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Sometimes, a guy’s just gotta get out and swat some bugs with his teeth.

It sneaks up on me like so much rain on a parade, when I ain’t thinkin’ about it. Some days I try hard not ta think, since thinkin’ brings me snatches of memory. Rememberin’ makes me hurt. Hurtin’ makes me mad. When I’m mad…ya don’t wanna know.

Once upon a time, I was just the guy with no name. My claws were my calling card. I live every day like it’s my last, but that’s a friggin’ joke. I’ve lived through over twenty presidents, a dozen wars, an’ I’ve even been killed. Not just near-death experiences. I’m talkin’ flatlined. Deader than a freakin’ doornail. Hell, maybe even more times than I can count. Ain’t like I’m proud of it. I just can’t do anything about it. I keep comin’ back. It sucks.

And every day, I’m livin’ with the reality that folks want me dead. Not just out of the way. Not pushin’ up daisies. I mean bleedin’. Beggin’, pleadin’ fer that last breath. Crawlin’ and coughin’ up a lung.

That’s what moves these itchy feet of mine, most days. That’s what moved ‘em today.

I had ta get out of the house. It felt equal parts like a home and a prison, and I ain’t waitin’ fer anyone ta stick their hand in my cage ta tease the beast. Can’t stay cooped up with folks breathin’ down my neck, even when they mean well. They can make do without me fer a little while. Kitty and Petey had that little “they won’t notice if we head upstairs when they aren’t looking” glow this morning after breakfast. That ain’t something I wanna scent in the air. I ain’t got anything against young love, but still, I just ate…

I quit countin’ how many hours I’ve been gone about six beers ago. Barkeep’s starin’ holes through my head, wondering when I’ll have had my fill, but I’m still steady, not slurring like Minnie over there. She came in and drank her lunch before heading back to her shift at the Laundromat on Fifth Street; now she’s back for happy hour, bless her little heart. She thinks she’s still got it. What’s she’s got is breath that can drop an elephant at fifty feet. There she is, wavin’ again…

“Hey, there, Big Boy,” she giggles, raising her martini glass at me, letting a few drops slop over the rim.

“Hey, darling.’ What’s shakin’?”

“Just these!” She sets her drink down and pulls this pout that someone must’ve told her looked like Jayne Mansfield back before she started dating Jack Daniels, and she shimmies for all she’s worth. I laugh. It’s sad, but it feels good to laugh for once. “Just out movin’ and groovin’, cause I’m off work, and I’m out to party! Woo-hoooooooooo!” Gads. She’s startin’ early with the “woo-hoos.” I might make it out of here early enough to head to Harry’s. This dive’s makin’ my boots stick to the floor.

Then again, scratch Harry’s. Ya didn’t think I just came here for the beer, didja?

I belly up to the pool table, and I grab a rack. The green striped ball is missing, and the cues are practically peeled down to nothing from folks not hanging ‘em up right, but I’m in the mood for a game. I nod to the guy behind the bar to refill my Molson. He shoots me this look, daring to come close enough ta look me in the eye.

He don’t like what he sees, namely a world of aggravation arguing with me if I don’t get what I asked for. He scans his establishment, looking at his customers. It’s just beginning ta fill up a little, with folks wantin’ ta get their after-work drink on. He grunts to himself, then tops me off with the tap, sliding the glass across the counter. I can read him by now: Don’t piss off the crazy guy and scare away the best hour of business he can expect ta have tonight. I pop a few beer nuts and make a clean break, sending colors flying every which way, landing two in the pocket.

Minnie’s up dancing now, which was inevitable. I wanna remind her that she picked the wrong place, but she already fed a few coins into the jukebox and ran through the magazine of songs til she found a handful that she liked. I almost can’t keep a straight face when one of ‘em turns out ta be “Hurts So Good.” It fits.

Once upon a time, I woulda given Minnie a run for her money, and let her give me a run for mine. She ain’t too bad, except I’ve heard her cryin’ inta her cups, badmouthing an ex that left her high and dry. I don’t do drama. Not on purpose. I’ve had my fill.

It’s just about dusk. I’m itchin’ ta get back on my bike, but that feeling in my gut tells me to stay put.

I’m out in the open.

Minnie dances her way – badly – through another song, this time Lita Ford, doing the hair-flip thing women do when they’re tryin’ ta be sexy in bars. She’s sweating vodka and grenadine through her pores, and that doesn’t put off a couple of guys in trucker hats giving her the eye from the bar.

