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Beautiful Prizes

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Do not trust your memory; it is a net full of holes; the most beautiful prizes slip through it.
Georges Duhamel

Prologue

To be a telepath was to be connected to the minds of others; it was to feel their hopes and fears and dreams and doubts.

Does it make you feel like a god, Charles…?

That had been Erik's question, back in the day when they had been unequivocally on the same side, working together for the betterment of the mutant cause, before their paths diverged. Charles Xavier, wondered, idly, why it was that however wide the chasm between himself and Erik Lehnsherr yawned, his affection for the man refused to fade. He could rationalize to himself all the reasons why he should love him less, but he somehow could not manage to achieve loving him less.

Erik had told him he was arrogant.

It's not a failing, you know. It's a necessity. You are better than ordinary men. You're too intelligent not to be aware of your own superiority. You would have to be considerably stupider than you are not to be arrogant.

"Doubt is a necessary component of the intellectual process. Men without doubt are dangerous. You, Erik, are becoming dangerous."

"I was always dangerous, Charles. It's part of my charm. You just didn't want to admit it…."

"No, Erik, to answer your question – it doesn't make me feel like a god. It makes me feel…connected to the human race in a way that makes me inclined to forgive their failings. You should try it sometime."

He had not talked about how much that connection could hurt – how would that not sound like a reproach to the man who had killed another man while Charles was painfully connected to his mind?

There were so many times when he could have meddled and had resisted the temptation. All the pain he could have smoothed away that he had left, but was it truly as arrogant as Erik insisted, that, on occasion, he had been moved to close the door on a particularly terrible trauma?

Scott Summers had come to him thrice-damaged and he had changed only one memory. It had been temporarily lost in any case, thanks to a brutal concussion, but it would have come back, in time, bringing so much unnecessary self-doubt and self-hatred to a boy who was already riddled with both while having to adjust to a new life, here, in the mansion. He already had so much to contend with: the pain of his parents' death, the separation from his brother, the years of misery, the buried brain-washing and experimentation in the orphanage, the recent cruelty at the hands of Jack Winters, and then this…more experimentation, and that vile business in his cell. The boy was fifteen and his life had been one misery after another since the age of seven. Was it really so very arrogant of Charles Xavier to want to dim a little of that pain? He had simply prevented a buried trauma from resurfacing, so that, as the poor boy's headache finally receded, it did not leave in its place a particularly unpleasant memory. That was all.

Erik said, "You shouldn't have done it, Charles."

"He's a fifteen year-old boy!"

"And if the world were a better place, it would have noticed that the orphanage in which he was incarcerated was run by a madman. It would not have sent a mob after a frightened child just because his mutation revealed itself. Someone would have cared enough to intervene when the boy was being beaten by a criminal. Stryker would never have been permitted to gain the power that he has. Humans make the world for themselves, and if they had their own way, they would leave no place in it for us at all."

"It wasn't a human who did what was done to that boy in his cell, Erik. It was a mutant. I don't want Scott to grow up hating his own kind any more than I want him to grow up hating the human race, but after Winters and Creed and their usage of him, I fear it might be a very real possibility without some intervention. I made a unilateral decision. I think it was for the best. I intend to abide by it and I respectfully request that you don't interfere."

"Oh, I won't. I just wonder at the advisability of going into the mind of a boy who spent years having mental blocks applied and brainwashing techniques used against him, and altering his memories in a vain attempt to remake the world as you wish that it were, rather than as it truly is."

"The world is what we make it, Erik. Hopefully, there is still time to make it a better place for mutants and for humans."

"You look after the humans, Charles. I'll reserve my sympathy for my own kind…."

"Erik…!"

They had quarreled. They had always quarreled, and they had never ceased to love one another. For years, Charles Xavier had thought the quarrels were the problem; that great ideological divide; now, he wondered sometimes, in the lonely silence of his study, if it was the love they shared that was truly the tragedy, after all. If it was their love that was their mutual Fisher King's wound. It bled and it hurt, and it would not heal however much either one of them might long for the pain to end.

"Professor…?"

Xavier looked up with a smile. There was Scott, slender, certainly, but no longer painfully thin, head up as opposed to whispering in the general direction of the carpet, and gaining confidence every day. The nightmares had stopped. The screaming had stopped. If he still dreamed of burning airplanes and falling too fast to the earth, he did not dream of a man with claws pinning him down and whispering vile promises in his ear. Xavier had sealed that away where it had no power over him. The boy deserved a better life than the one he had known so far. He deserved a chance to fight for something that mattered instead of being a perennial victim, left damaged in the shadows while the world averted its eyes.

"You've finished your homework already?" Xavier wheeled himself forward from behind the desk. "You are certainly my best pupil, Scott."

"Professor, I'm your only pupil."

"For the moment, but that might be about to change. There's a young woman I'd like you to come with me to meet. I think you two might find you have more in common than you think…."

As the boy walked beside him, eager and curious, clear-headed and right-minded, Xavier had thought to himself defiantly: I may be arrogant, Erik, but I am also right.

And he had heard Erik's reply in his mind, the way he always did, as if the man was standing right there, mocking him.

Of course you believe you're right, Charles. The arrogant always do….

 

***

CHAPTER ONE: Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot

Logan had been out of sorts since he came back from the underground facility by the dammed lake, memory jangled, from those unremembered proofs of his previous life, and jangled by shard-flashes of remembrance, brief agonies that furnished no tangible clues.

Winding up Scott Summers didn't really help, in the greater scheme of things – didn't make Jean available or the disquiet from seeing his own claw marks raking stone any less of a nerve-shudder – but it gave him at least the brief illusion of control. And, besides, the guy was wound way too tight. It would do him good to just lose his temper and take a swing at someone. So, Logan dissed his piloting abilities, explained why his lessons would put any self-respecting teenager to sleep, borrowed his bike without asking, and flirted with his girlfriend in front of him, while pointing out – helpfully – that Jean might like to try dating a grown-up for a while, just for the contrast.

"Not that Captain Tightass isn't pretty," he said – still helpfully, he liked to think. "But so are most things that are just that young – puppies, kittens, little fluffy chicks…."

Summers rose up wrathfully from the couch where they were all watching something improving, broad shoulders and tapered waist, and those legs that went on forever. He carried himself well, of course – Logan gave him that – his naturally slender body sculpted and honed by unflinching daily discipline to maintain all that lean muscle and those washboard abs. He was athletic and graceful, with whip-smart reflexes, and sometimes even Logan had to admit it was a pleasure just to watch him move. Today the whole package was wrapped in his usual not-being-an-X-Man-right-this-minute uniform of preppy polo shirt and preppier khaki slacks, Summers glaring down at Logan from his superior height as if Logan should be shamed into silence by this proof of his physical maturity, but he still looked young, and although he was strong, there was a delicacy about him that made him seem vulnerable. The kid looked even better in a t-shirt and jeans, of course, not to mention it being a big improvement when he let his hair get a little mussed, but Logan wasn't going to tell him that – why give him any extra help in hanging onto the woman they both wanted? Instead, Logan gave him his most maddening smile, and looked him up and down pointedly, tilting his head to double-check the contours of that taut little ass which the slacks were hugging so firmly.

"Yep," Logan said deliberately. "Very nice – especially from this angle."

With what everyone else no doubt considered heroic self-control and Logan considered a just plain pathetic refusal to take a perfectly good bait when it was being offered to him, Summers wrestled down his first three responses – all presumably inappropriate in a school – and walked out, straight-backed and almost silent – although Logan could hear the grating of enamel crowns from where the guy was gritting his teeth so hard.

Logan looked around at the accusing expressions locked onto his position and rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on. The guy needs to learn how to lose his temper. All that repression can't be healthy."

Icily, Xavier said, "Scott has spent the last ten years of his life learning how to exercise control, Logan. You might like to follow his example."

"I care too much about the health of my bowels," Logan assured him. "And that whole stick insertion procedure has to hurt, right?"

When Storm's eyes turned cloudy and the windows began to rattle ominously, he held up his hands. "Hey, I'm just saying what you were all thinking."

Jean said, "You don't want to know what I'm thinking right now, Logan," and, much to his disappointment, strode off after her boyfriend.

"Junior's just a dull habit she's got into," Logan said, annoyed because he actually believed that and no one else did, because the whole Jean-Scott thing had oozed up around the others so gradually that they'd had time to get used to it, like the frog in the cauldron, and no longer saw how completely wrong it was. There was a fire in Jean Grey that he could almost taste whenever he was in a room with her, a flame that burned seductively just beneath her cool, kind surface. He found it impossible to believe that Summers, with his neat hair and shaved jaw and crisp diction could inflame any woman's passions. Jean was complex, deep; a brilliant mystery. Summers was…Cyclops. Why did everyone else chez Chaz think that the orphan too dull even to get adopted was good enough for Jean Grey? Summers looked nice and he smelled nice and he tried – oh so hard – to be A Good Leader. Those were excellent attributes for a school report, less so for a lover. Logan tried to imagine Jean wanting to rip off Summers' polo shirt, heedlessly scattering buttons in all directions, or to telekinetically tear the dockers from his narrow hips and he just couldn't see it – you had to have some friction to strike a light and Scott was so Blandy McBlanderson; such an uptight do-gooder it was hard to imagine him in anything except the most vanilla sexual relationships, while Jean, Logan just knew, was not really a vanilla girl. She had red hair! Had no one else noticed the red hair?

Xavier said, "You know, if you really respected Jean as much as you think you do, you might give her credit for more than falling for a handsome face. Scott has virtues that you can only aspire to, Logan. Self-control in the face of overwhelming provocation is only one of them – although it is one for which you have reason to be grateful."

"Hey, I'm just giving him some much-needed lessons in how to stand up for himself. Maybe you should try coddling him a little less, too – see how that goes."

Well, he'd managed to make Xavier angry anyway. The guy glared at him out of blazing blue eyes. "You're not the only mutant in this school who was subjected to cruel and unnecessary medical procedures, Logan, although I do believe when it happened to you, you were not a vulnerable child –"

Xavier broke off like he regretted saying even that much but Logan's interest was piqued. He said, "You're not boring me."

