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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.

***

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWO: And Never Brought To Mind

There was no scent trail, nothing – and Logan had clawed through the wall to check, chasing a scent that had simply vanished into nothingness. He and Jean had both been too distraught to be thinking clearly so Storm was the one who had called Xavier to tell him what had happened. His shock had cut through Logan, who was already lacerated with guilt by the look in Jean's eyes. It was Storm, too, who had given the bag of inexplicable items to Hank and suggested that he analyze them as soon as they were home. And Storm, again, who had put her arm around Jean's waist to hold her up as she disappeared into her telepathic link with Scott, trying to reach him through it to the exclusion of her immediate surroundings. Jean would have walked into walls and a dozen acid pits without noticing, so intent was she on trying to find him.

"He's out of reach!" she said despairingly. "How could Sabretooth have taken him so far away so quickly?"

"I think the answer lies in the technology he stole from this laboratory," Hank said. "Jean – we're in a building filled with murdered humans and we are going to – at the very least – waste a great deal of time in explanations if we don't get away from here before the police arrive."

Storm nodded, "Hank is right. We need to move everything in this room to the Blackbird, and you need to wipe the minds of those humans outside. And then we need to get back to the mansion."

It was done. Logan even helped, although the guilt was crippling. Kepper was whimpering in distress at having been a part of a plan that had caused Cyclops to get taken by Sabretooth, and Callisto looked pretty much how Logan felt.

Gruffly, as they loaded up the Blackbird, he said, "It wasn't your fault. It was mine. You gave us the head's up that Sabretooth could be after Scott and I still let him take him. He was my responsibility, not yours."

"I should never have –"

Hank said, "Callisto, had you done nothing, the mutant world would be in grave danger today – a danger that you and your Morlocks averted at considerable cost to yourselves. You have no reason to reproach yourself."

Storm told her that they would appreciate it if Callisto would accompany them to the mansion, they could take care of the injured mutants better there, and Gorgo's brother, Morgo, might have some information that could help them. She could have ordered it, of course – Logan knew that, technically, Storm was still leader of the Morlocks – but she phrased it very much as a request and Callisto nodded.

And all the while they flew back to the mansion, there was an alarm going off in Logan's head, a pulse beating painfully, because he had been right there and he'd let Scott get taken, and, worse, he'd let him get taken by Sabretooth, who was cruel on a good day, and insane on a bad one. And Scott was resilient, pragmatic, a strategist, and the leader of the X-Men, and, on a different day, Logan would have put Scott's chances of finding a way to get away from Sabretooth as pretty good. He was, however, also as breakable as any unmutated human, and right now he had at least one cracked rib and had already been smacked around by guys who weren't pulling their punches and then thrown, hard, against a wall.

Sitting in the Blackbird as they skimmed invisibly over gray cloud clover, Logan put his head in his hands and then became aware of a clammy little Morlock hand touching his. Seeing who it was touching him and remembering how much that had hurt last time, Logan yanked his hand away quickly then felt like a heel because Kepper looked so upset.

"Kepper very sorry for hurting Wolverine. Kepper not know why electrickery so strong."

He was having to breathe around the rage and misery of having let Scott get taken, but he managed to pull it together to answer. "Metal skeleton – good conductor – so me and electric currents don't tend to get along."

The Morlock looked aghast. "Kepper very sorry! Kepper never touch Wolverine if he know!"

"Water under the bridge, Bub. We got worse troubles. Scott – " He found he was too choked up to finish that sentence. How could I let that vicious bastard take you?

"Not Wolverine's fault," the little guy said. "Is Kepper's fault."

"No," Logan said. "This is on me, but I'm going to get him back."

"Sabretooth hurting him," Kepper said sadly.

"Yes." Logan made himself face that unflinchingly. "Sabretooth will probably hurt Cyke for the hell of it, but Cyke is tough, and he can take it, and before it gets too bad, I'm gonna find him and I'm gonna bring him home."

***

Scott woke up to the smell of woodsmoke and a meaty chuckle and a sense of deadening exhaustion. His head ached. His arms ached. His side ached. He couldn't move his arms, bindings – rope, tight; pain in his side – dull, insistent, already unpleasant. He felt sick and the headache was an insistent throb, almost certainly a concussion. He'd had enough of those to recognize the symptoms. He also felt incredibly weak. Had he lost a lot of blood? He tried to lick his lips and he had more moisture in his mouth than he would have expected if he'd been bleeding, but the sense of depletion remained. The concussion, perhaps? It had to be the concussion.

When he tried to reach down his mental connection to Jean, it was like hitting a dead-end – not even a whisper of her voice, and when he spoke to the Professor in his mind and then waited hopefully for an answer, there was only silence. He was either out of Cerebro's range or he was in a dead zone. If he was in a dead zone he needed to find out what was blocking the signal and switch it off –

"Hello, Sleeping Beauty. Enjoy your nap?"

He opened his eyes to a world in color and closed them again hastily, surprised at how easy it was, not like trying to slam a porthole closed against a force-nine gale like usual. No visor, though, so no looking. He had negotiated the world with his eyes closed before. It could be done, although it was harder in unfamiliar territory or where there was no route to memorize. How had he got here? Were there landmarks he could smell or touch? Then memory came back, cautiously, like it was feeling its way along a rough road, and he remembered Duncan punching him – that explained the ribs, and Sabretooth blasting the hell out of him in that mutant lab – that explained the head. Not fractured, no brain swelling, he was sure, just concussed, which was not good, but better than a slow bleed or a fatal build up of pressure. Sabretooth. Damn. That explained the bindings, too. He was Sabretooth's prisoner. That did make his stomach lurch a little. This was probably going to get very bloody very fast if he didn't play it right. He needed to take him out now.

He turned to where the voice had been and opened his eyes, waiting for the ruby surge that would sweep the guy out of the way. Nothing happened.

Sabretooth laughed. "Tough luck, Cyclops. Those baby blues ain't for anything but seeing right now."

Tersely, Scott said, "What did you do to me?"

"Nice little concoction from the lab – knocks out your mutation for a while."

It did more than that; Scott realized the cause of that sense of depletion now. Whatever that damned drug was it had sucked most of the strength from his body along with his mutation. He looked around hopefully to see if Logan had been kidnapped right along with him, but, no, it was just him and Sabretooth.

"How long does it knock it out for?"

"That's for me to know and you to find out. But you won't be blasting anyone through any walls for a while, pretty boy. You won't be doing anything except what I tell you."

"Don't count on it."

Sabretooth dragged him up by the hair and forearm-smashed him across the cabin. The force of the blow was incredible; even as his face was reverberating from the pain and his body braced for the inevitable smash, he was assessing the guy's strength – and it was phenomenal. The cabin wall slammed into him every bit as hard as he had expected, the impact making his senses swim and then spike back into clarity as he hit the floor and landed on a bright white pain flare in his ribs. Sabretooth grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and hauled him up, then slammed him against the wall, one hand going around his throat.

"You do as you're told or I'll make you wish you'd never been born."

Scott kicked out, two footed, knocking the guy ten feet away, then twisted so that he could land agilely, despite his bound hands, a knee briefly touching the floor to steady him before he was back on his feet. The effort it cost to perform even that basic maneuver was phenomenal, but he couldn't waste time thinking about that. A body slam as Sabretooth came for him and he might have time to reach the door –

A lash cracked out and coiled around his waist; electric current jolted into him; and then he was yanked back into grabbing range. Sabretooth punched him, starburst of pain; another bruise of impact; another – he could feel his senses slipping, he couldn't afford another concussion on top of the first. He wasn't Logan – his brain wouldn't heal itself.

He said, "Okay!"

"Say 'please'."

Scott swallowed hard then got the word out somehow through his tightly gritted teeth: "Please."

"Good boy." Sabretooth purred. He pulled the whip loose and Scott flinched from the tingling burning stripe it had left behind; it didn't break the skin, which was something, but it hurt. Some kind of neural flail, similar to that electro-net, he suspected, very painful, probably disorientating and debilitating in fairly short order; much better avoided if he wanted to keep a clear head.

Holding Scott by the throat, Sabretooth slammed him against the wall again and loomed over him. "This is what happens next. Daddy Xavier isn't going to find you because this whole area is shielded. No telepath can scan it. So, Wolverine is going to put on the headset and he's going to use the teleporter I left him. It's going to take him to a place thirty miles from here. He's going to keep coming, because he's Wolverine, and he really wants to save you from Big Bad Me. The funny part is that by the time he gets here, he's not going to be the rescue committee, any more, he's going to be the guy who helps me hurt you. He's going to be me. We're going to have so much fun with you, Cyclops. For years to come they're going to be telling horror stories around the campfire on little mutant scout trips about the things we did to you, but I don't want to start smacking you around until he's on line to know I'm doing it, so sit down and shut up and I won't start torturing you until Logan can sit in. Do we have a deal?"

Scott said. "Where are we?"

"None of your business."

"Who are you working for?"

"This is all for me."

"No way was that all your plan, Sabretooth."

"Shut up!" Sabretooth tightened his grip, and his strength was disconcerting. "I'm getting my brother back. It's going to be like old times, only better – because this time he's going to want to do all the things that I do."

Scott's brain balked. "Logan's your brother?"

"Same father. He forgot me – can you believe it? He forgot his own brother."

"He had a head injury. He doesn't remember anything that happened more than fifteen years ago. It's not like he shut you out on purpose."

"I got my memories back. He could have done the same."

Scott felt absurdly indignant on Logan's behalf. It was not as if Logan hadn't tried. He'd asked Jean and he'd asked the Professor, and then he'd – dickishly – borrowed Scott's bike and driven up to Alkali Lake to try to find some cobwebs of his forgotten past snagged amidst the ruins.

"How did you get your memories back?"

He had thought it was a fairly innocuous question, but Sabretooth snarled at him, told him to shut the fuck up with his annoying chit-chat, dragged him back to where the black-leaded stove was smoking out its paltry heat and shoved him down next to it. "Sit your ass there and shut up," he told him. "Torturing you can't really happen soon enough for me."

Scott said, "You've just spent time in a laboratory set up for experimenting on mutants with a view to wiping us out, and that's what you take from it? That torturing me would be fun?"

Sabretooth back-handed him, splitting his lip open again. "What part of 'shut up' don't you get, Cyclops? Close your mouth and keep it closed before I shove my dick in it." He unscrewed a bottle of JackDaniels and took a generous swig before tapping the headset he wore impatiently. "Hurry up, Wolverine. Putting the other one of these on is your only option if you want to see pretty boy again."

"You do know that Logan and I don't actually get along?"

"That would be why you two little shits managed to blow me out of that torch working together behind my back, would it? Don't try your crap on me, Cyclops. You've probably been blowing him since he arrived at your school for goody-two-shoes little suck-ups."

"Excuse us for wanting the world to be a better place for mutantkind." He decided to go nowhere near the issue of him orally satisfying Logan. Sabretooth's words had inevitably put that image in his mind and it was proving reluctant to leave but he wasn't sharing that with Victor Creed.

Still swigging generously from the JackDaniels bottle, Sabretooth sniffed Scott and then wrinkled his nose. "Nah, you're still into pussy – takes one to know one, I guess. Wolverine's even dumber than I thought if he hasn't nailed you by now. What's the matter with him, anyway?"

"Just guessing, of course, but I'm assuming the whole not-being-a-rapist thing could be a factor?"

"You'd probably give it up just for the asking." Sabretooth dragged his thumb down Scott's mouth contemptuously. "What's even the point of a mouth like that if it never gets used for what it's meant for?"

Scott said tersely, "Sabretooth, you put anything at all in my mouth and I will bite it off."

Sabretooth extended his claws in front of Scott's face. "My package'll grow back – yours won't, sonny."

"And I'll bleed out if you castrate me, which would make it a short game for you and a quick death for me, whereas I can bite your dick off from here to Christmas and you still won't die – you'll just have to scream in agony until it regenerates."

He knew having healing factor gave a guy a different attitude to both pain and injury – Logan had proven that by the way he kept putting his body between the rest of them and danger. Scott still didn't believe that any guy, of any mutation, however self-repairing, didn't get the urge to cross his legs firmly when threatened with the prospect of his penis being severed. Given the fulminating glower Sabretooth fixed on him before backing off and taking another swig of whiskey, he figured he had called that one right.

"Bet you couldn't give a blow job worth a damn anyway," Sabretooth growled. "It's not like you teach anything useful at that stupid school." He wandered off into the room that opened off from this one – the creak of springs suggesting there was a bed in there – loudly telling a Logan who couldn't hear him to stop stalling like a pussy and put the damned headset on already.

Scott took a moment to take in his surroundings as he climbed to his feet as silently as he could and edged across the cabin. He could see the snow was falling and this could be the only shelter around so a dash for freedom without incapacitating Sabretooth first was problematic although not something he was ruling out, but a weapon would be a big help. The place was Spartan and Sabretooth clearly didn't go in for much housework. There was a complete absence of anything electrical, which surprised him, as he'd always assumed Sabretooth was the kind of person who watched tabloid talk shows (someone had to, right?). No faucets over the basin. No light fittings. An oil lamp. A dresser with high shelves on which were stacked an unlovely assortment of canned goods.

He eased open a drawer with the hands bound behind his back and twisted to get a look at its contents. No knives or scissors in that one. He pushed it shut with his hip, holding his breath in case it squeaked, and then opened the next drawer. As he turned to eagerly scan its contents, Sabretooth's voice sounded uncomfortably close:

"Try it, you little fucker, and I'll break both your wrists."

Scott cursed mentally, heart pounding, but turned around with a shrug. "Just as a matter of interest where do you keep your knives?"

Sabretooth seized him by the hair and dragged him back across the cabin. "Rammed up your ass if you try that again."

As he passed the other window, Scott saw that there was a well outside, and some outbuildings, but everything else was swathed in snow. His mind was ticking over even as Sabretooth punched him in the gut and then slammed him down on the floor. "Get down and stay fucking down! You don't move until I tell you to move."

Coughing from the gut punch – which tortured his cracked ribs in the worst way – Scott tried to seek refuge in his head. Why no generator? Why no technology? The place seemed to be off the grid. Was Sabretooth hiding out from the Weapon X Program or was the shielding he'd spoken of making this area unreachable by telepathy also preventing any technology from functioning? Some kind of electromagnetic pulse? Was Magneto around? But Callisto had seemed convinced that he and Sabretooth had fallen out, and it would take more than electromagnetism to make an area impenetrable to telepathy.

Sabretooth crouched down in front of him and snarled out a description that managed to be both surgical and sadistic of what he had done to the last person that pissed him off as much as Cyclops was currently pissing him off and how nailing him to the wall with some skewers was looking like a fun way for him to pass the day if Cyclops didn't shut the fuck up, stay the fuck down, and keep the fuck still.

"You want me to tie you up outside for an hour? See how you enjoy some hypothermia? Get it through your thick head, x-boy – you're mine. I can do any damned thing I want to you and there ain't anything you can do to stop it."

Everything in Scott rebelled at that assumption, rebelled and refuted. But the steely, logical part of his mind pointed out dispassionately that it was true. He was powerless, alone, and so weak he was no kind of combatant. Sabretooth made two of him, was considerably stronger than he was even on a day when Scott hadn't been shot up with a mutation-suppressing drug, and was as stable as sweating nitroglycerine in a bumpy truck.

It took Scott a moment to categorize what it was he was feeling because it wasn't an emotion he let through too often. In the heat of conflict there was no time for it. In battle, he needed a clear head and fear was foggy and indistinct. But Sabretooth was being rational and using sentences. He realized he would have been genuinely less frightened if the guy was just throwing him around for spite and roaring, the way he usually did. Scott waited for his next move to come, the way it always did, arrowing into his brain, like a map already drawn, and this time all he was getting was a lot of things he didn't understand. He didn't have his powers. He hadn't located any major injury and yet he felt as if someone had drained half the blood out of his body while he slept. Sabretooth was smugly confident – so smugly confident that he wasn't even angry. Logan was coming to rescue him.

It was strange to realize that he was comforted by that. Even though Sabretooth had just told him that Logan wasn't going to save him, he realized that somehow, in the time since the annoying, unwashed son-of-a-bitch had arrived in his life, he had been subconsciously shifting him from the 'unreliable and can't be trusted' category into the 'this guy would walk through fire to save the life of a teammate' category. Logan wasn't a strategist. He was a point-him-in-the-right-direction-and-he'll-get-the-job-done kind of guy, but he was strong-minded. Scott knew what it was like to have parts of your own past be denied to you, to have someone else come in and mess around with your head just because they could; it made you cling onto what was left. The same way, when you lost people, it made you cling onto the people who were left, too. Logan might not like Scott much, but they had become part of each other's furniture and they had both been displaced so often in the past that they tended to resent it when third parties moved the couch without asking first. It occurred to Scott that he wouldn't want Logan to leave the X-Men. He wouldn't want Logan to no longer be a part of his life. Even with all the complications he brought, and the frustrations (and the uncomfortable half-buried yearnings), Scott still wanted him to stay. If he left, he would miss him far more than he would ever be willing to admit to another living soul.

The strength of his reaction was a little embarrassing. The guy drove him nuts and made him petty and childish – possibly because Logan kept picking on him like they were in Middle School and Scott was the girl whose pigtails Logan couldn't stop pulling. He'd flat out told him that he wasn't good enough for Jean, that he was too young and too…what? Did he think he wasn't good enough in bed? Too inexperienced? It had been intended to undermine his confidence and it had. He also undermined him in the field. He was never really going to accept that Scott was the leader. He was always going to jib and pinch and push at him like a bratty toddler in the candy aisle. But he had skills no one else did. He brought a…clarity that no one else did. Logan got results, maybe not cleanly or prettily, but as long as there was someone around to steer him away from creating body part modern art when he lost his temper, and strong enough to physically stop him – whether with a dousing ice bath, a strong wind, a telekinetic time out, or a body slam from force beams – he was invaluable.

And fighting through the logic was something far more wistful. Scott realized that although, in the past, when he really had run out of all options for making his own escape, he had hoped that Jean would come or Storm would come, or Xavier would be able to find him through Cerebro, today, he was hoping Logan would come, because, whatever Sabretooth said, he thought if Logan could just get here, he would find a way to get them out of this situation alive. He realized that he trusted Logan, all the way. He trusted Logan with his life.

Casting another glance around his immediate surroundings, Scott noticed an old iron skillet. Judging by the crusty blackened bits adhering to it, it looked as if Sabretooth thought washing the dishes was just something that happened to other people, but it also looked as if it might make a useful weapon if wielded hard enough. If he could get his hands free, it was within easy grabbing range. The fact that Sabretooth was so dismissive of the danger Scott represented in his current state sent a pulse of indignation straight up his spine. Apparently, Sabretooth thought that without his force beams, Scott was no threat at all.

Scott pressed his bonds against the hot metal casing of the stove. It hurt, of course, but if he could get the ropes to smolder, he could break them, because, obviously, he was very glad Logan was coming, but he wasn't going to wait around to be rescued. He pushed the ropes harder against the stove, bore the pain as his wrists became uncomfortably hot, and did what he had done in the past when something had to be endured – tuned it out as much as he could with complex algorithms and bore it.

***

Wherever Scott Summers was, even Cerebro couldn't find him. Xavier tried, and then Jean damned near shoved him out of the way and tried herself so hard that she passed out for a moment. She would have dived back in anyway, but Hank came running in to tell them that the thumb drive contained a message from Sabretooth to Logan and they needed to come to the med-lab quickly.

Sabretooth's original intention, it seemed, had been to net Cyclops, and leave them a message and the equipment; with Logan there, he had improvised. The message, however, was still the same.

"Tell Wolverine he needs to connect with me."

As they looked to Hank for enlightenment, he held up the headset. "Cross-checking with the laboratory computer files, this device allows the wearer to establish a telepathic link but only with someone with whom he or she has a consanguineous connection. Sabretooth seems convinced, Logan, that such a connection exists between you and him."

That was the first of the bad news. Logan reeled from the idea that there might be even a distant kinship between him and Sabretooth, but he rallied as fast as he could.

"So, if I put this on, I can find out what Sabretooth's doing? Where he's holding Scott?"

As Logan reached for the headset, Hank grabbed his wrist. "Wait, Logan, there's more. If you put this on, you will effectively be in the head of Victor Creed, able to see what he is seeing, hear what he is hearing, and feel what he is feeling. However, yours is the secondary connection. The problem that causes, according to all their barbaric testing, is that, quite quickly, it becomes difficult to disentangle your thoughts and feelings from that of the primary mind. By which I mean that if it takes too long for you to get to where Scott is, by the time you arrive there, there is a distinct possibility that you won't be Logan on a rescue mission, you may instead be another Victor Creed."

That was a gut-punch and Logan flinched from it. "Okay, that can't happen."

Jean said, "Henry, can't you alter the headset so it will work another way?"

"Not really. As far as I can tell from a cursory examination, it works on the principle of DNA being manipulated to act like Cooper-pair electrons."

As they all looked at him blankly, Logan could almost see Hank pining for a nice, effortless conversation with Reed Richards and his insanely big brain instead of having to break everything down for the slow kids at the back.

Patiently, Hank said, "Think of a superconductor – electric current flows down it, carried by electrons that are tightly bound in pairs. Researchers discovered that if these so-called Cooper-pairs of electrons were split from each other and removed from the superconductor by use of an ultrathin nanowire, they still behaved as if they were interacting with each other, as if they were somehow mentally connected. Scientists could influence one electron and see a reaction in the other despite the fact of their physical separation. With these headsets, DNA has been manipulated to mimic a paired electron that has been separated from its twin."

Logan nodded at the garage door opener. "What does that do?"

"Although it seems to work on the same principle, the technology is infinitely more sophisticated – to the point where I find it difficult to believe that it came from the same laboratory. Unlike the headset, there's no evidence of any reverse engineering involving mutation and I don't recognize the minerals used as its fuel source. I believe it's a teleportation device, connected to a twinned magnetic isotope. It effectively 'wants' to get back to its twin. So, once activated, it will travel to wherever that device is. It has a limited range, so, I deduce from the very brief examination that I have been able to make, that Scott is probably not too far away. However, we know that the technology exists to block all telepathic probing and I imagine that Sabretooth is utilizing some such device to counteract Cerebro. That may also mean that, should Logan travel close to where Scott is being held, Logan will also be unreachable by telepathy."

Logan got what Hank wasn't saying – that if Jean and Xavier had been hoping to stop him from turning into Sabretooth by mind control, that was probably a non-starter.

Xavier looked a little sick. "Nevertheless, I will do my best to connect with you from Cerebro, Logan."

It was a comfort to remember that Scott had his force beams. He could blast Logan the hell away from himself if he needed to. That was what he needed to hang onto here; Logan needed to get himself to wherever Scott was, and Scott needed to find a way to make a possibly deranged Wolverine work for his escape plan. Logan discovered, somewhat to his surprise, that he believed Scott could do that. The guy was smart and he had weaponry at his disposal that Sabretooth wasn't going to be able to take away from him. He was the equivalent of a nuclear warhead that Sabretooth had captured but which could still be deployed against him. Logan just needed to get there and let Scott work out how to use Wolverine against Sabretooth.

It was Xavier who said, "Hank, is there no way of telling where this teleportation device's 'twin' may be located? For all we know, Sabretooth has just thrown the other half into an active volcano and has no intention of letting Logan get within a thousand miles of wherever he has taken Scott."

Storm said, "That is my concern also. Sabretooth may just want to kill Logan. It could be a trap. We do not want to lose both of them."

Jean said, "God, no."

The pain and anxiety was coming off her in waves and Logan wished he could think of anything to say that would have comforted her. She wanted to be out looking and they had not a clue where to start. She wanted to be fighting Sabretooth and she was going to have to sit this one out. The same angry tension was coming from the others to a lesser degree. It wasn't that they didn't like or trust Logan, but everyone in this room had know Scott since he was a teenager. Logan had known him for less than a month. None of them felt he was the right guy for this particular job. He couldn't even blame them for that. The only injustice they were doing him was the one he had sold them from the start – that when it came to Scott Summers, Logan didn't care what happened to him. The truth was that he could all too easily come to care far too much. Right now, half the feelings he'd been burying since he first met the guy were rising to the surface like ghosts in a graveyard come Halloween.

Hank said, "I've considered the possibility, but, I think from the tone of the message he left, Sabretooth is confident that he and Logan have more in common than Logan thinks. I believe that is the hidden agenda we were looking for. Sabretooth may well have been hired to acquire Scott for a third party, and he may even intend to sell him on to that third party when his usefulness to Sabretooth is over, but I think his own plan has more to do with Logan than it does with Scott. I think any one of us would have worked equally well as…bait."

Logan wondered if that was for his sake or Jean's sake or if Hank genuinely believed it. He did think that Sabretooth would probably have been just as happy to take Jean or Storm as he was to take Scott, but Logan had a horrible feeling that the bait chosen would always have been someone young and pretty.

He held out a hand for the headset and the remote. "You don't need me to tell you that you may want a back-up plan in place, but in the meantime, I'm going after Cyke."

It was Jean who hesitated. He could feel her wanting to trust him, wanting to believe in him. The ironic thing was that she had until this minute; when what had been at stake was just the world, she had trusted him, but this was Scott; this was Logan being the only chance Scott had. Even Jean Grey was balking at that.

He said, "Look, Jean, I can't just sit here and do nothing while that animal does the-hell-knows-what to Scott. He'd come after me."

She nodded abruptly. "Try then."

"We do not even know that there is any shared blood between Logan and Sabretooth," Storm said reasonably.

Logan picked up the remote device and then pulled on the headset. For a second, he thought nothing was going to happen and he was almost relieved, and then there was the painful fizz of connection and he could see through someone else's eyes, feel his thoughts, experience his actions; he had thought of it like electronic eavesdropping but it was too gut-punchingly immediate for that. It felt more like possession, and he shuddered.

"Guess Sabretooth was right about that connection thing." Any other day that would have been all he could think about, that he and that monster were related, but, today, he had bigger fish to fry.

"Can you see Scott?" Jean demanded.

It was still misty, but things were getting clearer; he was trying to keep Sabretooth's mind out while looking through his eyes and it felt as if the device was fighting him every step of the way. He could see unfinished pine boards, smell woodsmoke, it smelled like a pot-bellied stove; cabin, remote, the scent of snow outside; rag rug on the floor; strong uprights; cloudy light, dim and still, the way it got filtered through flakes. Blood, he could smell blood, not too strong, not death, not yet. A mind pressing at his, eager and hungry, but mostly triumphant.

Let me in, Logan, and then you'll know everything I know….

"Where is he, you son-of-a-bitch? Show him to me!"

He let the door give way a little, trying to keep a shoulder against it, but Sabretooth just barged in. Storm and Jean's faces swum briefly back into view. It was unpleasantly like being in two places at once, and also like being in a room with Vertigo. He was standing still and he was turning at the same time and it made the stomach lurch.

And then he could see Scott. He was on the rough hewn wooden floor with his hands tied behind his back, which was bad. He looked pretty beat up, which was also bad. His head had been down – not defeated, Logan thought; if he knew Scott Summers he was a long way from defeated; just muzzy and probably a little concussed – but at Sabretooth's rich growl of triumph, Scott looked up. His bruised face was as stoic as ever, but his eyes were wary, his eyes that were right there where anyone could see them and not in any way hidden behind a pulsing ruby quartz visor. They were very, very blue, and the sight of them punched Logan in the gut, because, yeah, Cyke looked way too young and vulnerable without his visor to hide behind, but mostly because Logan being able to look at them was the proof that Sabretooth had found a way to knock out his mutation. Scott wasn't a captured armed weapon. He was just captured.

It was only with a huge effort that Logan swallowed down the first word that came to mind.

Jean said, "Can you see him? Is he alive? Logan, is he okay?"

"He's okay," Logan said tersely. "Little beat up, no worse than you'd expect. Wish me luck."

And then before anyone else could ask him a question he didn't want to answer and which he probably didn't know the answer to anyway, he pressed the button on the remote device and found himself whisked through screaming light and shards of flickering pain.

 

Logan stumbled through the portal into a blizzard. That was actually a step up from the bottom of a deep-sea trench, molten pit of a volcano, or vaporizing guts of a nuclear reactor that he'd been expecting. The good news was that Sabretooth didn't want to kill him. The bad news was also that Sabretooth didn't want to kill him. The guy wasn't exactly a Brain's Trust but he wasn't dumb enough to make it easy for Logan to come and steal back a valuable bargaining chip like Cyclops if he didn't think he had a plan in place to stop that happening, so, he must be feeling pretty confident.

He found the twin device pretty quickly, and next to it what was unmistakably Sabretooth's deep prints. None for Scott so Sabretooth had still been carrying him then. He'd teleported here, picked up another device and gone elsewhere. There was no scent trail to follow, everything was just a swirling white wall of snow.

He waited for the sound of Xavier's voice in his head, letting him know that Cerebro had pinpointed his location; that they were going to be quartering the area, looking for any habitation in which Scott could be held prisoner, but there was nothing, not even static. Which made it all the more painful when Sabretooth's voice came through loud and clear:

Just start walking north, Runt. That's straight ahead of you in case you were wondering.

Logan said aloud, "I don't believe we're brothers." But he started walking north all the same.

Then the memories came in like a tsunami. One second his mind had the walls in place, walls he'd been picking at in dreams, opening the occasional crack so he could search for the shadow puppet theatre of his past, only the thinnest glimpses of which ever followed him back into the waking world; the next everything was a roaring deluge of remembrance – and he was drowning. Except the memories weren't really his; because that wasn't how this worked. The memories were Sabretooth's.

He and Sabretooth were fighting; except this guy wasn't 'Sabretooth', enemy mutant, this guy was 'Victor', and his brother, the guy who had kept him safe through their growing years. The guy whose drunken brute of a father Logan had killed, and in that moment learned that Thomas Logan was his father, too. This guy didn't think of him as Wolverine. He barely thought of him as Logan. For too many years he had thought of him as 'Jimmy'. A part of Logan had loved this guy once. This guy had once been the only reliably unreliable constant in his life. He had always had anger problems, that was why they gravitated towards any battlefield that would have them – a legitimate outlet for Victor's blood lust. The only place, as the years went on and Victor just got angrier, where he and Logan could be in agreement about what they could and couldn't kill.

Another memory flash and Logan was ripped apart with grief and rage and betrayal. Silver Fox! The pain of remembering her so vivid and so bright, even glimpsed through another man's eyes. The woman he loved dead, killed by his own brother, and there Victor was, in that bar, waiting for him – welcoming his hate-filled anger because even that was better than Logan's silence. And there they were hurling themselves at each other, claws digging into each other's flesh and Victor was exultant, as they rent and tore each other, because he had Logan's attention again.

And then it was a different time and he was still Victor, and his mind was crimson, like hellfire, impulsive and angry and never still, and there was so much hunger – for blood, for conflict, for new pain. He was a Victor aware all the time in the back of his mind, like it was a favorite old movie playing, that Logan was out there searching for him, enraged and hate-filled and revenge-seeking and focused, the way he should be on the person who ought to be occupying all his mental space.

