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beneath the pines

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Logan had been able to sense Laura’s unhappiness all day. It smelled like the copper of drying blood and something thin and sour -- confusion, maybe, or regret. It made him irritable and distracted, more likely to rip his students’ heads off than to teach them anything useful.

When even that idiot kid who was made out of rock noticed Logan’s distraction, he decided it was time to call it a day and go have a talk with his... clone, or half-sister, or whatever the rest of them wanted to call her today.

He didn’t worry about it too much, himself. Whatever they were to each other really didn’t need a name. It just was.

He grabbed a beer out of the fridge and headed out the back door of the mansion, tracking her leisurely in the lengthening shadows of late afternoon. Laura had left a trail too subtle for most trackers to follow, but he could tell she hadn’t made any serious attempt at throwing him off the scent. Not that she could, really, but it was cute when she tried.

He followed her scent to a small rocky outcrop in the woods behind the Mansion. She was about halfway up the slope, tucked behind a few scraggly pine trees. Logan made enough sound coming up the slope to make sure that he wouldn’t surprise her. Scrapping with X-23 was fun, but she had a tendency to go for his throat with her claws and he’d really like to be able to enjoy drinking his beer tonight.

“Hey, kid,” he said, settling cross-legged a few feet away from where she sat crouched and glaring at the pine trees as if they’d personally offended her.

She shifted her position slightly, silently acknowledging his presence.

Logan drank his beer slowly, enjoying the light breeze that carried the scents of the forest to him. He couldn’t really get drunk with his healing factor, not without drinking half a goddamn bar, but he liked the taste. After a few minutes, he asked, “What’s wrong, kid? I could smell you sulking all day. Stinks like a carton of milk that’s gone bad.”

She laughed almost silently, a little puff of breath as if the laugh had been surprised out of her. “It is nothing important. It is just... there is a boy.”

“A boy, huh?” Aw, crap. Why did he always get stuck with the heart-to-heart talks about boys? Considering Logan’s track record, he’d think that he’d be the last person anyone would want to ask for advice about relationships. “Uh, maybe you oughta go talk to Emma about this.”

“Emma Frost believes that I am a danger to the rest of the students. She is correct, of course.”

“...so she’s not exactly the person you wanna ask for advice. Gotcha. And, Laura? If Emma gives you trouble, you tell me and I’ll deal with her.”

“Not necessary. There are half a dozen ways in which I could incapacitate or kill her.”

His mouth quirking, Logan scratched at the stubble on his chin. Oh, she was definitely his... sister? kid?... whatever. “What I meant was, I’d talk to her.”

“Oh.” She looked thoughtful, as if that was a solution that hadn’t really occurred to her.

“So. This boy,” Logan said. He couldn’t believe he was actually encouraging this, considering that he’d occasionally leaped out of airplanes to avoid having to give advice about relationships in the past, but, well. It was Laura. “Am I going to need to ‘deal with him’ for you?”

Laura’s eyes narrowed and her stance changed subtly. “I will fight you to protect him,” she said, her voice dropping menacingly. “I will kill anyone who tries to hurt him.”

Logan carefully kept his body language neutral and non-threatening. “That was a joke, darlin’. And not a very good one. So, tell me about this boy who’s got you tied up in knots.” He raised a hand and added, “Metaphorically speaking.”

She slowly relaxed. “His name is Julian Keller. He is an Alpha-level mutant with telekinetic abilities including force fields, telekinetic blasts, and subsonic flight. His codename is Hellion and he was the leader of Emma Frost’s squad of students, the Hellions.” She paused, waiting for Logan to say something. A little worried crinkle appeared between her eyebrows as she asked, “Do you wish to hear my evaluation of his tactical strengths and weaknesses? I have had the opportunity to observe him in battle several times.”

“No, I...” Logan shook his head, laughing at himself. Of course she’d think he was asking for a tactical evaluation of the boy. “I meant, why are you hung up on him? What is it about him?”