"From the day he was left without a guardian until I took him in, Scott was abused and exploited. He was separated from his brother just so he would be more emotionally vulnerable, he was tormented just to see how he would react, experimented on, put into a coma so he could be controlled, and his potential foster parents were murdered just to keep him from any support structure. And don't even get me started on Jack Winters and the way he mistreated him. Suffice to say, the last thing Scott needs in his life is another bully."

Secretly, Logan was a little chastened, but as his own life had been pretty much a train-wreck and he didn't do chastened, like he didn't do apologies or regrets, he just shrugged. He was sorry for kid Summers, if that had been his childhood, but he'd still ended up as the adopted son of a billionaire who bought him all the loafers and button down shirts he wanted, not to mention motorbikes and fast cars and even faster jets, albeit in exchange for him being a schoolteacher-come-mutant superhero; but it wasn't like he was out there working the red light district to make the rent. Leaving aside the small matter of him having to risk his neck on a fairly regular basis and all that angst about whether or not he was doing the leader thing well enough, what Summers had here, in Logan's opinion, was a pretty cushy number. All that and the little prick got to have Jean, too. So boo hoo hoo for the kid he'd been – not so much for the guy he was now.

He said, "If you ask me, he still needs a few life lessons."

Crisply, Xavier said, "And I think you'll find, Logan, that absolutely no one is asking you."

 

Logan actually thought he was being pretty damned reasonable, just asking Summers for a lift into town the next morning. He was going in anyway, after all, and Logan could easily have stolen his bike again instead. Yet, still Summers had done that pursed lip, tensed jaw thing, as if Logan was asking for something difficult, before he gave that terse nod of the head, and strode off towards the underground parking lot, like all the weight of the world was on his manly shoulders. The guy really needed to lighten up.

As they were driving past the heaped snowbanks, he almost said, "Kid, you really need to lighten up", but then, out of nowhere, he found himself saying, "Who's Jack Winters?" Which was when Summers jerked so violently that the wheel skewed and the tires briefly locked, and Logan had to grab the wheel to stop them going off the road.

"What the hell's the matter with you?" he demanded, as he fought to keep them straight, and then noticed that Summers looked like he was going to pass out. He didn't know what it cost him to do it, but somehow Summers pulled himself together, got his grip back on the wheel and said, "Sorry – black ice," which might even have been true, if it wasn't for the bloodless pallor.

That had shaken Logan up enough that he hadn't even called Summers on his lie. It wasn't that he couldn't work with Summers during a life-threatening crisis. It was that he couldn't warm up to the guy on an everyday basis. They were just too different – Logan being a flesh-and-blood creature and Summers being a robotic tightass, or – from the Summers' perspective – Summers being a reasoning, rational being and Logan being an impulsive, id-driven animal. There was just nothing there to warm up to. The guy was all about following rules and giving orders and not having a sense of humor. No way, if he didn't look the way he did, would a warm, witty woman like Jean have fallen for him. And surely the novelty of him looking like a goddamned supermodel had to be wearing off by now, didn't it? Hadn't she known the guy since he was a teenager?

Still, she was only human, and, damn, Summers was handsome. Logan found himself sneaking looks at him to check that, yes, his cheekbones really were that chiseled; his jawline really was that perfect, that long, lean body of his really did taper to that tiny little waist, and those crazily-narrow hips; his damn legs did go on forever, and his ass really was that small and firm. Youth, Logan told himself, that was all it was. Youth and too many workouts, and, okay, really good genes.

He said, "Nice cardigan. Very…beige."

Summers, refusing to be goaded, said crisply, "Thank you."

"We should probably get to know each other better if we're going on…missions. Don'tcha think?"

With a martyred air, Summers said, "What do you want to know?"

"Well, maybe we should start with blood-type. I'm a universal donor. Might be useful for you to know in a crisis." He looked Summers over. "I'd peg you for a universal recipient, though."

"Blood-type is a pitcher/catcher thing now? Seriously? Just as a matter of interest, Logan, have you ever tried evolving?"

Logan felt his usual irritation with him flare up again and said, nastily, "So, Summers – tell me about the other guys who've noticed that you're pretty? I'm sure I'm not the only one."

Summers bore that like a fleabite, chin up, not a flinch as he said steadily, "Well, your old friend Sabretooth sometimes mentions it, usually when he's bouncing me off a hard surface or trying to eviscerate me. Why? Are you short of funds and wondering if I'm a sellable commodity?"

"The thought had crossed my mind."

"Trust me, the car's worth a lot more."

And, bizarrely, he wanted to say No, the car cost more, it isn't worth more, especially not to Xavier. Instead, he said, "Don't the Brotherhood guys assume Xavier's your sugar daddy?"

Summers sucked that up too, not even blinking. "The Brotherhood and us go way back. Some of us went to the same High School. They know the truth."

Okay, that had shocked him. "You were at school with Sabretooth?"

Summers laughed. "No. He's probably older than you are – the healing factor tends to slow ageing, as well as giving you guys your warm and friendly personalities."

Because that hurt, being so casually likened to Sabretooth, he felt the urge to push back. "So, tell me – did you get bullied for being a math nerd? Did Toad steal your lunch money?"

"I don't know why you're assuming the worst bullies in high school were other mutants. It's not like humans don't have their dark side, too."

And out of nowhere, Logan felt a sudden flare of anger that some human creep had bullied the skinny kid Summers had once been. He just knew that if he'd been around in those days and he'd seen someone picking on preppy, earnest Scott Summers, he'd have put that bully on his ass. "What happened?"

Summers shrugged like it was no big deal. "There was a jock who liked Jean. He could be kind of a dick sometimes. Later, he became much worse than a dick and decided mutants were something that needed to be eradicated. That was hard on Jean – I mean she dated the guy, and he wasn't that bad back then. It's strange what fear does to some humans sometimes. It's like they're always looking for that one thing that they can wipe out and then all their problems will go with whatever it is they've destroyed."

"And you getting that makes perfect sense out of you risking your neck every day to save their ungrateful asses."

Summers looked down his elegant nose at him. "Logan – do you even listen to yourself? How is judging all humans by the actions of a few bad apples any different from them judging all of us because of mutants like Sabretooth?"

Glowering at him, Logan said, "So, tell me, when you were a friendless runaway orphan, trying to make his way in the world, how did you make a living, Cyke?"

Jaw tense, teeth grit, slight clenching of fingers but his voice was steady enough: "Not like that."

"No?" Logan faked disbelief, even though Cyclops made for the world's least likely rent boy; that didn't mean he wasn't going to pretend otherwise.

Cyclops turned his head. "I was lucky. The Professor found me before it came to that."

He put in teasing sneer. "And would you have been any good if it had come to that?"

Summers gazed out at the white landscape as if it were as unweighted as the past. "I guess I would have had to learn how to be good at it if I wanted to survive."

And that was point advantage Summers because now Logan was the one with the tensed jaw and the gritted teeth, trying hard to disguise his feelings, because, okay, he didn't like Summers, but they had worked together, and flown together, and saved humankind together, and apparently that was just enough to make it irksome to think of teenage Summers being mauled around by strangers, just because he was a mutant with a pretty mouth who could be rendered effectively blind by someone taking his ruby quartz glasses away, and who had once been all alone and friendless in the world.

Logan found himself saying gruffly, "It's good Xavier found you in time."

And there was just a tinge of surprise in what he could see of Cyclops's visored face as he said, "Yes, it is. I was very grateful at the time."

"What about now?"

That wry little smile was kind of attractive, revealing as it did a few pleasant irregularities in his otherwise perfect teeth. "Now I understand more about all the things he was saving me from – back then I didn't. So, now I'm even more grateful."

"How old were you anyway?"

"Fifteen."

Okay, that was younger than he'd been expecting and now he felt like a dick. And because he didn't like being made to feel like a dick and because things were getting a little too comfortable and civilized between them and the last thing Logan wanted was to find himself friends with the guy who was dating the woman of his dreams, he dragged up another sneer and said, "So, has Sabretooth ever got past second base?"

Summers said, quite calmly, "Sabretooth has never even got to first base, Logan, unless in Canada that means getting your ribcage cracked by a guy. And do Canadians even understand baseball? I thought you guys were all about hockey?"

"We are, but I figured if I asked you if he'd ever knocked his puck in your net, you wouldn't know what I was talking about."

"Even not being Canadian I could probably have taken an educated guess."

And, okay, points advantage Summers, who apparently got really flustered if someone dissed the way he landed his beloved Blackbird or suggested that their X-Men uniforms made them look like a bad cabaret act in a leather bar, but shook off like it was nothing the suggestion that he had ever given it up to Sabretooth. Maybe not as dull as Logan had been thinking, after all, although at this point of their relationship he was still going with: Reasons Why Jean Is Dating This Guy Number One (And Only): Looks Good Naked. He was not yet willing to admit to a reason number two but he was at least now open to the possibility that another reason might conceivably exist.

 

And it turned out that the reason why Summers had been all uptight about Logan coming with him was because Summers had come into town to pay over a check from Xavier to the guy who managed the train station to pay for its new – currently half-obliterated – roof. Summers had clearly not wanted Logan to be a witness to that little transaction, but no way was Logan passing up an opportunity to watch Summers squirm so he had firmly tagged along anyway.

And then, because this was apparently Piss In Logan's Cheerios Day, he didn't even get to enjoy Summers squirming, because the guy he was paying the check over to, despite Summers' quiet and clearly heartfelt apology, decided to be such a gargantuan ass about it. Even though Xavier had made the appointment a day before and arranged for the building work to be done and the amount of the check that was being handed over, the guy still quibbled about every damned thing. And, once again, out of nowhere, Logan found his anger flaring up – irrationally – in defense of Scott Summers.

"Hey, like he just told you for the tenth time, it was an accident. It's not like he wasn't taking any precautions. Another guy ripped the visor off his face. He closed his eyes as soon as he could."

Summers said, "It's okay, Logan." And there was that weary resignation in his voice that told Logan better than a montage that this wasn't the first time this had happened. Bad guys took away his glasses. Property got damaged. Summers got blamed. That was the pattern of his life since puberty, and he wasn't expecting it to change any time soon, nor was he ever going to stop blaming himself when the pattern repeated itself.