He was a Victor who had been sent to collect a mutant for Stryker. This one was a teenage boy, an orphan adrift and on the run, taken in by a brute but still fighting back inside, looking for stability and routine and rules that he could follow that would make sense. That part of this particular target was very amusing to Victor – that someone would shirk so absolutely the chaos that he had always embraced. The boy was writing lines on a blackboard, choosing, absurdly, to be bound by petty tyranny when he could have leveled the building with a blink. In his place, Victor would have leveled it and then exulted in the rubble. He loved people who played by the rules when Victor didn't. It made them so easy to defeat. He had spent years trying to teach Logan that rules were for other people, and following them a weakness. Sometimes, Logan had even seemed to grasp it, but then he'd reset himself, back to mundanity, as if they weren't higher better beings to which ordinary laws simply didn't apply. Logan still thought he could hug his humanity to him like a childhood teddy bear, but Victor knew Logan was wrong, because they were brothers, and inside they were just the same.

Logan kept seeing himself as he looked in Victor's head, and he looked like someone Victor could always defeat, because Victor didn't believe in fighting fair, and he didn't mind at all hurting the things he loved, especially when they'd abandoned him for no good reason, whereas Logan was always going to be so wounded by heartbreak and betrayal, the poor clawed sap. And now Logan was looking through Victor's eyes through a windowpane –– at a skinny teenage boy in red sunglasses, and there was the shock of being Logan recognizing someone who had to be an adolescent Cyclops – the guy looked seventeen, maybe, no more – and the far greater shock of being Victor, amused and expectant, sighting his prey. Victor was wondering how bright this rule-abiding kid was. He would know soon enough. He would know by how long it took the kid after looking at him to be smart enough to be scared.

One scrape of his claws on the window and the kid was running. Pretty smart then. All the better. This was going to be fun.

He was Victor chasing Cyclops, and he was loving every minute of it. Victor was so much faster and stronger, able to anticipate the smart kid's every dumb move, toying with him like a saber-toothed cat with a terrified mouse. This kid was panicked and doubt-fissured and miles out of his depth; too busy running to know he could save himself better by standing still and whipping off those stupid sunglasses. He could blast Victor through a wall if he chose to, but, no, he didn't want to kill anyone; he didn't even want to damage property, so he just kept running even though Victor was always going to be able to catch him. And this chase was exciting Victor, making the blood pump and the sap rise, because the kid was so clean and so Good; he reeked of wanting to do the right thing; so afraid that someone might make him do harm. He was running as fast as he could, and Victor was enjoying bouncing from wall to wall, working out the best way to bring him down. Low, naturally enough – Victor was a great believer in tackling low. He took him below the knees, hard and fast, and the glasses flew off, and those red flares blasted their way through the walls, through gas lines and electricity cables, through the ceiling to let in the willing sky, and the destruction was exhilarating; the air alight with burning mortar and the crash of falling glass.

And there was the kid under his hands, pinned and helpless and blindly begging him not to – instincts screaming that the things Victor wanted to do to him were bad – which was the fastest way to make Victor want to do them more, claws clenching, as he felt that scared creature flinching, and imagined how pleasurable it would feel to just rip into him in every way possible. His fear was intoxicating, his bones were so breakable, and he was such a pretty little thing –

"Victor!"

He snarled as Stryker called him to order, because, the kid was right there cringing from his claws, reeking of fear and guilt and self-loathing, and just ripe to be punished. A part of the dumb kid would probably think he deserved it for not remembering to close his eyes as he was falling, and how delicious would his pain taste when it was flavored with all that guilt…?

Back at the compound, there was the kid in his cell, all blind and alone and so temptingly scented with delicious fear. Victor had never seen the point of resisting temptation.

There was a voice in Victor's head the whole time, a tiny muffled one begging him not to damage this kid so badly that he could never be salvaged; not to do the very worst things to him, however enjoyable they were, but to just smack him around, scare him a lot, teach him obedience, but not to destroy him completely. The voice was all-but drowned out by the other one – that craved satisfaction and the taste of blood, and the feel of skin oozing beneath his claws, and thought how delicious it would be to take something so stupidly innocent and despoil it utterly, but it was still audible.

So, he had done some of the bad things – not all of them – but he had regretted them. Even as he was enjoying the way his victim struggled to swallow his shocked, pained cries, that damned voice kept telling him that all he'd done was traumatize a mutant kid who had no idea where all Victor's hate had come from. That was when, in the quiet aftermath, the blindfolded boy's sobbing breaths the only sound, Victor had realized he still had hold of the kid by the hair, and that he wanted to hit the reset button. He wanted to make none of this have happened. That was when he cracked the kid's skull so hard against the pipes that he knocked all the memories of the last three hours straight out of his head.

And Logan, watching it all, helplessly, was struck by the way the Sabretooth he had thought he knew as someone with no impulse control had been careful, in his way, with a breakable kid with no healing factor. Even though he had done vile things, he had done them with enough restraint that the kid hadn't been killed; the claws hadn't extended, the rage hadn't spiked. The same Victor who had beaten Logan all over the lumber yard, had reined back the cruelty enough that the Cyclops in that room – now concussed on the floor – would, when he woke up with a pounding headache, be able to walk out of there. That wasn't chance.

So, even as he was feeling sick from what he'd just had to watch from inside the mind of the perpetrator, even as he was reeling from the realization that that poor kid had grown up to become uptight, self-possessed Scott, of all people, had come the unwanted understanding that Victor Creed had a conscience. It didn't work the way Logan's did. Didn't work the way most peoples' did, but it did exist. So – horrifyingly for Logan, his brother was a monster, who kind of loved him; and even more horrifyingly for Victor, he wasn't a monster all the time. He was, however, too much of a monster to have any hope of redemption, so, failing that, what he wanted most in all the world was for Logan to come join him in the mud wallow, to embrace his inner sadist and shake hands with his inner rapist, and come and join him in the hate-sharded hell that Sabretooth called life. (The concept of Logan not having an inner sadist and an inner rapist to mirror Victor's own was an idea too horrible for Victor to even contemplate. It was necessary to his mental health to believe that, at heart, he and Logan were the same.)

Logan wrenched his mind back with an effort, as his own memories stirred like sea serpents, and there were Victor's, so new and bright, and, at the same time, deep-bedded and so real. He wondered how Rogue stood it – one touch and you were someone else, his past your past, his wants and fears and twisted needs all squirming through you like they belonged. He had to breathe hard to try to feel like himself again, and some parts of his body were slower to come to heel – he was still half-hard with the excitement of holding down a terrified teenage Cyclops, despite never having had a thing for scaring skinny little boys. Except now he knew how it felt to enjoy that and far worse. Twenty-five more miles of this?

He gritted his teeth and flashed out his claws, snarling aloud, "I'm not you, Victor. I never was and I never will be."

He could hear Victor laughing in his head, a sawknot roar behind it. Keep telling yourself that, Logan. Just know by the time you get here, you'll be itching to slice off his skin, piece by piece.

Then he opened the floodgates again and forced in the memories of every one of Victor's crimes. He let Logan taste the salt of their skin as he pinned them down and licked them, the choke and gasp as their bodies struggled and then went limp beneath him when he throttled them, the warm iron splash of their life blood in his mouth when he cut their throats with a deft slice of one claw, and the hot, tight pleasure of pushing into an unwilling body while it writhed and screamed and begged him, please, to stop.

We did this and we liked it, Jimmy. We did it together….

Logan reeled forward, his hands clasped to his head, struggling through the snow while the wind screamed at him.

"I didn't do any of this!" he shouted angrily above the blizzard. "That was all you!"

But now you know how good it feels, don't you wish you'd been there, too? Ever wondered what that tight-assed pretty boy you work with every day tastes like, Logan? Here, let me show you….

And he was trapped in Sabretooth's head while the guy dragged Scott up by the hair and flung him against a wall hard enough to make him cry out. He was looming over Scott in a way Logan never did, having to look down to see him, his bulk dwarfing him, taller, broader, ten times stronger.

Logan could feel soft hair wound tight in his fingers, could smell pain coming off Scott, could feel how enjoying that pain scent felt, and then he was tearing at the guy's shirt with one clawed hand, exposing the muscles of his back, that slim waist. Scott was all clean lines, strong and slender at once, and every interlocking bone of his spine seemed designed to lead the eye down to what was hidden beneath those ass-hugging dockers. There was a bruise spreading from his left side and its colors were beautiful, its heat was delicious.

A part of Logan wanted to lick Scott's skin and then bite him, hard, and taste the blood in his mouth, wanted to caress the curve of those impossibly pert buttocks just to feel the boy scout flinch, and another part was raging at the bruises, at the grip marks at his throat where Sabretooth must have half-choked him, and the way those ropes had been tied so tightly around Scott's strong wrists that they were cutting into the skin.

You bastard, Creed, you didn't have to tie him up that tightly.

Don't be such a sissy, Jimmy. X-boy was made for bondage.

Sabretooth reached around Scott to run a clawed hand down the planes of his chest, the hard bumps of his washboard abs. Logan could feel Scott's smooth skin under his fingertips, could inhale him like perfume, could feel the way his tension coiled tighter as Sabretooth's hand swept lower.

"We can do anything we want to him," Sabretooth murmured aloud, "and there's not a thing he can do to stop us. The leader of the X-Men trussed up like a Christmas turkey and there for the taking. You and me, we're going to play with him for a few days, and then we're going to sell what's left of him to the highest bidder."

You're going to have to talk to me, Runt. Don't pretend you're not seeing this and hearing this and feeling this, too, because I know you are.

Sabretooth bent his head and licked up Cyke's spinal column, and he tasted like Jean and Scott smelled, faintly salt, with the warm blood pulsing so sweetly beneath the skin. It made a moan catch in Logan's throat. There was the image in his head of Summers running before he could stop it and Sabretooth snatched at it eagerly, mind rummaging through his. Sabretooth grabbed a handful of Cyke's hair and pulled his head back roughly, inhaling him with greedy sniffs. Logan got the full impact of sweat and pain cut with aftershave and steely defiance.

Sabretooth spoke into the cabin whose smoky air Logan already felt as if he was inhaling, despite the snow melting in his hair: "Pretty, ain't he, Logan?"

Scott said tersely, "Screw you, Sabretooth."

"Aww, don't'cha know you're purty, x-boy? Is it meant to be a secret?"

Logan's heart skipped a beat because the truth was that Scott looked fuckawful. It wasn't just the cuts and bruises, there were big dark shadows under his eyes, like he hadn't slept for a week, and he looked exhausted. It made no sense. He'd only been taken for a few hours and he had been in the peak of physical fitness that morning; yet he looked as fishbelly-white and weary as if he'd been missing for a week and eaten nothing the whole damned time.

Sabretooth slammed him against the cabin wall, not even angry, just doing it because he could. There was a strangled cry of pain that Scott choked down and it made Sabretooth hard, and Logan hard right along with him, even though he was furious that the guy was hurting Cyke in front of him. It was like half his brain was a traitor and most of his body, and his heart the only hold out.

You want him. You want to fuck him and you want him to love every minute of it. That's the only difference between us, Logan, that you still think that's what you want. But it would be so much better if he was begging you to stop. Trust me. That would be delicious. Squirming under you, tears in those pretty eyes of his because it hurts so much and there's not a damn thing he can do about it because you're so much stronger than he is and he has to take whatever you dish out….

"Leave him alone!" Logan yelled furiously. "Get your stinking hands off him, Victor! I'll kill you if you touch him like that! I'll kill you!"

He was licking him again; tongue bump-bumping over his spinal column while Scott shuddered underneath him, smelling faintly of burning. Logan was rubbing against him, Cyke's fear scent spiking as he felt that hardening interest pressed against his cloth-wrapped ass. Logan licked the heated skin spreading from those cracked ribs, he licked the strong muscles of his shoulders, and then, as Scott tried to pull away from that eager press of hips against his, he bit down on his right shoulder. Scott cried out, spine flexing, and there was blood on his tongue; it was delicious.

Logan stumbled in the snow and went down, retching as he tried to spit the blood from his mouth that wasn't there. He was sick to his stomach and hard as a post. He tried to concentrate on the chill burn of the snow, the flail of the wind while aware all the time of dragging his bleeding victim back to the pot-bellied stove and thrusting him down onto his knees, jeering at him about what two incredibly strong, id-driven guys were going to do to him and what kind of shape he'd be in after the first hour.

"Did you know that Wolverine wants to screw you? He's been wanting to screw you for weeks now. I bet you've known that for a while, haven't you, you little prick-tease…?"

"Logan isn't you and he never will be."

Snow. Cold. He was here, in the snow, walking through the snow, here, not there, not hurting Scott, not smelling him, or tasting his blood in his mouth. He was twenty-five miles away from the scent of his pain in the air, from the singed scent of –

Logan locked every thought down. Snow. Snow. Snow. White, cold wall of snow. Nothing else.

Rope! Burning rope? I smell it too now!

Snow. Snow. Snow.

He cringed as Victor roared in on Cyke, dragging him away from the stove, just as the guy jerked his wrists free from the burning rope, grabbed a skillet and hit Victor with everything he had.

Logan went down hard, tasting his own blood in his mouth, no, Victor's blood, senses swooping. He tried to pull them both down into blackness, getting it to fold over them like a shroud, but Victor was rising up, fighting back to consciousness, dragging Logan with him. He tried to grapple him down, hold him back, give Cyke a chance, but Victor threw him off with a roar, and was out of the open door with a savage snarl. Scott was running and Scott could run – light and strong and with those long legs to help him the kid was fast – except today he was running like he was on the final lap of a fifty mile race, like he was having to use every shred of strength even to put one foot in front of the other. He stumbled up over a rise and disappeared, inexplicably, and then Victor, furious not just that he had run, but that he had run that way, was following him up and the knowledge came in that it was an optical illusion caused by there being a snow covered ridge. Logan could see it in Victor's head. There was a huge crater and in it something the size of a beached whale, half submerged, but metallic, constructed. It looked alien but it also looked like a sanctuary and now they were over the ridge and Scott, down below, was making for it. Victor gave off another spike of anger because he hadn't wanted Logan to know it was there. It was full of secrets. The way Logan was coming he would never have seen it if it hadn't been for that little shit Summers. Summers was going to pay.

Scott was stumbling, but more than that he was slowing, reluctant, like he didn't want to get any closer to that ship – that ship in which he might have a chance, where he could hide, gather his strength again, wriggle into places too small for Sabretooth to follow him.

"Damnit, Scott! Run!"

Logan had blood running down his head, irritating his eye, and he wanted to tear that little bastard to pieces, even as the wound closed over and the blood dried, he wanted to kill him, and he was proud of him for getting free, but that hesitation had given Sabretooth time to catch up to him and there was nowhere to hide, and no weapons, and he was gaining on him with savage bounds and the kid was stumbling in the snow like he barely had strength enough to keep moving. Summers was casting around, trying to find something he could pick up, but there wasn't a damned thing. I'm going to rip your head off! There – there, Scott! Fallen branch right there! Scott picked it up and swung it.

Then pain exploded in his face and Logan was down, hard, mouth full of snow, more blood in his eyes. You little shit! Hit him again, Scott!

I'm going to rip your arms out of their sockets! I'm going to tear out your lungs!

Again! Now! I'm going to kill you! Hit him again!

The impact smashed into his skull, not quite hard enough, those cracked ribs lessening the strength of the blow and the wood too wet, scattering pine splinters, but one more blow would do it, put him into darkness. Bright spike of impact but the wood was rotten, and the first damage was healed now. The branch was swung hard, Scott teeth-gritting through the pain of it, but it landed soft, a shower of splinters, no true edge.

Logan came up roaring, nailed to Sabretooth's mind like a crucifixion, his claws out and his anger red-misting. Scott ran. He stumbled over fallen timber and half-hidden stones, but Sabretooth was faster and even with Logan throwing images of explosions and crazed faces coming at him, knives jabbing at his eyes, anything, anything to slow him down, Sabretooth sprang and bore Summers down into the snow. And Logan could feel Scott under him, the exultation of dragging him down, pinning him hard, bruised body squirming beneath his. And then he was beating him and Logan was staggering on through the deep drifts while his clawed fists slammed into Scott Summer's body over and over again.

"You'll kill him!" he shouted. "Victor, you're going to kill him before I get there. You said you wanted us to do this together – so, leave him alone until I arrive!"

That got through. Finally. And now, he was dragging a barely-conscious Scott back through the snow, the guy shivering violently under his hands because he had been slammed down in the slush straight onto his tortured ribcage, then punched over and over with huge meaty fists onto already bruised flesh and the pain was making him dizzy.

Victor dragged his head up so he could whisper viciously in his ear, "You're lucky I want to watch Logan bang your ass until you beg for mercy or I'd rip out your guts right now."

Beaten up though he was, Scott still sounded like Scott as he said, painfully, "Logan isn't a rapist, Sabretooth. You may be brothers, but he's nothing like you."

Victor laughed, and the laugh was chilling. "Not yet, maybe, but, trust me, by the time he gets here, he will be."

 

Logan realized that Victor was right. The way this device worked, his consciousness was getting drowned out by Sabretooth's; his rationality overwhelmed by that guy's blood-thirsty id. He was going to fight him, certainly, he was going to struggle against his voice in his head for the next twenty-five miles the way he was going to struggle through this damned blizzard. But Sabretooth wanted him worn out and mind-controlled. He wanted Logan to be the brother he had always hoped for, the one who was his companion and accomplice and who made Sabretooth feel that he wasn't alone with all this rage in his head and this lust in his groin. The one who said it was okay to have grown up like this.

It's not okay, Victor. It's never going to be okay. You could fight it if you wanted to.

That's the difference between you and me, Runt. I don't want to. And by the time you get here, you're not going to want to either….

Sabretooth wasn't what Logan would have called intelligent, not book-smart like Jean or Hank or Chuck or little Shadowcat, but he was well above low cunning. He understood the way people ticked up to the point where they started acting out of goodness or ethics or the promptings of their consciences, when they became inexplicable to him. But anything to do with primal needs and basic urges, and Sabretooth was a PhD. And he had known Logan for longer than Logan had known Logan, so there was a good chance that this plan of his would work, and that he had already anticipated the ways that Logan would try to stop it working.

As he stumbled through the snow, Logan began to cautiously feel around in the primal swamp-water of his back-brain. He was scared of that place – he admitted it to himself. Sabretooth might know how scared of it Logan was – scared of what he had done in the past and what he might do in the future and what he was capable of doing in the present. He was scared of what he might be at his most basic core. But there was, at the least, simplicity back there. There was…purity. Whatever he was in that place that existed beneath rationality, it couldn't be corrupted or changed, it just was. And what it was might very well be worse than Sabretooth, but what Sabretooth was – what Logan was going to be with that guy swamping his thoughts – would undoubtedly rape and torture Scott. While what Logan essentially was, might just kill Scott. The guy was a rival for Jean. He was another male creature occupying Logan's space who had set himself up as a leader despite being decades younger than Logan was. Logan found Scott doing both of those things annoying in his rational head-space. The obvious way to stop Scott sleeping with a woman Logan liked – not to mention giving him orders on missions – would be to snap his neck. So, Primal Logan might well unreason that killing Scott was the most direct route between two points, but he didn't believe that what he wanted to do to Scott at his essential core was to sadistically torture him.

And he couldn't exactly ask Scott for his input – Hey, Cyke, on a scale of one to ten where would you rank getting Eiffel Towered by me and Sabretooth before we slowly claw off your skin, as opposed to me killing you, quickly and cleanly? The trouble with that kind of reasoning was that while Scott would probably choose death before dishonor, because of his Boy Scout code, he didn't get to recover from being dead; even if it was done swiftly and painlessly, everything still just stopped forever.

Sabretooth was jeering and smearing in the background, and the images were seductive, Scott's skin was delicious, his pain was exciting, and Logan was hard and willing and his claws were out because Sabretooth's were out now, and they were tracing crimson contours down Scott's lickable back. He wanted to hear his moans of pain, he wanted to make him whimper, he wanted to hear him beg. He wanted to be inside him when he made him scream so he could feel the vibrations of it dance along his cock. He wanted to tie him down on his hands and knees and force his balls inside him like a dog. He wanted to –

"Fuck you, Victor, you sick son-of-a-bitch! Get out of my head! I don't want any of those things!" His hand was on the headset, poised to rip it off, anything to get those images out of his head, those impulses out of his body.

"Your choice, Logan. You don't want me in your head then just break the connection. Too bad you'll never find him, but at least you won't be the guy who killed him. It'll probably be a few months before you find out what I did with him but maybe I'll be kind, maybe I'll send you the co-ordinates for where I buried what was left of him. Maybe I'll take pictures of some of the things I did… Would you like him to leave you a message? It'll take me a little while to break him, but once he's a sniveling, whimpering, crawling thing, he'll do what I tell him to do, so I can make him say anything I like, so – what message do you want for his last words…?"

The words were the reality check he needed. Scott wouldn't let Sabretooth break him. Scott would just provoke the guy – make him mad enough to kill him. The same went for Sabretooth and Logan. If there was no chance of rescue and Scott didn't want to take any more pain, he would make one or both of them crazy enough to snap his neck. Scott was smart, calm, and rational, and Sabretooth was an id-driven brute with no impulse control; so, on occasion, was Logan. So if Logan didn't get there, Scott was dead, and if Logan got there successfully corrupted by Sabretooth then Scott was raped and tortured and then dead, and if Logan got there in a different head-space Scott was most likely dead.

Logan realized that most likely dead was as bright a future as Scott had right now. He picked up the pace. There was nothing to stall for and Sabretooth was hurting Scott now. The quicker Logan reached that cabin, the quicker that, at least, would stop. Most likely everything would stop for Scott and Logan would be left having to live with it forever. He thought there was a chance that Jean would forgive him, eventually, Xavier, too. It was just Logan who would never forgive himself.

***

Scott Summers had never seen the point in wasting time and energy being scared of an enemy; that was just head-space being used to no purpose when it could be strategizing to defeat the opponent; but he was, nevertheless, all too aware at present that Victor Creed was a head taller than he was, had those vast shoulders, and weighed about two hundred pounds more than he did, all of it either muscle or face-crunching bone. The fact that he had just really pissed the guy off and that Sabretooth was prone to fits of violent psychotic rage was all something he had to factor in. All while he was trying to shake off that creeping sense of horror he had got from the downed spaceship.

Sabretooth dragged him back by his hair and smacked him around, slammed him against the walls, dragged his claws down Scott's back, all while shouting at Logan over Scott's head about all the ways that Scott needed and deserved to be thoroughly fucked up. Logan seemed to be arguing into that headset from his far-off place in a snowstorm while Sabretooth was waxing almost poetical about the untapped opportunities Scott offered for being sexually degraded.

In between his suggestions to Logan, Sabretooth viciously yanked Scott's wrists behind his back. He had thought the bonds he was tied with were tight before, but Sabretooth was knotting these with brutal spite. Scott tried not to flinch as the cords cut into his skin. He was too marrow-deep exhausted to put up any resistance, even if Sabretooth hadn't been so much stronger than he was. He had felt weary before but that run in the snow had taken everything he had left and more. He missed his optic beams, wondering how he could ever have wanted to be rid of them. Sure, they made him a freak who ran the constant risk of killing someone he loved just by opening his eyes, but they could also blast the hell out of big hairy clawed bastards who kept deliberately torturing his broken ribs just because they could. As he was thrown down onto the unyielding floorboards and then kicked, he summoned the image of Sabretooth getting slammed out through the wall of the Liberty torch on a beautiful wave of red. It definitely helped. Not only did it provide a balm to his frustrated male pride – seriously chafing at being a prisoner – but it reminded him that when he and Logan weren't squabbling like six year olds they made for a pretty good team.

Tuning Sabretooth back in, he realized that the guy was still telling Logan all the things that Logan ought to do sexually to Scott. He had never realized that Sabretooth had such a vivid imagination or such a wide vocabulary. In fact, Scott was embarrassed to admit that he didn't actually know what some of those acts actually entailed. He bit down his grunt of pain as Sabretooth grabbed him by the hair, yanked him back to his feet, and slammed him into the wall. The rough logs chafed at his chest but the heady pine scent smelled so much better than Sabretooth's bouquet of blood, rage, and what smelled like more or less constant masturbation. (Scott resolved to never bitch about Logan's scent again. Compared with Sabretooth, Logan's bike oil, beer, and cigar smoke perfume was a bottle of Adidas.) He tried not to shudder as Sabretooth licked at the cuts his dirty claws had left across his back. His tongue was rough, too hot, and too big, and he was clearly relishing the taste of Scott's blood. Sabretooth's fingers kneaded at his hollow stomach, eagerly, leaving raking scratches across his skin, while he licked deeper and pressed closer. Scott really hoped the guy didn't bite him again. He was sure Sabretooth's mouth was a sinkhole of infection – and that previous bite on his shoulder was already clamoring like a mariachi band.

Sabretooth purred viciously, "Want me to prep him for you, Wolverine? I can start slicking him up for you right now if you like? Of course, he might like it so much, he'll be whimpering like a little bitch by the time you get here."

Scott tensed, searching for a way out of letting this happen, and then Logan must have told Sabretooth to go fuck himself in no uncertain terms because Sabretooth was laughing that meaty sawknot laugh of his. "Bet you didn't learn that vocabulary at that school for goody-goodies, Jimmy boy…."

Sabretooth carelessly grabbed Scott by the hair and threw him down on the floor of the hut, and Scott stayed low and stayed quiet. He was going to try reason if there was any chance of reason working, but for now he thought managing Sabretooth very carefully might be a good option. He didn't know what aroused smelled like, but he suspected Sabretooth was probably reeking of it right now. It was only his strange compulsion to have Logan be the one to rape Scott that seemed to be holding him off him. One wrong word, and Scott suspected he was going to be bent over that spring-jagged couch wishing devoutly that he had never been born.

Sabretooth loomed over him. "…You needn't think I'm selling you to Sinister or anyone else now, you little shit. Wolverine's going to rip you into little pieces and I'm going to help him do it…."

Scott had never thought he would want to be sold back to Sinister. The guy had nothing if not a one-track mind, and all the genetic material he had from Scott had been pre his mutation manifesting. Henry had written a paper on how puberty altered the DNA of some mutants, so perhaps Sinister wanted some post-mutant-power-manifestation Scott Summers data to compare with the old stuff. He hated Sinister for all the horror the guy had put him through, but right now being sold to Sinister was looking like the option where he didn't die bloody. The guy made Scott's skin crawl but he had no interest in killing Scott, not when he could come up with new, deranged things to do with his DNA.

"…We're the same – him and me. We're brothers to the bone. He's starting to realize that. He's only fighting it because he knows it's true. He's getting it now and when he arrives, you're gonna get it too, x-boy…."

Scott tuned out the rest of the soliloquy. He could practically sing the chorus by now. "What was that thing in the snow?" He was pretty sure that exposing that vast metal…spaceship-thing to Logan was the real source of Sabretooth's rage but he needed to be sure.

Sabretooth spun on his heel. "Shut up with your questions!"

He'd had telepaths in his mind for longer than he liked to think about: Sinister, malevolently, and then Xavier and Jean, benevolently – well, for the most part; being scolded telepathically, somehow did sting a little more. He had learned how to push people away and how to welcome then in. He couldn't keep a really determined telepath out, certainly, but he could block off parts of his mind to casual incursions the way another man slammed his closet door. Xavier and Jean weren't the type to stray into places to which they hadn't been given willing access, so they respected the barriers he had built and understood that some parts of his mind he preferred to keep secret. (For a while now, he had been pushing some thoughts he didn't want to examine too closely about Logan, into one of those less accessible parts of his mental maze.) His link with Jean and his frequent telepathic communions with the Professor had also made him sensitive to psychic probing. Whatever was in that spaceship had been trying to get into his head. It had been a cold, steely sort of mind, threaded through with flashing pulses of insanity. Like Sinister, but not him – Scott would have recognized that familiar horror all too well. There was someone or something in that ship that was as brilliantly unbalanced as Sinister. For all Scott knew, it had Sinister's powers as well. He suspected that it might be equally dangerous.

Scott tried to assess how many questions he could risk before Sabretooth took his head off. He made it…possibly two.

"Victor, I need to know about who or what is in that ship. It's what's blocking Cerebro, isn't it?"

A clawed hairy hand fastened around his throat and squeezed. Okay, two questions would definitely have been one too many. He was choking, gasping, and the world was swooping into darkness before Sabretooth finally released him with a snarl.

As he coughed his way back to full consciousness, trying to drag some air into his heaving lungs while his cracked ribs protested, Scott hoped that Logan, from his visits to Sabretooth's brain, was picking up some more information about that creepy ship. He was sure Sabretooth had explored it, but he wondered if the guy would recognize the dark telepathy emanating from it as quickly as Scott had. It took being mind-manipulated to recognize how that felt and Sinister had done every kind of number on Scott's brain. The Weapon-X program seemed to have a less sophisticated approach to mind-rape, more of a scorched earth policy than Sinister's predilection for complicated systems of mental blocks.

Still thinking about the ship, it took Scott a moment to notice that Sabretooth was still looming over him threateningly.

"You wanna be whipped, x-boy? You kinky that way?"

"No." As questions went that was an easy one.

"Then shut the fuck up."

Scott said very rapidly, "Are you sure that ship isn't screwing with your head? Because I noticed – "

Then all he was noticing was that a boot slammed into the guts not only stole one's barely restored breath all over again – the subsequent heaving and gasping agonizingly inflating one's damaged ribcage – but that it made one retch up that last cup of coffee one had thrown down so irritably because Logan was insisting on grabbing a ride into town. He'd been so sure Logan would be a dick at the station, and instead Logan had got all in that guy's face on Scott's behalf. That was Logan all over. You just never knew where you were with the guy. Scott thought about all the times he had told the kids to always, always eat breakfast because you never knew when you might be getting another meal if a mission came up, and he had been too busy bitching to Jean about Logan to eat his cereal, even with her reminding him of that fact, at least twice. Jean wasn't stupid, she had probably worked out that Scott bitching about Logan was at least in part a way for Scott to talk about Logan. Which Scott had found himself wanting to do, almost all the time, since the guy had come back from Alkali Lake. He wondered if Jean knew more than Scott did – that was the usual pattern of their lives. If she had just been waiting for Scott to catch up and notice that he was obsessed with this guy whom he supposedly didn't like.

Scott finished sucking the air back into his lungs and darted a resentful look up at Sabretooth. If every evil mutant would stop pissing around being evil and just start working towards making the world a better place for mutants and humans alike then Scott could maybe take a vacation every now and then that didn't end up with him being enslaved or tortured. One day, Magneto, I fully intend to bill you for my therapy.

Sabretooth said irritably, "Fuck but you're annoying, Summers! You're lucky I want to keep you alive for Wolverine to shove his dick in you."

Scott realized that Sabretooth's insistence on Wolverine having him had been bothering him for a while now. It wasn't like Sabretooth not to want to have first go at a victim. He couldn't say he wasn't Victor's type because, as far as he was aware, Victor's type was 'with a pulse' – and for all Scott knew the pulse was optional. He'd always understood that as long as someone could scream and bleed, Victor was happy to hurt him or her. And yet there was a balking on Victor's part at raping him that Scott found uncharacteristic.

"Any particular reason why you want him to have first crack at me?” he asked.

And that was a strange look in Sabretooth's eyes, that darting glance in his direction was curiously furtive as well. It took Scott a moment to work out what he was seeing because it seemed as unlikely as a battleship in the desert. If Sabretooth were anyone else at all he would have said that looked like…guilt. Yet the guy had no problem kidnapping him, torturing him, or selling him to Sinister, and he actively wanted to watch him raped by Logan, so what was the issue here? Scott thought it might be the key to getting through this alive.