“He--” Laura’s claws snicked out and back in, a sure sign of agitation. It’d taken him years to break himself of that habit. It tended to make people nervous, for some strange reason. “He burns bright.”

“Burns bright?” He was pretty sure she wasn’t talking about the kid’s mutation.

“He has -- he draws people to him. They want to be around him, even when he is being arrogant or foolish.”

“Arrogant and foolish, huh. Yeah, he's a real winner.” Logan shook his head, draining the rest of his beer.

“You... don’t like him.”

“It’s not a matter of like or dislike, darlin’. I’ve had this Keller kid in my combat classes. He’s an over-confident glory hound. He doesn’t think things through, and he’s going to end up getting people killed the first time they follow him into a real combat situation.”

Laura bowed her head, her long black hair sliding forward to hide her face. “You are correct. I know that you are. And yet I cannot stop thinking about him.”

“Welcome to adulthood, kiddo," Logan said gently. "The heart is the stupidest organ there is.”

“The... heart?” she asked dubiously. “This is another ‘metaphor’, isn’t it,” she said, somehow managing to sound tremendously weary and yet resigned to the sheer stupidity of adults. She was a teenager, all right.

“Yeah, and it’s a pretty important metaphor, so remember it," Logan said, pointing at her with the index finger of the hand that held the bottle. "When people talk about their hearts, they mean their emotions, what they feel, who they love. The heart’s got nothing to do with logic or making sense.”

“Then it’s foolish. Why does anyone allow it to influence them?”

“There ain't much choice in listening to your heart, even when you know it's a stupid idea," Logan said. God knew he was walking, talking proof of that truism. "Tell me, could you just stop thinking about that Keller kid any time you want?"

She growled, slicing a branch off one of the pine trees with her claws. "I can train myself not to listen to my 'heart'." She said the word with almost visible quotation marks, her lip curling.

Logan nodded. "Yeah. That is possible to do. And I've known a good number of people over the years who've managed to do just that. But listen to me, Laura -- the heart may be stupid, but it's also a big part of what makes us human."

Pouting, Laura rested her chin on her arms, crossed over her drawn-up knees. She looked so much like a normal teenage girl in that moment that Logan had a flash of deja vu. Felt like he could have been talking to Kitty or Jubilee, however many years ago. But despite the belly shirt, the long hair, and the lip gloss, Laura wasn't anything like Kitty or Jubilee.

God help her, she was just like him.

Her voice barely loud enough for Logan's sensitive ears to catch, Laura murmured, "Sometimes I do not think being human is worth it."

Logan sighed, tipping his head back and staring up at the fading remnants of sunset between the pine branches. "It's worth it, Laura. It's hard, and it's painful, and sometimes it's real damn tempting to just give up and be the animal... but in the end, it's worth it. To be human. To be capable of love."

Not lifting her head from her knees, she tilted her head toward him, squinting at him suspiciously out of one bright green eye. "I find it difficult to trust your assertions without anecdotal evidence."

"Evidence," Logan snorted, shaking his head. Standing, he offered her a hand up. "Listen, if we're going to get into my checkered history with the dames, I'm going to need a couple more beers and a cigar."

"Cigars stink," she scowled, not standing.

"Fine, then, I won't light it." Logan wriggled his fingers at her impatiently. With a deeply put-upon sigh, she put her hand in his and allowed him to pretend to help her to her feet. "Might have to go on a supply run first, though, I think I'm out of beer."

"Mr. Summers has hidden a six-pack of Sam Adams in the back of the biology lab refrigerator," Laura said off-handedly as they walked together down the hill.

"That's my girl," Logan said. As soon as it was out of his mouth, he realized that it was possible he might have pissed her off by saying that. He was just the guy they'd taken her DNA from, not her father, or her brother, or whatever.

But when he sneaked a look over at her, Laura was smiling down at the ground, a softer smile on her face than he'd ever seen there before.

Feeling an answering smile tug at the edges of his mouth, Logan led the way back toward the Mansion through the gathering dusk.