Train station guy said, "People could have been killed."

"Hey, Pal, what part of 'It was an accident' do you just not get?"

"Logan, really, it's okay." Summers held out the check and said tautly, "I'm sorry about the damage. It won't happen again."

Train station guy shrugged, not taking the check yet. "A bunch of mutants just tried to kill a whole bunch of people – I guess feelings are running high right now."

If it wouldn't have been paranoid to think it, Logan would have said the guy was stalling. There was an edge to his voice as he said, "And it was mutants who stopped those other mutants, Bub, not humans, who, incidentally, aren't the only 'people' on this planet."

Summers said, "Logan, it's fine, let's go."

Train station guy said nastily to Summers, "Didn't mean to piss off your boyfriend."

Which pissed Logan off on a whole other level, because that was clearly meant to be an insult – like this guy didn't already have enough bigotry swilling around in his system with the mutant-hating thing, he had to think being gay was a problem, too, the dickweed. It was additionally irksome because, even without any mutant powers, Summers could have taken the guy out with one punch, and yet here he was, having to suck it up, just because he'd been born a mutant and he had to rise above it all.

Logan grabbed train station guy by the shirtfront and snarled ominously, "Well, you did – piss off his boyfriend, Pal. Big time."

At least then the guy showed sense enough to be scared. "No offence."

"You know, that would work better if you hadn't spent the last ten minutes trying to offend us. Now, are you going to take the damned check or not?"

That did earn them a rapidly gabbled apology, train station guy clearly finding Logan a lot scarier as Summers' other half than he did as his random accomplice. He took the check. As they left, Summers sighed a martyred sigh and said, "Did you have to?"

"What, you don't want people thinking you're gay?"

"It's more that I don't want people thinking I have embarrassingly low standards."

So he did have a sense of humor, after all. He'd got a few hints of it before and would have liked to tease it out of him, like a hidden thread, but mostly Summers just put up the shutters. Logan growled at him. "Watch yourself, Cyke."

"You're the one who skimped on the personal grooming. Next time you want to claim we're dating, can you at least shower first?"

"Just be grateful I didn't kiss you."

Unexpectedly, Summers said, "Why? Are you a bad kisser or have you just not brushed your teeth today?"

"Like you wouldn't enjoy the flavor."

"Because once you go Wolverine, you never go Listerine?" From anyone else on the planet, Logan would have considered that almost…flirtatious.

"Damned right, Summers." Darting a sideways look at Team Leader Boy, Logan realized again that the guy's uptightness was triggered by other things – not following orders, not safeguarding humans, making tactical errors, Logan coming onto Jean, about whose affections Summers was apparently a lot less confident than he liked to let on. People coming onto him, however – even growly, adamantium-bonded hirsute people – got an amused shrug from Mr. Scott Summers. Logan couldn't decide if that was because Summers had done the usual teenage experimentation when growing up in mutant school or because he had no experience but just didn't think being bisexual was that big a deal.

Fishing, Logan said, "So, that Warren Worthington guy who used to live with you? I heard he was kind of hot."

Summers was looking all the way across the other side of the tarpaulined train station, like something had attracted his attention, but he was listening to Logan enough to say absently, "Do you want his phone number?"

"So, you and he didn't…?"

Scott gave him an impatient look. "Logan, I think you're seriously over-estimating my sex-appeal. Most people don't want to see me naked."

"Well, speaking as a guy who has seen you naked, they don't know what they're missing."

"When did you…?"

"Hey, communal showers – I peeked. I'm a little hurt you didn't."

"I don't know how things were back in your day, but I went to a regular High School and, in my day, if you peeked at the jocks in the showers, they pretty much beat the crap out of you."

"I was not a jock!"

"Of course not. You were the enigmatic bad boy with the black leather jacket and the motorbike, right? You probably smoked behind the bike sheds and lusted after the cheerleaders who wouldn't date you but kind of wanted to because of all that animal magnetism…." The tone was mocking but it was a long way from being the most insulting thing anyone had ever said to him.

Logan shrugged. "No idea. Don't remember. I just know I wasn't a jock. But seriously, Summers, any guy who doesn't like looking at you when you're naked is seriously repressed or straight up blind. It's a pity about the stick someone rammed up it but the rest of your ass is great."

"If you could not share that with Sabretooth, I'd appreciate it. Especially as his idea of second base would almost certainly also involve removing my spleen."

"What, you mean not share it with him at the Annual General Meeting for Mutants With Anger Management Issues and Claws?" Yeah – being linked to that guy, still annoying.

Summer said, "So, what did I miss – not peeking?"

"More than you could handle, Slim," Logan assured him.

"Trust me, I was not intending to handle…it – even with tongs."

"You never answered my question. What about when you and Warren were horny little teenage X-Men. Ever get frisky?"

Summers gave one of his martyred sighs. "No, Warren and I never…did that. We were just friends who competed over Jean. I thought she liked him. He thought she liked him. It was kind of a shock to both of us when it turned out she liked me."

"So girls do make passes at guys who wear glasses? At least when those guys look like underwear models."

Summers said in only mild perplexity, "Why are you suddenly commenting on my personal attractions instead of just telling me I'm a dick, like you usually do?"

"It's my new strategy for stealing your girlfriend. I'm going to take you out of the running by seducing you myself."

Summers gave the plan a moment's consideration. "And then I presume you break my heart and toss me aside like a worn-out glove so you can move in on Jean?"

"That would depend on Jean's policy on threesomes. If she's okay with them, I'd probably let you stick around."

"That's big of you." Summers said still staring off into the far distance.

"I'm a big-hearted guy. So few people get that about me. What is it?" And it was a little annoying that he was – sorta – flirting with the guy, and Summers didn't have the basic courtesy to either get pissy about it or even give him his full attention. If he did that gazing attractively off into the middle-distance thing in bed with Jean, Logan sincerely hoped she swatted him one.

Summers said, "Looks like Morlocks. I think they're in trouble." He was already striding off in a heroic fashion, because clearly if there was a mutant in need of saving, Summers was the guy to save him. And Logan could see squat, green-skinned scuttlings going on over the far side of the deroofed train station, and some big humans taking exception. What he didn't see was why it was his problem.

Rolling his eyes, Logan went after fearless leader boy. "Morlocks? Aren't those the sewer rats whose chief rat wanted you for a sunbeam?"

Summers said impatiently, "They have a hard life."

"I have a hard life. Does that mean I get to keep you as a pet?"

"Sure, just as long as you can beat Storm in equal combat."

Yeah, they both knew Storm could kick his ass any time she wanted to. Growling, he said, "What makes you think those Morlocks are in trouble anyway?"

Still striding manfully, Summers said, "Remember, that guy I told you about – the human who used to date Jean, who turned into a mutant-hater…?"

"The jock who used to beat you up in High School? What about him?"

"He's the one chasing the Morlocks."

And then Summers was running, elegantly, effortlessly, and incredibly fast. Logan was running, too, but he had to admit he was lingering a little, just to watch Summers run, because, damn, the guy moved well. It came to Logan that he wasn't even faking it to get a rise at the moment; not winding Summers up for the fun of it, or testing his Boy Scout boundaries to try to shock him; he was just really liking the way Scott Summers looked as he ran. All those times when he'd been fake-flirting with Summers to make him mad, then, had they been real?

Great, Logan thought bitterly. Now if I hang around that damned mutant school, I'm not just going to be sexually frustrated by Jean liking Cyke more than me, I'm going to be sexually frustrated by Cyke liking Jean more than me, too. Who knew life was just going to get better and better?

And then he was in the parking lot and Summers was being all heroic and kindly to the poor frightened little greenish Morlock with a stumpy tail and some nasty wounds around its forehead, putting himself between it and the two big blond guys, who looked like they worked out a lot, and were carrying baseball bats and big chips on their shoulders. He was using his reasonable voice as he said, "Duncan, you don't want to do this. Mutants aren't your enemies. We're just trying to share the same planet with you, that's all."

Logan rolled his eyes, because at this point why not just hand out a hymn book if they were in the preachin' business? These guys were obvious jerks and Summers could put them both on their asses with one measured blast from his optic beams if he wasn't such a wussy do-gooder.

"Don't you want to know how I got out of prison, Summers?"

Summers said tersely, "Good behavior?"

Completely inappropriately, he wondered what Cyke was like in bed, and specifically what he'd be like in bed with Logan. Probably still buttoned up, he thought. Not wanting to give way or lose control. Right now he could see them getting to that place only through advanced level Gay Chicken – but that he could see. He could imagine himself laid out on the bed with his hands behind his head, coolly impassive, impressively naked, both of them daring the other one to blink first, and Cyclops lowering himself down onto Logan without breaking visor-to-eye contact, determined to take every inch without flinching, for no other reason than to show Logan that he could take any damned thing the guy could dish out….

Logan grimaced as his pants felt too tight while his heart gave a mournful little swoop like a night owl that had just missed a mouse. Oh what? So he didn't just want some no surrender sex with Cyclops in a dirty motel room? Sure, he did! Sex without conversation would be just fine. That was the way sex should be between guys, especially when they were competing for the same woman. It didn't even need to involve a cessation in hostilities. They could go right back afterwards to shoving each other like kids in the playground, albeit while Logan hugged his smugness to him because he'd planted a Wolverine flag in Scott Summers' hot spot. Rogue had got under his defenses like a Special Ops veteran but no way was that happening with One Eye. Wanting to fuck someone had nothing to with getting fond of someone. They were two completely different things.

He became aware that the scaly little mutant that Cyclops was trying to shield from the bad guys was giving him a shocked look as he cringed behind the stalwart defenses of impregnable Scott Summers and his crisply ironed polo shirts. A really shocked look, like Logan had just belched in church. The little reptile had better not be psychic, and if he was psychic he'd better not be eavesdropping. Logan glowered at him horribly and the Morlock scrabbled at Cyclops nervously like a kid wanting to be picked up.

"The Friends of Humanity broke us all out, Summers. And do you want to know why?"

"They just really wanted your autograph?"

"Because we get things done."