Scott nodded like he got it. "I see – been there, done that, right?"

Sabretooth's eyes widened and he took an involuntary step forward. "You remember?"

Why wasn't he gloating? If Sabretooth had already had him on some mission and Xavier had wiped Scott's memory, why wasn't Sabretooth throwing it in his face? His quick flare of anger at the thought of Xavier trespassing on his memories like that was doused by the dull realization that he had always known there were gaps; he had just put them all down to Sinister. It hurt to think that the Professor hadn't asked his opinion, because if he had Scott would have told him that he needed to hold onto every experience he'd ever had, even the bad ones. Out in the field, a guy never knew what was going to be useful. Squandering life lessons wasn't an option for a team leader when he never knew what information might be needed to save the mission.

Aloud, Scott said, "No. I guess the Professor decided to erase it. Was I any good?"

There was that look again; like Sabretooth was actually ashamed of one of the bad things he'd done in his life. He seemed to be fighting against it. There was bravado in his tone: "You were lousy. All you did was snivel."

"Maybe you should have bought me dinner first. I'm assuming you didn't?"

Sabretooth said defensively, "I didn't make you take it raw. I used lube. I smelled the bruises – I figured you were getting reamed by that other guy. How was I to know you weren't?"

Scott swallowed hard; God, it hurt; hurt that he'd been a victim all this time and not even known it, and hurt even more that the Professor had changed Scott's mauled mind like it was a room in need of tidying instead of something Scott desperately needed not to be damaged any further.

He tried to sound like this was no big deal. "Honest mistake by the sound of things. When was this?"

"You really don't remember, do you?"

"Sorry. I'm sure it made an impact at the time."

Sabretooth grimaced. "Stryker didn't tell me your age, okay? I didn't know."

Scott felt a little sick. It had been on the Island then. Crap. He'd been fifteen. He'd practically wet himself with fear just getting captured by Sabretooth; alone in a cell with him, he'd probably humiliated himself utterly. "Given all your other crimes, Victor, are you really going to worry about a few months the wrong side of legal?"

"I don't fuck kids. It was a mistake with you. I thought you were older and, like I said, I figured that other guy was screwing you anyway. Then the way you screamed the place down, I realized I was your first."

Scott flinched from the humiliating confirmation that he'd screamed, but at the same time his mind was looking for answers. Given that Sabretooth loved to remember the sound of his victims' anguish and probably played back their sobbing pleas in his mind to get off, Scott wondered what there had been about his screaming that was so displeasing.

Abruptly, Sabretooth said, "You were such a stupid kid you didn't even understand what was coming. You didn't get it at all until I was already– You screamed and then you choked it all down, like you'd rather die than have anyone know what was happening, but you just…didn't get it."

At least he'd tried not to be a baby about it; that was something. Scott said, "Kids these days, eh? So unsophisticated."

Sabretooth glowered at him. "You were no fun to fuck at all."

"I feel I should apologize, but, you know, I don't think I will."

He remembered being captured by Sabretooth. He remembered blowing the roof off that school. He'd thought about Jack Winters waiting back at home for him, getting angrier and angrier because Scott was well-past late. He'd known the detention was going to earn him a beating anyway – Winters knew the bus times and he never made allowances for traffic, let alone Scott catching a later bus because he was being made to write lines after class. Even for a while after he'd been thrown in a cell on the Island, he'd still been worrying about Winters' reaction – would the guy stop him going to school at all when Scott so desperately needed that illusion of some normality in his life? Was the school going to know Scott was the one who'd blown off the roof and report him to the police? Was he going to have to go to prison…? Until he'd heard the moans and screams from the other cells and it had finally dawned on him that he had more immediate problems, like already being in prison, but not the kind where you got a phonecall and a public defender. But he didn't remember Sabretooth coming into his cell. He just remembered coming round from some procedure that had hurt a lot and left him weak and dizzy, eyes still encased behind that beam-quelling mask. His head had been pounding so hard that no other pain had really registered.

Quietly, Scott said, "How could you do it, Victor? How could you help that maniac kidnap mutant kids so he could experiment on us? Why side with a mutant-hating human against your own kind?"

"I go where the money is," Sabretooth snapped back.

"Are you sure you don't just have a problem with self-loathing?"

"Listen, you sanctimonious little prick, I've been saving you for Jimmy because he likes the way your ass looks in leather and I feel a little bad for that mewling brat you used to be, but I could change my plans right now if you want?"

Scott wondered if there had ever been another time in his life when he felt this weary. His body was one big ache. It was like he'd come around in this cabin already defeated. "Don't trouble on my account." He flinched as Sabretooth crouched down in front of him, very aware of his massive bulk and hair-trigger temper.

Sabretooth regarded him with a baleful eye. "Let's make this interactive. One of us is going to be fucking you today. Me or him? Choose. It's the last choice you get, probably for the rest of your life. You already came through what I did to you and you weren't even that banged up. If you're smart you'll choose me. So…choose."

He was on a knife-edge here, and he couldn't afford to piss Sabretooth off more than he already had, or the guy was going to stove some more of his ribs in, they were going to pierce his lung, and Scott was going to drown in his own blood. All the same, there was only one possible answer. Scott said, "Him. Logan. Wolverine. I choose him."

"He won't be anyone you recognize."

"I still choose him."

Sabretooth laughed and spoke into the air as he rubbed himself obscenely through his ragged clothes. "You hear that, Jimmy? The little prick wants you. Isn't that sweet? Are you hard yet? Oh yeah. I can feel you are. The sooner you get here, the sooner you get to give him what you both want. Better hurry though – he really is tempting, all weak and helpless like he is right now, I don't know how long I can hold off him myself…" He picked up a syringe from the sideboard. "Time to give you another shot…."

Even though they weren't connected and Logan couldn't hear him; was being poisoned by Sabretooth's mind with every pace, the lie that told Logan and kept on telling him that he was liking this; Scott still found himself thinking: Logan, just get here.

Scott tried to struggle, but the drug still in his system had already done its work too well; the pain in his side was a dull, vicious pulse and the world was graying in and out in front of him. He had no strength and Sabretooth just laughed at his futile attempts at resistance. "Double the dose this time. You're gonna be as weak as a kitten when this gets into your bloodstream. Don't worry – you'll still be able to beg and scream. From now on, that's the only skill-set you need."

The needle went in and Scott fought and the plunger depressed and weakness poured through his bloodstream like poison. He slumped to the ground, incredibly dizzy and sick, the cabin slowly revolving, and realized that he barely had strength enough to crawl across the floor. He kept trying to mentally feel along his connection to Jean and hitting…nothing. There was no sense of her out there. He was completely alone. He tried to think of a way out of this and absolutely nothing came to mind. He had no resources and no plan left. Everything now was up to Logan, and Logan wasn't Logan any more. He was, in fact, at the mercy of a villain and a stranger.

Sabretooth said softly, "Ain't still too late to choose me, pretty boy. I promise I'll go easy on you…"

Scott said, "Screw you, Victor…" and then the drugs really kicked in and he slumped, barely conscious, on the floor.

He found he was reaching down that thread of connection he usually shared with Jean and trying to tell himself that through it he could reach Logan. Even though it was a lie, it was the lie he needed to hang on. Whatever he says to you, whatever he does to you, none of it's true, Logan. You were never him. And, right now, the only chance I have of getting out of here alive – is you.

 

Out in the snow, his brother's excitement hardening his dick and his brother's enjoyment pulsing through his brain, hungering for Scott Summers' blood and Scott Summers' body like nothing else could ever satisfy him, Logan started running.

 

Scott had been swimming in and out of consciousness for hours. He felt even weaker, like he was Talos with the ichor running out. Every time he came to, Sabretooth was either talking to Logan about how much fun Scott would be to mangle or telling Scott what Logan was now; his mind-melded twin; how great the future was going to be with them working together again. They were going to drink to their newfound unity with a cup of Cyclops' blood. It was going to be glorious. Sabretooth was genuinely exultant. Idly, Scott realized that this was the first time he had ever heard the guy not sound pissed about something. Scott was almost past caring. No doubt he would care, when the moment came that there were two of them torturing him, or when the torture was stepped up, but, right now, the exhaustion was so overwhelming that it was taking everything he had just to stay conscious. Even forming words was an effort. He tried to be persuasive about the ship, trying to find out if Sabretooth had actually been inside it, if he could have been affected by its malignant influence.

"Look, that place is…wrong, I felt it. I know what a dangerous mind feels like. I need to know what you know –"

"Shut up, Summers!"

Sabretooth kicked him in the ribs again, casually, and the white-flare flame in his side was enough to grant him a jagged oblivion. The darkness was beautiful and Scott sank beneath its surface as gratefully as a drowner left to struggle too long with the sea….

 

Scott came to with a jolt, licking futilely at his dry lips with his dry tongue and realized that the world had grown dimmer. For a moment, he thought it was a worsening concussion, and then realized that it was the passage of time. Hours had passed and no one was punching or kicking him. His arms hurt from being tied behind his back – which was painful, but not as excruciating as them being pulled over his head while he hung from his bleeding wrists and was neuro-whipped, which was the last treat Sabretooth had offered him if he didn't shut the fuck up.

Sabretooth was pacing the room, snarling to himself. His good mood had certainly gone west in a hurry. Scott kept his eyes almost closed, keeping a furtive eye on Sabretooth while he let his head go on hanging. All the pain had woken up with him and it was an effort to stay silent when that moan was so weakly eager to break past his lips. He swallowed it down and went on watching. Sabretooth was muttering under his breath, uneasy, no longer confident.

"Where is he…? Where the hell is he…?"

It took Scott a moment, confused as his mind was with the many demands of his beaten body, to realize that Logan must have taken off the headset. He had broken the connection. He had no idea what that meant, but he decided that anything that was making Sabretooth pace back and forwards in the pine-scented confinement of the hut was a good thing. Listening intently while still feigning unconsciousness, Scott gathered, too, that Sabretooth had expected Logan to be here by now. Scott dared to believe that Logan was still Logan. The man had his faults – too many to count – but he was vividly himself. Was it so impossible to believe that he had managed to do what no one else could and remain…Logan? But all the angry muttering made it clear that Sabretooth was confident that Logan could not have held onto who he was, not given the way the connection worked, with the primary receiver programmed to overwhelm the mind of the secondary user. Sabretooth needed Logan to be like him. Logan had to be like him. Logan had endured nearly thirty miles of having his head flooded with Sabretooth's thoughts, memories, impulses, desires, and violent, angry needs. A man far less primal than Logan would be an id-driven animal by now. It made no sense, Sabretooth insisted to the night-gathering shadows, that Logan had not, an hour since, burst through that door, claws extended, cock erect, bloodlust burning –

That was when the door slammed open hard enough to wrench itself off its hinges and lurch drunkenly to the floor. Logan stood in a swirl of snow, claws out, emitting a savage, predatory snarl.

All the hairs on the back of Scott's neck stood up in instinctive fear while even Sabretooth took a step back. Looking at Logan, Scott realized with a chill that they were both wrong. Logan wasn't Sabretooth – one look confirmed that – but nor was he Logan. He was something worse than either of them.

***

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THREE: Seas Between Us Broad Have Roared

If he'd been in any doubt, the horrific savagery with which Wolverine threw himself at Sabretooth dispelled any confusion.

Sabretooth had time to utter one betrayed, horrified, "No…!" before Wolverine went for his jugular.

They had fought before, of course, and without the rest of the X-Men and their powers to tip the balance, Scott suspected things would have ended in that hard-fought draw. Logan had outsmarted Sabretooth on Liberty Island, not outfought him, but this wasn't Logan versus Victor. It wasn't Logan versus Sabretooth. It was Wolverine at his most basic, primal, and animal. His strength and speed and agility were all phenomenal; he was utterly oblivious to pain; his eyes were red with bloodlust, and he was an indestructible killing machine. There was the purity of the beast in him and Scott might as well have been seeing him for the first time because there was absolutely nothing here of the man he knew.

Scott ducked a spray of arterial blood and crouched awkwardly between the stove and the wall while the two of them roared and crashed around the cabin. Every survival instinct told Scott that not only should he not attempt to help Wolverine, he should keep the hell out of his way. He wasn't even sure he was the one he wanted to win, because the way Wolverine was right now, Scott was a lot more scared of him than he was of Sabretooth.

He flinched as Sabretooth was thrown at the dresser, splintering wood and sending cans cascading. Sabretooth had a clawed hand pressed to his throat, which was pumping blood. As Logan came at him, raging, claws fully extended, Sabretooth tried vainly to ward him off with his free hand grabbing at Wolverine's throat while he yelled, "How? How? You should have been me! You were meant to be me!"

Nothing in Wolverine's snarling face gave any suggestion that he had understood a word. He just drove his claws into the soft flesh of Sabretooth's belly and ripped outwards. Scott almost puked. He couldn't bear to look at Victor Creed's shocked, disbelieving eyes, as Wolverine's claws shredded him. The blood sprayed against the stove and then rebounded softly, like a lawn sprinkler, sending a fine warm rain of red. Scott felt it patter across his face. It fell across the cut on his cheekbone and took away the sting. Some of it went in his mouth, salt and foul, and he dry heaved before he could help himself, cracked ribs protesting as he did so. He could no longer bear to look at what Wolverine was doing to Sabretooth. A part of him wanted to tell Wolverine that the guy was his brother, that he shouldn't kill him; another part was just cravenly scared of what happened when Sabretooth was no longer absorbing all of Wolverine's attention, because whatever the hell the guy was now, Scott did not want to be left alone with him.

Scott closed his eyes through the rest of the splintering and crashing and screaming and roaring, trying to wipe the blood from his mouth onto his ripped shirt, still tasting it, iron and salt, having to fight the urge to puke, even though there was nothing in his belly to bring up but bile and if he started dry heaving again the pain in his ribs was going to make him pass out.

It was over very fast with Sabretooth shredded and very close to dead. Without his healing factor, he undoubtedly would have been dead. Wolverine dragged his bleeding remains outside and Scott tried to crane his neck to see what was happening but he couldn't see anything except sky.

When Wolverine walked back in, ripped up and blood-spattered, wounds gaping obscenely to reveal the crimson-slicked outline of exposed bone and pulsing organs, while snarling with residual rage, Scott had to admit it – he was scared. He had no idea if the person Wolverine was now would recognize him or that if he did it would be to see him as anything other than a rival male animal that needed to be killed. As Wolverine came at him, he was bracing himself for the claws rammed through his body. He bowed his head and waited for the inevitable.

Hot blood dripped on him. It was a near-torrent at first, in his hair and down the back of his neck. He could feel it pooling warmly by his shirt collar. Then the dripping slowed, stopped. When he risked a look up, he saw wounds closing up all over Wolverine's body, but there was no hint of recognition in those angry eyes and Scott hastily lowered his head again, trying to look as unthreatening as possible.

At the sound of the claws retracting, he exhaled jumpily, and then Wolverine was crouching down next to him, sniffing him. His breath on Scott's face was fiery and stank of blood.

Scott said, "Logan…? Do you know who I am…?"

A savage growl suggested that Scott should shut up and stay still. Wolverine sniffed him again and then licked at the cut on Scott's cheekbone. He jumped – he couldn't stop himself, that tongue licking over him was so unexpected. The tongue traced the bruise, wet and hot, and then lapped after Sabretooth's blood where it had splashed across Scott's face. Scott forced himself to keep his head still as Wolverine licked him again – soothing his aching cheekbone and making his heart pound. He was out of his depth. It wasn't a feeling he was used to. He had experienced so much, and so much of it had been bad, either in real life or in the Danger Room, scenarios playing out in so many different combinations, but a teammate, a friend, so much stronger than he was, turned feral and utterly unknowable – he was at a loss. And it wasn't as if he knew Logan well enough to know how to get through to him, although he suspected that Jean would have found a way. It wasn't as if they hung out together on an everyday basis.

Another warm, wet lick; Wolverine's fingers were rough and clumsy as they closed in his blood-sticky hair to hold his head still so his tongue could lap with greater firmness, removing any trace of Sabretooth's blood from where it had splashed on him. It wasn't like being manhandled by anything human, much more like being pawed by an animal. If he could get past the shock, he might be able to strategize, but there was something in him that was confounded by Logan in his present form, and he didn't know what it was. When Wolverine pushed him down flat on the floor and began to sniff him, Scott was unnerved in a way he couldn't fully comprehend. It took him a moment to realize that it was his own instincts that were throwing him off, they were pinning him down every bit as hard as Wolverine's heavy hand, telling him to breath shallowly, stay still, and not make eye contact.

Clothes seemed to make the guy fretful. Wolverine pulled off Scott's shoes and socks, sniffed the former curiously, licked one, chewed the edge, presumably attracted by the leather, found them not to his liking and tossed them. His interest seemed to wink on and off like a flashlight. Scott wondered what happened if Wolverine decided that Scott just wasn't interesting, would he get tossed, too? A couple of hours in the snow in those sub-zero temperatures – if Wolverine just hurled him outside as too inconsequential to bother with – and he was dead of hypothermia. Wolverine mouthed at the ripped fragments of his shirt, sniffing with determination, and then impatiently tore the cloth as if it were as fragile as tissue paper, pulling it off Scott's bruised body and tossing it to one side. The clothing being yanked off so roughly hurt his ribs and Scott couldn't suppress a pained exclamation. Wolverine made no objection to that, but when both his hands went to Scott's belt buckle, and Scott made an inarticulate sound of protest, Wolverine snarled at him. Scott froze. He finally understood what it meant when someone said his blood turned to ice. He felt paralyzed.

"Logan…?" he said cautiously.

Wolverine gazed into his face with no signs of recognition and Scott kept still. "Logan, what is it you want me to do…?"

Wolverine slapped a rough hand across his mouth and held it over it, firmly, as he pulled the belt loose and tossed it over his shoulder. He lifted the hand off his mouth and then put it back down on it, twice, heavily, in a pointed gesture that even Scott could grasp meant 'Shut the hell up'.

As he flinched from Wolverine grabbing his dockers and yanking them down off his hips then tossing them off to one side, Scott wondered if Wolverine, in his present form, couldn't understand speech, meaning that Scott's words were just annoying noise to him right now. Given that he sometimes thought that his words were just annoying noise to Logan when he was in his right mind – that did make an unfortunate kind of sense.

Clearly, Wolverine was not some big, friendly, protective dog, here, ready to do whatever his chosen human ordered – that would have been too much good luck for the kind of day Scott was having. No, Wolverine was a large, strong, aggressive animal who had defeated the other large, strong, aggressive animal in the room. Scott presumed that he had not treated Scott the way he treated Sabretooth because Scott was not perceived as a threat. Scott was…something else.

What that something else was, Scott wasn't yet too clear about, other than that Wolverine didn't like it smelling of Sabretooth, but he didn't think he was going to be given any input into how he was defined by Wolverine. He was whatever Wolverine thought he was. Tied up, without his force beams, and injured as he was, he didn't know what he could do to convince Wolverine he was an ally except not to piss him off. There was no weapon he could get to, and, given what Wolverine had just done to Sabretooth right in front of him – the blood spatter from that encounter still dripping slowly down the walls – it would be a dumb move to try to attack him, almost certainly a fatally dumb move, too, in very short order.

Scott kept waiting for a plan to materialize and realized that he didn't have enough data. He didn't know what was driving Wolverine's id. He didn't know how Wolverine saw Scott. He didn't know what actions on Scott's part Wolverine, in his current state, would find acceptable or completely unacceptable. The only thing he could cling to was that sliver of suggestion that Wolverine was still able to differentiate between allies and enemies, or at least threats and non-threats.

He cried out from the shock of Wolverine putting a steadying hand on his ribs and then darted him a wary look, afraid that a loud noise like that was going to earn him a savage reprisal. Scott said, "It hurts. You're heavy. Logan, please…?"

Wolverine lifted his hand, bent his head and sniffed at his ribs then licked at Scott's side, which made Scott choke down a curse. "Logan, it's my ribs, they're…"

The hand was back over his mouth, muffling him. He risked a look into the man's eyes and they were yellow now, not the warm gold of Beast's eyes, but a chilly, primordial yellow. Scott dropped his gaze at once. Wolverine bent low over him and licked his face again and it was nothing like a human interaction, entirely like being examined by a large, dangerous predator. Scott found himself barely able to breathe. The hand was removed from his mouth and Wolverine's tongue lapped at his lips. Scott was too shocked to know what that meant, and then the tongue lapped again, more insistently and Wolverine reached up and pushed Scott's lower jaw down instructively. Scott belatedly opened his mouth, still shocked, jolting as the lapping tongue pushed its way in, licking up the remnants of Sabretooth's blood. It was nothing like a kiss; nothing at all like the way Logan's mouth had felt when Scott had pressed his lips to it earlier and breathed air into his lungs. Scott suffered it to happen, not feeling there was any choice, dazed with the drugs, the pain in his ribs, and the turn of events. He was so far out of his depth that he didn't know what to do. He was the guy who always had a plan and right now his mind was…empty.

Wolverine tongued inside his mouth and then, apparently satisfied that Sabretooth's taste had been removed, turned his attention back to Scott's bruised ribs. He licked them and Scott cringed, trying to keep still as he was obviously supposed to, and silent, as he was obviously supposed to, yet not entirely able to suppress all flinches or small sounds of pain.

Oddly, the pain began to ease. He realized that his cheekbone had stopped throbbing as well. The ache in his ribs had been a relentless pulse for hours and now, as that warm tongue licked over and over the worst-hurt places, the ache was fading. It made no sense until he remembered Logan's healing factor. He wondered if, in this primal, most basic state, no higher brain functions demanding his body's attentions, if Wolverine's healing factor was cranked up to its purest essence as well – so powerful that it was in his saliva and transferable to Scott's hurts.

Wolverine pulled him up by the arms and turned him around, handling him as if he were a child weight, examining him for more damage. He dealt with the bite wound first – and it was incredible how quickly it stopped throbbing – but everywhere he found an injury, he licked it, rolling Scott over impatiently with heavy hands to gain access to cuts and bruises so they could be smothered in saliva.

Scott felt dizzy, the drug had sapped most of his strength, and although Logan's magic tongue was fixing up every cut and even his aching ribs seemed, bizarrely, to be healing, it had left him even weaker. It was having an effect, too, an insidious destruction of his sense of self, to be forbidden speech, forbidden protest, forbidden action that was not controlled by Wolverine. So far, the man's actions – if he even still was a man – towards him had been relatively benign, but he suspected he could lose his temper at the slightest provocation. If those claws came out, Scott doubted he would survive the first flashpoint.

He became aware of Wolverine going outside to scoop up some snow. He put it in a saucepan and put the saucepan on the pot-bellied stove; a few minutes and, as Scott watched, warily, the contents of the saucepan were poured into a bowl. That showed there was reason at work, and some dexterity. Wolverine crouched down next to Scott and held the bowl to his lips. A part of him recoiled from the thought of drinking dirty snow which had been melted but not boiled, but, at an impatient growl from Wolverine and a press of the bowl to his lips, he opened his mouth and did his best to swallow without choking as Wolverine helped him to drink. He managed to gulp down enough to satisfy Wolverine who gave a nod of satisfaction before finishing off the rest himself with smacking gulps, xanthous gaze resting on Scott in a way that made him acutely uneasy. It was so unflinchingly…focused on him. It made him feel self-conscious and very under-dressed.

Scott said cautiously, "Logan, can you untie me?"

No growl this time and his expression was intent.

"My arms are stiff. My wrists hurt. Please…?"

Wolverine's shadow fell over him and Scott flinched instinctively. He was reminded again that this wasn't Logan. Not that decent guy who cared about the fate of schoolchildren and who would put his own body between the defenseless and any harm. This was someone primal, basic, and driven by needs Scott didn't yet understand. A hand closed in his hair and gave it a tug, clearly demonstrating that Scott should now get up.

Painfully aware of his lashed wrists and that he was only wearing briefs, Scott tried to get to his feet as requested. On any other day he could have done it easily, muscles leaping to obey him, but the injection Sabretooth had given seemed to have turned his legs to jelly, and he couldn't get purchase. When Wolverine loomed over him, he felt a panic-stricken flashback to his childhood, hours of being ordered over and over to do something he couldn't and then punished when he didn't comply.

He said, "I'm trying…!"

Wolverine's heavy hand tightened in his hair and he was dragged up until he was standing, wincing, on his feet. Wolverine tugged him after him, not caring that Scott, being tall, had to hunch over not to get his hair pulled put by the roots. Scott limped stiffly after his captor, muscles aching, hating this; being bound, being obedient, being scared; but not seeing any smart option right now that didn't involve compliance. His heart lurched when he realized that Logan was leading him into the bedroom, its checkered quilt adding an incongruous note of domesticity to this dreamscape scene.

He flashed a questioning look at him. "Logan…?"

The impatient growl reminded him that him talking was annoying. He got, too, that Wolverine not only found Scott's words redundant but considered that Scott should have no need of them either. Wolverine was showing him what needed to be done with clear and unequivocal gestures. Scott wasn't stupid. Scott should be able to follow the orders given to him.

Scott said carefully, "I don't have your sense of smell. I can't tell what you want from your scent. You have to be patient, Logan."

As the man shoved him down on the bed, Scott cast a wary glance at his expression and found him completely unreadable. It would have been less disconcerting if he had truly been unknown to Scott, but he looked liked Logan, at least on the surface, there were just none of the gestures Logan made, none of the expressions that usually flickered across his face. Scott didn't know why Wolverine's silent animal presence was shredding his nerves so effectively, but it was. He had never, not even for an instant, been scared of Logan, but Logan could not have done to Sabretooth what Wolverine had done. This version of Wolverine had a hair-trigger temper and unparalleled strength. What this version of Wolverine was, what he was to such an extent that it kept wrong-footing Scott and making him flinch, was a complete and utter stranger. Scott could no more predict his behavior than he could a grizzly encountered in the woods. He was a strong, dangerous animal who apparently had a firm idea about where Scott fitted into his scheme of things and about which role Scott himself had, as yet, no clue. He felt as if he'd been ordered to give a piano recital in Carnegie Hall without anyone having taken the trouble to give him any piano lessons first.

He lay where Wolverine had put him, on his – painful – side, on the edge of the creaking, dusty bed, smelling the damp in the air and the smoke from the woodstove, wondering if Sabretooth was still alive and if even his healing abilities could survive the temperatures outside coupled with that horrific blood loss. When the claws came out, he heard it and flinched in readiness, and then the terrible pressure on his arms was lifted and for a second it was glorious and then it hurt agonizingly as his locked muscles tried to move and he cried out.

The bed creaked and dipped alarmingly – he had never realized how heavy an adamantium skeleton was – before Wolverine was on the bed beside him, rubbing his arms roughly. Rubbing became stroking, as Wolverine examined him with close attention, fingers curious. It was a huge relief when Wolverine's tongue flickered over the burns on Scott's wrists and the cuts the bonds had left. The pain of them halved within seconds. As that hot tongue flicked back across the tender bite on his shoulder, Scott automatically pulled away and Wolverine jerked him back impatiently, snarling a savage warning, a brawny arm encircling Scott's waist and roughly tugging him against Wolverine's steely bulk for closer inspection.

Warm saliva left trails across his shoulder, taking away the last of the pain from that bite wound, then the tongue explored the back of his neck, then down his spine. Scott found that he was trembling faintly. He had not realized how much he depended on speech for communication: Henry and Xavier were both loquacious men, Bobby had always been witty and talkative, Storm didn't waste words, but she never said anything that wasn't worth listening to, while Jean's voice was never far from his mind. Even Logan did usually communicate in something more than grunts. Scott kept seeing the way Logan had looked at him in the mansion, that contempt because Scott was clearly just a dumb kid who didn't know squat and whose girlfriend had to be there for the taking as soon as a real man came along. As Wolverine kept licking his back and stroking him curiously, rough fingers exploring his skin as if he was something inanimate, he felt just as out of his depth as Logan had imagined him to be; all his hard-won wisdom scattered because he had no idea how to deal with this situation.

Wolverine's hand tightened on his shoulder and Scott was abruptly pushed face down onto the bed, Wolverine moving on top of him to sniff him and then lick him, his tongue leaving those superheated stripes on his skin that then chilled wetly in the damp air. Scott stayed still and hoped this was just a case of Wolverine thoroughly identifying his scent, but the painful pounding of his heart feared otherwise, and he realized, as he listened to his own hitched, scared breath-sounds that he was very close to panic. Wolverine licked down and down, and then he was tugging Scott's white briefs off his hips, ripping them open and tearing them off and Scott froze. Cold air lapped across his suddenly exposed ass and he made a strangled whining protest in the back of his throat that sounded no more human than Wolverine's guttural snarls.

He felt thumbs on his ass cheeks, hot breath on the base of his spine, Wolverine's tongue dabbed out and he jolted in horror, frozen, telling himself that this was just part of the scent-mapping, just an animal need to explore every part of his body before Wolverine lost interest, that it was important that he didn't panic. Then the tongue delved deeper and he panicked.

Scott threw himself off the bed and scrambled blindly across the floor, his legs too weak to really support him while he made vain attempts to stand up and they went out from under him. A roar of fury was his only warning before Wolverine smashed into him, incredibly hard, flattening him to the dirty floor, claws springing out. Sheer instinct kicked in and he curled low, ducking his head, braced for the killing blow. Wolverine snarled again, in frustration this time, and Scott stayed curled up, heart racing, remembering some study by Konrad Lorenz about wolves being incapable of hurting a submitting foe, however angry the victor was, something in the lupine brain wouldn't let them kill another wolf who made a display of submission, however much they wanted to. He kept his head bowed and stayed absolutely still while Wolverine roared and snarled above him but the metal claws did not actually plunge into his body.

There were ugly crashing sounds as Wolverine slammed around the room, knocking the mirror off the wall, smashing the chest of drawers, and then came back to where Scott was still keeping his head down. There was a low growl in his ear and then some ill-tempered sniffs. For once Scott didn't care if he stank of fear. He suspected that if he tried to speak, Wolverine would hit him, possibly hard enough to take his head off, but his scent had to tell at least some of the story. Wolverine had scared him. Scared things panicked.

Scott exhaled cautiously as Wolverine made grumbling chesty sounds and then grabbed Scott by the hair and tugged him back towards the bed. He went because it was too painful not to, and also because he didn't want to die. Now the first mind-frozen panic had ebbed and he was left dealing with ordinary fear, and, no, he didn't want to get ripped to pieces by Wolverine while he was a feral beast in a berserker fury. That was the thought he needed to hang onto. He couldn't fight him and he couldn't flee from him. He could submit or he could die. As Wolverine shoved him back onto the bed, Scott kept his head down.

He whispered, "Logan, please…?" He wasn't even sure what he was pleading for – the man to come back from wherever he was, for him to not go through with this, or to at least not hurt him too badly doing it. Of those three options, Scott suspected that only the third was remotely possible.

Wolverine petted him roughly, meaty hands heavy on his head, in his hair, then on his shoulder. It was a clear 'Pipe down' message, followed up with Wolverine licking him in what seemed to be gruff forgiveness for his foolish attempt at escape. He pushed Scott up onto his hands and knees and ran a rough hand down his chest and belly a few times in what was perhaps meant to be a steadying caress. His left hand twisted in Scott's hair, anticipating another panic and making sure that this time Scott had to stay put. There was definitely still some reason at work.