“Oops…shit. I’ve gotta pee,” she announces to no one in general. She’s stumblin’ away from the jukebox, and my buddy behind the bar nods toward the hallway in the back. She half-trips, half-runs past the dartboard, and I just feel relief that I might finish my game in some semblance of peace and quiet now.

Or not.

A sharp, musky stench drifts through the bar, so subtle at first I almost don’t notice it over the smoke and stale beer spilled on the floor behind the bar. Floorboards are so rotted I know this place is breaking health codes left and right, so all I hear is noisy footsteps blending into one another, throwing me off from bein’ able to distinguish one from another. I rehang the cue and reach over, swatting the eight ball across the table and into the side pocket with my hand, signaling to the two geniuses at the bar that I’m done if they wanna have a go.

“She’s been gone too long,” my buddy growls at me. “Do me a favor, will ya, Shorty, and make sure she ain’t yackin’ in my toilets?”

“I’ll call her a cab on my way out if she is,” I mutter. Nice of him to keep his priorities straight. I grumble and cuss my way into the back, wondering why I’m the one headed into No Man’s Land ta make sure Minnie ain’t passed out in the loo.

All of the sudden, I’m not so pissed about it anymore. There’s that smell again. Makes my nostrils sting, like week-old bear piss in the woods in the middle of summer.

SNIKT.

I would’ve been okay with it. So help me, I could have just kicked his ass. But then I smell Minnie’s cheap perfume, grenadine, and fear so pungent it nearly bowls me over. He’s got her, the lousy sonofabitch…

BAM! I kick down the door to the loo, splintering it and knocking it off the rusty hinges. The room’s littered with balled-up paper towels and graffiti that would make a sailor blush.

“Nice o’ you ta join us, Runt. Time ta party, ain’t it, chickadee?” His voice still grates on my nerves when he gets all smug like this.

Minnie’s back up against the sink, clothing in tatters and stained with blood weeping from dozens of wicked looking cuts. She’s barely squeaking out a breath; Vic’s hand’s squeezing her windpipe and hoisting her off the floor. He’s grinning like a demon, eyes glowing yellow in the low light of the flickering bulb over the sink.

“How’d ya make it back here without gettin’ downwind of me, asshole?” I ain’t even fretting right now. Vic’s got size. I’ve got speed. Minnie’s eyes are on me, flitting from my face to my claws, still gleaming with the faint streaks of blood from letting ‘em out. She ain’t gonna ask me for my number anymore, but it can’t be helped.

“Wasn’t hard. Yer gettin’ soft in yer old age, aintcha?”

“Who ya callin’ old?”

“Ya gotta have something wrong with ya ta let this one get away, runt,” Vic laughs, turning back to his prey, leering at her and baring his fangs. He leans in, inhaling her fear deeply, then lets his long, raspy tongue flick out to lick away the blood oozing thickly from one of the scratches on her face. “Ya smell like hell, darlin’, but ya taste pretty sweet. Wanna show the runt here how a woman really parties? I’ll show ya how a real man fucks, if yer up to it.”

“P-please,” she whimpers weakly, her face turning a nasty gray. “Don’t…” Vic shakes her like a rag doll.

“Have it yer way then, sweetness,” Vic shrugs, before ramming her head back against the bathroom mirror. It splinters into a thousand shards, and her eyes roll blankly up into her head.

“Fucker!” He drops her, laughing his ass off and waves me on as I rush at him. I’m almost glad she ain’t conscious ta see this.

I draw first blood, but it don’t make me feel any better. I get in one clean slice, right beneath his eye. Sometimes it ain’t about guttin’ a guy. It’s about skill. Subtlety. Fightin’ like a man, not an animal. Vic knows about the beast that lurks under the surface, just waitin’ ta be baited. One whiff of his stench brings it roarin’ and growlin’ outta me. Vic recoils from me, wiping away the stream of blood gushing from his face, grinning down at it like the cat that got the cream.

I anticipate his next move, but lean into it anyway when he strikes, begging for him to nudge me that one last inch toward madness. Any excuse to just cut loose, and stop holding back. It smarts, but it’s a good pain, the kind where ya get feeling back after a sleeping limb stops being numb, the agony of drawing a thirsty breath when ya’ve been without air fer too long. I’m breathing it now. I hate this fucker. He backs me up and starts whaling on me, typical of scraps we’ve had before. He slams me back into the cubicle wall, a move that would have bruised any normal person’s spine, but I’m made of sterner stuff than that.