Something touched his hand. Logan looked down, annoyed, and found another bug-eyed little mutant gazing up at him, woefully. It looked like something out of a goddamned kids' cartoon, except for the expression, which was so incredibly…sorry.

Logan's own eyes widened in realization that they had been hook, line, and suckered just as clammy little fingers closed around his and what felt like fifty thousand volts sizzled through every one of his metal-bonded bones. As he was hurled into the air by the impact, he saw Scott spin around, shouting his name, concern all over his visored face, and the big blond guy behind him swinging that baseball bat right at Scott Summers' obliviously handsome head.

***

Experience had taught Logan to wake up silently. Even when everything was still fizzing and hurting and the groan was desperate to get out, it had to be swallowed down. A smart guy woke up still and quiet and listened real carefully before he ever opened his eyes. Which was how he found out that he now wasn't a mutant.

"Don't you get it, Duncan? He went down like that because he isn't like me. He's just a regular guy and your little electric eel friend nearly killed him."

Yep, that was totally what happened; nothing at all to do with Logan having a metal skeleton that made for a scarily good conductor, frying him inside out before his mutant healing factor kicked in and stopped that third degree electrical burn reaching his surface skin and giving the game away. Not that at all….

Another guy said with a sneer. "Heard he was your boyfriend, Summers. That true? You certainly made enough fuss over him."

Big blond guy chortled in a way that urgently needed to be a capital offence everywhere. "Yeah, that was so sweet – all that pounding on his heart and giving him mouth-to-mouth."

"Because his heart had stopped beating," said Summers. "Owing to the massive electric shock you arranged to run through his system…."

So that was why his chest hurt. It was fading, even now, but a normal guy would have had a hell of a bruise. Logan wondered if Summers had given him the first aid just to make things look convincing or if he hadn't known the extent of Logan's healing factor when he got fried by electric mutants and had been genuinely concerned. He was kind of sorry he'd missed the fussing and heart-pounding, even if it had been faked, and he was very sorry indeed that he'd missed the mouth-to-mouth, because, fake concern or not, Summers did have a very pretty mouth which Logan would have enjoyed feeling pressed against his. That hint of an overbite was cute and the full lower lip was eminently biteable. The only problem there would have been not just grabbing him when he was dutifully trying to re-inflate Logan's lungs and shoving his tongue straight down Summers' throat. So…probably just as well he'd still been out for the count, all things considered. He couldn't stop that little spread of warmth at the thought of Summers worrying about him, though. He thought of the way Cyke had looked all torn up inside over Xavier and wondered if he had done that by Logan's bedside after Rogue had nearly killed him. Jean was a loyal one. She certainly wouldn't ever tell Logan if her boyfriend had been fretting over him, knowing how much Cyke would hate him to know. On the other hand, she hadn't looked mad with Logan, just concerned and tolerant and a little amused. Would she get mad, Logan wondered, if she thought her Scott had feelings for him? Or would she be all: Well, if it was you and another woman, boyfriend dear, I'd teleport you into a shark tank, but as it's a guy I'm kinda hot for, have at it and send me the DVD?

There was a chance he might be confusing reality and porn here, but, guys in those situations never seemed to get pissy about two girls going at it, so maybe girls were cool about guys making out, too? This was one of those vital pieces of information that the more inscrutable sex really ought to share with a guy – preferably before he hit on her boyfriend and it turned out she really wasn't cool with it at all and then used the power of her mind to throw the guy hitting on her boyfriend under a moving train.

Of course, he wasn't going to deny that he found it hot that Jean and Storm could kick his ass without breaking a sweat. Them both being drop dead gorgeous didn't really hurt either, but the mutant powers did up the ante – which should really give a guy a free pass on trying to chat up Jean Grey in the infirmary when she had her beautifully sensitive fingers actually touching his naked skin. He was going to point that out to Cyke some time, along with the fact that them all wearing really tight-fitting black leather tended to have an effect on a lonely guy's libido, too. And did the rest of them take a lot of bromide in their tea or did his healing factor just naturally increase his testosterone output – because how in the hell were these people looking like that and dressing like that and not having crazy mutant orgies every five minutes?

Logan realized, belatedly, that given their current situation, that was a very unproductive line of thought, especially if he started wondering (again) what the lost weekends had been like every time Xavier had to go and do something grown up in the past and left those kids alone together. Storm and Jean and Warren and Scott and Hank and Bobby; those unnaturally good-looking mutants running around being sixteen and up and horny and left alone with one another. The tragic thing was that they probably hadn't even put that time to good use, Summers, on the whole, being too slow to catch cold. (It wasn't like Logan hadn't been asking questions, girl of his dreams and all being involved in the equation, and far from having swept her off her feet, Summers seemed to have just stood around looking pretty and sad and rubbing his toe in the dirt until Jean grabbed him and hauled him off to bed.)

Damn! That image had no right at all to make his groin twitch – especially not now. But Cyclops was so habitually controlled, focused, and buttoned up, that visor the perfect barrier shielding his weaknesses from the world, that any thought of him being under the thumb of another, being uncontrolled, emotional, at a loss – vulnerable in any way – apparently did something to Logan that he could neither explain or – given their chilly relationship – even justify. That was inconvenient. The thought of Cyke letting Jean telekinetically grab him by the scruff of the neck and hurl him down on her bed for the taking made Logan simultaneously angry, jealous, and incredibly horny, but the thought of Summers being pushed around by another guy just made him murderous. Which was dumb, because Cyke was not his problem. Not his responsibility. Not his friend or his boyfriend. Not even his fuck-buddy. He was just that annoying guy he had to work with sometimes who was so urgently in need of an assstickectomy.

So why was the thought of how much he couldn't control Scott Summers making him kind of…tingly; not just sex tingly, but friendship tingly – want-to-get-to-know-that-annoying-little-shit-better kind of tingly? Forget that. This was a straightforward alpha male wanting dominance thing that could be legitimately funneled to his groin. No one, really, looking at Scott Summers would see anything amiss in anyone wanting to fuck him, after all. He was nothing if not the epitome of eminently fuckable. And as for Logan having come back to the annoying mutant school filled with the annoyingly vulnerable and needy mutant kids, well, he'd had a motorbike to return, that was all. There was also the fact that Logan spent his life having to rein in his temper so he didn't turn anyone who didn't deserve it into a colander, so it was nice to be around people who could stop him hurting them if they had to – and that included Cyclops. Logan might even prefer it if the guy would just blast him from time to time instead of walking off, all silent and inwardly damaged. On the whole he'd rather feel like a victim than a bullying dickwad.

And, talking of bullying dickwads….

Logan opened his eyes just a slit and found he was nicely in shadow, trussed up with ropes he could break any time he wanted to, with three male humans looming over a tied-up Scott and the two unhappy little Morlocks, all three of them bound to the uprights of some underground old mine working with all available lighting pointing their way. He caught the gaze of the little mutant who had zapped him and saw it was giving him a look of abject apology. Yeah, he was still going to gut it the first chance he got – turncoat little traitor. The one next to it with the scaly tail stump looked very unhappy. So did the first little green mutant with the electric current fingers. In fact they both looked like they'd had the crap kicked out of them by life and then some. He might have felt more sorry for them if Summers didn't have that bruise on his temple, which Logan guessed was from being bludgeoned to his knees by a baseball bat while being suckered into going to their aid. The ironic thing was that these mutants did look as if they needed rescuing, and he and Cyke could have rescued them just fine if they hadn't helped the humans to lay them out. He wondered what their game was.

He also didn't like coincidences. No way was Scott Summers' old High School bully at the train station by chance. The guy they'd just paid that check over to must have told them Summers was coming. This had always been an ambush. Logan felt a spike of anxiety at the thought of Cyclops being alone in this situation. Summers probably thought he could handle way worse than three humans with baseball bats, but the guy had no healing factor and his bones were completely breakable. It irked Logan to realize that if Summers had been by himself, he wouldn't have been distracted by Logan getting electrocuted and so would have been ready for that bat around the head. He could smell blood but it wasn't fresh; dried, old, mutant blood, that was never a good scent.

He wondered if anyone – at all – in the train station parking lot had even thought of coming to the aid of the nasty mutants these three humans had bundled into their vehicle. He inhaled cautiously and found that he smelled a lot like engine oil and old tires, suggesting they had probably shoved him in the trunk. Well, given how much he weighed, he sincerely hoped they had strained something doing it. So far, Summers didn't smell much of pain, which was something

"What's it to you if he is my boyfriend anyway, Duncan?" Scott said. "Did I somehow forget shooting you down when you asked me to the Prom?"

The big blond guy punched him in the gut – and Logan had to grit his teeth. Summers grimaced but he also looked straight past the guy who had just punched him to give Logan a brief jerk of the head that very clearly said Stay down. Logan didn't know how Summers knew he was awake but he gave him a few fearless leader points for it all the same.

"What is your problem?" And there was an edge behind the eye-visored calm. "Graydon Creed is a racist madman but at least he has the excuse of being driven to it by having a mutant father who terrorized him. What did we ever do to you to compare with what that sadist Sabretooth did to him?"

"You were born wrong into the wrong place!" Duncan punched him again and then again, perhaps just for luck, while Logan inwardly growled and snarled like a penned wolf.

The other two jocks were crowding around, jeering at Summers about all the girls who'd crushed on him at high school who had been wasting their time, just like they could have told them. And now he couldn't even pull one of his own disgusting kind, but had to make do with some scruffy human who looked like a gay lumberjack, how pathetic was that?

I do not look like a gay lumberjack, Logan thought, annoyed. And what the hell does a straight lumberjack look like anyway? Are there even any straight lumberjacks – at least after they've been stuck up in the snowy wilds of Canada with a bunch of other guys and too much beer for a month or so anyway? Get real, Bub!

Summers coughed again and then said with extra clarity, presumably in case Logan had missed that information the first time: "Sorry if you have a problem with me snagging a human you're interested in, guys, but that's just the way things are. Logan isn't a mutant. He doesn't have any special powers – unless you count staying power in bed."