He was licked and stroked quite kindly; Wolverine's actions were not unlike the actions of a large, fierce, but not hostile dog, they were just, terrifyingly – from Scott's perspective – so evidently the actions of a large, fierce, but not hostile dog preparing a mate for imminent sex. He flinched as Wolverine moved down his spine, licking and mouthing, while the fingers in his hair tightened as Wolverine licked closer and closer to his opening. Scott offered a stifled whimper of protest as Wolverine's tongue dabbed and then delved, but the hand in his hair tugged him back when he would have flinched forward. He whined when Wolverine licked him with focused concentration, and squirmed away, but he was held in place and the back of his thigh slapped hard enough to sting.

"Please don't do this, Logan. Please…" His voice was the softest of whispers and did not win him any retaliation, but nor did it win him any chance of a reprieve, only a soothing stroke of the belly again, Logan rubbing his fingers backwards and forwards across Scott's hollow, food-starved abdomen in quite a gentle caress.

He tried to steady his breathing, and, oddly, those belly rubs helped, a few more kindly strokes and he found the panic lessening. He was too weak to fight and so he needed to think. Stroke…stroke…Wolverine's hands were warm and strong and soothing. No one had ever stroked Scott like that before, like he was a wayward puppy who needed to get over his fear of traffic. As the moment lengthened and Wolverine pressed over him, his scent wrapping itself around Scott, and those fingers still stroking him, he began to feel small and…safe. He suspected there were some pheromones at work telling him that Wolverine was the dominant male and he should just submit to him. His brain was telling him that as well, and his instincts, but this actual need to give in, that felt less rational and less instinctive and more…chemical.

The panic ebbed away and his brain came back to him, firing on at least some of its major cylinders. As Wolverine's tongue lapped into him with increasing excitement, accompanied by hot breath and eager pants, he fought down the flinch and tried to relax; tried to unclench everything in his body that was currently scared and resistant and force it into compliance.

In his current crappy condition, Scott couldn't physically stop Wolverine doing anything he wanted to, and Wolverine, in full-on alpha male primal pack leader mode, evidently wasn't going to listen to mewling little pleas for mercy from someone who was a long way down the power totem pole. All Scott protesting was going to achieve at this point was pissing Wolverine off. That warm tongue lapping into him, making him squirm, that was a good thing, that was Wolverine making him ready for penetration in as merciful a way as possible. If this was the only lubrication he was going to get before he got mounted by someone barely human then he needed as much of it as possible. Logan was going to come back at some point; Scott had no doubt about that. The guy had repressed the part of his brain that Sabretooth was trying to screw with, and he had done it to save Scott. It must have been a terrifying decision for someone like Logan to make; a guy already cut off from the larger part of his life memories, to willingly plunge himself into the darkness; and Scott owed him for that. If Scott stopped being mindlessly reactive and panicked, then perhaps they could get through this without either of them getting too badly hurt. The best help he could give both of them right now was to try to keep Wolverine sweet so that Scott didn't get gutted and Logan didn't wake up to a whole load of guilt.

The tongue was skillful and it wasn't an unpleasant sensation, if Scott could just get over years of hetero-normative conditioning, it was, if anything, more pleasant than not. He wasn't used to being touched…there and it had been shocking at first, but if he just switched some of his brain off, too, then being tongued between his legs and in his rear was perfectly acceptable. He made small pleased sounds, hoping that Wolverine would like that and was rewarded with an encouraging belly tickle that smoothed down to a warm hand around his cock. He jumped and then said, a little shakily, "That's – that's nice, Logan."

Wolverine leaned up to nuzzle the back of his neck approvingly and Scott tried to stay calm and responsive, the way they both needed him to be to get through this without bloodshed. He wasn't sure how much Wolverine could understand, still, but he whispered a confession just for his ears: "I've never done this before, not…not that I remember…." He heard Wolverine's breath catch and then turn hot and ragged against his neck.

There was the sound of a belt being unbuckled, jeans being ripped from hips with incredible speed, and something hard and wet jabbed him in the thigh. Scott realized he had said exactly the right thing only if what he wanted to do was make a super-strong feral male creature even more turned on than he already was. He barely had time to think Bad move, Summers…before a hot dripping object was being forced into his ass. He cried out and Wolverine clamped a hand across his mouth. The pain made his eyes water as he was stretched and stretched, and he tried to breathe his way through it, rapid, shallow breaths, anything to ease the ache, but a moan broke past his lips as the pain got worse. Wolverine was licking the back of his neck, perfunctory reassurance and apology combined.

The slow push kept stretching him but he appreciated, even with his eyes watering salt tears and his body wailing at him, that Wolverine could have just rammed himself into him like an animal, that his instincts were probably urging him to do just that, and instead Scott was being given some time to adjust to each relentless inch.

Except even with that small mercy being granted him the guy was still fucking huge…. Scott said breathlessly, "Logan, can you wait just a minute – please? Let me…get used to you. Please…?" He reached back and touched Wolverine tentatively on the side, his fingertips gingerly stroking his ribs. Wolverine licked the back of his neck again and didn't push forward. Scott said, "Thank you." He kept stroking his warm skin, wondering all the time if the guy would just snap his wrist for crossing some line he wasn't aware of, but Wolverine only licked him again and then nuzzled into his hair. Tears came into Scott's eyes and he realized that his emotions were ragged; that the pain and the drugs and the fear, and the shock of what Wolverine had done to Sabretooth right in front of him, and the shock of this…being penetrated like this, had left him more shaken than he'd thought. When Wolverine nuzzled him again with what felt like tenderness and then ran his fingers through Scott's hair, he had to blink another well of tears from his eyes, because he was so pathetically grateful for any kindness.

And when Wolverine pushed on in, Scott braced himself against the bed and teeth-gritted his way through it. It occurred to him as the ache got sharper and his body stretched painfully, that he wouldn't have minded doing this with Logan. He thought Logan would have found a way to lessen the stretching ache, and would have known how to get him through the painful parts so that Scott barely noticed that it hurt. He missed Logan. The man's strong, muscular body was right on top of his, and his scent was everywhere, and his tongue was licking the back of Scott's neck, but this wasn't Logan, Logan would have said his name, he would have asked him if he was okay, if Scott needed him to stop. He realized, in confusion, that he missed Logan so much it was a physical ache far worse than the physical ache of being breached by a feral humanoid's over-sized cock. That was just discomfort. Logan being gone was truly painful.

Scott choked down a curse as Wolverine pushed deeper into him and said, "Logan, if you're in there, if you remember any of this, ever, this isn't your fault and I don't blame you. It doesn't hurt that much and you're being as kind as you can."

And then there was another agonizing push and finally he could feel the hard press of Wolverine's balls against his aching ass. His head dropped and he tried to find a position that hurt less, shifting imperceptibly until – finally! – something that had been taut eased a fraction. Wolverine licked his neck again, and Scott found he was cravenly turning his head towards him, wanting something that felt like human contact. He didn't care if it was just pheromones – when Wolverine rubbed his bristly face against his, he almost whimpered with gratitude. He felt dizzy and sick but his cheekbone wasn't throbbing and his ribs weren't aching, and his ass really, really hurt, but he could feel that the pain was starting to lessen; it wasn't just increasing like it had been before.

Wolverine slid back then pushed in and it still hurt but he guessed Wolverine must be oozing pre-cum because things were sticking less, something easing the passage of that outsized dick into Scott's apparently abnormally inflexible ass. He flinched as Wolverine pushed forward again, faster and with more power, but managed a shaky laugh. "Guess you had a point about me being a tightass, Logan."

And then Wolverine must have considered he'd been eased into it enough because then it was just thrusting, deep and hard and increasingly fast, and it was just something to be endured, the harsh panting and the rapid pounding and his body just taking it and taking it, because there was no other option. He braced himself and tried to stay still and silent, if only for the sake of his own self-esteem – that was already in the toilet after his pathetic yearning for Logan to show up and save him from Wolverine. And the guy was incredibly strong and powerful and had way too much stamina and it went on forever, that relentless breath-stealing pounding, jolting all the air out of his body, fucking all the thoughts out of his head. And then finally – thank every goddess and demi-god since the big bang banged – Wolverine came with hot, splashy gusto and a triumphant roar that shook the roof shingles. It felt burning hot inside him, gallons of the stuff, and Scott's braced back gave way and he crumpled, and Wolverine pulled him over onto his – bad – side, and nuzzled at him quite affectionately while still pulsing into him. Scott could feel come running out of him, hot and wet down his legs even past Wolverine's softening cock, and it was pathetic how grateful he was for the nuzzling, and the stroking, and the sniffing and petting, and even the whole 'There, that wasn't so bad now, was it?' alpha male post-coital preening. Anything was better than being stuck in the dark with a wild animal who might kill him out of nowhere, for nothing. This was at least communication of a kind.

He could feel resignation stealing over him, no, worse than resignation…submission. It was insidious and he tried to fight it but the conviction grew stronger: Wolverine was strong and could protect him; Scott was weak and defenseless. He needed to stay here with Wolverine and let him mate with him and then everything would be fine. It wasn't mind control, he didn't think. It was more like chemical body control that his brain was translating into thoughts. The urge to give in was overwhelming.

When Wolverine put an arm around his waist while he held him still, obviously wanting to go on pulsing into him for as long as possible, Scott turned his head into Wolverine's neck and licked under his jaw submissively, and he told himself that this was just necessary play-acting, being the beta male who wasn't any trouble, but the reality was that he felt exactly like the thing he was pretending to be. He felt a primal compulsion to submit to the stronger beast that had conquered him, and it made no sense at all to any part of his brain, it was all instinct, but he suspected it might be a life-saving instinct and went with it. Later he could worry about trying to find the lost remnants of his self-respect, like a derelict searching for dropped change on the subway, for now, he needed to survive and his instincts knew how. He was going to listen to his instincts.

Wolverine licked his earlobe and Scott tentatively stroked the hair on the strong arm that was now wrapped around his abdomen, he snuggled in against Wolverine like he was a subdued mate, and lay uncomplainingly on the hot damp patch when Wolverine's limp cock finally slipped out of him, equally grateful for the easing of that stretching ache and the warmth of that body against his back. When Wolverine twisted down to lick between Scott's legs, Scott opened them so he could have better access, and when Wolverine pushed him over onto his back – still on the fast-cooling damp patch which was very wet indeed – so he could lick deeper, he lay where he was put and let his thighs fall open further so Wolverine's tongue could get as far inside him as possible. He felt exhausted and light-headed and very like someone who had been on a carousel for too long but he needed the healing factor and Wolverine's saliva made everything better. It was soothing him now, taking away the soreness, and if Wolverine's obsession with his ass was unnerving, this was a lot better than being fucked again.

He lay there, limply supine, while Wolverine explored him to his heart's content, and then obligingly wriggled back against him when Wolverine moved behind him and licked his neck again and threw a heavy arm around his waist to gather him in. If Wolverine wanted to snuggle then Scott was all for snuggling. He liked that a lot better than being tossed out into the snow now his novelty had worn off or being gutted by adamantium claws for being a bad lay. He was all for being the most obedient, least troublesome temporarily-beta male on the planet if it would just get him and Logan through this with the least amount of bloodshed. His self-respect was dead in the water anyway. Male pride was of no use to him whatsoever, and, yes, it was seriously wounded right now, but that was just tough. This was life and death and his and Logan's mental health on the line, so until Wolverine switched off and Logan came back again, Scott was going to suck it up, and he was going to take it like a man.

 

A lifetime ago – Wednesday – Storm had told him to do just that, because Storm had beaten him at cards and stolen – as he told her – all his lunch money. They were playing for loose change because that was all they'd had when they'd been children in the mansion, nickels and dimes and the occasional brazen quarter. Scott was good at card counting and strategizing and Hank was good at the statistical probabilities of what was left in the deck, and Jean had the best poker face, and Bobby the shortest attention span – next to Warren, obviously – but Storm was just damned good at cards. So, she had usually won, and, annoyingly, she usually still did. She had on Wednesday and Scott had faux-sulked and claimed to be bankrupt. And Logan, chomping on his unlit cigar, had said what was with their attitude anyway? Didn't any of them take the game seriously? Clearly annoyed that they just messed around the whole time and still acted like they were kids. And Storm had majestically told Scott to stop whining and take it like a man.

Jean had looked across at the other woman and said, "I always think of 'taking it like a man' meaning sulking, stomping, and throwing things, like a toddler having a temper tantrum. I can't imagine why."

Storm had said in her rich, deep voice, "It is a complete mystery to me also, Jean."

But Logan had looked Scott up and down, the way he did sometimes, like Scott was someone he'd just met on a street corner who put out for a hot meal, and said, "Well, that ain't exactly what comes to my mind when I hear that particular phrase. How about it, Scott? You any good at taking it like a man?"

Logan's voice seemed even lower and more intense than usual and it had sent a prickling heat up his spine, but Scott had been pleased with the way he'd outwardly kept his cool as he counted his five nickels into Storm's hand and said primly, "So glad we can always rely on you to lower the tone, Logan."

And Logan had probably been about to say something provocative when he noticed what Scott was doing and forgot to be a dick, saying in disbelief, "Seriously? All that fuss over twenty-five cents?"

"That's a whole quarter," Jean told him. "That was a lot of money in our world."

Hank said, "Do you remember how hard Scott sulked that time he lost his whole month's allowance?"

Jean dealt the cards with casual efficiency and no use of her hands, using those to refill her glass and Storm's with rich, red wine. "I still maintain he did it on purpose to get out of coming to the rink with us."

Scott said, "Well, I still maintain that Bobby dealt from the bottom of the pack just so I'd lose because he was embarrassed to be seen out with me in public."

Bobby said kindly, "Only on an ice rink, Scott. Or on any occasion when you've been permitted to dress yourself."

Logan looked over at Scott's clothing and frowned. "The way he dresses looks all right to me."

Scott was conscious again of a strange heat to his skin, an odd clenching in his gut, a strangely breathless excitement like something dangerous was about to happen. He looked up behind his visor and found Logan was looking right at him, intent in ruby red, like he could see into Scott's eyes and his thoughts and his soul and wanted Scott to know that what he had been thinking about when he said that – and was still thinking about now – was what it would be like to take Scott's clothes off, slowly, piece by piece; and that he knew how Scott looked naked and really liked the view.

Bobby explained to Logan that everything Scott was wearing had been chosen for him by Jean; that Scott functioned best, clothing-wise, as a store mannequin who just stood there quietly and let other people pick out his clothes.

"Otherwise it's plaid and checks and your grandad's sweaters."

Hank said, "The boy grew up in an orphanage run by a madman, an orphanage, moreover, located in Nebraska – where haute couture is just something that happens to other people."

Jean said, "Henry, have you been tête-à-tête-ing with Emma Frost again? You sound as if you're channeling her."

"It's possible that she may have rubbed off on me."

Logan chomped on his cigar and said, "But I bet I'd get all kinds of grief if I said I'd kinda like to do that on Scott."

Everyone had made noises of disgust and Storm had threatened to empty her wine glass over his head and Bobby had thrown some ice cubes at him and only Scott had swallowed hard and found Logan was looking his way again, provocative and yet…serious, too. Like this wasn't just harassment for the fun of watching the Boy Scout squirm. Like underneath all the pigtail pulling there was a genuine invitation on the table if Scott only had the courage to pick it up. Except, of course it was just harassment. Logan had made it clear that he really liked Jean. All this sexual innuendo he had started throwing Scott's way was almost certainly just a way of testing Scott's boundaries, of either making him mad or luring him into revealing himself as not straight enough for Jean. Scott wasn't going to blink first, even if it was behind a visor. If Logan wanted to pretend he wanted to have sex with Scott he could do it all damned day. All he was going to get for his trouble was Scott being amused and indifferent because Scott had a girlfriend, whom he loved and who loved him, even if Logan thought that Scott was a dumb kid who didn't deserve her; that didn't mean that Logan got to click his alpha male fingers and puppy Scott would come running.

Except sometimes in bed at night, he wondered what it would be like with Logan, if the man would be brutish and rough with him, or if he would be gentle and loving and would kiss him when they were done –

Scott realized that was what had been hurting the most, all this time. Not the pain. Not the fear. Not the stress of being locked up in a cabin in the middle of nowhere with a feral wildman who wanted to fuck him and might want to kill him when he was finished with him. No, it was because he had never found out how it would have been with Logan, and now he almost certainly never would.

 

It was the worst possible way to discover that somehow, unbeknown to his clueless self, Scott had fallen half in love with Logan. Apparently, when the guy was around, being annoying, teasing him and jeering at him, and flirting with Jean, and generally being a dick, it had been easy to tell himself that his constant awareness of the other guy was entirely down to hostility. Logan was sticking around, after all. He was sticking around because of Jean and maybe because of Xavier's cause, and sometimes there were those sudden heated glances that made Scott feel oddly breathless, but were meaningless, a faux flirtation much better ignored before Scott let himself…hope. So, there was no need to exert himself to be one of the voices saying 'Stay'. The guy was going to stay whatever Scott did. Why should Scott give him the advantage of knowing that even though he made Scott's life untidy and difficult, Scott still didn't want him to leave? Knowledge was power and Scott had been powerless for too many years to give away an advantage for no good reason.

Except it turned out he hadn't lied to Logan any more than he'd been lying to himself. He was now curled up, ass-sore and aching, in a bed warmed by the heat of Logan's body. Asleep, the guy even looked like Logan, although the growling and snuffling in the depths of sleep didn't sound strictly human. There was a possessive arm encircling Scott, muscular, strong, lightly furred, fingers unexpectedly elegant, the lethal claws retracted and invisible. It resisted every movement Scott made, pulling him back every time he shifted, even as Wolverine slept, keeping Scott's back clamped against his chest hair, because Scott wasn't this guy's lover or friend, but his possession. And now, when Logan could hardly have been more absent if he'd been teleported to Timbuktu, now was the time that Scott's brain decided to let him know that the guy that this guy wasn't any more – Scott really liked that guy.

He liked him so much that he was closing his eyes and pretending this was Logan. This warm, strong, muscular body didn't belong to a feral animal who didn't know Scott's name, only that he was pleasurable to fuck, it belonged to the guy who chewed aggressively on his cigars and drank too much beer and wanted everyone to take their gambling seriously, and who sulked when Scott beat him at pool, and who had risked his life to save Rogue, and who hadn't learned to trust their moves yet, so was always fretful in the Danger Room, trying to watch all of them at once, like a parent with a bunch of unruly kids. The feral animal was temporarily in possession, that was all, but Logan would come back and save the day. Absurdly, Scott found himself believing that with the same dogged tenacity that preschoolers believed in Santa Claus: Logan would come back and he would save Scott from Wolverine just like Wolverine had saved Scott from Sabretooth.

And on any other day, Scott would have been trying to find a way to save himself, but whatever it was Sabretooth had shot into his vein had sucked every bit of energy out of his body. He felt blood-drained and strengthless with barely enough energy to stagger to the broken door of the cabin. And if he had managed to totter that distance there was nowhere to go. Even if he fancied pulling a Captain Oates (and he didn't), Wolverine would track him down and punish or kill him for his attempted escape and all Scott would have achieved was to piss away the goodwill he had managed to elicit by submitting tamely to being fucked.

He thought that he and NotLogan were currently on pretty good terms. They had gotten through their rocky introduction and the rules had been mutually agreed: Scott had no rights of any kind. His function was to be fucked whenever and however Wolverine deemed it necessary. He could make noises denoting that he didn't like it as long as they were quiet, muffled sounds, but anything suggesting active protest or opposition was unacceptable. It was not his place to protest. It was his place to submit. It wasn't necessary for language to evolve when a guy could snarl a warning that chilled the soul. Especially when that guy's hair was still spiked with the dried blood of the victim Wolverine had more or less eviscerated right in front of Scott. There was more blood caked across Logan's body, he had transferred some of it to Scott when he pushed into him the first time, smearing drying blood from his chest hair across Scott's claw-scratched back. Scott suspected that was probably a good thing – Scott smelling the same way Wolverine did. Even to Scott's less sensitive nose he already reeked of drying semen. To Wolverine that would be an even stronger bouquet and a lot more satisfying.

Scott eased himself over from his left side – where Wolverine kept putting him – trying to wriggle his way back to his right, wanting to get off his once-cracked ribs onto his undamaged side. It was a comparatively gentle ache now. He felt bruised down that side, but the white heat of earlier had definitely faded, but he would still have preferred to be pain-free. He couldn't deny that Wolverine had a magic tongue in this condition. That was why, although Scott hurt deeper in – although less than he had an hour before – the parts of his ass that Wolverine had been able to lick weren't anything like as sore. Still –

My kingdom for a water-based lubricant, he thought, wincing as he turned by tiny degrees so as not to wake Wolverine up from his restless rabbit-chasing dreams. A week ago he had most definitely peeked, whatever he had told Logan that eternity ago before Sabretooth had captured him, and had felt threatened and impressed and jealous and…excited. His heart had sped up and his mind had gone to a dark, self-scaring place, where he was on his knees and licking and Logan's balls were an unfamiliar weight in his mouth. In his ignorance, he had thought that Logan being hung like a fricking horse was a good thing; now he knew better. When there was no prospect of foreplay or Astroglide, it should be a Westchester bylaw that no man had a dick the width of a beer bottle or longer than his healing factor-carrying tongue.

He finished the careful turn and sighed with relief because there were definitely less bruises on this side. He wanted to burrow into the body that he could pretend was still Logan. He wanted to listen to his heartbeat and imagine they were taking a lazy hour in a winter bedroom, because it was his day to be with Logan. Tomorrow would be his day to be with Jean. Maybe the day after Jean and Logan would do things he wished they wouldn't, and he would hate it and feel bereft, but he would bear it, because this way he got to be with both the people that he loved, and any compromise was worth it. And it hurt to love Jean this much when he couldn't reach her in his mind, however many times he tried, and it hurt to realize that he had tumbled carelessly into something dangerously close to love with Logan when the guy wasn't here and might be lost forever.

Don't think that, Summers, you quitter. He's coming back. Logan is definitely coming back.

He pressed gingerly against Logan's body, glad of his warmth, catching a faint aroma of cigar smoke that hadn't yet been drowned out by blood and sex. He concentrated on it, savored it, tried to draw some strength from it. He tried some positive thinking, imagining his beams back behind his eyes, power flowing to his currently spaghetti-like limbs. It didn't help. Turning from his left side to his right had apparently depleted all the energy that dozing fitfully next to Wolverine had supplied. His fingers traced Logan's chest hair like they couldn't help themselves, curious and…wistful.

Scott whispered, "Logan…? Logan, are you in there…?"

Lashes lifted, green eyes gazed at him and his heart leaped and then Wolverine grabbed his wrists and pinned them over his head as he was slammed down onto his back hard enough to hurt, the old bed creaking a protest. That bearded face was an inch away from his, uttering a low growl, gazing at him intently. Scott tried not to flinch but there wasn't a glimmer of Logan there, and he realized those eyes were more yellow than green, cold as tourmaline, and completely unreadable.

Wolverine sniffed him suspiciously – did he think Scott had been sneaking around on him when they were marooned in the middle of nowhere in the depths of a snowstorm? – and then seemed reassured by the exclusively Wolverineish odors adhering to him. He let go of Scott's wrists and grabbed him by the hips, yanking him towards him. Which was when Scott noticed that Wolverine had woken up ready for action and already dripping with eagerness.

Panicked, Scott said, "Wait! Please – don't – "

Ignoring his buzzing bluebottle protests, Wolverine glanced down to line himself up then shoved his way into Scott, balls deep in a single thrust. Scott choked down a very bad word. There was no time to adapt to that first incursion before Wolverine was slamming into him, the bed creaking wildly as Scott's body was rocked to Wolverine's grunting, wordless rhythm.

If it didn't hurt quite as much as the first time – Scott was still opened up and full of Wolverine come, which apparently made for a better lubricant than saliva and seemed to carry its own healing factor – it was still a body-bruising pounding that quickly left him sore and breathless and fighting panic. The guy was incredibly heavy – that would be the adamantium – and he didn't much care if Scott felt like he was being crushed, and if he wanted to ferociously deep dick Scott to the hilt – which seemed to be his main object in life – he couldn't give less of a rat's ass about how bruised or shaken up Scott got in the process. Scott reached down to hitch up his own balls hastily, afraid of them getting crushed between his helplessly bouncing body and Logan's forward thrusting one, and not too sure that still wasn't going to happen. His own limp cock lay weakly flopping as it was jolted along with the rest of his body by Wolverine's exertions. He caught glimpses of it as his body danced, and it looked like a beached eel in its death throes. He could barely imagine having an erection of his own again. Right now an erection was just something the other guy got to have that really fucking hurt.

The grunting in his ear was a purely animal sound, harshly excited. There was no version of the guy Scott knew whom he could imagine making those sounds in bed. As his body was brutally jolted, Logan's flesh slapping briskly against his, he tried to make eye contact, forge an emotional connection, but Wolverine wasn't even looking his way. Logan didn't even look like Logan like this, his mouth was open, expression completely unengaged with anything except sensation and the occasional suspicious glance around to check that no danger appeared on the horizon. It wasn't just the blood in his hair, dried in his sideburns, and clinging to his beard that made him look like a stranger, it was his eyes. Logan had beautiful eyes that Scott had found himself gazing into more than once. (He'd never been so grateful to live behind a visor since Logan had started looking his way after heated exchanges or ambiguous remarks.) This guy had feral yellow eyes with no warmth behind him. Not only was it impossible to imagine any Logan who would have fucked Scott this hard or this selfishly without once even glancing at his face, it was impossible to imagine any Logan having eyes as cold as this.

"Jesus, Logan…" Scott flinched as Wolverine's fingers bruised his hipbones, yanking Scott in to meet the relentless thrusts that were bouncing his ass off the bed. His answer was Wolverine grabbing a handful of his hair and tugging his head back to make his spine arch more acutely, and an increase in the already frenzied pace of his slamming hips. For a brief, teeth-rattling eternity he thought Wolverine was going to fuck his spine out of alignment and then the animal he now was roared triumphantly – the sound this close was terrifying, like being in a bear pit, and it made the windows rattle – and Scott felt a searingly hot gush deep inside him.

He had never been so grateful to have what felt like a pint of semen pumped into his aching ass. It was lubricating, it was soothing, the way Logan's saliva was – presumably chockfull of healing factor as well as eagerly swimming sperm doomed to disappointment – but best of all it meant that Logan's cock would be too limp to stick into Scott for a while. He whimpered with relief as Logan's cock softened and Wolverine glanced down at him, as if he had forgotten until that moment that a person came attached to the body he'd been fucking. Scott guessed that climaxing released positive feelings in Wolverine about whomever he'd just mated with, because Scott got an approving lick across the cheek. It wasn't exactly a dozen red roses, and was pretty casual, given that, if he'd been possessed of a womb, Wolverine would probably have just impregnated him with half a dozen cubs, but it was at least an acknowledgment that another person had been involved in what they'd just done. It was humiliating how grateful he was even for that.

This time Wolverine pulled out still pulsing, deliberately pumping creamy semen over Scott's belly, before smearing it across his skin. Scott lay still and let Wolverine fingerpaint come all over him. The more he smelled like Logan, the better things would probably go for him. The last thing he wanted was for any lingering Sabretooth odors to resurface and make Wolverine angry.

When he closed his eyes he could choke down the hysteria that was circling dangerously near to his surface and even make grim jokes in his head: You fucker, Logan. I am so going to force beam you in the balls for this when you're you again…. But when he opened his eyes, desperately hoping Logan might magically have come back, he was faced with Logan's densely muscled body and heart-achingly handsome face inhabited by a creature he neither recognized nor understood, and a dangerous animal sniffing him of whom he was, frankly, afraid.

He'd been hurt by plenty of bad guys in the past, but even when they were torturing him there was at least an acknowledgement of his existence; they were usually focused on him, either angrily if they thought Scott was thwarting them or gloatingly if they considered him safely defeated. They weren't neutral about him except as a possible source of pleasure until something better came along. As Wolverine grabbed him by the thighs and tugged him down the bed to be sniffed and then licked, Scott tried to get the crick out of his neck that Wolverine had put there, hastily opening his legs before Wolverine pulled them open and wrenched his hip out of its socket. There was the briefest flicker of pleasure as Logan's tongue touched his penis and balls and then, inevitably, Wolverine's interest strayed lower. The guy had so much careless strength in his current state that Scott could all too easily imagine him snapping one of Scott's bones by accident and still wanting to have sex. He pressed a hand to the back of his neck and turned his head carefully, feeling a 'click' that relieved the pressure.

A second later he was spinning sickeningly before landing face down in Sabretooth's dirty ticking-wrapped pillows, Wolverine having casually flipped him onto his front. He could see the outline of a dozen unsightly stains, an alien world map of them with ill-placed continents. He could feel the stalks of the feathers prickling through to stipple his skin. He thought about Warren's beautiful white wings and felt a sudden rush of sickness at the idea of Sabretooth plucking Angel's feathers out and stuffing them in cotton sacks. He scrabbled to the edge of the bed and dry heaved again, coughing as he couldn't summon up any bile – at least the twinge that caused his ribs was far less painful now. Wolverine yanked him back by the thighs and emitted a dangerous snarl. Scott froze, holding his breath, as Wolverine's body covered his. The bed springs creaked alarmingly as Wolverine's weight pressed down, and Scott gasped for breath as the feeling of being crushed increased. He had been in pain with his ribs for too many hours not to panic at the thought of them being made to bear Wolverine's weight.

"Don't! Please, don't!"

The echo of his own words from all those years ago as Sabretooth pinned him down so gloatingly made him cringe with embarrassment. All that hard-won life experience and was he really still that scared little kid?

Wolverine growled, but shifted his weight off Scott with some bad-tempered grumbles, lying on his side again, an arm around Scott's waist yanking him back against Wolverine's chest with punishing force as if to prove that he was still doing what he wanted just in case anyone had any doubt. Scott gasped with relief at not being crushed beneath a few hundred pounds of adamantium just because Wolverine wanted something warm and soft to lie on and reached back to tentatively touch Wolverine's brawny arm. "Thank you, Logan."

He sounded breathless and scared but Wolverine didn't seem to mind that, a rough hand tangled in his hair briefly in what was probably meant as a caress, before clasping across his chest and holding him against Logan's body. Logan's relaxed dick fitted wetly against the back of Scott's thighs and Scott's heart gradually slowed its rapid pounding to a more relaxed beat. When he inhaled cautiously, everything smelled of musky, satisfied Wolverine. Hot breath teased the back of his neck, ruffling his hair, but once again Scott was aware of a sense of willing defeat stealing over him. Giving into Wolverine felt safe, it felt right. It felt like the only sane and logical course. He decided that he was too tired to worry about the future. This was the point where he always strategized; except today his brain wasn't working like that. His brain was telling him to just breathe in the heady testosterone and obey its signals.

