looking for Logan.

Jean stuck her head in the doorway as Logan was coming out of the bedroom. "Catch." She tossed him Rogue's car keys. "Scott's already cleared her a spot in the garage and all her stuff's in the studio ready to go."

Logan raised an eyebrow, sensing Jean was up to something. "Any particular reason why you want me to move it?" He didn't mind doing it, but it was something any one of them could have done and she was far too smug for comfort.

Jean smiled. "Of course there is. Rogue's probably been in traffic for hours and I thought I'd give her a chance to use the bathroom without a strange man around." Her last pregnancy had given even her doctorly empathy a healthy shot in the arm when it came to matters of the bladder. Since then, Jean had sort of taken it upon herself to make sure that during any group event (long car rides, fieldtrips and the like) there were sufficient opportunities to use the facilities.

Jean called it being conscientious. Scott and Logan called it something else. Logan wondered again how the hell Slim had kept 'Pee Police' a secret considering the frequency with which Jean was in his head. Sneaky little fucker. "Just because you and Scott can hold it for six hours doesn't mean the rest of us can."

Logan held up his hands. "Christ, woman. That's enough already. I don't wanna hear 'bout anythin' south of Slim's belt." There were some places even the Wolverine didn't want to go. "I'll be back up to return her keys in a bit," and with that, he was out the door before Jean could tell him anything else about Scott's plumbing.

As the sound of a door closing hard enough to rattle it on its hinges, Marie poked her head out. "Was that Logan leaving?"

Jean nodded. "He's moving your car, I thought—"

"Oh, thank GOD! I had a double latte before I got stuck in traffic." She sailed past Jean and into the bedroom, making a beeline for the bathroom. Emerging a few minutes later and feeling much better, they chatted pleasantly while Marie started unpacking one of her suitcases. It was nearly twenty minutes before there was a knock at the door announcing Logan's presence.

"Come on in."

Marie and Jean came out of the bedroom as Logan let himself in. "Sorry 'bout the wait. I surprised two kids... uh... neckin' in the back of Slim's SUV." It was clear from his hesitation they had been doing more than necking, and both women burst into laughter. Down in the garage, Logan had, in true Wolverine style, waited the whole six minutes it took for them to finish before he read them the riot act, gave them the 'use a condom or else' lecture — at claw point, no less — and then made sure they knew they had a better chance of not getting caught if they took it someplace a little more private.

"I trust you set them straight?" Jean finally managed when she'd gotten her giggles under control.

"Yeah," Logan's mouth twitched, "And you can tell Slim the new shocks he put in work real good." He grinned as Rogue's laughter rang out once more.

"I'll be sure to do that." Jean smiled at Rogue. "It was good to talk to you again, Rogue. Maybe we could catch up a little more over dinner?"

"I'd like that." She had been expecting a much more reserved welcome, but now she honestly wanted to get to know this warmer, softer Jean. It was also nice to be included in the camaraderie the adults shared. When she was here before, she'd been aware of their close friendships and playful teasing, but she'd been far too young to be included in their circle. And truthfully, it felt good to be a part of it now.

A piercing cry echoed up the stairwell. "Motherhood calls." Jean gave them a last smile and slipped out the door.

Logan rolled his eyes and handed over the keys. "Jeep's in the main garage next to Slim's SUV."

"Thanks, sugar."

"You need anythin' else, you just let me know, darlin'." His words could have been construed as flirty, but they also could have been a simple kindness from Charles' head of security to a long-term visitor — Marie just couldn't tell. She was woefully out of practice as far as romantic interpersonal relationships went.

Marie smiled a little apologetically. "I don't suppose you pick locks? It was kind of a hectic morning. Apparently while I was on my way down in the elevator, my neighbor's little girl jammed something in the lock on one of my suitcases."

"Well, I don't know if 'pick' is exactly the right word." Logan chuckled.

"I know what you're probably thinking... the flaky, scatterbrained artist was probably just too out-of-it to check if she had the key before she locked the silly thing." Marie smiled at him expectantly.

Logan snorted. "The thought did cross my mind, but hey, we all have our moments." Hell, he managed to get his entire trailer blown to bits, courtesy of Sabretooth, so it wasn't as if he had much room to talk.

Her grin got wider. "She also left part of her purple sucker stuck to the side of my suitcase and the lock smells like grapes."

"Heh. Got ya pretty good." He rubbed his knuckles absently. "Let's go take a look." Logan followed her into the bedroom. She was right. It did smell like grapes. He might have noticed that before if he hadn't been so intent on following her enticing backside up the stairs. "You, uh, don't scare easily do ya?" He gave her an unreadable look.

"No, not really." Not unless your name happens to be Magneto, she added silently.

"Good." He looked from her to the lock and popped the claws on one hand with a quiet snikt. Once he was sure she'd gotten a good look, he retracted two of them and turned to the matter at hand. With a practiced flick of his wrist, the claw cut through the substantial lock like butter and he retracted it, dropping the two pieces of the lock onto the brocade coverlet. "That'll do it." His voice was quiet, waiting for her reaction. He figured he might as well get this part over with. He wasn't ashamed of them, but he knew they freaked a lot of people out. Even mutants. He was interested in this woman, but there was no point in trying anything remotely romantic with her until he knew how she'd react to the claws. He'd been down that road before and it was not one he wanted to revisit.