“Can the Wolverine come out an’ play?” Vic reaches out and jabs his claw through the cartilage of my ear, a practically nuclear wet willie. I grunt; that shit don’t tickle, but that’s just one more reason fer me ta kick his sorry butt. “Ya’ve been keepin’ me waitin’, runt. Hidin’ out with her little peanut gallery, eh? Actin’ like ya belong with ‘em at that school instead of at the county zoo. We know what yer really about. What ya’ve done. What ya’ve been hidin’ all these years. Ya like ta kill,” Vic purred, steaming my face with his foul breath. He smells like Marlboros and cheap beer, and sickeningly, like Minnie’s perfume and fear. “You know it. I know it. That’s yer purpose. Ya just think yer better than me cuz ya feel guilty about it every now and again.”

“Don’t tell me what my purpose is,” I hiss, knowing it won’t bother me any in the morning as I throw my head smack into his with a loud crack. He howls and drops me, staggering back. He straightens up, working a crick out of his neck. I don’t let him recover. It feels too good, hitting him where it hurts.

I practically hear bells ringing when I kick him in the package. His eyes cross. Minnie would have cheered if she weren’t out cold. I can still hear her pulse, even though it’s faint. He drops to his knees, glaring me into the ground, and take that chance while I’ve got it. I cut him as hard and as fast as I can, going for quantity more than quality, and he’s spitting and snarling, grudgingly bringing his guard back up.

He grabs my wrist, yanks me forward, and lets the momentum yank me onto those wicked talons of his. He’s satisfied, grinning through bloody teeth as he reaches in and yanked out my liver. He shoves me back, and I fall back with a sloppy sounding thud, staring up at him in a haze. He lifts his prize to his lips and gives it a lick.

“Still tasty, runt.” He tosses it aside and wipes his hands on his grubby jeans. He’s tricked out in flannel and shit-kicking boots, and his hair’s a long, nasty tangle. Every remnant of humanity’s gone from his eyes, and I’m clinging ta mine by my fingernails.

“Gonna run…fucker?” I cough. “I can track ya down. Can smell ya a mile away. Stink ta high heaven…KUUURRGGGGHHH!” I puke up another gout of blood. Vic shakes his head.

“Ya ain’t any choice but ta give me a runnin’ start,” he scoffs. He leans over the sink and pulls the girliest, shit-silliest move I’ve ever seen.

He checks his teeth in the mirror, as though he were checking for lipstick or spinach. He even scrapes the space between his canines and incisors with his pinky nail. That’s some fucked up shit…

I just can’t let that go.

“Dumb ass,” I mutter, springing up, crouching and leaping at him like I didn’t just lose an organ. SNIKT!

CRAAAAAAAAAAAAaCK! BAM!

Barkeep’s gonna hate me when I walk outta here. Sink’s a lost cause; it was yanked out of its moorings when Vic collapsed, with my claws buried in his back, pinning him to the wall. Plaster and pipes came tumbling down, and the mirror shattered the rest of the way, showering the two of us in a hail of glass. It feels good ta shut this fuck up, just for a minute.

I hear feet. I straighten out a crick in my neck and reach down for my liver. It’s a lost cause; I chuck it into the wastebin, since I’m growin’ a new one back in the meantime.

“Logan…” Vic mutters. I pause for a second.

“Whaddya think ya hafta say ta me?”

“Happy…birthday…prick,” he wheezes. I make my way out. No sense in running out the back. Minnie needs an ambulance. And looking like I do right now, ain’t no one gonna stop me if I wanna walk away. As always, I still can.

It happens every year. He ain’t satisfied with just rippin’ me a new one, literally. He’s always gotta take someone down in the process. It’s the fun of the kill, since he can’t kill me. Call it sour grapes.

So I lead him away. Draw him out. Let him draw me out, it don’t matter. He ain’t gettin’ close ta the folks that are closest ta me. Harry’s been one of my best friends for most of the years that I can remember. I ain’t tearin’ up his place with this nonsense if I can help it.

I hop back on my chopper. Still stings, but again, it’s a good kind o’ hurt. That little, nagging shadow of the beast is still snarling at me, bearing its teeth, so I give my bike its head and tear off full throttle, letting the wind sting my cuts and whip my hair back from my eyes.