Sniffing cautiously, Scott could detect no scent that was his own. He smelled of Wolverine sweat and Wolverine come and Wolverine blood. He smelled like anyone might expect someone to smell who was not in fact a person in his own right but simply a possession with a pulse. Exhaustion was closing his eyes and his body was aching with weariness; limp and bruised and too hard-pounded within and without to have any strength to offer him. He would have liked some cool bottled water straight from the fridge. He would have liked to urinate into a porcelain bowl with a working flush and somewhere to wash his hands afterwards. That morning, he wouldn't have thought of that as a luxury item. Now, he wondered what passed for a bathroom in this place and if there was any possibility of Wolverine letting him use it or his legs carrying him that far even if Wolverine agreed. He also realized that his need to urinate was nothing like as strong as his thirst and that was nothing like as strong as his need to submit, submit, submit, turn off his brain and go to sleep, preferably for a very long time.

 

Scott woke to darkness and harsh, animal breathing. The air smelled sour – dried sweat and semen mixed with something bear-pit strong and wolf enclosure musky. The cigar smoke scent had been obliterated and he yearned after it wistfully. He needed to piss – that thought insistent enough to overwhelm even his dry throat, the quiet ache inside him, and the background music of fear. He wriggled out from under Wolverine's brawny arm, eased down carefully from the creaking bed, and staggered across the room. He could feel a lancing pain inside with every pace that made him tiptoe unsteadily, aware of his ass in a way he never usually was. (Was it like this for women after sex; were they left over-moist and tender? He wished he could ask Jean. He would have killed for a shower.) Scott limped forward awkwardly ducking a doorway that felt oppressive but was a foot over even his head, towards the thin, blue rectangle of light around the hinge-hanging front door. Barefoot and naked, he realized how cold it was in this place with the woodstove burned so low. He limped over to it and threw a couple of logs in – even that was enough to exhaust him and make the sweat run cold over his skin – pulling out a clinker tray was about as attainable as a quick sprint up Everest. The fire would have to fight the ashy debris of the last log that had died. He staggered back to the door and fought its tattered weight as it swung from its one remaining hinge, then finally his feet were being frost-kissed by snow as he leaned against the wall of the cabin and relieved the pressure in his aching bladder. The hiss of urine into snow was oddly musical.

The snow had stopped falling and there was a biting clarity to the night air, wine rich and skin-chilling. His feet were so cold that he was tempted to piss on them just to warm them up but he hadn't got to that point yet. There was still a Scott Summers who liked things to be neat and clean; Scott felt grimly amused by that young man – the one who always ironed his underwear and asked Jean to check that his collar was tidy. Try getting fucked up the ass by a feral Wolverine a few times, Pal, dryer creases will seem a lot less important…. Scott didn't know why he was jeering at that guy. It wasn't like this scenario had seemed like a logical consequence of paying a check over for the damaged roof of a railway station. Oh, and yes, there that immediate feeling was, the cause and effect you deserve this because you lost control mind whisper.

No, I don't, he snapped back, mentally. Oh, and screw you. Whether Scott should have closed his eyes faster or not, Logan sure as hell didn't deserve to have been effectively banished from his own body, his consciousness locked away somewhere so that Sabretooth couldn't corrupt it while an animal with his face added to his future guilt store.

He finished urinating, shook off the last few drops, and leaned against the door jamb; stealing a wistful glance at a sky full of stars. So many of them, so far away; all the thoughts that everyone had and nothing new to offer. Out of nowhere, as if the distant stars had put it there, Scott thought that if only Logan had been Logan, there would have been an excuse to have sex with him. They were alone in the wilderness with no obvious way of getting home, and there was a bed, and it was so cold, and one thing led to another, Jean. I owed him. He walked through a blizzard for me. I wanted to say 'thank you'.

And you couldn't just buy the guy a nice card and a six pack of beer?

The Jean in his mind sounded pissed. The Jean in his mind had reason to be. That Jean's boyfriend would have spread his legs for Logan, not because he feared for his life, but because he just wanted to take that walk on the wild side and see what it was like.

It hurts, Scott told that version of himself tersely, the one with the stupid schoolboy crush who had been closing off guilty parts of his mind from Jean and sending idiotic yearning looks after Logan when he thought no one was looking. You wouldn't believe how much it hurts.

With your Logan, maybe, but not with mine.

He isn't my Logan. He isn't anyone's Logan. He isn't 'Logan' at all. He isn't Wolverine either. He isn't right. He shouldn't be like this. I'm missing something but I don't know what it is –

The snarl came out of the darkness, yellow eyes blazing rage, a furious roar reverberating. A hand grabbed Scott by the hair before he could turn and hauled him back into the cabin, hurling him down onto the floor.

Half-kneeling on the rag rug, Scott put up a hand to wield off the claws he was sure were coming. "What did I do?"

Wolverine snarled at him again, clearly furious, looming between him and the blue-reflected snow-light, an ominous darkness. He pulled Scott up by the hair and shook him savagely then threw him down again. As Wolverine raised his fist, Scott said desperately, "I don't know what I did, Logan! Tell me what I did wrong?"

It seemed to get through. Logan hit him open handed instead of with a closed fist, although it still had enough strength behind it to flatten him to the ground. As Scott stayed down, jaw singing from that…slap – although that was definitely too soft a word for the strength of that blow – Wolverine, still snarling, strode to the doorway, sniffing the air aggressively. His hand went straight to his dick and then he was pissing where Scott had pissed in a steaming torrent, obliterating Scott's feeble puddle with a viciously hissing stream, before marking his territory in an angry semi-circle around the front door.

Wolverine slammed back in and Scott stayed on his knees and ducked his head. "It was a scent thing?" Scott offered. "You didn't want me leaving my scent outside…?" Of course Wolverine wasn't big on explanations, so he didn't get one, just the guy striding in, still angry, grabbing Scott by the hair, dragging him up, and hauling him, stumbling and trying not to stub his cold, bare toes, back to bed. He didn't know if he was being punished for daring to put his scent out there as if he owned the place, when he was just a lower status male, or if Wolverine thought he'd been whoreishly trying to attract another mate.

Thrown down hard on the bed on his bad side, Scott bit down his yelp, curled up small, and meekly offered no objection. Wolverine snarled at him, jerked him onto his back, slapped him across the face, open-palmed, then grabbed his wrists, pinned them above his head and straddled him angrily, the bed dipping and creaking at the sudden extra weight.

"I don't know what I did," Scott said again, face stinging, heartbeat rapid. "Logan, whatever it was, I'm sorry, but I just really needed to take a leak."

Wolverine let go of Scott's wrists to make an angry sweeping movement that seemed to include all the land beyond the front door. He stabbed a finger at Scott and then flung a careless hand gesture into that south-facing void.

Scott felt a flicker of annoyance warring with the fear. "I'm not a bitch in season. Do you really think some yeti's going to turn up looking to fuck me just because I took a piss in the open air?"

As a furious snarl made his ears ring, pain exploded in his cheekbone courtesy of a brutal backhand – Wolverine had unerringly re-opened the cut and intensified the fading bruise to a vicious, shrieking throb, far worse than it had hurt before. The second backhand made his senses swim. As his cheekbone kept howling a protest and blood poured from his mouth, Scott put up a hand and ducked his head, murmuring hasty and abject apologies. Wolverine angrily slapped his hand aside and Scott cringed from his raised fist. (It was so counterintuitive to cringe from a punch, but this was a world where he had to be afraid of a guy who looked like Logan – there was nothing about that which made sense.) For a loaded moment, Wolverine growled, fist still raised to hammer down on him, and then Scott's submissive body language seemed to take the edge off his temper. Grumbling irritably, he lowered his fist, flipped Scott over onto his front, grabbed his hips and pulled him back to meet his first angry thrust.

Scott gritted his teeth and clenched his fingers in the prickly pillow as his body was pounded with rapid, breath-stealing jolts while his cheekbone throbbed viciously. (And all he could say was that anyone who thought pillow-biting a way to get through this had never had his face this close to a pillow previously owned by Sabretooth.) Wolverine fucked him hard and fast, harsh animal grunts ringing out for all the empty snowfields to hear. (Scott imagined the sound carried on the night air, winging its way to that malevolent space ship, half-buried beneath its shroud of snow, and something in there, eagerly listening, maliciously satisfied.) If Sabretooth was still alive out there, sheltering in one of those derelict outbuildings to which he might just have had enough strength to crawl, Scott hoped that he, at least, was enjoying this – he'd got the brother he wanted all along. That still didn't make this guy Logan. Scott was going to keep calling him by that name to try to reach the real person who had to be in there somewhere, but this wasn't Logan. (He choked down a grunt of pain of his own, still stubborn enough not to want anyone to know how much this hurt.) There was no version of Logan who would do this to him against his will. He didn't know where Logan was right now, but he wasn't here.

As the jolting intensified, Wolverine building towards his climax, Scott remembered that Logan had been late. Sabretooth had expected him hours earlier. You bastard, Logan – slow down! So, why had he been late? Had he taken a detour to the ship he would have seen in Sabretooth's mind when Scott had run that way? Logan might have wanted to see if it could be flown; if it was the cause of the shielding in the area. If there was a way to switch off the signal so Xavier and Jean could get through. That would explain the delay. Screw you, Logan! If I end up with compressed disks you can pay for my chiropractor! It would also explain why the guy who had shown up here hadn't been any version of Logan that Scott would have expected. The berserker fury, he could go with. God, Logan, not so hard! A Logan who walked through the door in such a red haze of blood lust that he gutted everything in front of him, including Scott? That Scott could believe in. The guy had serious anger management issues even on a good day. But he would have expected Basic Version Wolverine to be more like…a large, powerful animal who nevertheless still fought the strong and protected the weak. It hurt. Damn, it really hurt, too deep, too fast, and way too hard. Please, just come…just come…. Animal Logan might have wanted to have sex with Scott, but Scott would have expected him to approach it with a lot more licking and nuzzling and…tenderness even if he had been left temporarily bereft of speech. Not to just climb on board and take what he liked. Oh thank god…!

There was the heated gush inside him, the merciful softening, and then the billowing cloud of pheromones. Scott knew he ought to resist them, but they were like a warm embrace. Wolverine slipped out and then flipped Scott over onto his back again, yellow gaze fixed on him unwaveringly. The comforting pheromones said: Give in. Submit. Open your legs. Scott opened his legs so that Wolverine could lick him and it felt good, when he did that. It felt good to obey that tacit command. It felt good to have the soreness licked away. He was choking on testosterone. He could practically taste it on his tongue. He wanted to do whatever Wolverine told him to do, because Wolverine had just demonstrated that he was the strongest and Scott should submit to him. It felt right to submit to him. He found that he was yearning for him to forgive Scott for being disobedient. Needy whimpers broke from his lips as Wolverine licked him deeper.

When Wolverine glanced up there was satisfaction in his gleaming yellow eyes, he reached down with his right hand and began to palm his soft shaft as he kept licking Scott's inner thighs, and his balls, one lazy tongue-flicker along his cock, and then determined lapping at his semen splashed belly – it tickled, Scott squirmed and Wolverine licked him again, playfully, and for a brief, beautiful moment, there was a connection between them, there was communication, and it made Scott yearn achingly for more. He uttered soft, wistful things, craving the real Logan so desperately that the tears stung his eyes, but then the pheromones billowed over him again, binding him to this alpha male instead, reminding him to submit. He obediently straddled his legs as Wolverine's healing tongue moved back down to his slicked, open ass. For a moment, it was blissful; deep licks delving into him, skillful and soothing. When the tongue was withdrawn, he whimpered after it. Then cried out, shocked, as that outsized cock was shoved back into him again – How could he be hard again already? He was still so sore. It hurt. He didn't like it. And then –

Another cloud of pheromones billowed over him, pinning him down, making him relax, and Wolverine was being gentler than usual. He eased in shallowly, like this one was just for fun, and hitched Scott's legs up over his shoulders so he could gaze intently into Scott's eyes as he pushed into him with slow, lazy strokes, not making Scott take the whole length this time. The pain felt a long way off, irrelevant, even the relentless throbbing of his cheekbone was lessened. What mattered was that those yellow eyes were looking into his and submitting was the right thing to do. He shouldn't be thinking. He should just be obeying Wolverine. Wolverine was stronger. Wolverine was faster. Wolverine was in charge.

This body-jolting was something he just needed to adapt to. He made himself respond to the rhythm Wolverine set. Everything hurt less. Everything would keep hurting less as long as he was good and did what he was told and remembered that Wolverine should be obeyed unquestioningly. It felt like peace. It almost felt like love. Scott relaxed into it and Wolverine's yellow eyes gazed unblinkingly into his and, only then, as Scott yearned towards him, wanting to be obedient, wanting to be good, did Wolverine soothe the pain away from his cracked cheekbone with tender, forgiving licks.

***

After hours of close-quarters observation all Scott could really say for certain about what Wolverine was now was that he had an incredibly strong sex drive. He kept waking Scott up from uneasy, feverish dozes to make that abundantly clear. He liked to fuck vigorously and often and without conversation. Scott found that just going with it worked best. It hurt the least and earned him the most personal interaction. Sometimes his reward would be eye contact or something like a caress; if he was really good there was nuzzling and gentle licks. So, he let Wolverine do whatever he liked. He wanted Scott on his knees on the bed? He got him on his knees on the bed. On his back on the bed? Fine. Kneeling on the floor – also fine. On the rug? Bent over the filthy couch? He could do that. (Kneeling on the couch was the worst – it had broken springs which left him with bleeding knees.) He was light-headed with exhaustion and the drugs still in his system and lack of food and sleep, but he was damned obedient. And Wolverine was pleased with him. There were no more slaps and a lot less growls. He petted Scott and nuzzled him and stroked him and licked him and gave him bowls of tepid melted snow to drink, and Scott ruthlessly suppressed any part of his brain that didn't like the idea of him being a mindless sex toy, and told his body to relax and take it, to stretch until it didn't think it could stretch any more, to take the bruising weight, and the terrifying strength, the relentless pounding power, and to drink the dirty snow slush, because it needed the liquid. The limb-leadening exhaustion helped. The insidious submission-inducing pheromones helped. He was too drug-weakened and starved and worn out to be anything except waxy clay in Wolverine's hands, so submitting was easier anyway. He just had to switch off his brain and pretend that none of this was happening to him.

The hours bled into each other, the snow fell relentlessly, the stove kept the one room hot enough but elsewhere the only warmth was Wolverine. Scott curled up against him whenever he wasn't actively being jolted through another bout of sex. He laid his head on his furry chest and tentatively touched the hair on his belly, and tried to imagine this was Logan. It was the same body, after all, and he clung to that pathetically; this was Logan in a moment of silence before they had a conversation. (The silence was terrible, the silence was killing him. The lack of words was making his brain hurt. He needed Logan to say his name and Logan was AWOL and Wolverine probably didn't even know it. If Wolverine had a name for him it was probably Fuck-Thing or Hole-Boy or perhaps just Slave.) Unfortunately, the pretending-this-guy-was-Logan thing didn't work very well because Logan had his faults but there was no way Scott could convince himself that any version of Logan where the lights were on and someone really was home would paw him around like he was property, fuck him this brutally or this often, or drag him casually by the hair because suddenly he was hard again and he'd thought of a new position.

He kept closing his eyes and whispering Logan's name like the guy was an urban legend and could be summoned by calling. It didn't help. And in the meantime, he drank the dirty snow, and submitted to the rough, hairy sex, and drowsed in between, and wondered how long it would take, in this twilight world they were now inhabiting, for him to forget that he had ever been Scott Summers, leader of the X-Men, guy with force beams and strategies and a girlfriend called Jean and a sort of friend called Logan, and wasn't just some passive and strengthless thing with no powers and a climbing temperature that lived to get fucked. But the hours slipped by and nothing changed except that Logan must have gone out and killed something because he came in with it, furry and broken, in his hands, and tore off a piece and pushed it at Scott's mouth, raw and bloody.

"Please, Logan, don't make me eat that," he said.

Wolverine pushed it at him again like he thought Scott was too stupid to grasp that it was food.

Scott said, "I'm not hungry, Logan. You have it. You're the one who has to keep up his strength."

Something in his words must have got through because Wolverine shrugged and took the bloody meat away and ate it with relish. Scott knew he should have eaten it, because he was starving. It had been days since he'd eaten and he was getting weaker and weaker, and food might have offset the damned drug in his system and given him back his powers, but he couldn't. He couldn't swallow the uncooked flesh of something that Wolverine had neck-snapped, and if he attempted it he would just end up vomiting and probably pissing Wolverine off.

There was more sex, and it hurt, because he was scraped and sore and bruised, the thin skin inside him having been subjected to way too much friction, and the licking and the healing semen wasn't fixing everything. There was sex and then there was sleeping, and then there was more sex. He felt cold and hot and even the dim snow-light was hurting his eyes. His mouth was dry even after he obediently sipped the dirty snow water and his stomach was one bruising ache. His joints hurt and his skin hurt and being touched was misery. He had no idea how long they had been doing this. He drifted off and woke up to find Wolverine was having sex with him again. He endured it, waiting for it to be over, but halfway through Wolverine started sniffing him, the rhythm of his thrusts faltered, and then he pulled out – it felt so good when the thrusting stopped that Scott couldn't suppress a gasp of relief, but then he felt a jolt of panic because Wolverine never stopped midway, he always kept going until he came. Had Scott's novelty just worn off? Was he going to get tossed? He wasn't going to last an hour outside.

Wolverine was sniffing him intently. He gave a low whine that didn't sound angry, and fingers carded at Scott's hair. And apparently Scott, at instinctive level, was a pathetic mewling little worm, because Scott immediately leaned into that hand and wanted it to stroke his face while something in him yearned desperately for Logan to say his name. Wolverine stroked his face and Scott rubbed his cheekbone against his fingers and twisted round and curled into the man's naked body – the same naked body that he was afraid of and which kept hurting him because apparently Scott was just that stupid. He could hear the beat of Wolverine's heart and it was slow and steady and it could just as well have been Logan's heart that was that comforting metronome.

Scott heard his hoarse voice, and it didn't even sound like him, it sounded like some sick, feverish, whispering thing: "Logan, please come back. Logan, please…?"

Wolverine pulled away from him and Scott slumped on the bed, not even caring if there was going to be more sex because everything was already hurting so much anyway. Wolverine got off the bed – the bed tossed like an angry sea when he did that, giving Scott a creaking, mattress-spring rise and fall into the sagging center – and began to pace. Scott watched him from under half-closed lids, and Wolverine was blurry but he seemed…distressed. He paced up and down and clutched at his head and then began to beat his head against the walls, roaring with increasing discomfort and Scott's instincts told him to stay the hell away from him and his body was so weak that movement was almost impossible anyway. Wolverine's claws came out and he began to slash at the walls and the shelves and the table, until everything was spilled flour and crumpled cans and broken furniture and Scott watched from the bed as Wolverine snarled and rampaged back and forth across the doorway and wondered, dispassionately, if he was going to be dead in a few minutes. The thought of not being fucked every few hours while he wanted to vomit and his fever climbed higher and his headache pounded and everything, inside and out, hurt relentlessly, was really quite enticing. It seemed a nice, quiet, painless option.

And then Wolverine fell to his knees right in the doorway, clutching his head, and his claws slipped back in and he looked up like he had no idea where he was, and their eyes met. Logan's clear green eyes widened in shock and he said, "Scott…?" And then he slumped, unconscious on the floor.

Scott fell off the bed in his haste then scrambled across the floor towards him. "Logan? Logan, are you back? Logan?" Now he sounded desperate and crazed, voice cracking with it. He fell on his knees next to Logan and tried to turn him over, but, of course, the guy was half adamantium and weighed three hundred pounds. And, on another day, Scott could have moved him – Scott had moved him, and it had hurt like hell, but he'd done it, peeled him off that truck and got him to a safe distance before it blew. So, he could do this. He was doing this.

It was agonizingly slow and probably impossible in his current condition, but he managed to drag him a few feet into the bedroom. He looked up at the bed and realized he would never be able to get him up there, but he grabbed one of the dirty lumpy pillows and put it under Logan's head and felt his forehead – it was burning up – and listened to his breathing – it sounded shallow and rapid – and felt for his pulse – it was racing. He pulled the come-spattered blanket off the bed and covered Logan with it and sat down next to him and held his hand against his face and said his name, and for some reason he was rocking as he sat, which helped, that pathetic perpetual movement. It made the pain less and it stopped the hope leaching out. His teeth began to chatter because he was naked and it was cold, but he barely noticed, his fingers clamped across Logan's pulse, willing him to come back sane.

That was when the door was slammed open so hard that the remaining hinge almost buckled and Sabretooth stood in the doorway, alive and blood-spattered and snarling with fury.

***

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOUR: We'll Take A Cup O’ Kindness Yet

Scott staggered to his feet, stepped over Logan and planted himself in the doorway, arms outstretched. He said tautly, "Don't."

Sabretooth strode forward, looking around at the wreckage and then looking at Scott. "Didn't think you'd still be alive."

"Ditto."

Sabretooth took another step forward and grimaced. "Christ, pretty boy – you look like shit." His face turned feral and full of loathing. "Where is he? Because I'm going to pull his head off."

Scott braced himself in the doorway, a human shield between Sabretooth and Logan. "Leave him alone."

Sabretooth put a clawed finger under Scott's jaw and tilted his head up. "Seriously – what he's been doing to you?" His nose wrinkled in disgust. "God, I can smell what he's been doing to you! Is that what he's been up to all this time? The sick fuck." There was mingled revulsion and admiration in his last three words.

Scott swallowed, mouth dry, trying not to sway when he needed to stay upright because he was all there was between an angry Sabretooth and a sick, unconscious Logan. "It's what you wanted, isn't it? For him to become a rapist? Well, he did. Okay? He's been fucking me every which way for whatever eternity it's been since he came back. Logan's every bit as bad as you are, just like you planned. You won. So, just…walk away, Victor." He tightened his grip on the doorframe to stay upright as the room spun and the floor treacherously tried to trip him.

Sabretooth grabbed him under the arms and lifted him up, moving him out of the way. Scott tried to throw a punch but it was like moving underwater, everything slow and stupid, and Sabretooth just grabbed his wrist and twisted it behind his back, putting Scott on his knees. Scott said, "Victor, please don't hurt him. You did this to him. You don't have the right –"

Sabretooth sniffed Logan and then stepped back, then sniffed Scott. "You're in a bad way, x-boy. You can't take any more of him. You'd better come with me."

"No!" Scott dragged his wrist free of his grip, having to put his hands on the floor to steady himself. "I'm not leaving him."

"Don't be stupid." Sabretooth hauled him up to his feet. "I'm not gonna fuck you, Summers. Don't you get it? I'm saving you from him."

Scott tried to push him off. "I'm not leaving Logan. He's sick. He needs care."

"He's got healing factor! He can't get sick! Look, you stupid little shithead, he ain't Logan any more. He's a fucking animal. He's been fucking you like an animal. I can smell it everywhere. You're probably ripped up inside –"

"I'm not." Scott staggered and had to grab hold of the doorframe again. "I'm fine. I just need you to go. You got what you wanted. When Logan wakes up, he's going to know you were right. That he's just like you – blood-brothers, just like you told him. Isn't that what this was all about? You won, Victor. It's a shining victory for your side." He staggered again and Victor caught him.

"Summers, if I leave you here with him, you're gonna be dead in a few days. You're coming with me." He seized his wrists and Scott knew he was going to get tossed over Sabretooth's shoulder and carried out into the snow and it would be irrevocable, all of this, forever.

He tore his hands free, grabbed Sabretooth's blood-spattered coat with both hands to stay upright and hold him off, and said through gritted teeth, "You owe me. I was a scared kid who ran away from an orphanage because I was being experimented on like a laboratory rat. I got grabbed by a guy who beat me every damned day – and then you came along, and you kidnapped me for a mutant-hating psychopath who liked experimenting on children. And then you did…what you did…. I was just a kid, Victor! There's no excuse for what you did to me."

Sabretooth pulled away with a snarl, and Scott just knew that he was stinking of bad conscience. He said, "What of it? It's done, isn't it?"

Scott grabbed the doorframe again as the floor shifted under his feet. "I'll forgive you if you just walk away and leave me with Logan. I'll offer you any absolution you want. I'll kiss your fucking feet if you want me to, just – go away."

Sabretooth gave him a shocked look. "You're nuts, you stupid little x-freak." He pushed Scott away – oddly gently – and propped him against the wall, then walked into the bedroom, picked up Logan with a grunt and placed him on the bed. He looked down at the guy for a moment and Scott wondered what he was seeing, if he was trying to remember how it had felt to feel like this man's brother, or if giving in to the animal inside him for all these years had eroded any family feeling that remained. His expression was not unlike feral Wolverine's had been when he was caressing Scott after sex, groping after some half-forgotten impulse of buried tenderness.

Sabretooth walked back out. "That fever will burn itself out in a few hours if that's what's worrying you – that's nothing to people like us. His name was James Howlett, if he ever wants to know. Except Howlett wasn't his dad, that scumbag Logan was. Weird he took his name. He killed him, you know? First kill. Clean as a whistle. He was just a kid, but he understood rage. I was different then. We were both different then. I took care of him. I was a good brother to him."

Scott said, "I believe you."

Sabretooth turned on him with a snarl. "Why?"

"Because someone taught him to take care of people who were vulnerable and in need of protection. Someone taught him that family matters. Someone must have loved him once."

Sabretooth said, "I did. I remember feeling it." His face was bleak. "I don't feel it any more. I don't feel anything any more." He snarled at Scott. "Not even guilt. And certainly not remorse. I don't care that I hurt you or that you begged me to stop. I don't care."

"I still absolve you."

Sabretooth glowered at him, but he walked away from Logan, and past Scott, and he picked up the woodstove that Logan had knocked over in his crazed, head-clutching frenzy and set it upright again. He threw some more wood into it and then reached up to the highest shelf, the one Logan hadn't trashed because Logan couldn't reach it, and that Scott couldn't reach either, and set some big cans on the side, reached into the smashed dresser and dug out the can opener, tossing it on top of the cans. "Eat or die, it's nothing to me what you do, x-boy," he said gruffly. He paused in the doorway and added, "If help comes for you it won't be because I sent for it."

He walked out and closed the door, quite quietly, behind him.

Scott slid down the wall in his relief and wrapped his arms around himself. There was a hissing in his ears like angry snakes and he tried to put his head down, but everything was swooping and he couldn't co-ordinate and Logan needed him but the hissing was so loud –

Darkness closed over him. It was gentle and quiet and it didn't hurt and Scott sank gratefully into its embrace.

***

Logan awoke to wood-scented darkness, and a foul, blood-soaked taste in his mouth. He sniffed cautiously and then grimaced because there was just too much scent to process: blood, semen, rage, pain. Death and sex seemed to have happened here and lots of both. Then he sniffed again and smelled two things that made the hairs stand up on the back of his neck: Sabretooth and Scott Summers.

He was on his feet and throwing himself out of the room before he thought, heart racing as he remembered that Sabretooth had taken Scott and Logan had gone after them. Had he arrived too late?

He almost tripped over Scott, who was slumped naked in the corner of Sabretooth's cabin. Logan crouched down next to him and felt for a pulse. It was thready and he smelt feverish, but he was alive. "Scott…?" he whispered his name in case Sabretooth was around somewhere – the cabin stank of Sabretooth almost as much as it stank of sex. One glance around the place by the light of the fading woodstove and he could see that there had been a battle royal. There was a lot of blood on the walls and floor. He picked Scott up, grimacing because he was shockingly light, and then carried him through to the bedroom. The quilt stank of semen and so did the bed; a musty animal sex-scent that wasn't quite like Sabretooth or quite like Logan but like something in between. There was one oil lamp unbroken and he lit it, examining Scott anxiously by its feeble light.

It was worse than he'd first thought. Days must have passed because the clean-cut, neat, tidy, athletically handsome leader of the X-Men was now a starved, bruised, feverish, unshaven, come-spattered remnant of his former self. Memories were coming back of Sabretooth polluting Logan's mind with how it felt to drag Scott around, throw him against the walls, and kick him repeatedly in his cracked ribs. But Scott had still been clothed the last time Logan had 'seen' him. Clearly, far worse things had happened to Scott since.

"My God…Scott…?"

Logan held his hand to his forehead and winced from the heat coming off him. Everywhere the light fell it revealed more bad news. There was ugly bruising all over Scott's body but it was worst down his left side where Matthews had punched him. Logan examined his ribs anxiously, touching them very gently to see if anything grated under his fingers. Nothing moved but the bruising was vicious and he could see the toe marks of Sabretooth's boots. Most of the other bruises looked as if they had been made by body punches and backhands landed in a flurry of ill-temper, but there had been time for those burns from the stove to half-heal and the same with the cuts the bonds had left around Scott's fine, strong wrists. Days must have passed.

This was the point when Logan would have dearly liked to hand Scott off to someone else to be patched up. Someone who knew what they were doing. Jean and Hank could have commenced with the fussing, but also magically produced the cool, clean sheets, and the neat white bandages. Hank could have found painkillers and antibiotics while Jean slipped gently into Scott's mind and soothed any pain. Logan, in this ideal scenario, could have maintained a manly façade of not being overly concerned. Ideally there would have been beer and somewhere quiet for him to drink it, unobserved, while his thumping heart returned to a steadier pace. Instead, what he felt like doing was wailing, panicking, and clasping Scott to him like a kid with a broken doll.

"Scott…?" He wanted the guy to wake up so he knew he was okay, but he was terribly afraid that whoever woke up, looking like this, having been through…that, was not going to be any Scott Summers he either recognized or could help. They'd only known each other a month or so and Logan had spent most of that time hitting on Scott's girlfriend and teasing Scott like a sexually conflicted school bully, with the occasional time out for them both to head off and either battle imaginary villains in the Danger Room or physical ones in the real world. Scott had no idea how much Logan had suffered seeing Scott being abused by Sabretooth and not being able to help him, and clearly since that connection had been so inexplicably broken things had only got worse for Scott. (Why didn't Logan remember taking off the headset? Why didn't he remember the last part of the journey that had brought him here?)

Feeling helpless and out of his depth, Logan stroked Scott's dirty hair back from his grimy face, trying to see pin-neat Cyclops and finding only this poor, grubby kid who looked and smelled as if he'd been served up at an orgy as the unfortunate main course. And, yeah, it was time to face the brutal truth his senses had been screaming at him for the past ten minutes. Scott had not 'just' had his powers eliminated and his strength drained by some filthy toxin; he had not just been tied up, beaten up, smacked around, and kicked. There was dried semen all over him. His ass was covered in bruises; there were grip marks on his hips, on his thighs, on his back. Scott had been raped, and more than once and…and Logan was going to kill Sabretooth for this – slowly, if possible.

He had to get away for a minute, get his head straight. Logan paced the long living area, hands in his hair, those scents choking him, thoughts an angry aching jumble of OhgodScotthowcouldhethefuckerI'msosorryIdidn'tgetheresooner. This was why he didn't get fond of people. This was why he just kept moving so no one could do this to him again. People he cared about hurt in the worst ways just to punish him. This had been all about Sabretooth wanting his brother back, just like with Silver Fox, and, like her, Scott had got caught in the crossfire. Had Sabretooth got bored waiting and decided to find something to do to pass the time? Why hadn't he waited for Logan like he'd said he would? Nothing made sense.

Suck it up, Logan. Scott needs help and you're all he's got, so get your head together and help him.