This time when the blond guy hit Summers, it definitely seemed to be for daring to be gay in his presence and not pretending otherwise, or something, as he sure as hell wasn't any threat with his hands tied behind his back and his visor on. Summers gave Logan another warning head jerk and he gave him a brief nod back. He didn't like it but he got the message. He was to be kept in reserve. He was their escape pass in case they needed it. What he didn't get was why they didn't need it right now – given that they were tied up in some kind of underground place with at least one of them being punched.

Blond guy was having a rant about mutants and how evil and depraved and disgusting they were, which Logan tuned out. He had heard it all before; what he needed to work out, with or without cues, was what was going on and why did Cyclops, in his infinite leader-boy wisdom, want it to keep going on?

Summers said, "I think you've been suckered, Duncan. Whatever those Friends of Humanity guys told you they were doing, all the stores of Pow-R 8 were destroyed. You and your jailbird buddies want to wipe out mutantkind you're going to have to find another way."

Big blond bully guy – Duncan – grabbed the front of Summers' polo shirt, completely crumpling its perfect creases, and snarled at him that his information was sound; he knew it. A private company had managed to reverse engineer the formula and was working with its active compounds in a super secret laboratory. All Duncan had to do was find three mutant test subjects and then he'd get the address where the stuff was being kept – that gleaming store of the new improved version of Pow-R 8 with its mutant destroying abilities enhanced, ready in case the mutants started getting uppity again.

Summers' jaw tightened. "Uppity? Like wanting the same rights as everyone else, you mean?"

"You're not the same as everyone else! You're goddamned mutants! You need to learn your place!" Duncan backhanded Summers across the face hard enough to cut his mouth open and Logan felt his temper fraying. If Summers thought Logan was just going to just lie here and take it while some bull-necked jock beat up a fellow mutant – albeit one with a stick up his ass – for no good reason, then Summers had another think –

As the blood ran from his split lip, Summers said, "And you think that now you have Kepper, Gorgo, and me, they're going to give a low-level mook like you the location to this top secret laboratory?"

"I know they will! Stumpy's littermate is in that laboratory right now while they try to create a purer version of the drug."

"You mean he's being tortured by technicians who are trying to synthesize a compound that will wipe out him, his immediate relatives, and anyone else with a genetic mutation?" Summers enquired crisply. "And you want to side with the torturers? Those are the guys who are your role models now? What happened to you, Duncan? You used to be a stand-up guy."

"Shut up, Summers!"

Duncan prowled up and down and Scott did show sense enough to keep his mouth closed, which was something. Duncan was still explaining instead of doing but Logan thought that was more because he was taking the less efficient super villains as his role models these days than because he felt bad.

"…But they need more test subjects. You guys are getting wise to people grabbing you off the streets these days…."

Logan grimaced. Okay, he got that Gorgo had needed the guys holding him to bag another mutant ASAP so they could find out the location of the place where his brother was being tortured. And Scott, as an X-Man was more likely to be able to save not only himself but Gorgo's brother as well. In Stumpy's place, Logan would probably have been ready and willing to grab Cyclops for the bad guys too.

"Unsporting of us, isn't it?"

"That's why, when they said we had to have three freaks as payment, I was so happy to hear you were coming to town."

One of the other guys said, "We had three of you bagged but one of you got loose and Duncan was a little over-enthusiastic laying him out." The guy slapped the baseball bat into his palm with a meaty chuckle. "Who knew mutant skulls were so thin?"

"You've gone from attempted murder to actual murder? Were you looking for congratulations?"

"It isn't murder if it's a mutant!"

Logan didn't like the blaze of rage in the human's eyes. He thought Scott was seriously underestimating how maddening this escaped convict with fresh blood on his hands was finding it to be confronted by a Scott Summers who looked so unchanged. This guy had presumably once had a football scholarship in his future, looking at those shoulders; he'd probably toyed with an image of himself as Mr Jean Grey, and here was Scott, still Charles Xavier's favorite adopted son, still living in a mansion, dating Jean Grey, no blood on his hands, and no police out hunting for him. And Scott a mutant. Duncan had already killed one mutant. Logan knew from experience that the second murder was always so much easier than the first. If he hadn't needed to pretend to be unconscious he would have been telling Scott to shut up. This guy was not going to be reached by reason. He was damned and there was no saving him. Logan really hoped that Scott got that. He also really hoped that Scott got how annoying his pompous lectures were. They made Logan want to kill him and Logan…kinda liked him.

Scott said – annoyingly, "The law doesn't agree with you."

Yet, Logan thought. The law doesn't agree with you yet. He knew Charles thought the war was still winnable, the hearts and minds of the people still there for the taking, but there were days when all Logan saw in the future of mutantkind were prison camps that became death camps and a lot of old headstones.

"Listen, smartass, this time you don't get to wriggle free. This time you get to play talking lab rat while my friends and I take enough Pow-R 8 to wipe out every stinking mutant in the state. And the best part will be that we made you guys help us destroy your own kind."

Summers looked past Duncan while he was gloating to see if Logan had caught up now and Logan gave him the briefest of nods. Okay, he got it. He didn't like it, but he got it. They should wait for the decisive moment because they needed the location of this secret laboratory and the stock of mutant killing juice. Then Summers gave another brief jerk of the head in the direction of little green Morlock guy and Logan shook his head in bafflement. Summers was probably rolling his eyes behind his visor but Logan couldn't see it, and, luckily neither could Duncan.

Other jock, however, was watching the squirming mutant closely. "His vitals are doing that thing they did before. You don't think he's doing something else, do you?" He glowered at the electric eel Morlock. "What are you up to?"

Its terror was pathetic. "Nothing!" it cringed. "Electrickery powers are all used up now on hurting…human."

The fractional hesitation told Logan that the Morlocks knew perfectly well that he was a mutant; they might even know that he was the big bad Wolverine and that the guy with the visor was Cyclops. It was hard to know what was going on in their scaly little green heads.

"They'd better be used up," the jock snarled. He slapped the baseball bat into his hand like he could hardly restrain himself from cracking the little mutant's skull to pieces, just for the hell of it.

Weirdly, instead of breaking his flimsy bonds, popping his claws, leaping up, and finishing this, like his instincts demanded, Logan found himself looking to Cyclops for some tips on how he wanted the situation handled.

Not even looking at the threatening jock or the whimpering pain-racked little mutant, Summers said with a jagged smile, "You know, Duncan, I always thought you secretly liked me when we were teenagers. I think in your heart of hearts you kind of hoped we'd end up really good friends. Back then I thought you were just hiding it under your gruff exterior. I'm not sure even now that you weren't."

Duncan leaned in real close to Summers and said nastily, "You couldn't be more wrong. I hated your stinking mutant guts. You wouldn't believe the things I wanted to do to you in High School, Summers."

Summers said coolly, "Oh, I think I could probably take an educated guess." He licked his lips as provocatively as Mystique on her most annoying day and Logan flinched, because there was stuff you did to muscle-bound homophobes when you had an adamantium-bonded skeleton and healing factor, and then there was stuff you didn't do to muscle-bound homophobes when you were tied up and your mutant power offered you no protection whatsoever from berserker closet-case rage. Summers might as well have lit a match in a firework factory.

The last thing Logan saw before he had to close his eyes to keep a lid on his otherwise overwhelming anger was Scott Summers urgently mouthing 'Suck it up, Logan' in his direction, right before Duncan's fist smashed into his soon-not-to-be-so-pretty face.

 

And as plans to divert attention from sneaky little Morlock schemes went, Logan had to award it five stars, the blue ribbon, and a big hurrah. The Morlocks could have baked a cake, played a round of Crazy Golf, and set up an Abba tribute band before Duncan and his jock jailbird friends would have noticed. Duncan was too urgently compelled to beat the living shit out of Scott Summers, and his friends were just as urgently attempting to prevent him from cracking the visor that was all that lay between them and the mutant's force-beam-blasting eyes. Them making Duncan lay off Summer's face after the first wild punches and hit him elsewhere instead was probably all that prevented him from ending up with a broken cheekbone, a broken jaw, and a fractured skull. Logan didn't find it the best possible action plan – given that it had left his annoying team mate bloody, bruised, and with Duncan having got to what Logan refused to call, even in the privacy of his own head, Canadian First Base.

By the time they dragged Duncan off Summers and took him outside to cool off, Logan was surprised that Summers was even still conscious, but he guessed the Danger Room had to have its uses, if only in toughening up the masochistic ex-schoolkids who insisted on training in it, because Summers spat the blood out of his mouth, gave his head a shake and then straightened up like he was fine. Logan didn't see him winning any squash games for a while but he was definitely conscious and annoyingly fully functional as he launched straight into leader mode:

"Logan, can they hear us?"

"Nah, they've taken your biggest fan outside to cool off. Just as a matter of interest – how many of your ribs did he break?"

Summers gave that a head jerk of dismissal – like Logan was some fussy old cat lady who could never keep his mind on the essentials – then turned his head with difficulty – given the cut on his forehead, Logan wondered if he could even see out of that left eye with all the blood running under the visor into it – and said urgently, "Gorgo, are you in telepathic communication with your brother yet?"

"Iss. One warehouse. One laboratory," the Morlock said in tones of utter exhaustion. "No other stocks. Warehouse address on old letterhead. My brother's powers very faint because of all the Pow-R 8 they put in him. Now he has told me and with Kepper's help I have told Callisto. Morlocks will destroy warehouse first and then meet us at laboratory. Laboratory very bad place. Many things to hurt mutants. My brother still not know where laboratory is."

"They have no reason not to tell Duncan if they need new specimens."

"Yes – say many times in brother's hearing – need more mutants for testing."

Logan rolled his eyes at Summers. "Seriously? You expected me to get 'little green martyr mutant is in telepathic communication with lab-rat brother and passing on info to crazy Morlock gal who wanted me for a sex slave' from one little head jerk? You've been spending too much time with a psychic, Cyke."

Gorgo gave Summers a look of weary admiration. "Cyclopss very clever mutant. He understand everything very fast."

Summer said impatiently, "Logan, don't you get it? These guys organized an undercover operation with no resources except their willingness to suffer incredible pain through their telepathic link. Everything that's been done to his brother in that lab, Gorgo has been experiencing, too. And little Kepper came with him just to be a mutant signal boost back to Callisto. They deserve our help."