I ride for miles, burning up the country roads and disturbing the peace. Flocks of birds take wing out of the trees, breaking up the lacy patterns of leaves against the sky. It’s me and the road, outrunning my demons. All I can think of is caging the animal, but it’s mockin’ me, undoing my efforts. It never sleeps, the same way I never die. I take off into the woods, dying to open this baby up and see what she’ll do. She’s never failed me before.

I follow a dirt bike-worthy course me and Sam found once before, and I can’t help snickering over a couple of torn-up tree trunks that he splintered when I raced him through here the last time. Kid’s gotten better with those blasting powers o’ his, but he ain’t exactly Baryshnikov on his feet went it comes to steerin’. I love the dips and hollows, and all the ragged, jutting rocks on this trail. I love the feel of rubber kissing underbrush, the burning of gas as I ride hell for leather. I’m doing doughnuts, figure-eights, wheelies, havin’ a ball. I’m in the middle of nowhere, without anyone tellin’ me how ta act, or needin’ me ta protect ‘em for a change. No missions. No vengeance. Just me.

Or not…

I roll to a stop, still panting for breath, listening to the night sounds and the shuddering engine between my legs. I rev it slightly as I catch a whiff of sandalwood and rain in the air. Only one person smells like that.

And she looks a little annoyed right about now…

“So help me, Logan, do I have to even explain how ridiculous this is?” She ain’t shouting; she knows she don’t have to. Ororo hovers into view, hair rippling around her like a banner as she lands light on her feet. Her eyes are still glowing that eerie white as she strolls into the clearing.

“Evenin’, Boss Lady,” I greet. She tsks, letting her eyes revert to their signature blue, but she just sighs the closer she comes. She looks magnificent. Yeah, I said it. She’s wearin’ jeans and a little crop top that makes me wanna sit up and beg, stretched across those sweet tits, snug as a glove. Her bracelets jingle as she walks, and I don’t even flinch as she reaches out and yanks my ear, like I was an unruly child.

“Are you out of your mind? Sage linked up to the GPS on the bike using her glasses, Logan. She heard you coming. Goddess help me, the whole world could probably hear you wreaking havoc out here!” She reached over and grabbed the keys, killing the engine. Not too many frails would get away with doin’ that.

“I ain’t through yet.”

“Oh, I think you can rest for a moment, little man,” she purred, letting her eyes glow like blue fire before they blazed white again. Winds whip up faster than you can say jack shit, and I feel it buffeting us nearly senseless. I don’t flinch. Neither does she.

“Take it easy.”

“Easier said than done. Bishop was listening to the police wires while he was in the district, Logan. Apparently there was disturbance in a nearby tavern downtown. A woman was injured, but made it to Westchester County General by ambulance, without incident. She described her attacker as large, blond, and as having claws and teeth like a lion. She told reporters and police she thought he might be a mutant.”

“Fancy that,” I murmur, wincing. I hate disappointing ‘Ro.

“Moreover, she said another man that she saw in the bar from time to time kept her attacker from doing worse. Not only that, but she thought he might ALSO be a mutant. He wasn’t as big, she said. Likes his beer, she said. And oddly enough, he also had claws.” Ororo’s hands went straight to her hips. “Ring any bells?”

“I plead the fifth?”

“No.”

“Amnesia?”

“Not this time.”

“Some bad beer?” She crosses her arms beneath her breasts and sighs like she don’t know what ta do with me. Lightning streaks overhead, and thunder rolls through the clouds, bringing a tinge of static that makes my hair stand on end. “Okay, maybe not…”

“I worried about you, you know.”

“I didn’t ask ya to.”

“That does not mean I don’t,” she sniffs huffily. “You are no easy man to kill. That does not mean it does not hurt those of us who care about you when you beat yourself half to death whenever it suits you. You need to set a better example than this, Logan.”

“Fer who?”

“A few dozen impressionable students. Mutants and humans alike who see us on the evening news, destroying public property and causing bodily harm.”

“I was tryin’ ta save her…”

“Save it. I know. But let me ask you, Logan. Did you walk out the door tonight, knowing you would be attacked?”

Shit. She’s got me.

“It don’t matter.”

“Answer the question.” She’s narrowing her eyes at me, looking fierce. I wouldn’t put it past her ta fry my ass right about now.

“Darlin’…it’s a tradition.”