Logan forced himself to step back into the musky scent-fog that was the bedroom. It was like walking through a wall of testosterone, semen, sweat, and pain; scents so vivid he could practically hear the grunts echoing off the goddamn walls. Sitting down on the bed, he ran his fingers through Scott's filthy hair. There was blood dried in it, lots of blood, although, thankfully, none of it smelled like Scott's. The reek of semen almost made Logan gag. It didn't even smell like it came from a human being; it was a rank, dark, animal odor, not just satisfied but triumphant and, above all, territorial. He sniffed Scott again and had to fight not to punch a wall as he realized the son-of-a-bitch had been smearing come all over him, deliberately, scent-marking Scott as something he owned.

He's not yours! He's mine!

The flare of possessive protective fury that elicited was like a wall of flame; a psionic field Logan wanted to throw up around unconscious Scott, keeping all evil predators away, no one allowed in the magic circle with Scott but Logan. He had no idea where that had come from but he was damned lucky he hadn't let that thought flare up when Jean was in the room or she really would have thrown him under a train.

As he forced himself to keep examining him, Logan felt more and more out of his depth. He had feared for Scott being in that bastard's hands but he hadn't expected anything as bad as this. This had taken place over days. Scott had rug burns on his scabbed knees and on his neck, bruises on his midriff, at the top of his thighs, like he'd been bent over something unyielding and then thrust hard against it. He looked as if there was no position he hadn't been forced into so that evil bastard could fuck him. He stank.

Scott Summers, the cleanest guy Logan had ever met, stinking of old come, made Logan want to go out and kill someone.

It occurred to him that there, at least, was a place to start. Scott would hate to wake up this dirty. Logan couldn't fix much of what had happened here, but he could at least help with that.

He said softly, "Scott, I'm going to get you cleaned up, okay? And then we're going to get you better. And then I'm going to kill the evil fucker who did this to you."

 

Nothing was easy here. There was a sink, of sorts, but no faucets. (He found three unbroken bottles of whiskey, stashed in the ruined dresser, and swilled his mouth out with JackDaniels, spitting and spitting into the grimy sink until he could no longer taste blood.) The place was trashed and hadn't exactly been the Ritz to begin with. There was no running water, but there was a well out back, with two buckets, and, once hauled, the water could be heated on the woodstove in the huge steel pots in which that evil bastard Sabretooth presumably boiled up the dead babies he probably fed on – when he wasn't busy raping sick and injured x-men. Logan found a tin bath in a half-ruined building – that place reeked of Sabretooth and blood, but not, curiously, of Scott.

While the water was heating, he found a couple of cleaner blankets in an old wooden chest that had only been slightly smashed, and dumped the filthy quilt. He found canned goods and dried milk – and the corpses of recently killed snowshoe hares that Sabretooth seemed to have half-eaten. He threw those outside in revulsion. No medical supplies anywhere – which made sense, given Creed's healing factor, but didn't help Logan when he would have sold his soul for some Neosporin and some painkillers, not to mention one damned clean piece of cloth in the place that would have made a bandage for Scott's wrists and ribs. He stood the furniture upright that wasn't too broken and cleared up the mess left by the stuff that had splintered. He found Scott's visor and dusted it off and put it on the side ready for when Scott's powers came back, and kept searching all over the dirty, broken place for any medicine and finally found a carton of long-expired aspirin that looked like it had been there since the sixties, a couple of cleanish if worn towels, a washcloth, and a dusty bar of coal tar soap. Then – finally – he had enough hot water to half-fill the tin bath and gently lower Scott into it.

Scott woke with a jolt and looked up at him wide-eyed. Logan already had his arm around his shoulders to support him in the bath, but he put a hand on his chest as well, braced for panic. "Scott…? You…okay?"

Dumb, fucking question, Logan. Of course the guy's not okay.

To his astonishment, Scott's face broke into a heartbreaking smile. "Logan. It's you. It's really you."

He hadn't even thought Scott would be Scott, let alone pleased to see Logan. He felt his heart unclench a fraction, because Scott was at least still in his right mind – well, apart from the being so uncharacteristically happy to see him part.

Trying to sound normal, Logan said, "Yeah, it's me, Cyke. Just gonna get you cleaned up, okay? I got some canned meat…stuff by the stove for when you're ready for it. You look like you could do with a hot meal."

He didn't really know how you talked to a guy you barely knew who'd been repeatedly raped by your long-lost half-brother since the last time you conversed with him. He suspected even the most comprehensive of etiquette books didn't cover that one.

Of the two of them, Scott seemed the least disconcerted. He looked down at the water in which Logan was bathing him and instead of telling Logan to stop fucking touching him right now before he killed him, said: "A hot bath and a hot meal? I must have died and gone to heaven."

"You're…okay with me doing this?"

"Oh, yes. Thank you."

Fuck, Scott's eyes were blue. When the guy looked right at you like that, it was kind of breathtaking. He was so beat up and bruised and those shadows under his eyes were awful, but his eyes were beautiful and right now they were gazing right into Logan's, like they couldn't get enough of drinking in Logan's face. Like Logan was a mountain sunrise and a seascape sunset combined.

Scott said happily, "Your eyes are green."

Logan figured this was a not-wearing-a-visor thing; possibly a few-too-many-blows-to-the-head thing, too, the way Scott was craning his neck to gaze into Logan's eyes way past the point where it was awkward. Logan swallowed uncomfortably, wondering why Scott was so okay about being naked and touched when he should have been curled up in a fetal position, gibbering, on the other side of the room by now.

"So, I'll just go on washing you…then…?"

"Okay."

Logan washed him gently with the only washcloth he'd found that didn't look like it could double for use in germ warfare, waiting for Scott to object or insist that he could do it himself, but Scott just leaned in against his shoulder with a small sigh of relief. Logan felt his heart catch because Scott was being so…trusting, even after what he'd clearly been put through with Sabretooth, the guy was okay with being naked and letting Logan touch him. It made no sense but it made him feel kind of choked up, and Scott kept looking up at Logan shyly, like he couldn't believe it was him; his face breaking out into a heartbreakingly sweet smile of…relief. Like Logan was here now so everything was okay. Logan was incredibly moved by that, to the point where he was having to swallow quite hard not to make a fool of himself.

"Scott, are you okay with me washing your hair?"

"I'll love you forever if you would," Scott said, and he gave him another shy, sweet smile that made Logan's heart do stupid, unmanly things.

It took Logan a little while to get all the blood, dirt, and come soaped off his bruised skin, and there was nothing like shampoo in the place – Sabretooth clearly didn't go in much for either cleanliness or godliness – but the soap, lathered up in Logan's hands, was a lot better than nothing and he worked it gently through Scott's dirty hair, washing out the dried blood and other even less savory stickiness. Scott put his head back obligingly when Logan poured warm water over his head to rinse it. In fact Scott was so good about lifting his arms and craning his neck to help Logan wash him that it was more like dealing with an unusually docile child than any version of Scott Summers he recognized. He kept looking up at Logan's face, studying it as carefully as if Logan's moods were the barometer by which Scott Summers set his day.

"Are you angry? You look angry."

Logan blinked at him in surprise. "No…I mean…yeah. I'm pissed that son-of-a-bitch hurt you like this." He realized belatedly that Scott needed…reassurance. "I'm not pissed with you."

That was relief washing over those chiseled, battered features. Scott put a hand up to his hair and felt the place where it had been a hank of dried blood and was now just wet strands. Another of those insanely blue admiring looks right into Logan's eyes. Every time that happened it was like being punched with light and warm brandy.

Scott said softly, "Thank you."

Scott, did I miss the part where you and I are best buds and you think I'm awesome? Because the last thing I remember, you thought I was a dick….

Logan had to steel himself to ask but he thought it would be cowardly not to: "Scott, how are you…inside?"

Scott grimaced. "Really sore but…there wasn't any blood."

"What about…you know…" Everything he would normally have said sounded too crude. "Bowel movements…?" he finished awkwardly.

Scott looked vaguely surprised, like he remembered what those things were, but they belonged to the past. "Haven't needed to have any. Probably just as well, right? I guess that would hurt."

"Not if everything's okay in there. It just…" This was excruciating. In hell people probably were forced to have these conversations every day. Except Scott just kept looking up at him, trustingly, like Logan had all the answers to all life's questions. Logan forged on, trying to pretend he wasn't inwardly cringing. "It smelled like the guy wasn't any too gentle when he was…having his fun."

Scott said, "He had healing factor in his…fluids. If he licked something better – it really did get better."

Sabretooth had healing factor in his saliva and semen? That might account for the weird animal odor.

"He licked you…there…?"

Scott looked a lot less embarrassed than Logan felt. "All the time."

Well, that was something, Logan guessed. "What about lubricant?"

Scott shook his head.

"Foreplay? Preparation of some kind?"

"I think in his world licking more or less equaled three candlelit dinners and a tube of K-Y Jelly."

Well, if licking was a lot better than nothing it still fell a long way short of Logan's idea of what to bring on a date that was going to end with anal sex, although looking around the cabin Logan wasn't exactly surprised. Sabretooth had never struck him as the type to waste money on condoms when he could just casually knock someone up and then kill them later if they tried to make him pay child support.

All the same: "Son-of-a-bitch was too cheap to buy a bottle of Crisco?"

Scott blinked up at him spacily and said, "Crisco contains potentially damaging triglycerides, and interesterified fat can increase blood sugar."

Logan thought about pointing out that it still made for a slicker penis than spit but then realized that Scott was way too exhausted to stay in this bath much longer without falling asleep in it, never mind holding an even vaguely lucid conversation, and if he was going to take the plunge and examine him…it would be a lot better to do it in a nice warm bath with soaped up fingers. Explaining that, he waited for Scott to tell him that if Logan even thought about touching his ass he would stab him in the eye with the first thing that came to hand, but Scott just went on looking up at him trustingly and said, "Whatever you think, Logan."

Kid, who are you and what have you done with the real Scott Summers?

Logan guessed the real Scott Summers, having had the everliving shit kicked out of him before being repeatedly raped by a huge, vicious animal, had retreated for a while and left Stepford Scott to deal with the outside world. Xavier had told Logan about Scott having his head messed with by whichever of his creepy foster fathers had been into that – perhaps it had taught the guy strange mental coping mechanisms. He guessed whatever the hell got Scott through this was okay with Logan.

Scott looked apprehensive when Logan soaped up his fingers but he didn't object, he just asked how they were going to do this. Logan had to help him kneel up – Scott barely having the strength to manage the maneuver – and then steady him so the bath tub didn't turn over, before steeling himself to do this. He ran his unsoaped hand regretfully down Scott's back, remembering how flawless it had been, hating the bruises and the rug burns. He remembered admiring this ass in its tight leather pants not that long before, those taut little buttocks so high and small they seemed designed to fit neatly into a man's ready hands; telling Scott how pert his ass was and how he bet all the jocks had admired it in the showers. Now all he could see were viciously deep grip marks and purple-crimson bruises – Christ, he could practically see the outline of the balls that had been slamming against Scott's flesh. He could almost hear the echo of that fast hard slapping of skin against skin.

Victor Creed, if it takes the rest of my life, I am going to hunt you down and shove a fucking bazooka up your ass. See how you like it.

Logan said, "I'll be as gentle as I can." He slipped his fingers in and found that Scott was still dilated from the last rape session, which at least meant Logan wasn't hurting him too badly, but also meant that if Logan had just got here faster he might have been able to save him from one assault. (Why couldn't he remember the last part of the journey? And where the hell was Sabretooth? It felt as if Scott had been fucked only a few hours before Logan had woken up.)

"Scott, where's Sabretooth? Do you know?"

"He left."

"Why? Was he making a supply run? Was he going to ask for a ransom? What?"

"I don't think he's coming back."

That made no sense. Quite apart from the fact that Sabretooth had turned Scott into his personal home entertainment center, Scott was valuable. Xavier was a very wealthy man and Sabretooth liked money. Even a hint of what Sabretooth had been doing to his adopted son and Xavier would probably have paid anything to get him to stop.

He eased his fingers in deeper and instead of tensing up, Scott did his best to be cooperative. Logan guessed his body had learned to do that in sheer self-defense – trying to stay relaxed against painful incursions by unwanted objects. God, he wanted to stab someone in the face so badly right now.

There wasn't as much damage as Logan had been expecting; no actual ripping or fissuring; but Scott was still one scraped, raw, swollen bruise from what had undoubtedly been brutal and repeated rapes.

"That fucker. I'd like to rip off his balls and shove them –"

Scott flinched. That snapped Logan out of it faster than a fist to the face. Scott hadn't flinched waking up naked in a bathtub with a guy touching him or when Logan put his finger into his poor, bruised ass but at that furious snarl from Logan he flinched.

"Sorry." Logan eased his finger out as carefully as he could. He washed his hands and soaped Scott's genitals gingerly, waiting for an objection that didn't come. Scott was drooping with exhaustion so perhaps he barely noticed, but Logan couldn't help thinking he would have been objecting at full volume if anyone had touched him below the waist, even with soapsuds and a washcloth, after what Scott had been through. Nor did Scott object when Logan lifted him out of the bath and carried him back to the bedroom, although he did tense up at the sight of the bed.

"You look beat and there's nowhere else to lie down in this shithole place but the bed or the couch and the couch looks like something died on it," Logan said apologetically as he put him on the bed – very carefully – onto one clean blanket and covered him with the second.

"The bed's better," Scott said. "The couch has broken springs."

Logan realized why Scott had all those scabs on his knees and his fury flared again. Scott darted him a nervous look. "Don't get angry."

Logan thought about Sabretooth in a temper and what it must have been like for Scott to be trapped in this place with him. "I'm not gonna get angry. I'm not him."

Scott looked up at him anxiously. "Who?"

"Sabretooth – the bastard who did this to you. I know we must be brothers, like he said, but I'm not him. Okay?"

"You're nothing like the guy who did this to me. All you share is some DNA. You need to remember that."

Scott looked utterly exhausted but his eyes were full of conviction. Logan grabbed the towel he'd found earlier and began to blot his wet hair with it gently, sitting on the bed as he did so. He noticed that the pillows were disgusting even by the standards of this cabin and pulled the lower blanket up to cover them so Scott wouldn't pick up cholera from the pillows to go with the tetanus he'd probably caught from the rusty couch. "So…you've got a temperature, you're dehydrated, you've got a lot of bruising, inside and out, and you look like hell. The only plus is that because the son-of-a-bitch starved you, you don't seem to have any impaction. I don't know if your ribs are cracked. They sure as hell sounded like it and then he kept kicking you. Henry would know this stuff, but all I can smell is that they're bruised and –"

Scott said, "Logan, are you…fussing?"

From his bemused expression, Logan got that Scott would be somewhat disillusioned if Logan was. Apparently, Scott expected Logan to remain calm in a crisis and deal with all eventualities with manly stoicism bordering on callous indifference. Presumably, faced with a totally fucked up teammate, Logan was supposed to not sweat the small stuff, and perhaps to remind Scott that worse things happened in prison.

"I'm not fussing," he said automatically. "I just don't have a medical degree and I remember Sabretooth kicking you in the ribs." Hard to forget when it had felt at the time as if Logan was the one kicking him.

"Yes. Duncan cracked them and then Victor broke them, but they're not broken now. He just kept licking them until they hardly hurt at all."

Scott's weird lack of hostility towards his rapist was something Logan realized he had been only subconsciously registering until now, like a bum note in a noisy chorus. Logan was angry but Scott – weirdly – wasn't. He was just weary and resigned and aching in lots of places and uncharacteristically pleased that Logan was now with him. He didn't seem to want to go after Sabretooth or have Logan go after him either. Perhaps he was too busy being relieved that no one was raping him right this minute to remember that no one had ever had the right to do that to him in the first place.

The Scott Logan remembered would have been coldly furious and looking to force beam the fucker who'd done this to him into a big crater in the ground. Perhaps it had just gone on too long and Scott's spirit had snapped. But he didn't seem broken, as such. He just seemed…strangely obedient and oddly grateful for any act Logan committed that wasn't actively cruel.

Had Scott and Sabretooth…bonded? He'd heard about Stockholm Syndrome. Heard of kidnappers getting fond of their victims, too. Was it Sabretooth who'd decided he didn't want to share Scott and pulled off the headset? That would explain why it had taken so many days for Logan to find them. Had Sabretooth used that time to mindfuck the abused kid that Scott had once been into thinking that they had some kind of…relationship? Had Scott been too starved and beaten up and feverish to think straight? Was it the stuff he'd been injected with? Had it addled his mind enough for Sabretooth to manipulate him somehow?

"Scott…? You and Sabretooth…?"

Scott said, "He's not such a bad guy really. Not all the time anyway. Sometimes there's still a human being in there. Can I go to sleep? Just for a while?"

Logan had been about to angrily refute everything he had said about Sabretooth but Scott gazing up at him, a little anxiously, waiting for his permission to close his eyes, threw him completely. The Scott Summers he knew didn't take orders; he gave them. He sure as hell didn't ask permission from Logan before doing…anything. Logan went with gruff. He figured they were both comfortable with gruff.

"Okay, but just for a while. We both need to eat."

Scott said, "Thank you." He fell asleep almost before he finished speaking, head coming to rest on the blanket-covered pillow like this bed wasn't a lumpy, semen-stinking torture chamber at all.

Logan stayed sitting on the bed, watching Scott, broodingly. He knew he was missing something major, possibly missing several things. The lost days. The absence of Sabretooth. Scott's weird attitude both to the guy who had raped him and to Logan. It took him a moment to realize that the important thing was that Scott was alive. He distinctly remembered weighing the odds and deciding that most likely dead was Scott's best shot. However many days later, and Scott Summers, leader of the X-Men, was still in one piece, more or less in his right mind, and not dead or dying. Given the state of him, Logan couldn't chalk that up as a win. He didn't believe there was a Pollyanna on the planet who could chalk that up to a win. But he was very grateful that Scott Summers was still alive.

There were things he ought to be doing, but he couldn't tear himself away. He guessed this was what parents were like with new babies, sitting around like idiots gaping while the little critter did nothing but sleep, the vague flexing of a finger as riveting as the SuperBowl. Scott wasn't dead. They were stranded in the middle of nowhere, in a shithole of a cabin, with Sabretooth possibly still prowling around. Scott was so weak he could barely crawl, needed a whole lot of medicine that wasn't to be had for love nor money, and had possibly had some kind of breakdown that had left him thinking Victor Creed wasn't all bad when you got to know him despite being raped multiple times, but his bare bruised chest was going up and down as the air went into his lungs. Logan had no memory of how he'd gotten here, no idea of where here was, or how many days had passed since they had last touched base with sanity, and no clue whatsoever how they were ever getting home, but he could hear Scott's heartbeat from here.

Bending over him, he tried to inhale Scott's scent, but the bed still reeked of bad sex and dried come, the air foggy with testosterone, and Scott's scent had been overlaid by alpha male satisfaction too many times. He no longer smelled sweetly of Jean's perfume, or his usual shampoo or showergel or that expensive aftershave Jean had bought for him last birthday.

(A million miles and a thousand years ago, Logan had pricked up his ears at that information, mentioned by Storm in a teasing fashion as they played another of those stupid card games that none of them would take seriously.

"Last birthday, eh? Let me guess. Junior was fourteen?"

Scott had dealt the cards with a practiced hand. "Really, Logan, why are you slumming it here with us when that career in stand-up must be calling to you?"

"Now don't get tetchy, kid. One day you'll actually need to shave and then you'll be glad of that stuff. Come find me when you do and I'll show you how to use a razor."

Bobby said conversationally, "Logan, if you want to keep picking on Scott every time your clearly very short attention span starts to wander, be my guest, just don't come whining to me when your shower water keeps turning to ice."

Scott shivered. "That's a nasty one. I remember you doing that to me. What had I done anyway?"

"Sense of humor failure plus too rigid an approach to rule-following."

Hank said, "Those are indelible parts of his make-up. That's like blaming Scott for being tall."

"Yeah, that too."

Logan gestured with his cigar. "So, just to clarify, Drake – you can pick on Summers just because you feel like it, but if I do it, I get my nuts frozen?"

"Damned straight. Scott's our humor-challenged stick-up-his-ass Boy Scout. We can't let just anyone take a crack at him."

Scott held up a hand in wry acknowledgment. "Thanks, Bobby."

"Hey, what are friends for?"

Storm exchanged a long-suffering look with Jean. "Sometimes I sincerely wonder."

More irritated than he should have been, Logan said, "So, how long do I have to stick around here before I earn the right to make Cyke's life a misery?"

Scott turned to Jean. "Remind me, dear, how long was he unconscious, because it would be that plus however long it took him to show up in Xavier's office wearing a pair of my sweatpants…?"

Jean said, "I refuse to get involved in any squabble caused by testosterone."

Storm said, "Very wise. One wonders how many wars may have been avoided through the ages if others had followed your philosophy."

"I'm thinking of starting a religion with that as its central tenet."

Storm said, "Sign me up."

Henry said affably, "I do think a goddess always lends tone to esoteric cults."

Logan pointed at Scott with his cigar. "You know you and me would have gotten off to a better start if you hadn't kept making me wear your clothes, sonny."

"Why? I'm the one who gets left with clothing full of claw holes – not to mention the ominous stains. It's necessary for you to not wear underwear while borrowing my uniform, is it?"

Hank murmured reminiscently, "Ah, good old semper ubi, sub ubi. Still a code to live by."

Ignoring Hank to stab a finger at Scott, Logan said, "Maybe if your tightassed clothing left enough room down there for a real man to –"

Jean looked up. "Perhaps we should take a vote? Does anyone else not want to listen to Logan and Scott squabbling like children all evening?"

Storm glanced across the room. "I see the window is open. Did you unfreeze the pond, Bobby? I'd hate for them to have a bumpy landing…."

Logan held up his hands. "I just wanna play cards."

"I didn't want to talk to him anyway," Scott muttered.

Logan had thought that Scott had no right to look that hot while he was sulking – the cheekbones gave him way too big an advantage on that front – and wondered if, behind those damned glasses of his, Scott was sneaking looks across at Logan as often as Logan was sneaking looks across at Scott.

Conversationally, Hank said, "It's not that one doesn't expect to encounter childish behavior in a school, it's just that one doesn't expect it from the teachers….")

Logan looked back at the Scott curled up so quietly on the bed. He could remember what crisply-ironed, unbruised Scott looked like, but he couldn't easily match him up with the guy he was gazing at now. Jean would be going nuts back at the mansion. So would Xavier. So would everyone else. No word about Scott in days and no way of telling if he was even still breathing. He half-hoped Sabretooth had gone off to make a ransom demand – at least that way they'd know Scott was still alive.

He stroked the guy's damp hair back from his face and Scott moved his head against Logan's hand in his sleep. Logan rubbed his thumb gently against Scott's temple and Scott pushed back, like a stray cat that longed to be stroked. There was such quiet yearning in his body language, such a need to be touched with kindness.

Scott whispered, "Logan, please come back…."

Logan ran the back of his finger down his unbruised cheek. "Scott? You awake, buddy?"

Big blue eyes blinked up at him and then widened in relief. "I didn't dream you."

Okay, he was never gonna get used to Scott Summers looking at him like he was the Second Coming. Awkwardly, Logan said, "No, I'm…real. I'm…here." Come back from where? Are you talking about Alkali Lake? Was there some mission no one told me about where you needed a fourth and I wasn't around? What am I missing?

My God that smile was going to break his heart if he wasn't careful. Scott was so damned grateful for so damned little. Logan was feeling this unbearable tenderness every time Scott looked at him like that. Much too gently, Logan said, "Hey, Scott, if I help you sit up, do you think you could eat something? You're hungry, right?"

Scott nodded, still drinking in Logan's face all over again, little smiles breaking through at some quirk of Logan's eyebrows or movement of his jaw that Scott seemed to find infinitely reassuring. It was making Logan intensely self-conscious. He put an arm around Scott and eased him up, very carefully, until he was sitting up, leaning against the slightly less disgusting of the two pillows. He steadied him by the shoulders, really not liking how pale Scott went just with that little effort.

"You okay?"

"That stuff Sabretooth shot me up with from the lab that suppresses mutant power – it feels like it sucks the life out of you. The last time I felt this weak, I was trapped underground for a while and my beams stopped working. If I could get into the sun I think it would counteract it."

"I don't think it would do you a lot of good to take you out into a blizzard but if the snow stops, we'll try it. In the meantime, let's see what keeping you warm and getting some food into you does, okay?"

When Scott looked up at him, Logan swore it was from under the longest eyelashes and out of the bluest eyes that Logan had ever seen. He said, "I'm in your hands, Logan." It was quiet and trusting and it was a baton pass Logan had never expected. Scott Summers had just put him in charge of the mission. Logan realized he had absolutely no idea how to respond to that.

He said feebly, "Let's eat some of that meat stuff while it's hot."

Even with his heightened powers of taste and smell, Logan wasn't sure what the hell that stuff in the can was, but it was protein, and Scott turned out to be the world's most obedient patient. He let Logan prop him back up against the pillows when he slumped, tried to hold the spoon, and when he turned out to be too weak from the drugs and the colossal exertion of sitting in a bathtub an hour before to manage it, obligingly opened his mouth and swallowed when asked to do so as Logan spoonfed him. He ate exactly as much as he was told to eat, and drank the warm fluids that Logan told him to sip without arguing. He turned down the prehistoric aspirin, even though he was obviously hurting, on the grounds that his blood already felt too thin, but agreed that he would take it if his temperature went up another degree. He even held his hands out obediently when Logan wanted to examine his burned wrists. They were half-healed but they could still have benefited from some soothing ointment and clean bandages.

"I'd sell my grandmother for some Neosporin," Logan muttered. He thought of that shiny, well-stocked infirmary back at the mansion; all those people who loved Scott and would have flown through skies of burning ash to bring him medicine if only they knew where he was, and no way of contacting them.

Scott looked surprised. "Nothing hurts that much. My ribs were the worst and he fixed those."

Logan glanced pointedly at the horrible mottling of bruises covering his left side. "Looks like it."

"Well, it doesn't hurt like it did."

When Logan told him that he needed to lie down and sleep now, Scott did his best to lie down and sleep. The only thing he asked – in his hoarse whispery voice from where those damned drugs had weakened him so much – was if Logan could stay with him, just for a little while.

"Sure, Scott. Anything you want."

Logan lay down on the bed next to him, not sure how much space Scott would want between himself and another male animal after what he'd been through, then found Scott snuggling in against him with a little sigh. Drowsily, Scott murmured, "I knew you'd come back. I missed you, Logan…."

It was only then – when Scott's breath moved his chest hair and warmed his nipple – that Logan realized what he should have realized straight away; that he, like Scott, wasn't wearing any clothes, and hadn't been from the moment he woke up.

 

He had been here before – a memory just out of reach that he was afraid he didn't want to retrieve, but he had never been this physically close to the scene of the crime.

With his heart racing, Logan waited for Scott to drift into a deeper sleep, which was a special kind of torture when he wanted to be hunting down scent trails and the uncomfortable truths they might tell, to lie still and feel the guy's breath against his chest, to smell the bleeding under the surface from all those bruises, and the soap that had taken away most of the sweat and pain and semen scent, but not all of it, that lingering bitterness still there, and everywhere else, in the pillows, the mattress, the couch…. Scott shifted and the blanket slipped down, revealing bruise after bruise, the bony jut of his hips with those blue-black grip marks and the contusions all down his too-visible ribs. He was just so…beat up in every possible way. The shadows under his eyes were terrible; it was difficult to tell how much came from pain, from cold, from hunger, or from the strength-sucking poison of that damned drug.

Christ, Scott, you're such a fucking mess….

It was all he could do not to touch him. He kept wanting to…pet him, nuzzle him, put an arm around him and gather him in – because what would a guy who'd been raped multiple times want more than being pawed around by another guy? It was an insanely crass impulse and he resisted it, but the impulse remained undimmed and ever more demanding, like an addict's need for nicotine. It seemed like an eternity ago that he had sat on that plane with that little Morlock and promised that he was going to get Scott back. The miracle was that Scott was even still a good facsimile of Scott after all he'd been through, but he looked so unlike the guy Logan had set out to retrieve, and he had been put through such hell since. Impossible for that not to feel like a failure on Logan's part.

When Scott said his name in his sleep, not with fear or anger, but with a soft sighing wistfulness, like he was waiting for him but had stopped believing that he would ever arrive, Logan had to breathe around a sudden pain his chest.

He said softly, "Scott, I'm here. It's Logan. You're safe now."

He wasn't even sure if Scott was awake or still dreaming as he said with such relief, "You said my name…."

He burrowed into Logan's body like it was a safe, warm den, and when Logan gently stroked his hair Scott's scent was achingly sweet with sheer gratitude. Wondering, Logan went on caressing his hair, tidying it with his fingers, and Scott, instead of pulling away, leaned into the touch. It was the same when Logan tentatively ran gentle fingers down his back, the leaning in and the desperate gratitude. Logan didn't know himself how many days it was that Scott had been trapped here, but clearly the time in which no one had spoken to him or touched him with kindness had seemed like an eternity to Scott.

You bastard, Victor, the guy was giving you all the sex you wanted. Would it have killed you to give him a kind word?

So many times people had told Logan what he was – an animal, a freak, a killer; no liking, no respect; and then there had been that trust from Rogue, that amusement from Jean, like obviously he was a good guy and the hairy berserker thing was entertaining but was never going to convince her; explanations from Xavier, like he and Logan were equals, like Logan had something to contribute; immediate acceptance from Storm; even Scott had gone with his plan on Liberty Island in a heartbeat. And now, here, when Scott had every reason in the world to mistrust any guy with healing factor and claws, there was unconditional and absolute trust. It wasn't even a conscious mind thing, the guy trusted him subconsciously, instinctively.

He imagined the kind of things Sabretooth would have called Scott; told him what he was and what being abused like this made him; the anger flared like fire on pitch. Scott flinched, even in his sleep, just at that burned dust feel to the air around Logan's temper flare, flattening like he needed to display submission even in his dreams, it had been beaten into him so well, and Logan's rage winked out like a candle flame. Basely giving in to his own yearnings, he put an arm around Scott's back, eased him closer, breathed him in, nuzzled his face and whispered fiercely, "Whatever that bastard told you that you are is a lie. You're Scott Summers. You're the leader of the X-Men. And nothing he did to you matters. It has nothing to do with who you are. And I'm not angry with you."

Looking at what had been done to the guy curled up against him, it seemed impossible that he had ever been angry with him or that he ever could be angry with him again.

He said it again softly, "I'm not angry with you, Scott. No one's angry with you." And Scott relaxed again with a soft, skin-warming sigh.

Logan tried to think What did that fucker do to you and how can I kill him horribly for it? like it was a charming little melody, full of happy notes. Apparently it stopped his scent changing even as his mind roamed and raged and Scott sank a little deeper into a restless fever-dream.

 

Once Scott was too deeply asleep to be disturbed by him moving, Logan covered him carefully with the blanket then followed the scent trail. The blood was Sabretooth's and his – far more of Sabretooth's than there had been of his. That made sense, if he had come in here and found Scott half-dead and stinking of Sabretooth he would have flown into a berserker rage. He didn't always remember what he did when everything just whited out on him like that. But Scott hadn't been stinking of Sabretooth. He had been stinking of something that smelled like a mustier, danker version of Logan. The most recent scents had been between Sabretooth and Scott and they had been, apparently benevolent. No blood, no saliva, no semen. Sabretooth had been right here, recently, and he did not seem to have done Scott any harm. The timeline was weird. Sabretooth had definitely been hurting Scott – he remembered that and the scent trail confirmed it, so did the fading bruises on Scott's body that matched the blows he remembered seeing in his head. But there were no memories at all of being connected to Sabretooth while he raped Scott in this cabin, only of his shame-faced molestation of Scott as a scared teenager.