Marie looked from the two halves of the lock to his hands in disbelief. When he'd said claws, she hadn't been expecting metallic ones. There was no way they could be a natural mutation. Her heart ached for him. Charles' comment about him healing from 'almost anything' suddenly took on a whole new meaning. One much darker and far more sinister than she'd originally believed.

Someone had done that to him. She was sure of it. She felt an instant kinship with him. He was not the only one who'd had things done to him against his will. She met his eyes. This time, it was her look that was unreadable. "When they come out... does it hurt?"

"Every time." His own words surprised him. He couldn't remember the last time he'd admitted something so private to a woman he'd barely met. And not a single person in all the years he could remember had ever asked him if it hurt. Most people simply assumed that because he healed, he felt no pain.

She took his hand in hers and rubbed her thumb over his already healed knuckles. "I'm sorry."

Her gloved thumb felt silky and cool as it caressed his knuckles. The touch was soothing, but not sexual... although her scent suggested she wished it were otherwise.

He said nothing, but smiled at her and gave her hand a squeeze before letting it go. A moment later, he heard Scott and Jean in the hall. Their muffled voices seemed to break the strangely intimate spell that had woven itself around them. In truth, Logan was a little relieved. He was far more comfortable sharing physical intimacy than emotional intimacy, and while he was intensely attracted to Rogue on a physical level, he wasn't the sort of man who shared his innermost self freely. With anyone. Ever.

Marie sensed the shift in his mood as he put both physical and emotional distance between them. She was glad he had. In such close quarters, his presence was incredibly overwhelming and she was here to work, not to lose her head and fall for a man she'd only just met. Marie decided to lighten the mood a little. As Jean and Scott's voices grew louder in the hall outside, Rogue winked at him and smiled. "So, where's your room, sugar?"

Her tone was playfully flirty and he realized Jean must have recounted to her the story of his arrival and their subsequent conversation in his bedroom that first night. When he raised his eyebrow at her in question and again heard her full-throated laughter, he knew he was right. Logan chuckled. He was sorely tempted to throw 'down the hall... with Scott' back at her, but he had a better idea. He took one look at her sparkling eyes and playful smile and 'don't fuck with the newbie' got tossed right out the window.

At that moment, Scott and Jean appeared in the doorway and Logan had the distinct impression he'd been set up. He grinned cockily. He was always game for a little one-upmanship. He gave Scott a hard stare before turning to smirk at Rogue. "Slim, Red, and their rugrats are the only others on this floor. Chuck moved 'em up here to keep the rest of the residents sane." Logan ignored Scott's snort.

"What about you, sugar?" Marie couldn't help but play along.

A very wicked smile touched his lips. "I don't live in the school, darlin'. I'm too old for bed checks and curfews." He shot Scott a pointed glance before coming back to meet her eyes. "I live in the gamekeeper's cabin at the edge of the grounds." His voice dropped. "It's quiet and private and I can go to bed as late — or as early — as the situation calls for."

It was clear from his tone by 'early' he meant in the wee hours of the morning. Despite the fact that she'd been mostly teasing when she'd drawled that question, his answer had made her mind immediately conjure all sorts of pleasurable ideas about what kinds of things might possibly keep a man like Logan up until the wee morning hours. Marie wondered if her face looked as hot as it felt.

Logan chuckled and behind his red shades, Scott's eyes rolled. "For God's sake, Logan— "

"Heh. Don't point that eye at me, Slim. I'm just finishin' what your wife started. Ain't that right, Jeannie?" Jean had the good grace to blush. Logan grinned at Rogue. "See you at dinner, darlin'." He flashed Scott a one claw salute where the women wouldn't see and disappeared out the door.

With an apologetic grin aimed at Rogue, Scott disappeared after him and caught up with Logan in the hall. Scott opened his mouth to say something, but Logan cut him off.

"No." Logan stopped walking and fixed Scott with a piercing stare, all traces of amusement gone. "This one ain't your girl, Slim. It ain't your place to warn me off. Not this time."

Scott nodded curtly, a little taken aback by the ferocity in Logan's quiet voice, but he understood the reason for it all too well. And man-to-man, he knew what this warning meant. It had been the same between men throughout all time. A man always knew when one of his good friends was seriously interested in a woman, and the Wolverine had wasted no time in making his claim on her crystal clear. Scott swallowed a smile. What made it even more amusing was he'd had no intention of warning Logan off anyone. He'd caught up with Logan for an entirely different reason, but it was clear Logan was in no mood to discuss anything else until this matter was settled.

Finally, Scott took pity on him. He grinned curiously, clapped Logan on the back and crowed, "Welcome to the family, brother," as he disappeared down the stairwell, still chuckling.


Author's Note: Whoa! Thanks, guys! This story got an awesome response, despite being unfinished, and I can say that the muses are definitely feeling the love. :) That's it for this story (at the moment) but there's probably a pretty good chance I'm going to come back to it down the road… though I want to finish Shine Against Me and Holding Ground II, first.

I apologize for the delay in posting. I crashed and burned after finals. Ugh. In any event, I'm back and I have one last chapter of Fine Art to share with all of you. After that, I've got two smutty little one-offs that are so new they don't even have titles yet. They're currently waiting a beta… so those should be along shortly.

And then up next:

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

In the pipeline for later…

Sanctuary
A girl alone on a snowy road needs a ride. She offers up the only thing she has of value to trade: herself. An alternative look at how Rogue's first meeting with the Wolverine might have gone if she'd had to talk her way into his truck instead of hiding in his trailer. W/R AU

and

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."
9ish chapters (and counting)

Certifiable, as always! :)