“A tradition? Are you joking?” She’s incredulous now, mouth open as she tried to wrap her mind around it.

“I told ya I didn’t ask ya ta worry. Don’t poke yer pretty little nose into this, ‘Ro.” I jerk the handlebars of the bike back, and let it hum back to life. She sighs, unhappy over the outcome of our chat.

“Fine, then.” She summons up wind that nearly tears my skin off the bone and hurls herself aloft. “I’ll race you home. You and your silly little toy.” She takes off like a shot.

I sit there for a minute, content just ta watch her fly. She looks beautiful up there, in her element. Suddenly I can’t wipe the grin that breaks across my face, and I gun it, making my way back to the road, following her at a close clip. I hear her faint laughter overhead – no one else would be able to – and I push the bike even harder, ducking low branches and careening around roots and rocks.

I’m winded by the time I get back. I coast over the gravel drive and park my baby in the main garage, and fling off the tatters of my flannel that’s seen better days. I can’t stand the feel of anything choking me right now, and the night air feels like a lover’s kiss on my skin.

“Slow coach,” Ororo purrs, stepping out from the shadows.

“I wasn’t tryin’ that hard.”

“Sure you weren’t.” We trek back across the lawn, and all I see are darkened windows, except for the ones downstairs in the kitchen.

“How long was I out?”

“It’s nearly midnight.”

“Why are ya still up, darlin’?”

“I couldn’t sleep. Sage was up, tinkering with the new security protocols on the grounds.”

“So she tattled on me.”

“If you like.” Ororo let us in, using her key. Every now and again, she still picks the locks just to stay in practice. Throws Sage into hissy fits when she does that. “I was up anyway.”

“Doin’ what?”

“Working on a little project.” She reaches down and takes my hand. Her skin feels cool and smooth. I’m still not off the hook, I can tell, but at least she doesn’t seem ta wanna settle my hash so badly anymore.

We stop at the kitchen, and Ororo gently shoves me into a waiting chair. I lean back and rock back onto its legs, yawning and letting every joint in my body crack. The room smells good, like someone recently baked some sweets. “Didja make something for the kids?”

“No.” She throws me a funny little smile that sends a warm tingle into my belly, despite the fact that I look like death warmed over. I’m still wearing my blood and Vic’s in spatters across my jeans and all over my tank. “I made something for you. But you’ll enjoy it more once you’re cleaned up.” She grabs a dishtowel and creates a little raincloud, using it to get it good and wet. She rings it out and comes over, planning on giving me a lick and a promise.

“Quit it,” I harp. She’s babying me, but I actually don’t mind. She grabs my jaw to keep me from ducking, and swabs the rag over a nasty gash on my forehead. Her fingers are gentle. She’s always gentle, unless she wants to kick my ass. I’ve usually got it coming…

And she smells so damned good. She’s still swabbing down my cheeks, and she purses those sweet, soft lips and blows a whiff of cool air against a scrape on my temple that still burns. Pleasure mingles with pain at her touch against my wounds, and I shiver. I can’t help it. She sets down the towel on the table, and begins grooming out bits of plaster, glass, and God knows what else from my hair, flinging the chips into the rubbish. She’s standing between my knees while she goes to work, and I’m staring straight ahead, trying not to let it get to me that she’s so close, and that her breasts are right there at eye level, ripe, begging to be tasted like forbidden fruit.

She’s one more person who stands to get hurt by getting too close to me. And she’s the one person I can’t bear to see get hurt. I take a chance, and I look up into her face. She’s pensive, concentrating on the task at hand, and her features are relaxed and calm. I can’t help groaning a little as she begins to shake out the last of the junk in my hair, tousling her hands through it, kneading my scalp when she does. I let my head fall forward, practically bowing my chin into my chest, and she takes that as her cue to continue the massage. She works the kinks out of my neck and shoulders, and it feels like heaven.

Minutes tick by. She keeps rubbing my troubles away, kneading and rolling my muscles in her hands, reaching beneath the arm holes of my shirt and getting a better grip. She’s practically turning me into goo, and considering what brought us here, at this moment, I don’t know why. But I ain’t one ta look a gift horse in the mouth.

I don’t think much about how much the gap between us has narrowed until my head butts up against her, landing just shy of her chest. I roll by forehead back and forth against her taut ribcage, and she chuckles above me.