He went on putting the cabin to rights while his mind turned over all the clues it could find and the scents flowed in. Nothing fitted satisfactorily together. Nothing was as it should be.

Thinking hard and getting nowhere, Logan noticed that he had Sabretooth's blood dried on his chest. He climbed into the cooling bathwater and washed himself, mind still working, then dragged the tub outside to empty it. At least now neither he nor Scott smelled of blood or come, just coal tar soap and mental confusion.

He was still toweling himself off when Scott stirred and Logan scrambled over to him, not wanting him to wake up alone. Those long lashes fluttered and Scott looked at him, he looked right at him, but he kept very still and whispered anxiously, "Logan…? Is that you…?"

His unease tripped to screaming point, Logan said, "Who else would it be?"

The relief was evident; the relief made his heart clench; the intensity of it coming off Scott like pollen from a flower. Logan didn't want to be the bad guy here – he so didn't want to be the bad guy – but there was a question he had to ask: "Scott, why am I naked?"

"Your clothes got ripped up fighting Sabretooth. They were all…bloody."

He had found their clothes, discarded on the floor of the bedroom, and his had been both ripped and bloody. Scott's had mostly just been ripped.

"That's the only reason why I'm naked?"

Whispery, hoarse little murmur: "That and your natural exhibitionism."

"The last thing I remember before waking up here is trying to switch off my brain. Did I manage it?"

Scott's eyes were a limpid, trusting blue. "This is you we're talking about, Logan – how would I be able to tell?"

Logan felt his heart lift because Scott was joking with him – no way would Scott be joking with him if Logan had been the maniac keeping him as a sex slave. "Cute," he said. "Get any cuter and I'll prescribe you an ice bath."

"I just need some sunlight and I'll be fine."

Logan thought that was a little optimistic coming from a guy too weak to hold a spoon. He sat him up and heated up some more food and helped Scott eat it and Scott was still weirdly obedient and kept leaning into Logan and inhaling his scent and giving that pleased little sigh of relief whenever Logan said his name. Logan finally did what he should have done before and sniffed Scott, not in search of the odors he didn't have any more but the ones he did; which was when he finally realized that Scott had been in the presence of a mutant who had thrown off dominance pheromones like a dog shaking itself after a dip in the river. In fact, Scott had been hammered with pheromones to the point of being damn near drowned in them, all telling him to submit, submit, submit. That was the primal undermusk that was undermining all the other scents. No wonder Scott was being so strangely obedient. His brain chemistry was still telling him to do what the bigger guy in the room told him to do – or else, even though that guy was gone.

Logan explained about the pheromones while Scott listened with interest, although Logan suspected he wasn't telling him anything he didn't already know. Scott said, "I suppose it's in the best interests of primal male creatures who want to pass on their DNA that they have some method of keeping their…mates obedient."

Logan still felt that weird compulsion to keep touching Scott, even though he was a rape victim and the instinct ought to have been to give him plenty of personal space, but it was like he had to stop himself every minute from stroking his hair or gently touching his skin. Scott didn't even seem to find it weird. He leaned into the touches when they slipped out. Logan said, "Did you feel you had to be obedient to…him?"

Scott nodded, oddly unembarrassed. "It was easier. It made sense. It was what he expected anyway."

Logan found he was nuzzling in against Scott Summer's damp head, running his fingers lightly through his hair. "What about me?"

Scott shrugged. "Feels okay…doing what you say…just for now. Just until my beams come back." He snuggled in against Logan's chest, disconcerting him. He didn't know where to put his hands. He cautiously put his arm around Scott's shoulders and Scott nuzzled submissively against his throat like this was all perfectly normal. He realized that it felt as if Scott was his; as if Scott Summers belonged utterly and completely to him. When he thought about taking him back to the mansion there was something dark and contrary inside him that jibbed instinctively, because here Scott was his and back there Jean would claim him.

Logan said, "Do you want to…sleep for a while?"

Scott said, "Okay." And Logan cautiously moved them both down the bed, pulling the blankets over Scott carefully. As he made to get up, Scott said, "Don't go. It's cold in here. You're better than an electric blanket."

"You sure you're okay with a guy in the bed after…?"

"I'm okay with you in the bed. I'd appreciate it if you didn't invite any random strangers in here."

And his hackles were up, just at the thought of another guy getting close. He felt like a jealous dog with a marrowbone. The scent flare was absurdly strong. Not just dominance but…ownership. Given that their relationship was supposedly entirely unconsummated, something in Logan was feeling, overwhelmingly, that Scott Summers was his own personal possession. It smelt like that and it felt like that and that was because it had been like that.

Everything aligned then. All the scents made sense. It was the only truth that fitted all the blood-spattered, semen-stinking evidence. Even Scott's attitude made sense. No, the guy hadn't wanted an enemy who had never done anything but smack him around to spare him a kind word, but he had wanted one from Logan. And he kept looking at Logan's face because he was checking that he was still Logan and not a berserker beast who could kill him with one twitch of his metal claws.

Logan closed his eyes. "It was me, wasn't it, Scott? I fought Sabretooth for you and then I…mated with you."

"It wasn't you."

"Scott, I can smell that it was me."

"You weren't even here."

"Scott…?"

Scott just shook his head, stubborn to the core. "It wasn't you, Logan, now shut up and let me go to sleep."

 

Logan discovered that a Scott Summers who was too physically weak to sit upright unaided and who had been whammied with every submit-or-die pheromone in the book could still be a stubborn little bastard. He refused, point blank, to admit that it was Logan who had raped him. Sabretooth, he said, was a rapist, albeit an occasionally repentant one, Logan was not. It wasn't as if Logan had long to interrogate him, because fifteen minutes was about as long as Scott could stay awake in his current condition before drifting back into a fitful, feverish dose. Scott, as Logan pointed out to him in exasperation, had to be the only person on the planet who could combine being completely obedient with being so damned awkward.

"I'm not awkward at all."

"Then tell me what he was like?"

Scott shrugged. "Someone who wasn't you."

"What? Jealous? Possessive? Horny? Unreasonable? You think that isn't who I am?"

"I know you. That guy was nothing like you." And when Scott snuggled in against him like that, fingers trailing absently through Logan's chest hair, his breath warm against Logan's skin, perfectly tractable, it was impossible to stay mad at him. Even if staying mad at him when he was lying right to a guy's face so he wouldn't feel like a rapist, wasn't hard enough already.

"Just tell me how many times, I…?"

Scott gave him a warning look, and those eyes were like a punch to the gut. Logan counted to ten mentally.

"Okay, tell he how many times he…?"

Scott shrugged. "Don't know. Lost count. Wasn't conscious for all of it. Don't care."

"I care!"

Scott curled up against him with a sigh of contentment. "Just let it go, Logan."

"This – snuggly stuff – you do get that this is just something that animal programmed you to do so you'll stick around and have his kids for him? You've been brainwashed by pheromones."

"Yes," said Scott calmly. "I get that completely. Kill rivals, overpower potential mate, establish dominance, then chemically induce acceptance in the sexual recipient concerning his or her ongoing state of submission. Good way to get your genes reproduced. Except for me not having a uterus. That kind of screws that plan."

Logan said, through gritted teeth, "Scott, if I'm not the one that did this to you – why isn't it wearing off? Why is it still working?"

"Because you're an alpha male, too, and his scent is all over this cabin. It's making you jealous and protective and…possessive and you're cranking out the pheromones. I'm in a receptive state, so I'm responding to it."

"You have an answer for everything."

Scott gave a little smile and pulled Logan's arm over him like a blanket. "That's why I'm leader of the X-Men."

Logan bent his head so he could breathe in Scott's scent. He smelt cleaner now, certainly, but there were still hateful alien odors clinging to him, alien odors that weren't quite alien enough, and he was still sick and weak and he'd been put through so much crap, and he was curled up against Logan's body, barely awake, but his fingers were still lightly stroking Logan as if to reassure himself that he was there.

Logan swallowed. "Scott, why aren't you afraid of me?"

Drowsily, Scott said, "I've never been afraid of you, Logan. Why would I start now?"

Because I raped you, over and over and fucking over again!

Except, that was the no cigar answer. Scott wouldn't even qualify that with a response, he knew.

Harshly, Logan said, "You shouldn't forgive me."

"There's nothing to forgive. You came back in time to save me. Twice. You struggled through a blizzard for me. You switched your brain off for me. You fought Sabretooth for me."

"And I gave myself a nice little payment for my trouble!"

"Logan, the only thing that matters here is that I'm alive because of you. Without you, I was dead. I don't give up very often. I'm not made that way. But I was out of options without you. Either Sabretooth lost his temper with me and took my head off or I died of starvation. I was getting weaker every day and I could feel my temperature going up. Now it's stabilized. Now I'm getting stronger. Now, will you please shut up and let me go to sleep?"

Logan had no idea how much of this was basic Summers' pragmatism, that insane stoicism of his that ignored the personal, always, over the needs of the mission or the team or the greater good, and how much was simply chemical. What Logan had turned himself into had clearly been something utterly basic, powerful, terrible, feral, and what it had cranked out had been best quality healing factor and highest potency pheromones. But he knew that Scott's first instinct would have been to fight back and he hadn't, and he could talk about submission to a dominant animal all he liked, Scott had sucked it up for Logan's sake. He had elected to take one for the team so that when Logan came back from crazy primal town, there wouldn't be Scott's corpse on the floor to greet him. He couldn't prevent Logan from becoming a rapist so he had compartmentalized that, made the guy grunting and thrusting on top of him someone else in his head, kept Logan as the good guy. He guessed you had to have had a childhood spent with a maniac secretly experimenting on your mind to be able to do that kind of cerebral juggling.

He had thought Scott was asleep but he said now, softly, "Logan, what do you remember?"

"Walking through the blizzard. Waking up here on the bed and finding you on the floor."

"Don't you think that's because that's exactly what you did? That and nothing else? Meaning anything else that was done – couldn't have been done by you?"

"You can't just reason away reality!"

"Reality's unreliable. When you've been an X-Man for as long as I have, you'll know that."

And Scott curled back in against him with a little sigh of contentment, because Logan was here and everything was okay now, even though it could hardly have been less okay, and if Scott had been in his right – leader of the X-Men – mind, he would have been all about them trying to get home from this cabin in the middle of a blizzard, not cozying up to his rapist.

Logan wondered if he could stop putting out the pheromones so Scott would stop wanting to snuggle and start talking sense. The trouble was, he wasn't doing it on purpose. The other trouble was that he…liked it. He hated what had been done to Scott. He hated that it had almost certainly been done to him by Logan. But Scott wanting to cuddle up with him when Scott was usually the least touchy-feely guy on the planet? Scott trusting him? Scott letting Logan make all the decisions? Not the most horrible experience ever.

It came to him with a little chill that if they stayed here for too long, Logan could make this work. He could track game, fix up the place…keep Scott all to himself…. He slipped out from under Scott, lowering his relaxed, sleeping body back onto the mattress. No, he wasn't going to be that much of a selfish prick. He needed to get Scott back to the mansion, back to the people who loved him, back to being an X-Man, away from this place. He had to find a way to send a message out, telepathically or through Morse code if necessary. He had to save Scott from himself.

He looked out of the window and the snow had stopped falling. It took him a moment to realize what he was seeing, the sudden unexpected brightness of a briefly blue sky and those slanting beams of….

"Scott!" He grabbed the guy off the bed, jolting him into wakefulness, and just for a second he saw blind panic in Scott's eyes because Logan was grabbing him and that invariably led to more rape. Logan grimaced apologetically. "Sorry, but, Scott, the sun's out. I need to get you out there."

Scott said a little blearily, "Okay…"

Logan carried him to the door – and Scott obligingly opened the latch as Logan's hands were full of Scott – and they were out in the warm golden miracle of sunlight, and Logan was thrusting him under the beam like Scott was an offering to some pagan sun god and Scott gave a little gasp of relief. "Oh…that feels really good."

It wasn't his imagination. He could practically feel the guy getting stronger as he held him. He carried him around in the crunching snow for half an hour, proffering him to the rays while Scott luxuriated in the lapping heat of it, like a cat sunbathing on a windowseat, and then Logan carried him – mildly protesting – back into the bedroom, and lowered him gently onto the bed. When he felt his forehead it was definitely cooler and he peered hopefully at his eyes.

Scott said, "Yes, because if my powers come back sticking your head in front of my face would be a really smart move."

"There's the Scott Summers I know and love."

It was just a saying. It was meaningless. Except Scott looked at him, once he said it, with a brief spike of yearning that went straight to Logan's heart, and then dropped his gaze quickly. Scott said, "Did my visor survive all the alpha male chest beating?"

Logan swallowed hard. "Yeah. I'll get it."

When he put the visor in Scott's hand, Scott closed his eyes and pulled the visor on, meaning Logan couldn't look into his eyes any more. He couldn't see the way Scott looked at him with trust, and he couldn't see the relief when Logan spoke to him and he knew he was really Logan and not a mindless animal who kept him prisoner so he could fuck him any time he liked.

Scott said in what was almost a normal voice, "I don't think it's any gizmo of Victor's that turned this place into a dead zone. I think it's something on the spaceship. I think that's why he didn't want you to know it was there. Which reminds me – Logan, you were later getting here than Sabretooth calculated, hours later. Do you remember if you stopped off anywhere?"

Logan cast his mind back. "I just remember walking through a blizzard."

"What about the crashed spaceship? Could you have gone there? It was shelter and you would have seen it in Victor's head when he was chasing me."

When he tried to think about the ship, it was like a door slammed in his face. Everything was white and the flakes were falling. "I remember seeing it. I remember willing you to get to it. Maybe I should take a look at it. There could be some kind of transmitter?"

Scott shivered. "I was probably just off my head with the drugs, but that place felt…malevolent to me. Like it was alive and watching. Like it was willing me to come closer. The whole time I was trying to run away from Sabretooth, I was feeling this dread of that ship and a compulsion to go there. You don't remember anything like that?"

Logan shook his head. "Nothing. That was a good move – hitting him with the skillet. It was just bad luck that branch you hit him with was rotten."

"I should have kept hitting him with the skillet. Running was dumb. I just didn't realize what those drugs had done to me until I needed my strength and it wasn't there." Scott turned his head and Logan guessed that, behind that visor, Scott was looking at him. "Did you feel it? When I hit him?"

"Yeah – it really hurt, you'll be glad to know."

"Sorry."

"Hell, don't apologize – son-of-a-bitch had it coming. I tried to slow him up, but I couldn't. I'm sorry."

"Thanks for trying."

Logan ran a hand down Scott's back, and it was completely inappropriate and it felt as natural as breathing and Scott curled into it, like it was in no way insane that he liked it when Logan touched him. Logan said, "He came back, didn't he? Sabretooth? While I was…what…? No longer Mr. Hyde…?"

"Yes, he came back. He was pissed. Apparently he doesn't like it when people rip him to pieces and then kick him out into the snow."

Logan closed his eyes, thinking of Scott with those drugs in his system, so weak he could barely stand, raped so many times he had lost count, and Sabretooth, of all people, looming over him. He swallowed. "What did he do?"

There was a pause before Scott said in a quiet, apologetic voice, "He wanted to kill you. He wanted to…save me. He feels bad about what he did to me on the Island. You know about that now, right? I guess you know everything he knows."

"I'm so sorry about that. You were just a kid."

"I don't remember it. I didn't even know until he told me. The Professor must have…." Scott turned to him with sudden urgency. "Logan, don't let him make me forget this."

"Scott…I don't approve of mind-fucking anyone, not with all the memories I've lost, but if ever there was a memory you could live without –"

"It happened. I'm entitled to remember my own life. It's not his call, it's mine. So, I'm telling you so you can tell him – I don't want to forget this happened. I want to remember it."

"You were used like a sex-slave by an…animal. Did I – he even…talk to you…?"

"No, that was the worst part, the silence. But he wasn't deliberately unkind to me, Logan. He…licked me first so it wouldn't hurt so much and then he licked me to take away the pain afterwards, and he did go easy on me the first time. I think he was quite fond of me, in his own way; he just had the libido of an alpha male animal in the prime of life and my wishes didn't matter compared with his. I just kept wishing he'd talk to me…no, that's not true. I just kept wishing he was you."

Logan went still, because that wistful sighing sentence had just punched him in the heart. He wasn't sure if Scott even knew how his words had affected him. "You…did…?"

Scott burrowed into him, chilled now that he was out of the sun, glad of his warmth. "I kept thinking that you'd know how to make it so it didn't hurt. You'd know…stuff to do to take my mind off the bad parts. You'd have kissed me. At least I liked to think that you would have kissed –"

This was so wrong. Logan had his hand behind Scott's head and he was bending so he could kiss him, mouthing softly at his top lip, very gently mouthing at his bottom lip, before he let their mouths brush together, as softly as light on the waves.

Scott's mouth opened in response. He sighed, and said, "Yes, just like that." His arms were around Logan's neck and he was kissing him back, just as gently, tentative and tender, and sweet as strawberry wine. Logan gathered him into his arms and kissed him, over and over, careful and slow, and then he pulled back with a moan and said, "It's just pheromones, Scott. It's just fucking pheromones. You're not even you, right now."

"I feel like me…."

"But you're not! You're Scott Stockholm Syndrome Summers! You've got your instincts still telling you to keep the alpha beast sweet by being submissive and obedient, and, added to all that, you were all alone here, with one monster after another, and they both kicked the crap out of you, and I'm the only thing you recognize." He pulled him in close and nuzzled his hair, and his heart ached like a rotten tooth; it hurt in a way that made him want to howl. "You've been trying to protect me from what I am for days now, and what I am isn't very nice, but I'm not such an evil shit that I'm going to take advantage of you when you're not in your right mind. You love Jean."

"Yes, I really do. But I think I might…like you, too. I think maybe I always did."

Logan had a hundred answers to that but he just rubbed a hand up and down Scott's back, even though, of the two of them, Scott was the one sounding calm and rational and Logan the one sounding like he wanted to weep and rend and roar. Trying to match his tone, he said, "Then we can try to work out what that means for the three of us when we're back at the mansion."

"You'll just leave," Scott said with a sigh. "You'll go because you'll think it's the noble, self-sacrificing thing to do, and I'll be miserable, and the Professor will fix it so I don't feel so bad while everyone talks about the biochemistry of captivity and generally encourages me to get over my pathetic little crush."

"That isn't the most…worst case scenario I ever heard."

"I'm sorry, what world are you living in? Because I'm stuck in the one where mutants are only ever a few days away from being discriminated against and legislated against, and where internment camps and government-sanctioned death squads are a very real possibility."

And, okay, that was Scott Summers. The real deal. The snippy, preppy, annoying little x-brat. Logan almost jolted off the bed in the shock. "And…?"

"And where the hell do you and I get off playing star-crossed lovers in that world? We need you as one of the X-Men, Logan. You're not Ingrid Bergman. You don't get to fly off with Paul Henreid –"

"Hey, cupcake! In this scenario, you would be Ingrid Bergman. Jean would be Paul Henreid –"

"No, because we're not the ones taking off for other places. We're the ones staying in Casablanca…I mean Westchester. My point is that our drama doesn't matter compared with the reality for mutants in the here and now. You're too valuable an asset to be out there doing your lone wolf crap or doing evil stuff for the Government or getting recruited by Magneto."

"I would not get recruited by – " Logan blinked. "Do you think the pheromones wore off? I'm noticing a certain lack of sweet submission."

Scott sat up cautiously. "I feel a lot stronger. I think that sunlight really helped to counteract the drugs. And, I don't feel so…dependent." He looked up at Logan, at least his face had that intent look that suggested focused concentration. "And now you're disappointed."

"No, I'm not! I'm glad you're stronger. I'm thrilled your temperature's coming down. I'm a hundred percent behind the idea of you getting better."

"But…?"

"And…you being all obedient…not the worst thing ever, maybe, but still not you. Glad it wore off. Truly, Scott. I would rather you were you, even if you are – generally – an annoying little dick."

"Like you're not an annoying dick?"

Logan gave him that one. "I'm gonna get you some food while you're strong enough to eat it and the second the sun comes out again, I'll carry you back out there."

"Logan, don't go and look at the ship by yourself. Wait for me to come with you."

Logan was reluctant to give in to that one, but Scott was now back to being relentless about getting his own way, so he conceded rather than waste the guy's strength quarrelling. "Yeah, okay – whatever you want. Just shut up for five minutes so I can feed you…."

Scott ate with far more appetite now he had more energy. "This stuff is disgusting. If I wasn't so hungry, I would never – what the hell even is it…?"

"No idea. Been trying to work it out for days. So far, I'm getting unrecognizable gristle and gravy. But it's been keeping you alive."

"I thought Sabretooth was being nice when he got it down from the top shelf for me. I thought it was a noble gesture that proved that deep down he still cared about you and wanted me to be able to feed you. Now, I think he just wanted me to poison you."

Logan spooned more of the stuff into his mouth as he chewed that thought over. "He really wanted to…save you?"

"Yeah, he has a conscience, albeit a very small one, buried very deep."

Logan said, "I remember. When I was in his head. He wanted me to be as bad as he was so he wouldn't have to feel bad about…how bad he is."

"He said he loved you once. He said he remembered feeling it. He just couldn't remember how that feeling…feels. He looked different, when he captured me for Stryker. I think he let the animal inside him take over. I think it stole almost everything from him in exchange for all that size and strength. Don't tell Henry that, will you?"

"Beast Henry?"

"It's his worst fear."

"Then we'll keep it to ourselves." Logan tried not to be jealous about Sabretooth and Scott having a civilized conversation over his sprawled body.

"He told me your name," Scott added, still eating as if he was ravenous while grimacing at the taste. "It's James Howlett."

He would have given a lot to know that once. Now it didn't seem any more relevant to him than the weather on Mars. Whoever that guy had ever been, he was gone. So was the Sabretooth who had loved him. They might as well have been the bones and shrouds and dust on the wind that their schoolfellows would be. Nothing of James Howlett could help him in the here and now.

He said, "Logan suits me fine – but thanks, it's good to know. I can't believe that son-of-a-bitch had the gall to want to save you – he's the reason you're here. He's the reason all of this happened!"

"He's an id-driven animal with healing factor and super-strength, Logan. It's possible he doesn't really think every plan through with your focused consideration."

"Oh yeah, the pheromones have definitely worn off."

Scott nodded. "Conclusively proving, I would think, even to you, that whoever the guy was who was keeping me as a sex-slave wasn't you."

Logan growled, low and dangerous, and Scott had his instinctive flinch quelled so fast that most people probably wouldn't have seen it. Logan just looked at him and, safe behind his visor, Scott's chiseled planes were all brazen defiance.

"I'm not afraid of you, Logan. You've never done anything to make me be afraid of you."

"Doesn't the Boy Scout code have something to say about lying?"

Scott's smile was crooked and very appealing. "I never actually was a Boy Scout, Logan. My shitty orphanage wouldn't pay for the uniform, and, once the Professor took me in I was a little busy learning how to save the world."

 

The pheromones had definitely worn off. Logan could tell that because Scott had insisted – pissily – that he could walk back out into the sunlight, and had made it six swaying paces – holding onto the walls, the doorframe, and the cracked dresser – before he would have been on his ass if Logan hadn't caught him.

Scott said, "Okay, maybe I overreached."

"Yeah, just a little, Cyke. Now, will you sit on the couch while I pull on some pants?" His jeans were horribly ripped and unpleasantly stained but they did at least stop him walking around naked. Logan dressed hastily, keeping an eye on Stubborn Naked Boy, then carried Scott out into the sunlight and said, "Tell me when your beams come back."

As the sunlight poured over him and the snow crunched crisply under Logan's feet, Scott said, "I have no idea who I've even been for the past few days. I don't even know who that guy was."

"It's bio-chemistry. It's nature. It's survival, Scott." Logan tried to be matter-of-fact about it, hating the fact that there was a part of him filled with regret because Scott was never going to curl into him like that again, sweet and trusting, and caressing his chest as he burrowed in to hear his heartbeat. He was never going to be comforted by the sheer fact of Logan being close to him. He was going to curl up with Jean, be comforted by Jean, and he was going to do his best to forget that any of this nightmare had ever happened to him. And Logan was going to drink the way he usually drank to remember, but this time he was going to drink to forget.

In ten minutes, Scott was insisting that he could stand, even though that made him barefoot in the snow. Logan propped him against the corner of the barn and fetched his shoes and socks for him and told him to put them on while Scott said, "What are you – my mother?" but must have had either enough residual pheromones or some surviving remnant of common sense to comply. (Logan had knelt down in the snow and slipped the socks onto Scott's elegant feet, then put on his shoes for him. It had felt weirdly intimate; it had also put his face very close to Scott's groin. It had made him think about Prince Charming and Cinderella and he had uttered a brief broken laugh.)

Scott said, unexpectedly gently, "Not really a glass slipper, is it?"

Logan noticed the bite marks on the leather and just knew that they matched his own teeth. "My God, Scott…did I…did he…bite you, too?"

"No."

"Would you tell me if…he had? Fuck! Do we have to keep up this stupid pretense that it wasn't me?"

"Yes, we do. No, I wouldn't – tell you – but he didn't, anyway."

"Big of him. Seeing as all he demanded in exchange was absolute unquestioning obedience and constant, twenty-four hour sex." Logan ran a shaky hand through his hair. "Did he make you do other stuff? You didn't have to blow the fucker, did you?"

"He didn't know about things like that, Logan. He was…he just did what was instinctive."

Logan realized that he had imagined this guy first as Sabretooth then as himself; he hadn't actually got close to what Scott had been alone with. He got to his feet so he could look him in the visor. "Animal."

"What?"

"You were going to say: 'He didn't know about stuff like that. He was an animal.' Weren't you?"

"It sounds pejorative. I didn't mean it like that."

"No, I get it. I get it completely. You mean exactly that, no insult intended, he wasn't reasoning, he wasn't communicating, he was just an animal walking upright."

"Which you're not."

"Aww, Summers, that's sweet – wrong, but sweet. But I wasn't thinking about me, I was thinking about you. You might as well have been thrown in the lion enclosure."

Scott said, "Yes!" in a 'finally!' voice. "You're a man. We can argue about how good a man you are all day, but you're nothing other than a man. He wasn't. He could growl, he could snarl, and he could make a weird sort of…purring noise, but he couldn't speak. He barely used his hands. He ate his food raw. I doubt he could have worked out how to open a beer can or ride a motorcycle. Does that sound like you?"

"No," Logan admitted. "Not the beer can part anyway."

"Okay – so, imagine you're angry with me – shouldn't be difficult – really angry with me, and you're horny. That's…well, that's every day since we first met, right?"

"Pretty much."

"And how many times did you being angry with me while horny lead to you raping me, Logan? Because I keep doing the math and I keep getting…never. So we've established that the…whatever that was I was alone with in this cabin, wasn't you, and that whatever you are, on your worst day, wouldn't have done what he did. Wow, it's almost like they're two entirely different entities. Now, do you get why I keep telling you that it wasn't you?"

Logan pointed to his groin. "Same dick."

Scott banged his fist against Logan's forehead. "Different brain."

Logan grimaced and pushed his hand away. "Do you mind? I have brain damage."

"Who doesn't?"

Logan helped Scott limp around in the light, the guy at least showing sense enough to let Logan take his weight while telling him that he was definitely feeling stronger. Another half an hour and Scott put a hand up to his head, fretfully. "I thought my beams would be back by now."

"Scott, you're naked in the snow. Your teeth are chattering. Also – shrinkage."

"I need to absorb as much sunlight as possible."

"You can stock up on solar power tomorrow."

"It's not actually solar power in the strictest sense. It's – "

"Cyke, I know we haven't known each other that long but is there anything at all about our acquaintance up to this point that would make you think I want a science lecture on how your damned mutation works?"

Scott said, "Well, aren't we Mr. Cranky?"

Logan picked him up and carried him out of the sunlight – and the snow – into their gloomy, bloodstained, broken furniture-filled cabin. He knew Scott wasn't himself yet because the guy didn't punch him for overruling him. He just said, "Your family have terrible taste in interior décor, I hope you know that, Logan."

"Hey, I'm not saying I'd win any Good Housekeeping awards but the cabin I had was a palace compared with this shit heap."

As Logan put him on the bed, Scott said sympathetically, "Was there a girl – in the cabin?"

"There's always a girl, Slim, and they always die. That's the history I lost. Rinse and repeat."

"Well, I'm not a girl and I'm not dead, so, you at least temporarily broke that pattern."

Logan reached for the JackDaniels and took a generous swig. "Not dead yet, Cyke. You're not dead yet."

"You are a ray of sunshine, aren't you? And Jean tells me I'm withdrawn and negative."

Logan took another swig. "You are withdrawn and negative, also absurdly idealistic, emotionally repressed, riddled with – "

"We were talking about your faults, not mine."

"Except we're not allowed to talk about my faults, are we? We're not allowed to use the 'R' word."

"That. Wasn't. You."

Logan looked into that red visor, the one that hid those pretty eyes from the world and helped Scott Summers to look like a grown-up and an enigma. "Except I did want to have sex with you, Scott. That's the irony, here. I knew I wanted to fuck you and so did Sabretooth and I knew if he stayed in my head for a few more hours, when I got here, that was the first thing I'd do. So, I thought if I switched everything off, maybe I'd kill you, maybe I wouldn't, but at least I wouldn't do that. That's how sure I was that what I was at my basic primal core wasn't a rapist. That's how wrong I got it."

"It's done with. I'm healing. Let it go." Scott snatched the bottle from him and took a generous gulp.

Logan snatched it back. "You're not wired up right, Scott! Getting kidnapped, beat up, dragged around by the hair and fucked over and over again, against your will, by a vicious animal, that isn't 'Oh well, shit happens, let's move on', that's 'Give me five years of fucking therapy and a loaded gun'. And you can't drink, remember? Half a glass of…anything puts you under the table."

"Shit does happen. What's the point in going on about it? What would be achieved by me punching you in the face and raving at you for something you don't remember doing and weren't home when you did? Seriously, tell me one thing that would achieve?"

"It would make you feel better."

"No, it wouldn't."

"Well, it would make me feel better!"

Scott put his head back and it took Logan a moment to realize that he was gazing heavenwards in a 'Give me patience' fashion.

"Fine!" It was a half-strength punch but it cut his mouth open and it made pain blossom where his lower lip had been slammed against his teeth. Scott said, "Use lube next time, you asshole, saliva doesn't cut it. Okay? Are we done?"

It healed too fast. Logan said, "No! We're not done! Except in the sense that we're…done, aren't we? I mean any…this there might have been between us, that's fucked for sure."

"Do you mean working together? Because I don't have a problem with it. Do you really think you're the only X-Man who ever got mind-controlled? Logan, we get mind controlled like the Avengers get take-out. It happens when half your enemies have telepathy on their side. Bad guys take over your head and they make you do terrible things and you feel lousy about it and then you move on."

"You move on, do you?" Logan said cynically. Scott had never struck him as the type to shake off a bad decision made or a bad deed done.

Scott grimaced. "No, I personally tend to indulge in a lot of pointless self-flagellation before donning a hair shirt – I've only just realized how annoying that must be for onlookers." He scratched his unshaven jaw, the dim light from the grimy windows revealing the ragged edge of his beard, the coaldust shadows beneath his eyes. "If you meant more than working together – there would always have been Jean. I love her. I will always love her."