"They deserve a smack round the head for not coming to us in the first place!" Logan retorted. "I could have been the test subject. I'm a lot tougher than some stumpy-tailed little Morlock."

"Is Morlock plan," Gorgo said defiantly. "Not ask X-Men to take risks. Only help catch X-Men because humans is going to take Cyclopss anyways and Kepper not hurt like baseball bat."

"Kepper very sorry he not touch Cyclops," Kepper said.

Logan said, "A lot of people have that reaction – I think it's the leather uniform."

"Shut up, Logan," Scott said wearily. He said to Gorgo: "You Morlocks made a very clever plan – suffered much to save all mutants from Pow-R 8. X-Men are very grateful."

Logan would have liked to say 'Hey, Pal, speak for yourself!' Except he had to admit it had been kind of brave, and yeah, okay, scared little mutant hadn't helped out Duncan because he was a scared little mutant, he'd helped him out because he was in too deep in a plan that involved him and his brother going undercover and getting horribly tortured for the greater mutant good, and they'd gotten to the point with that plan where they really needed some help from the X-Men.

Growling, Logan said, "So, once Stumpy here got the signal coming through that there were two locations instead of just one, he needed to rustle up another attack force from somewhere?"

Summers nodded. "Duncan, of course, found nothing strange in mutants being cowardly backstabbing little weasels who could be intimidated by overgrown jocks with baseball bats."

"Not to rain on your parade, Cyke, but those overgrown jocks could have frickin' killed you. That guy has a serious hard-on for hurting you."

"Inside bad human's head very bad place," Gorgo agreed, nodding.

Thinking of all his less-than-platonic thoughts about Scott, Logan gave Gorgo a horrible glare instead. "You keep out of my head if you know what's good for you."

Gorgo nodded his head avidly. "Wolverine's mind not nice place. Stay with Cyclops' brain. Try hard not to tread on landmines. Know it hurts when Gorgo does that."

To Gorgo, Summers said, "You didn't trip any bad memories, Gorgo. And you did right to bring us in. I'm sorry for what you and your brother have had to go through for all these days."

Logan said harshly, "How many days has it been?"

Gorgo said faintly, "This third day. Brother very weak now."

"We're going to get him out of there," Summers promised. He cocked an ear. "Logan – can you hear what's going on out there?"

"Yeah, Cyke. Duncan's out there getting the laboratory address now."

"Good. Logan – I need you to let them take you along as my insurance. I'll look anxiously at you until they buy a clue that I'll do what I'm told rather than lose a boyfriend. Once we're there, break out the big claws all you like. We need that stuff destroyed and that lab closed down. Please, try not to kill anyone."

Logan said to Gorgo, "You've told your boss-lady to call out the rest of the X-Men, right? You get that you need back up?"

Grimacing, Summers said, "Gorgo decided to call us in against orders. Callisto wanted to keep it a strictly Morlock operation. She gave instructions we weren't to be involved, but Gorgo was a little desperate. You can't blame Callisto for wanting to play a lone hand, like I said, they have a hard life."

Logan only growled, "Goddamn sewer rats…." At a head turn in his direction from Summers that he just knew was a quelling look behind the visor, he did, however bite down the rest of his thoughts.

***

It kinda went like clockwork. The poster boys for Friends of Humanity came back in. Summers threw anxious looks Logan's way. Duncan threatened to beat his human boyfriend to death with a baseball bat – and, chillingly, Logan had no doubt he meant it, even though humanity was supposedly what Duncan was fighting for – and Cyke obligingly folded like a cheap suit. The mutant torturers clearly had ponied up the lab address, because Duncan smelled of nothing but smug, and they were all quick marched back to Duncan's SUV before you could say 'Bigoted Lunatic Fringe'.

Logan and Morlock Two–Electric Boogaloo were trussed up tighter and tossed into the stifling trunk. (Logan offered up a quick thank you to whoever looked out for weather goddesses that Storm hadn't been the one who had to pretend to be a helpless human and get shut up in the dark.) Meanwhile Summers and Gorgo were dragged into the back of the SUV, smacked around redundantly, and threatened with baseball bat colonoscopies if they didn't cooperate. (He could hear and smell the smacking around and the threats being made, mostly to Summers, presumably on the grounds that Duncan just liked the idea of shoving a baseball bat up his ass more than he did that of a less attractive mutant, which would no doubt have provided food for thought for his therapist if he'd shown sense enough to be actually seeing one….)

Then it was the long drive out to the middle of nowhere lab facility. He could hear the little telepathically-connected mutant whimpering all the way there, clearly so caught up in his brother's pain that he barely knew who or where he was any more. He could also hear Summers telling the bullies with the baseball bats to lay off the little mutant because it wasn't his fault, and getting smacked around for his pains. Logan's anger cranked up a little higher with each punch, not least with Cyclops himself, who was perfectly capable of putting all those guys on their asses if he wasn't such a stick-to-the-plan perfectionist. The plan might involve them not acting until they reached the facility, but then a plan that involved the leader of the X-Men getting repeatedly punched by human dickwads was a crappy plan, in Logan's opinion. He hoped that Cyclops was noticing the incredible self-control Logan was exercising in not just carving his way into the back of the car and tossing bodies around.

Then, finally, the car stopped. He heard the doors opening, and then one of the blond thugs was opening the trunk and snarling some dire threat that Logan didn't bother to listen to, because his attention was on Cyclops. He heard the guy stumble out of the car and Logan sniffed the air quickly, a few more cuts and bruises but nothing serious, which meant he was probably good to go. Raising his voice, Logan said, "Are we there yet?"

Summers said, "Yes, Logan. We're here. Don't kill any–"

Logan popped his claws, tore through the ropes binding himself and Kepper and rocketed out of the trunk with a roar of fury that made the blond thug drop his baseball bat in terror. Logan enjoyed punching him immensely, and was seriously annoyed, as he leaped around the car to deal with the other two, to find that Cyclops had got out of his bonds while presumably still in the car, despite being under the eyes of two baseball bat-wielding thugs throughout, and had laid both the other two out with brisk efficiency and no use of his optic beams. Logan just knew he would have weighted his punches to render them unconscious and no more, just because they were human, and humans got an all-access pass to total dickwaddery that no one else did.

They were halfway up a snowy mountain in the middle of what looked remarkably liked Nowhereseville, with the only building around being a square, gray looming structure that looked like it had been built in the nineteen-forties and then forgotten about.

Cyclops gently helped the little mutant out of the car and untied him, while Logan lifted the other little scaly out of the trunk, then Summers – who, typically, recycled – used their bonds to tie up the bad guys, and said to Logan, "Let's get his brother out of this laboratory –"

That was when the X-Jet touched down in a perfect landing, spraying snow all over the place – Logan noticed that Summers even managed to spit sprayed snow out of his mouth with a certain elegance – and spilled out Beast, Storm, and a very anxious Jean. It was nothing other than annoying, the way she ran straight to Scott to see if he was okay, handing him his visor, exclaiming over his split lip and bruised cheekbone and the cut over his eye.

"I'm fine," he assured her, changing glasses for mission visor. "But Logan got hit by some pretty high voltage, and his heart stopped beating for a while so you need to check him out back at the lab."

Logan looked at him in disbelief. "Your boyfriend is a frickin' liar, Jeannie," he assured her. "Those guys beat the shit out of him and if he doesn't have at least one cracked rib, I'll eat the headgear of your choice."

It was interesting the way one could still read Cyclops' expressions even with his eyes hidden, because that was definitely lofty adult annoyance with just a hint of sulky kid caught out in a fib. "I don't think it's cracked, just bruised…" he muttered.

Logan smirked in enjoyment as Jean told off her boyfriend, and only the fact that the poor little mutant started screaming in horror saved Cyclops from a much longer lecture. That focused Jean on telepathically easing Gorgo's pain and then very gently turning down the link between him and his tortured brother, before very carefully severing it. At which point Gorgo passed out – which was probably the nicest thing that had happened to him in days. Beast caught him before he fell.

Then they were all hurrying towards the lab, intent on rescuing Gorgo's brother, only to be stopped by a breathless Callisto, who had clearly high-tailed it from the warehouse on a stolen motorbike as if all the bats in hell were winging her there, and who now gunned it down the slope and slid to an inch-perfect stop in front of them, spraying them all with snow in the process. Well, Storm whisked it away before it touched her with a swift gust of the north wind and Jean telekinetically shielded herself from it, but Logan and Cyke both got briefly turned into snowmen. This time when Summers spat out a mouthful of snow it was with slightly less aplomb, and there was a somewhat jagged precision to the way he brushed it from his hair. Logan wondered if, now the adrenaline had stopped spiking, his cuts and bruises were starting to throb.

"Don't go in there!" Callisto said breathlessly to Storm. She added to Jean, "There is great danger."

"We're assuming there are security measures," Summers said, annoyed, Logan realized, that she had not only sprayed him with snow then ignored him completely but had also doubted they had done their mental due diligence when it came to entering a mutant-torturing lab. Enjoying the spectacle, Logan wondered if the past leader of the Morlocks had done as he had done – taken one look at Scott Summers and decided he was too young to be in charge of anything that didn't involve training wheels.

Callisto ignored him, although not with any particular malice that Logan could see, just the way one ignored someone else's child when one was mid-conversation with an adult. As they made their way stolidly up the snowy slope, Callisto walked backwards in front of Storm, like someone trying to stop a coming weatherfront through sheer force of will.

"The arrangement was that the X-Men should not be involved!" Callisto said angrily to the two little green mutants.

"We needed help," Kepper said wretchedly. "Kepper not call them. They just come. It feel like…fate."

"Callisto, what about the warehouse?" Summers said as crisply as if the eyepatch-wearing mutant had never wanted him for a sex-slave.

"You should not be here, Cyclops. You are in particular danger." Callisto darted a look at Storm that had 'make the kids go sit in the car while the grown ups talk' written all over it. Storm, to her eternal credit, was keeping a serene and rapt expression and not smirking once.