“You look tired,” she croons. She strokes my hair, and my hands are itching to keep her where she is. I catch her hips and hook my fingers through the belt loops of her jeans. All I wanna do is inhale her scent, drink in that warmth and softness and drift off.

“Ya just don’t know how tired I am,” I mutter. Something happened, I ain’t sure what. I just can’t let go of her. And I tell myself, maybe I’m crazy, maybe my healing factor didn’t account for all the bad beer I drank earlier, but it feels like she can’t let me go, either.

“I think I do, Logan,” she whispers. I snake my arms around her and hold on for dear life, burying my face in those breasts that merely tempted me before. They become my shelter. I’m shivering. Ororo’s leaning over me like a mother bird protecting its young, nuzzling my hair and whispering that it’s all right. I hear the thundering pulse in her throat, betraying her fear for me despite her outward calm appearance. I really did worry her. Knowing that makes me feel like shit.

I wanna remedy that now.

I shift back in her arms, looking into her face, really seeing everything written there. She swallows roughly, but there are no tears. Just this determination that she won’t let me down. She’s still got her arms wrapped snugly around me, but her fingers tug my hair, coaxing my head back so she can lean down and kiss me. I give her access and let her drink her fill, savoring the taste of her. She brushes those sinfully full lips against mine, moaning into my mouth, nipping at me, and I can’t help it. She tempts the animal in me, not just the man. I don’t wanna hurt her, but it’s all I can do ta avoid crushing her to me so I can take what I need. My fingernails score her back as I clutch her close, pulling her down into my lap, straddling me. She releases a soft whimper; she’s content with this change in position, if the way she’s grinding up against me is any indication, like she wants ta crawl inside my skin. And I decide ta let her.

I was gettin’ tired of wearing those clothes, caked with blood and who knows what else and torn to shreds. Ororo yanks them off me in a mad frenzy, and she ain’t gonna be happy in the morning when she gets a good look at her bra, which I ripped apart in my attempts at undoing that little clasp in the front. Damn, she’s beautiful. We tussle our way back onto the chair, and she’s back in my lap in a flash, straining to hold me in her hand, plowing her fingers through my happy trail and the hair around my package. All I can feel is this need for her, pushing me over the edge again when she finally finds me and pumps my cock, snug and fast. I taste her, diving back into her mouth, plundering her neck. Nothing feels like kissing and holding her, hearing her whimper and gasp, having my name whispered against my temple.

I’m about ready to come undone when she climbs onto me and takes me inside. She sheathes me, clutching me, coddling me in her slick, moist heat. I buck and convulse beneath her, clinging to her, because she feels so damned sweet. I want to feel her jerk like that again, and make this last. I reach down and rub that little knot of nerves, plucking it like a string. She arches back and urges me to do it again, husking in my ear before she catches my lobe between her teeth. So I oblige her. We have an understanding that way. She begins to move in a rhythm that feels right to both of us, and that pushes these little moans up from her chest.

“I want you,” she rasps, her voice dripping with unbridled hunger.

“Ya’ve got me, darlin’.” I lock my hands on her hips and shunt her over me, faster and harder, and she flings her hair back, letting it tumble out in a soft, wild cloud. She does what I did with the bike, and lets me have my head, riding me as fast and as hard as I want to run. Her breasts bounce and knock together, and I snack on one, leaning over and catching one of those chocolatey sweet nipples between my teeth. I suck and tug on it, and it’s so good that I almost can’t hold it, but I wanna make this last. I keep suckling her, letting that tension and sweet fire build up in me. I’m hard as a rock, and she’s squeezing me…tugging at me…insides…sucking at me, wet, tight, hot, slippery…sweet-

She’s pistoning over me like a machine. And I thought I had endurance…those toned thighs are splayed over mine and taut as a drum as she rides me. She tried to be quiet. Screw quiet. I wanna hear her.

I grope her ass, squeezing it, loving how firm it feels, more than filling my hands. I spread those cheeks, loving their weight and roundness, and my finger finds its way toward buried treasure. I press it inside her, and her eyes fly open, filled with shock and lust, knowing it’s only gonna get better. She knows what I want, and she cuts loose, riding me even harder, rubbing her clit against my groin with each stroke. I feel her fingernails raking through my hair, scoring my shoulders, and she moans into my neck, crying out how good it feels. How much she wants me. I twist my finger inside her, and she squirms around it, squeezing it. Each stroke of her hips brings me deeper inside of her at both ends, and she’s so close. I can feel her, because she’s letting me feel her.