Summers was too well brunged up to stamp his foot but Logan did enjoy the way that red light flashing behind his visor got a little brighter. The word he would have used to describe fearless leader boy right now was definitely 'tetchy'. Summers repeated icily, "The warehouse…?"

Callisto did start off looking his way but her eye naturally turned to Storm before the sentence was finished: "We've got all the supplies and we've handed the men behind it over to the authorities. That isn't the problem."

"What is?" Jean demanded. As with Storm, there was nothing but polite detachment in the way she spoke to Callisto but she was also resolutely still walking up the snow-covered slope towards the warehouse doors while Callisto backed up in front of them.

"The mutant who told us of the Powr8 did so on the understanding that he would be given first access to the old technology in the basement. I told him I was prepared to give him an hour and no more. I didn't know who he was then and I was desperate, but as soon as I found out who he was, I gave strict orders that you weren't to be involved, because he's an old enemy of yours. I didn't want him luring you into a trap."

"Well, we are involved now," Storm said. "But we are grateful for your warning and we will advance cautiously."

"Who is this old enemy?" Hank enquired.

Callisto made exactly the kind of grimace a mutant made when she'd been supping with the Devil and not using a long enough spoon. "Sabretooth."

As Logan growled and they all gave her their looks of shock and disbelief, she said, "It was his plan and he brought it to me. He alone knew the address of this laboratory and was prepared to…sell one of my people to the technicians here, but he refused to tell me where the laboratory was located. He said his was the only way to get someone inside. I tried to get him to prevent the research himself but he said all he cared about was me giving him a way in so he could ransack the laboratory. He said he could arrange for Gorgo and Kepper to be captured by the humans. He said if I wanted to just stand back and let the Pow-R 8 be modified to destroy all mutants, I should show him the door but otherwise he was the only chance I had to stop it –"

Storm nodded. "We understand. You had to do the best you could for the general good."

"As soon as I realized that you were coming here, I knew I had to warn you. For all I know, capturing you was part of his plan all along." Her gaze did pass over Summers then and it was clear that she thought that he was not only catnip to passing crazies but generally the Boy Most Likely To Get Himself Abducted.

Temper definitely a little ruffled, Summers said, "It's Storm he wants, not me."

Callisto said, "I don't think so, Cyclops. My Morlocks overheard him when he was drunk. He was angry with you. Magneto blamed him for letting you get access to your visor. He blames you for besting him."

"It was Logan's plan."

Yeah, Summers still sounded surprised about that. He probably preferred plans where he did the strategizing and Logan was the weapon, not the other way round, but Logan was damned if he was going to be the Hulk to his Captain America, not least because, as far as he knew, the Hulk never got any. Besides, thanks to Chuck managing to extract a few lost memories, he now knew he'd once been the Wolverine to Steve Roger's Captain America and they got along a lot better than him and Cyclops did. That was possibly because he didn't want to bang Steve Rogers or his girlfriend – if he had one, which Logan thought he probably didn't with the whole suspended animation thing making romantic relationships tricky – but he thought most of the fault lay with Scott Summers just being unnecessarily young and unreasonably annoying.

"Apparently, he hates Wolverine, too, although, of course, that might just be because he's met him." Callisto turned back to Jean. "It would be better if neither of them were in his vicinity. I'm fearful of a trap. It might be wise to send your menfolk away from here before harm befalls them."

Okay, now Logan was pissed, too.

Heroically, Storm still didn't smirk at all while Jean assumed a solemn expression, as if she was giving that suggestion all her consideration and not in anyway inwardly laughing like a drain. "Really, Callisto, they know what they're doing. They'll be fine."

Callisto looked between Logan and Summers in a way that could hardly have been less convinced.

Hank murmured, "Fascinating…" and started talking about pre-Judao-Christian goddess worship and the power of the matriarchy.

Logan growled, trying to get everyone back on track and to stop lumping him in with Summers as in-need-of-female-protection 'menfolk'.

"He's been pulling the strings all along. I bet he arranged it so that Duncan the Dickwad was at the train station when Cyke was, too. He was there when you took the roof off. He knew you'd be turning up to pay for the damage." He looked at Summers and realized that Callisto had a point. "He wanted you here, alone, in rescue-a-mutant mode, and he didn't care how much you got beat up first. He figured you'd find a way to get away from those three guys, save the mutants, and get your butt here, and it would look like it was all your own detective work, so you wouldn't be suspecting a trap."

Storm said, "That is a little too smart for Sabretooth. He can adapt someone else's plan, but I have never heard of him being able to work out such a complicated strategy by himself."

Summers said, "If Callisto hadn't warned us, we'd still be thinking we were just helping a Morlock undercover plan work out and would have walked into whatever trap that's set up. Who do you think is pulling Sabretooth's strings?"

"Not Magneto," Hank said. "As Callisto said, we know they fell out after Liberty Island."

"And why do they want you particularly?" Logan looked Summers up and down. "Actually, scratch that, I can think of a few reasons."

Jean said, "Unfortunately, there's no shortage of organizations that hate mutants. They probably wanted to capture Scott because he's the leader of the X-Men and he's a danger to their plans."

"Because he's just so awesome." Logan rolled his eyes.

Summers smirked at the sarcasm, unperturbed, but Kepper and Jean both gave Logan equally reproachful looks.

Hank said thoughtfully. "Given the age of this building, this place may be a treasure trove of anti-mutant technology. Using 'treasure trove' in, of course, its loosest sense."

"We need to capture Sabretooth and interrogate him," Summers said.

Logan said, "Yeah, we should totally do that. It's not like he's insane, preternaturally strong, unkillable, and has a grudge against you for blasting the hell out of him or anything."

Summers tapped his visor. "The trick to dealing with Sabretooth is to stay out of reach and put him down hard." He cast a concerned look at the unconscious Morlock in Hank's arms and hit the panel at the side of the door with a ruby-red blast.

Summers told them all to wait as the doors slid open, so that he could assess the situation. Logan generously gave him two clear seconds to take a look at the gray walls, floor, and ceiling before making to go forward. Summer's arm shot out to stop him. "I said 'wait', Logan."

As Logan growled impatiently, Summers turned his head to reveal a noticeable pulsing of red behind the visor. Logan always forgot that, annoying as he found Summers, some days he apparently returned the favor with interest. Cyclops said with an edge to his voice that Logan liked to think that only he could put there, "So…wait."

Summers turned his attention back to the big square corridor. It did look ominously…plated, all hard surfaces made from the same material.

"They were working with mutants they couldn't afford to have escape so they would definitely have fixed up some kind of bio detector, probably linked to pressure pads…." Summers put a hand up to his visor and directed a beam at one of the plates high up on the wall underneath a small security camera. The plate fell down and Logan braced himself for the inevitable fireball, but nothing happened except that there was now a lot of complicated bio-hazardous electronics revealed.

Summers said, "Hank?"

Hank said, "Indubitably, I would say."

Jean was already telekinetically selecting a throwable stone, which she whisked over to Summers, Storm whisked the earth from it with a gentle breeze, and Logan, much to his annoyance, found that he was reading from the same page they were, and snicked out his claws, gashing his palm and letting the blood drip onto the stone before the wound closed over.

Summers said, "Thanks, Logan," with enough warmth in his voice that Logan guessed that Cyke's little team-leadery heart was all tingly from Logan managing to work with the rest of them. Summers had a hard-on for everyone working as a team. Presumably he was still hoping that all the humans who currently hated and feared him, in years to come, would be holding mutant hands around the campfire while they all sang Kum ba yah together. Dumb kid.

The dumb kid proceeded to throw the stone with precision about thirty feet down the corridor, causing blood-alerted weaponry to spring out from the walls and ceiling in a frenzy of anti-mutant hostility. Summers fired off one of those geometric ricochet shots with his force beams, like the one he used to keep kicking Logan's ass at pool, where one blast angled in what looked to Logan to be every direction at once, bouncing, with quite sickening precision, from weapon to weapon with exactly enough force – and not a pound of pressure more – to destroy every gun.

Jean beamed at Summers proudly while Logan said, "Enough foreplay, Summers. Let's get in there."

Hank said, "Has he been like this the whole time?"

Summers surprised him by saying, "He's actually been showing a lot of…restraint."

As everyone looked at Logan in surprise, he growled and stepped forward into the building, only to have Summers hit him with a force beam that knocked him up against the inner wall and held him pinned against it, five feet off the ground. Logan's claws came out in rage at the sheer injustice of it, even as the section of floor he had trodden on fell away with sickening speed into what smelled, acridly, of acid.

Summers used his force beams to push Logan along the wall until he was above an intact piece of floor and then dropped him crisply onto it. "I'm sure I remember saying 'Wait'. Secondary defense system," he added as he zapped a last little sensor on the wall. "Most places have them."

"Fine, smart guy," Logan snapped. "I just want to get this show on the road before –" He broke off as he realized that even above the scent of the yawning acid bath Cyke had just saved him from, singed metal, and sizzling electronics, he could smell blood. Hank was still carrying the unconscious Morlock and the other one, Kepper, was looking up at Cyclops with big crushy eyes. He decided to try tact for a change. "I think we should hurry."

He was never sure if it was having to see the world in red that made Cyclops so much more attuned to variations in tone than people who had full use of their eyes, but the guy jumped the missing floor without breaking stride and was by Logan's side in a moment, lowering his head to murmur, "What is it?"

"Blood – but they don't need to know that yet." Logan jerked his head Morlock way and Summers nodded.

Callisto was there beside them in a moment, jumping the hole in the floor with Kepper in her arms before setting him down carefully as they moved down the corridor as swiftly as people could who were looking out for hostile devices. "Sabretooth will have had plenty of time to prepare his own ambush and he may know that Wolverine is with Cyclops by now."

Hank said, "I'd be a lot happier about this largely unhappy situation if we knew who Sabretooth was working for. If it's Stryker…."

"He will work for whoever pays him," Storm said, calmly levitating over the acid bath hole as if she was breezing along the beach, white hair trailing like snow clouds. "He always has."

"Depending on his employer, he may have considerable resources available to him," Hank jumped the hole in the floor with the mutant in his arms, while Jean drifted over telekinetically with long-limbed grace. She said, "Be careful," to Summers.

He said reassuringly, "I always am," and Logan snorted derisively.

"Yeah, Slim. I'm sure your cracked ribs agree with you."

Summers said, "That was acceptable collateral damage," in annoying little snot mode, and Logan thought how unfair it was that Summers didn't have a healing factor, because then Logan could just smack him one when he irritated him instead of having to go on exercising all this uncharacteristic restraint. (There was a suspicion, having watched the guy in the Danger Room, that Cyclops might not be that easy to smack even if Logan really wanted to, because he had never seen faster reflexes, but he still liked to think that it was Logan's self-restraint preserving Summers so far.)

It turned out that they needed to be grateful for Callisto's warning because Sabretooth had left a nice surprise for them, and without her telling them that someone other than mutant-torturing humans was involved, they would have missed it.

The pressure plate would have had the people unlucky enough to tread on it neatly electro-netted and swinging from the ceiling, sizzling with the aftermath of all that painful voltage, before they got a face full of some kind of aerosolized spray, probably of sleeping gas. As it was, Jean – who was scanning the floor in front of her boyfriend with anxious eyes – saw the uneven look to the floor and telekinetically slammed on Logan and Cyclops's brakes in a way that caused Logan a bat-squeak of desire, because even if it was just her mind holding him, it was holding him pretty darned hard. Summers punched the plate with two hundred pounds of optic force beam and they let the counterweight fall and the net whisk up empty, while Storm summoned up a wind to send the gas too high above them to do any harm, before blowing it out through a ventilator.

"It's difficult to be sure without knowing the voltage of that net, but it does seem likely that he wanted to capture Scott alive," Hank observed, still carrying poor little unconscious Gorgo. Kepper was clinging onto Callisto's hand like he was a scared kid on a school outing to a haunted fun fair, while still darting 'my hero' looks at an oblivious Cyclops. "He also must have believed he would be here alone."

"He only knew what Stumpy's brother knew," Logan pointed out. "He wasn't clued in on Callisto making contingency plans to save us – which is appreciated by the way."

Jean was giving Callisto the kind of level look a girl did give a woman who had once had designs on her boyfriend but had just saved his shapely butt from capture. "Thank you for the warning."

Callisto said, "Under the circumstances, it was the least I could do."

Hank said, "I just wish we knew more of Sabretooth's motivations. His plans and those of his employer may not be perfectly aligned. I sense a hidden agenda here."

Jean said, "As it's Sabretooth – I'm still going with 'sell Scott for money' coming into it somewhere."

Storm said, "I agree with Jean."

Logan said, "Or he could just want Scott for himself – he does think he's pretty. What do you think, Callisto?"

He had to admire the composure with which Callisto said coolly, "His personal charms could well be a motive for someone wishing to kidnap Cyclops, it does not, however, explain why anyone would wish to kidnap you, Wolverine."

Summers said absently, "I told you about the showering thing, Logan."

"Hey, you were fast enough to have me for a fake boyfriend when it suited you."

Jean said, "What…?" And Logan couldn't help noting that it was less of an outraged 'What…?' than a 'This sounds relevant to my interests, keep talking' sort of 'What…?'

Logan told her, with a wealth of detail, some of it factual, as they hurried down a t-junction past more endless walling of something that looked like metal, but which almost certainly wasn't if the human torturers who worked here had ever heard of Magneto and had even an ounce of sense.

"…So, Jeannie, I hate to break it to you, but as far as your old High School boyfriend is concerned, you left him for a gay Scott Summers, so, no wonder he's kind of pissed."

Jean said, "How convincing did you have to be as fake boyfriends? Did you have to make out?"

Hank said in quite genuine perplexity, "Jean, is that really relevant?"

Storm said gravely, "It could be, Hank. I believe that we should let them finish."

Logan said, "Scott gave me mouth-to-mouth," and checked carefully to see if Jean's pupils dilated. They did. She also smelled like her temperature had risen a little. So he wasn't just confusing reality with porn, then.

Summers said calmly, "You were unconscious at the time, Logan, and I had to make it look convincing, also, you're wrong on the Listerine thing, and when we get home I'll be both gargling and flossing. Are we still following Sabretooth?"

"I can smell where he came in. Haven't got an exit scent yet, but this is the way he went." Logan could smell a whole lot of other stuff, too, but he didn't see the point in sharing that yet, although from the way Summers was wearing that quizzical-under-the-visor-expression, the guy knew something was up. He moved in closer and said, "What is it?"

Logan looked over his shoulder to check that poor little Gorgo and his pal were out of earshot. "I smell dead people."

Summers grimaced. "You think Sabretooth…?"

"Cleaned house? Yeah. I'm thinking he's a guy who doesn't much care for loose ends."

"If, after all he's been through, Gorgo's brother ends up dead…."

Summers looked at once grimly adult and youthfully distressed and Logan was reminded again that few of the X-Men seemed to have had a childhood, as such. Storm had been forced to pick pockets for the Shadow King – and that was assuming that creep hadn't made her do worse – Warren's father had never accepted his mutation, Bobby's dad was a dick, and Scott had been dumped in Nebraska's shittiest orphanage. They had all had love withheld from them because of their mutations. No wonder they all revolved around Xavier like planets around the sun. He was the only parent some of them had ever known who had loved them despite their differences, embraced their powers along with the people they were, and yet still cherished their humanity. It was a long time since Logan had found anyone who would love him and his genetic mutation, or even credit him with having any humanity.

In the upper lab – which was modern, white, and shiny – they followed Sabretooth's scent to a room filled with human lab technicians spread across the floor like grisly modern art. It was clear that Sabretooth had just ripped them to pieces before scattering their remains haphazardly around the room. Logan could practically smell the mood he had been in, and it had definitely been bad. Given that the bodies were all still warm he put the time of death at…when Gorgo had started screaming. Stumpy's brother was hanging by a thread, exhausted by the experimentation, but at least Sabretooth had let him live. Summers – who was checking pulses even though these guys could hardly have been deader and were, anyway, in the mutant-torturing business – got there at the same time Logan did, saying in shock, "Logan, there hasn't been time for him to leave. He must still –"

"Be in the building?" Logan finished grimly. "Yeah, I figure that, too, Slim."

Summers strode to the door and started throwing out orders to the others, all crisply efficient and, in an environment where Logan wasn't surrounded by recent mutant torture and even more recent human slaughter, kinda hot.

"Hank, Jean, you get Gorgo's brother out of that contraption, and when you've done that, you take the Morlocks out to the jet and keep them safe – we think Sabretooth's still around. Storm – can you and Callisto get all the supplies of Pow-R 8 out to the Blackbird, too? Watch your backs. Logan and I are going to look for Sabretooth."

Jean kissed him and said, "Be careful."

He said, "You too." They gazed at each other adoringly for a moment and then Summers was striding off heroically and Logan was thinking that every time he thought this guy couldn't get more annoying, he managed to up the ante.

Logan followed the pungent scent of Sabretooth down to the basement, while telling Scott tersely to stay behind him in case there were more traps, as there was no point in them both getting electro-netted, while Scott probably rolled his eyes behind his visor but didn't actually argue. He did, however, make Logan hang back while he blasted the door into the lower lab off its hinges, in case the door had been rigged to explode. It hadn't, but Logan appreciated the thought all the same.

This laboratory looked as old as the building and was a kind of anti-mutant technology chamber of horrors. It was set out like a museum, with artifacts under glass and with either a read-out underneath them explaining what they did or a monitor hooked up to show the experiment. Most of them also had files with grisly details of what had been extracted from Mutant Number SuchandSuch, and what the effect that extraction had had on the test subject, or for how long Mutant Test Subject #345 had been given such a drug or subjected to such a device or potion or blast or ray or…Logan was feeling sick and mad as hell before five minutes had passed when he realized how much mutant pain this place had been responsible for in the past. There were no dead mutants lying around the place but that just seemed to be because they'd been packed up and processed as 'bio-hazardous waste'.

When they got to that part, Logan punched a wall and Summers looked like he wanted to.

Logan said, "What I'd give for a time machine right now. If any of the sons-of-bitches who worked here are still alive, I say we hunt them down and –"

Cyclops was looking around carefully. "Logan, when we came in here, you said you could smell Sabretooth."

"I still can."

"So, where did he go?"

Logan realized that was a very good question. There was only the one exit and they had come in with that. Sabretooth smelt like he'd been in this room about a minute before they'd arrived, so where had he gone?

Cyclops said, "He didn't have time to set up another trap. How did he get away?"

Which was when the wall in front of them tore open into jagged light, and two blasts hurled them across the room. Summers managed to get off an answering blast from his force beams before hitting the wall a fraction ahead of Logan, denting the panel with his skull before going down with the ominous limpness of a guy who was out cold. Logan slammed into the wall and then the floor, rolled, and came up with his claws out just in time to get a boot under the chin that sent him flying again. He was blasted with some kind of percussion ray that hurt a lot more than Summers' force beams ever did, and which sent him hurtling into a different wall. Another blast as he tried to get up, slammed him back, and a third made everything start to gray out. He was still desperately struggling to hold onto consciousness as Sabretooth's huge form walked past. The guy was wearing what looked like a lionskin coat and wearing a fancy headset. He grabbed Summers by the collar and began to haul him carelessly across the room towards the still glowing fissure.

Logan fought back against the encroaching darkness with everything he had. He struggled to his feet and threw himself after him. Sabretooth tossed Summers over his shoulder, and hit Logan with another blast with a sneer. He said, "You want Cyclops back, Wolverine? Then you need to connect with me."

Slamming into the wall again – Logan felt several ribs snap from the impact – he could only watch in impotent rage as Sabretooth carried an unconscious Scott Summers through the aperture. The tear closed up, the wall was solid again, and something flew through the air to land by his hand. As his ribs knitted, Logan picked up the plastic bag in which was a headset, a thumb drive, and something that looked like a garage door opener.

He was still staring at it in disbelief, as Jean Grey flew through the doorway into the smoking, wall-buckled room, crying, "Logan – where's Scott? Where's Scott?" He looked at her numbly, unable to reply as he realized that the answer to that question could be anywhere on earth.

***