She clamps down on me, I feel my own tissues, every vein, every vessel tense and release. I spasm, jerk, and buck, coming so hard I see stars. I feel Ororo wobble on my lap for a moment, but I ain’t gonna let her do all that work with no payoff. I ease my hand down her smooth belly and play havoc with her clit, letting her ride it out while I tease that slick, swollen nub of nerves without enough friction to make her eyes roll back in her head. She comes, just as I finished pouring out everything I had into her depths. Her orgasm rocks me, and milks out the last bit of juice I had before I collapse. Every muscle in my body is deliciously limp. I almost don’t have the strength to move, but I reach up and stroke her hair, easing it off her shoulders and out of her face. My fingers are trembling as I pluck a strand out from the corner of her mouth. She gifts me one last, probing kiss as she slides off my lap. I don’t have the energy to stop her.

I watch her in a daze. “What’re ya doin’, Sunshine?”

“Fixing your surprise.” She pads over in her bare feet to the fridge and pries it open, reaching for something on the top shelf that I can’t see. She leans back and closes it, and she has a foil-covered plate in her hand. She smiles at me, crossing the room and laying it on the table. The foil crinkles in my hand, which is still shaking as I uncover it, and I can’t help shaking my head when I look at it.

A slightly lopsided, white layer cake with “Happy Birthday, Logan” scrawled in blue icing is sitting there, emitting a fragrance of custard, butter, and powdered sugar. I plow my finger through the icing on the side, sucking off a taste. “Yer really something, ‘Ro.”

“That’ll teach you to run off.” That sobers me a little, but she doesn’t beat it over the head. She turns back to the kitchen drawer and takes out a little box of candles and my stand-by lighter that I use when I can’t find my Zippo when I have a smoke.

“How many candles?”

“Don’t need ‘em. There’ll never be enough.” I scoff to take the edge off. “Might as well set the whole cake on fire, darlin’.”

“Logan?”

“Yeah?”

“The years before you came into our lives don’t count.” She picks out a blue candle and plunges it into the top of the cake, straightening it before she lights it. Just to keep it from getting lonely, she lights another with the flame from the first.

“That ain’t true.”

“It can be.” She’s not through moving around yet. She retrieves a small plate, knife and fork and sets them down, and resumes her spot on my lap. My skin already had the chance to catch a draft, so I’m grateful when she comes to warm me back up again. “There’s a reason why you can’t remember some of the things that you did before, Logan. Our heart sometimes protects itself by pushing away the things it knows will hurt it.” She eases back against me, and my arms wrap themselves around her waist, settling there comfortably because this feels right. It makes sense. ‘Ro makes sense, when the rest of the world’s gone to shit.

“If I just forgot everything bad that ever happened ta me, I wouldn’t have learned ta protect myself, or anyone else. It ain’t healthy ta get close ta me, darlin’. Not if yer smart.”

“I bake him a cake, and he questions my intelligence,” she huffs, giving me a haughty look. I love that look. I nudge her shoulder with my nose and kiss it, and that makes her wriggle in my lap. I might not be in the mood for cake in a minute, if she keeps on doin’ that. “I can’t even remember my precise birthday, Logan; did you know that?”

I stiffen. “Uh-uh.” I really didn’t.

“Those who gave me life were taken from me before I had a chance to know them, and make something of the life I have. I have no family except for the one that I found when I came here. I’ve grown from the pain of who and what I’ve lost, and learned enough to survive. I mark my age by the passing of each new spring. As the land renews itself and nourishes those who live in it each year, so do I. So with that in mind, I want you to make a wish.”

Now she’s got me. I chuckle. She pinches my thigh, pouting at me.

“I mean it. Make a wish, Logan. We’re going to celebrate this birthday properly. In your home, where you belong, among those who care about you.”

“And with the two of us in our birthday suits?” She pondered that for a moment, and I can practically feel her blush.

“That, too.”

“Sounds good ta me.” I snuggle her onto my lap and lean forward, blowing out a gusty breath. The candles go out, I open my eyes, and Ororo’s still on my lap.

“Did you get your wish?” She gasps when I lean over and pinch up a dab of cake and frosting and smear it over her nipple, making it stiffen again. I bend down and slurp it off, taking my time and enjoying the fuss she’s already starting ta make.

“Ask me again after I have some more cake.”