"I know."

"And I don't even think I like that kind of sex."

"No," Logan said. Outside the tall firs seemed to press closer, as if they wanted to hear this part. "I don't suppose you do."

"Although – I think I would have liked it a lot better with you."

It was a mistake to look at his face, to see the vulnerability wash over it, how defenseless he looked because one bad thing after another had happened to him here.

Logan said quietly, "Well, we'll never know now because, remembering the state you were in when I woke up and knowing I was the one that did that to you – kind of a passion killer."

Scott sighed and leaned in against him, unexpectedly, resting his head on Logan's shoulder. "It feels like everything's screwed up forever, doesn't it?"

"I thought 'screwed up forever' was the X-Men's motto?"

Scott laughed and then said, "Damn, I'm tired."

"Get some sleep. I'll keep a look out for…whatever comes next."

"Can you keep a watch from here? You're a much better pillow than those horrible old ones Sabretooth has."

It felt perfectly wrong and perfectly right for them to lay on the bed together, Logan at an angle across the bed, Scott making them into a T-junction with his head on Logan's chest, rising and falling in time to each one of Logan's steady breaths. Logan threw a blanket over him as Scott turned onto his side and murmured, "I can hear your heart beating. It sounds like the grandfather clock in my parents' hall. I wonder what happened to that clock…?"

He was asleep almost before he finished the sentence and Logan drew in a long, painful breath. It was incredible how much everything hurt. Dumb, too, because where else had this ever been going but nowhere? Scott was Jean's. He guessed he must have been harboring a delusion about her being willing to share – irrelevant now, given what he'd done to Scott. He was never going to be able to see Scott naked again without also remembering those grip marks on his hips, those bruises on his ass, the smell of all that dried semen on his skin. The first person in a long, long time he thought he might have fallen for and not only was he spoken for, he was the one person in the world that Logan could never get it up for again.

Sometimes, Logan seriously contemplated the possibility that this world was hell and he was being punished for all eternity.

 

Logan woke with a jolt and knew someone was coming. He hadn't heard any machinery but there were definitely people coming.

Scott was still asleep – neatly and quietly, with his mouth closed and his breathing almost silent. He clearly wasn't the type to sprawl across the bed or steal the coverlet or snore or drool like lesser men. Logan found that at once annoying and endearing. Far worse was how right it felt to wake up with Scott's head on his chest. He shook him.

"Scott, wake up."

And he was awake in an instant, no noise, no confusion. "Is there danger?"

"I think there may be people coming. You need to get dressed."

Scott felt to see if his visor was in place and then sat up. Logan thought about waking up and having to keep his eyes closed – it seemed a lot like waking up and trying not to let his claws come out and impale his bedmate. Light from the bedroom window fell onto the bed in a gloomy square, green-shaded by tall firs. The woodstore was out there. Logan had chopped logs for an hour that morning; ready for a life they weren't going to live now. They were being rescued. They were going home. It made no sense that Logan should feel anything but happiness.

He grabbed Scott's dockers for him and thrust them in his hand and then as Scott pulled those on, pulled off his own shirt and gave it to him. "Here, put this on."

Scott recoiled. "It's got Sabretooth's blood all over it."

"Your shirt got shredded."

"I'd still rather wear it than this."

Scott's shirt was a joke, but the sleeves were more or less intact and Scott put it on anyway, and tucked the dirty, torn remnants neatly into his dockers. He combed his hair tidy with his fingers, less calm than he appeared, going by his scent, while Logan pulled the bloodstained shirt back on. Scott grimaced and tried to tidy Logan's hair with his fingers, too, and, going by his expression, didn't make much impact, then Logan finished tidying Scott's hair for him – wondering if they looked as much like monkeys grooming each other as it made him feel. He could hear voices now, too far off to identify but definitely coming closer.

Scott said, "Is it Jean?" He sounded anxious and yearning at once, looking at the bed as guiltily as if he'd been a willing partner in the crimes committed against him there. Logan rested a hand on his shoulder.

"You didn't have a choice about anything that happened to you in this place and none of it was your fault."

"I know." Smoothing ineffectually at his tattered shirt, Scott sounded less than convinced, and in the grime-filtered light of the kitchen window he looked bony and ashen. Way too much like the kid he had once been for anyone's comfort.

Another guilty look at the bed from Scott and Logan wondered what Victorian novel they were now living in. "No, my mistake, let's face it, you've been compromised, your honor's dead in the water. As I've stolen your virtue, obviously I need to do the decent thing and marry you to save your name, but, unfortunately, we'll have go abroad because good society is going to close its doors to us forever."

That wry little smile could do terrible things to his heart if he let it. He was not going to let it. Scott said, "And I had no idea you could read, Logan, let alone understand literary conventions."

"Hey, I lived through that era. Just because I don't remember it doesn't mean I didn't try to work out who I used to be from time to time."

Scott looked round with interest. "Did it help? Reading old books?"

"Nope. Didn't shake a damned thing loose – just made me good and bored." He squeezed his shoulder gently. "Seriously, Scott, it's not like we eloped. You got kidnapped and raped – "

"Don't say it like that. It really does make me feel like a damsel in distress. I don't want her to know. I don't want anyone to know."

"You have nothing to be ashamed of."

"I just deal better with not talking about this kind of…stuff. I don't want people asking me if I'm okay. I don't want people telling me it's not my fault. I just want to move on and forget it ever happened."

"I understand."

Unexpectedly, Scott said, "I don't mean forget being here with you. I mean being here with Sabretooth and that other guy. Being here with you I would like to remember. Being here with you – "

Better for both of them if Scott never finished that sentence. Logan said, "They're here." He crossed the cabin and opened the door as Bobby glided down an ice slide to land on the ground, Hank slid down after him, and Jean and Storm landed gently in front of the door. They all looked impossibly clean, their hair smooth, their skin clear, and their clothes oddly uncreased. Their faces, however, were all careful blanks. Logan said, "Scott's alive. He's okay. Did you bring transport?"

Jean said, "We landed the jet a few miles from here. Is Scott…?"

Which was when Scott appeared behind Logan, looking – the white snow-light was pitiless – ragged and grubby and unshaven and, for all their best efforts, still much in need of a comb. Logan just knew it would be no consolation to his friends at all, not to mention the woman who loved him, to be told that crappy as Scott was looking, it was still a hell of a lot better than he'd looked a few days before.

Scott smiled at them. "Logan and I were wondering when you guys would get here. What took you so long?"

Storm said, "It is good to see you both alive, my friends."

Jean enveloped Scott in a hug, choking down a sob as she did so, and he returned it carefully, as if he was afraid he might damage her with too much contact. He shoved his visor up onto his forehead to look at her and when he touched her hair, it was like watching a child touch a beam of sunlight, unsure if it would burn. She pulled back. "Are you hurt? Am I hurting you?"

"No. I'm fine." He smiled in relief, apparently permitting himself to believe that she was real. "Did you know your eyes are the same color as Logan's?"

Bobby said tersely, "You don't look 'fine', Scott. You look like hell – and not one of the good ones with dancing girls."

"Sabretooth gave me some stuff he stole from the lab – knocked out my mutation, left me as weak as a kitten. Logan's been carrying me out into the sunlight to try to get my beams back."

Logan was uncomfortably aware of four pairs of eyes turned to him from carefully masked faces. No one actually met his eye. Fuck, he thought, they know. How do they know?

Still not making eye contact, Henry said, "Let's all get back to the jet. I'm sure you and Logan would both appreciate getting away from this place."

Scott said, "What about the woodstove? It's a fire hazard. I need to put it out." He pulled his visor back down then limped into the dark interior of the cabin while Logan said, "Christ, Scott, who gives a shit if Sabretooth's place burns down?" He thought of how long it was going to take Scott to totter about in there fussing over the stove and turned to Bobby. "Iceman, would you…?"

Bobby slipped into the cabin and Henry made to go with him, then, at the threshold, almost gagged as the scents hit him. He reeled back, a clawed hand clasped to his mouth, horror in his eyes, and Logan said, "Hank, I know how it must –"

"Never mind that now, Logan." He had never heard Hank sound so terse. The big guy walked away; breathing in clean air while his fists clenched, and Logan remembered that feeling of pure, unadulterated rage. Wanting to protect Scott from more ill-use; wanting to punish the bastard who'd hurt him. How simple things had seemed then.

Inside the cabin Scott started to murmur something anal and then went, "Oh – or that would work. Thanks, Bobby."

Bobby came out, helping Scott as if Scott was a ninety-year old lady. "What the hell happened in there?"

"Logan and Sabretooth had a fight. Logan won. The furniture was collateral damage."

So were you, Scott, Logan thought bitterly. When he looked up, he saw that thought mirrored grimly in Henry's golden eyes.

Jean said, "I'll take you and Logan, Scott. Bobby will ice himself and Henry back there. Storm's going to fly ahead and prep the jet."

Then Logan was being telekinetically wafted up into the air, he and Scott encased in a warm safe cocoon of Jean Grey-fuelled power. No one had looked him in the eye once. Everyone had known before Henry's senses had confirmed it. Everyone knew that he'd raped Scott.

Scott whispered, "Sabretooth's a tattle-tale."

"His little sliver of conscience must have been acting up."

It was strange being wafted along by the power of Jean's mind. Her control and strength were so much greater than when she'd been steadying him so he could try to save Rogue. Her power was almost frightening.

"Or he just wanted to tell tales on you because of sibling rivalry. I always thought Alex and I missed out on so much being separated when we were kids. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise."

Everything beneath them was white, the cabin already out of sight, the crater in which the spaceship had crash-landed left far behind. His footprints had been covered up by new snowfall, so had Sabretooth's. Gazing at all that virgin snow it looked as if he and Scott had never been in the cabin at all.

"Is your brother like you?" It seemed likely – Logan had, after all, been given all the unwelcome proof he could ever have wanted that he and Sabretooth were indeed soulmates under the skin. No doubt Scott and whateverhisnamewas were twinned souls too.

"Like me how?"

Under the circumstances it would have been crass to say 'beautiful' so he settled for, "Nerdy?"

"No. He's a surfer dude."

"Okay, Scott Summers is the last guy on earth I would expect to have a surfer dude brother."

"Well, he is the blond Summers brother."

High snow-topped mountains and rough snow-covered terrain passed beneath them as smoothly as an ocean. Sabretooth really wasn't a people person going by where he'd decided to build his cabin. And it really had been incredibly basic. No generator so no electricity. No running water. Come the zombie apocalypse Sabretooth would probably get by.

"Were you in the shitty orphanage together?"

"No. Alex was adopted. Thank God." Scott touched his hand as they were wafted apparently effortlessly over the snow banks. "I'll tell everyone it's not your fault but it would help if you could grasp that fact too."

"It was my fault."

"What other options did you have, Logan? If you took off the headset, no one ever finds me. I spend the rest of my short, unpleasant life with Sabretooth. You keep it on and let him take over your brain, the same thing happens, only in half the time because there are two of him. Your option meant I didn't die. Wasn't that why you chose it?"

"I took you for a death before dishonor guy, Scott."

"Dishonor is a cultural construct. Death tends to be more permanently damaging. The truth is that the guy who failed to come up with a winning strategy was me. I should have found a way to get away from Sabretooth. I shouldn't have let him ambush us in the first place. I'm the one who screwed up, not you. You had to play the hand you did because that was the only hand I left you."

"That is the biggest crock I ever heard. Your powers weren't working!"

"That doesn't excuse my brain not working. I'm right and you know it."

By the time Jean wafted them carefully into the jet, they were actively quarrelling. She set them down, very gently, on the ramp and the telekinetic support fell away. Scott, still weak, staggered, and Logan quickly put an arm around him – Hank and Bobby both grimaced at the sight of Logan touching Scott and it was only with the greatest effort that Hank didn't intervene, Logan was all too aware of their reactions, he just pretended that he didn't see them.

"You're the one talking nonsense, Logan," Scott said, leaning against him automatically.

"And how exactly do you think a guy with no powers, so weak he could barely walk unaided, could have done more than you did? You burned through your bonds. You got away from the son of a bitch – "

"If I'd stayed put and kept hitting him with the skillet until he was unconscious, I could have tied him up."

Logan helped Scott limp up the ramp into the belly of the jet. "Except the guy is five times stronger than you are and you're a faster runner than he is, so it made sense to get away from him – "

"I'm not faster than he is. He caught me in that school."

"You were a kid then! Your legs are longer now."

"Except a semi-quadruped is always going to outrun a biped! It was a dumb plan, badly executed!"

Logan lowered him carefully into a seat. "The standards you set for yourself are impossible, Scott. Given how weak you were from the drugs in your system, it's a miracle you managed to crawl out of that place, never mind run."

"It was my job to escape and I screwed it up."

"You're nuts if you think that, Slim!" Logan sat down and strapped himself in, darting anxious looks at Scott as he did so. Somehow seeing him in the familiar setting of the x-jet revealed just how bad he still looked. He should have been all crisply defined confidence, not this unshaven, underfed thing.

Scott seemed to belatedly become aware that there were other people in the jet who weren't Logan. He gave them a smile of reassurance. "Really good to see you guys again. That canned stuff Logan and I were eating was disgusting."

Jean heroically summoned up a cheerful expression – Logan wasn't sure how given the state of Scott – and said, "So, the truth comes out. You love us only for our steamed vegetables."

"And grilled chicken," Scott reassured her. "I love you for that, too." He was looking at her face as if it were beautiful to him and Logan felt his heart hurt, because Scott had looked at him just like that. It was a double-edged sword to realize that the woman he had no doubt that Scott loved was being gazed at the way Scott had looked at him. He didn't know what that meant for any of them, but he doubted it would be anything simple. Scott said softly, "I love the color of your hair, Jean."

Logan reckoned he owed her a drink because she was being a damned trooper, the way she choked back that sob. "And here was me thinking it would be a disappointment when you're used to seeing it through a red haze."

"No – still impressively…fiery."

She reached for his visor. "You don't need this right now. Why don't you leave it off…?"

He clung to it. "No – my beams might come back. We were out in the sun for a while."

Logan guessed everyone on the jet knew Scott was hiding behind his visor right now just so he wouldn't have to look anyone in the eye. Logan didn't blame him. He would have liked a visor to hide behind himself.

Jean stroked Scott's trailing bangs back from his face. His hair stayed where it was put and she grimaced. Scott said quickly, "Trust me, Jean, my hair was a lot dirtier before Logan washed it for me – blame Sabretooth for the lack of shampoo."

Jean tried so hard not to look horrified as she said to Logan, "You…washed…Scott?"

Hank and Bobby looked appalled too. Logan guessed they all thought it was some kind of kinky sex thing. He said, "Scott likes to be clean. I didn't think he'd want to wake up dirty."

"Are you kidding?" Scott said. "That was the best bath ever. Hey, think about it, Logan – water that you don't have to haul up from a well, and heat that doesn't involve fighting that woodstove every step of the way. It will feel like magic."

Logan tried to do what Scott was doing and pretend that everything wasn't irrevocably screwed up. "It was the beer I was missing. I can't believe Sabretooth and I are really brothers, given that the guy doesn't keep any beer in the house."

"It does make that blood connection seem very unlikely," Scott said.

"Could be worse, I guess," Logan said. "My brother's a homicidal, raping psychopath with no scruples, who doesn't even like beer, but, hey, at least he doesn't surf." He steeled himself to meet Jean's eye. "Is he the one who told you where he'd taken Scott?"

"Anonymous phone call," she said, "but it sounded like him."

Scott said, "His erratic conscience must have been acting up again – but I still think he wanted me to poison you with that stew stuff we've been eating…."

There was a tremor in Jean's voice she was trying very hard to suppress as she said, "Scott, are you…okay?"

He tilted his head up to look at her from behind that wonderfully concealing visor which he didn't need but had chosen to wear anyway. "I'm fine – thanks to Logan. He got rid of Sabretooth and he took care of me."

Logan's claws came out unbidden and he couldn't entirely choke down that snarl of disagreement. "That's one way of looking at it," he growled.

Scott turned his head in his direction. "It's how I see it."

"You and no one else on the goddamn planet, Slim."

There was a terse silence and then Jean said with only the slightest tremor in her voice, "You both look tired. Why don't you try to sleep on the way home?"

As Storm piloted the jet, Hank strapped himself in, Bobby looked over his seat at Scott and Logan with unhappy eyes, Jean sat down beside Scott and took his hand in hers. He smiled at her reassuringly and then craned his neck to look past her to Logan.

Scott said, "Remember what I said, Logan. I don't want to forget this. Don't let the Professor…."

Logan said, "I won't."

And then they were rising up from the snowy wasteland into a clear sky and Logan realized he was more exhausted than he had ever been in his life and all he wanted to do was sleep.

***

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FIVE: We Two Have Paddled In The Stream

Jean sat beside Scott's bedside and held his hand. She only had to turn her head to see Logan too. He was almost close enough to touch. She felt a possessive protective…something towards them both that was almost as primal as the part of Logan's brain she had just explored. Perhaps it was because she had spent the last hour doing the unthinkable and trespassing through their minds. They were so vulnerable like this, kept just under the surface of consciousness while their minds and bodies healed. She had acquiesced to this. The Professor had been so certain; he had overwhelmed all their objections.

Trust me, Jean. I know this is the right course. I know this is for the best.

Now, she wondered if she should have fought harder. She felt as confused as their poor, remodeled minds. Usually, Henry would have been someone with whom she could discuss her doubts, but he was still traumatized. The scents in the cabin had told him far too vivid a tale and she knew the rest of them had been fortunate to be spared it, going by the effect it had had on him, but he was not the rational advocate she needed right now. He was coping rather less well than anyone – except for the Professor.

It had taken her a while to realize that Xavier wasn't the dispassionate onlooker he appeared; the one amongst them able to see the big picture while the rest of them were too close to the problem to get it in focus. Once upon a time, they had been children and he had been the grown-up, and those roles still lingered in all their interaction, and never more so than between the Professor and Scott. Xavier was the man who had adopted Scott when he was a shy, gawky teenager. The man whose care had transformed that abused child into the capable, beautiful, unflinchingly courageous man Jean loved. Xavier wasn't a very warm person, on the whole – she thought that was down to his chilly upbringing, wealthy parents always absent, leaving him to be raised by nannies; they hadn't even noticed he was being relentlessly bullied by his stepbrother. The lack of warmth was probably why it had never occurred to him to give Scott the hugs he so desperately needed. Or perhaps it was just a male thing. Either way, Scott had grown up with a few gaps. He did his best, but if Jean were honest, much as she loved him, 'well-adjusted' was not a box she would have checked for Scott on any mental form. The lack of warmth could fool the unwary into thinking that Xavier didn't care deeply. She realized she had made that mistake five days ago, not of thinking him callous, but of imagining him to be in any way objective when Henry had just carried into Xavier's house the bruised, sleeping body of his much-abused son.

What she had taken to be wisdom had probably been reaction. He had wanted those terrible experiences expunged from Scott's life. He had wanted them never to have happened. He had the means to make it so. He had done so. She wasn't angry with him for reacting like a parent; she was angry with herself for not realizing until now that he had been doing so.

It had taken Henry's more obvious not-coping to make her belatedly realize the truth. Henry had been so calm about it that it had taken her a few days – numbed with relief as she was at getting both Scott and Logan back alive and horror at just how brutal an ordeal Scott had been through – to realize that wise, kind Beast was having a semi-breakdown.

The first few days there had been the reaction to getting them home safely. After all the agonizing days of waiting and wondering – that deafening silence in her head where Scott's mind should have been; Storm flying over every snowy wasteland she could find, scanning the white wildernesses for any glimpse of their lost comrades; Xavier and Jean taking shifts in Cerebro, waiting for a force beam to light up on the screen and that mental voice that never came; Hank and Bobby out in the jet, searching for every place that looked likely on a map – yes, there had been relief. Relief and a strange emptiness and a body-hammering exhaustion. She had thought she had picked that up from Scott when she reached into his mind and realized how drained that foul stuff from the lab had left him. It had taken Henry to point out that Jean not having slept for days might be more of a factor in her current need to switch off her brain, switch off her body, and just sink into oblivion.

So she had slept and slept – just as Scott and Logan and slept and slept, unlike them, however, her sleep had been natural. She had been aware, as she dozed by Scott's bed – needing to be in the same room with him so she could reassure herself that he was found and his restoration not just a dream from which she must awaken to find him still unendurably lost – that Henry was taking Scott away from time to time. He always brought him back within the hour, posting him under the bedclothes with infinite tenderness, just as one would expect from Henry. It had taken her a few days to be awake for long enough to realize that she didn't know exactly what he was doing with Scott. She presumed it was tests that needed to be performed somewhere else, but then realized that was odd when the infirmary and the laboratory were so close together and Hank was taking him in a different direction.

Jean had pretended to be asleep, waited until after Hank slipped Scott back into bed, hooked him back up to his various drips and then gone off to do whatever it was he did when he was not either brooding in the infirmary or borrowing Scott, and then peeled back the blankets to see what possible experiments he could be running. That examination had revealed no new needle marks of any kind. Nothing to suggest any kind of testing. Scott's bruises were fading beautifully; the fluids and the sweet ringers were taking away that gaunt, starved look, the intravenous antibiotics had banished the last of his fever. Every day he looked more like Scott. His ribs were now blue and yellow, not black and purple, those marks on his hips were no longer clearly visible as having been left by gripping hands, just the ghost of fingers now. She smoothed some ointment into the marks anyway, touching him as lightly as possible, in case anything still hurt. It felt so wrong to be afraid of touching Scott. She had been able to explore his body and his mind at his open invitation for so many years, and, on the jet, after she had pushed Logan into a restful sleep which he desperately needed, when she had tentatively reached out to Scott, all she had felt were walls. He had been afraid of her realizing the truth. She suspected that furtive, buried truth was another reason for Xavier's barely repressed rage.

And how did you tell a fellow telepath – one far more adept than yourself, and your teacher and guardian to boot – that he needed to admit his anger? That he needed to look at his own feelings and see them for what they were? He had made calm, generous speeches in the privacy of his study, while they stood around him like schoolchildren, about how none of them must blame Logan. Logan had done the best he could. It wasn't his fault, what had happened. He would tell Scott that should he ever remember; Xavier trying to find a role for himself in this as Scott's guide and mentor, still; as if his own feelings weren't engaged. As if he didn't want to stab Logan in the heart right now.

Earlier that afternoon, Henry must have thought she was asleep, as he walked silently into the infirmary, unhooked Scott from his drips, picked Scott up in his arms, and carried him off, yet again. (She had missed his morning visit, awakening only in time to find him putting Scott back to bed.) Jean had risen to her feet, slipped off her shoes, and followed him. He might scent her, but she suspected he was too focused on Scott right now even to do that.

She had realized as she trailed one of her oldest friends along an empty corridor that the tensed knot in her heart hadn't relaxed yet. Getting Scott back had helped but it hadn't healed; she was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Of course, Jean thought; wondering how she could have been so slow to realize what was now obvious. This isn't over. That thought was followed by two others: I need to know what they know. And: What if they do, too?

That was the truly shocking thought; the one that placed her where she had never expected to be – in direct opposition to Charles Xavier.

Then she turned the corner to find a bathroom door just closing and when she turned the handle and stepped inside, all other thoughts were temporarily banished.

Henry must have filled the bath before he collected Scott from the infirmary – the condensation was still wet on the tiles, the mirrors modestly fogged – just as he had laid out all the plastic bottles in an orderly row, the new washcloths, the new towels, and the sealed plastic kit. (She could see the words 'Full Wash' and 'enteroclisma', but she knew, anyway, what it must be and carefully averted her eyes.) She didn't want to startle Henry while he was carrying Scott, so she let him lower him tenderly into the tub then pick up the washcloth as he sank to his knees by Scott's head, one arm supporting him in the clean, warm water.

As she crossed the room, Jean saw the medical waste bin, yellow plastic, shouting hazard signs, and depressed the pedal to look inside. It was as she expected, a disassembly of wet towels, wet washcloths, barely used bars of soap and all those coiling guts of plastic tubing and flat blue plastic bags.

Crouching down next to Henry, Jean put her arms around him and said softly, "Henry, Scott's clean now."

"No. I can still smell it on him. I can smell what that…animal did to him."

"It wasn't Logan."

"I know. It wasn't his conscious mind. It's the…beast that lives inside him."

"I don't think it was and neither does Scott. I don't think it was any part of Logan." She reached up and cradled his handsome blue-furred face in her hands, turning his head to look at her. "You need to stop washing Scott now."

"No, Jean. He's still…I can still smell it all over him."

She kept her voice low and soothing: "Henry, I can't imagine how much worse it was for you than the rest of us. You smelled everything that happened in that place – every awful thing that was done to Scott. And every time you close your eyes, you smell it again, but it isn't on Scott. It's in your memory. You need to let it go now, Henry."

"It was in his hair, Jean, and all over his skin, and inside him…."

"But he's clean now." She stroked Henry's face gently, holding his golden gaze. "Hank – Logan didn't do this."

"You don't know what it's like to have an animal within. To have all that strength and potential rage – that capacity to do harm. Do you remember when I just kept getting stronger and stronger and my IQ kept dropping like a barometer before a storm…? Even then, I was dangerous, even before I changed. People like Logan and me – we're so damned dangerous!"

She put her arms around him, holding him while he held Scott in the water, and would not allow herself to be angry at what he had been doing, because he had the right to fall apart sometimes; they all did. He'd known Scott since he was a skinny kid and Henry was the big, brainy fallback who followed him into danger and carried him home when he got hurt. She knew everyone – Hank, Bobby, probably even Warren subconsciously, and, certainly, the Professor – had heaved a secret sigh of relief when she and Scott started dating. It meant there were no outsiders breaking up the band; no Yoko Ono to contend with; and it meant she would keep Scott safe, and Scott would keep Jean safe, and it had all been so tidy. And then she, alone, was realizing that Scott was twenty-six now, and very emphatically not the boy Xavier still thought he was, yet had never slept with anyone but her. He'd fallen in love with Jean Grey when he'd been barely more than a child and he'd never got a chance to have brief infatuations with unsuitable people or tawdry one night stands that were just about sex. He'd never just got drunk at a party and gone home with the wrong girl or guy and woken up with a hangover and shocked regrets. He'd never had the chance to accumulate all those stupid romantic mistakes that added up to life experience; that added up, in the end, to life. Everything had only ever been the Big Romantic One True Love.

And then Logan had arrived, all beer-breath and dissonance and Scott had ruffled up like a cat with a lawn sprayer, too unfamiliar with the experience to realize – as Jean had swiftly done about herself – that what he was feeling was good old-fashioned physical attraction. Scott had never really been drawn towards a body that didn't contain a mind he loved before, so he hadn't recognized the signs at first. If she had been less intent upon her own sexual interest in Logan, she might have noticed his a little sooner. Poor Scott had been floundering in unknown waters. She realized now that he had just started to comprehend that he liked Logan rather more than he thought he should when Sabretooth had taken him away.

Xavier was very angry about that. She suspected he would have been angry anyway. No two people could be less alike than Xavier and Sinister but they both had the same bad habit of thinking of Scott as belonging to them; a much-loved cog in a glorious machine. In Sinister's plans for him, Scott was supposed to breed beautiful genetic material with a mate hand-picked for him, while in Xavier's hopes for a better world, Scott was supposed to be the leader of the X-Men, the adopted son who never caused his father a day's disquiet, and the perfect boyfriend for Jean Grey. (Sometimes she wondered if Xavier even knew how much he needed her to keep Scott safe. He wondered how he would react if a woman without powers should happen by and want Scott just because he was handsome. Someone who couldn't just whisk him out of danger on a telekinetic cloud….)

And she, alone of all of them – perhaps because she alone was having regular sex with him – seemed to have noticed that Scott had grown up; that he was a man now, with wants and needs that might not perfectly correlate with the ones he'd had at sixteen. That perhaps it would be a good idea for him to have some life experiences that hadn't been pre-approved by everyone who'd ever loved him. They were all so intent on protecting the boy he had once been that no one seemed to have noticed that he wasn't that boy any longer.

Still holding Henry, Jean said gently, "Hank – Scott's so much stronger than you think he is."

"I should have protected him –!"

"No, you shouldn't. There was nothing you – or any of the rest of us – could have done. There was nothing more Scott could have done to stop it happening. And there was nothing more Logan could have done to save Scott from himself. It was one of those times where we just didn't get to win. We've had them before and we'll have them again, but Scott's going to be fine, and you need to stop washing him. It's not doing him any good and if he was awake, he really wouldn't like it."

"I can smell –"

She put her hands up to his face. "Smell me, Henry. It's just skin and soap. And so is Scott. There's nothing of that place left on him. It's in your head and you need to let it go."

With her fingers against his temples she let him experience what she could smell in the room – soap and water and her perfume. She leaned in and brushed Scott's wet cheek with her mouth, letting Henry get the scent of medication and fabric softener from the sheets, and soap and shampoo from the morning's bath. "You see…?"

Henry inhaled cautiously. "I… I thought…." He blinked at her in realization and said, "Oh my stars and garters, Jean. What have I been doing?" He scooped Scott out of the bath and she helped him to wrap him a voluminous bath sheet. They sat on the bench together, Scott clasped in Henry arms, looking quite peaceful with his head on Henry's huge furry shoulder, while Henry stared blankly at the white tiles on the far bathroom wall.

Jean said, "Everyone reacts differently to shock."

Hank looked grimly at Scott's sleeping face. "Jean, the terrible truth has more or less forced itself upon me these last few days that –"

"I know what you've been thinking – and it isn't true."

" – if Logan could do that then so could I."

"No one wants to hear this because you all think Scott is too…infatuated to be thinking straight, but Scott doesn't think it was Logan. Scott thinks Logan's mind was messed around with by someone else."

Shaking his head, Henry said, "It's a nice idea. No one wants to think Logan would do that to Scott or anyone else – and I imagine Scott has the most investment in believing the man he has a…schoolboy crush on would never brutalize him like that, but the fact remains that Logan did."

'Schoolboy crush' had been Xavier's phrase, of course, clipped and dismissive. Also, hurt and angry, because Scott falling for Logan made everything untidy and difficult when it should have been simple and clean. Now, of course, it was so much worse than that. Now it was a betrayal – Scott still wanting to sleep with the enemy that Xavier couldn't quite bring himself to admit that he currently violently disliked.

"Logan's body did. Scott thinks there was nothing of Logan in his mind at the time. He thinks that's why Logan doesn't remember it."

"It's far more likely that Logan has – understandably – repressed memories that are too difficult for him to deal with. Look, Jean, I like the man. I think he's a warrior for good, if we're allowed to wallow in clichés. But he was also hitting on Scott with all the subtlety of a blacksmith's hammer for weeks before…this happened."

"Speaking as someone who also once very much wanted to have sex with Scott while Scott remained maddeningly oblivious of my attraction toward him, I resent the implication that wanting to have sex with Scott in any way correlates to being ready to rape him. Logan wasn't chasing a physical sensation, Hank. If he had been, he would have just shoved Scott up against a wall and kissed him to see what happened next, with nothing to lose either way. He was falling for Scott, the same way Scott was falling for him. Neither of them knew how to move things forward, yes, but there was no scenario Logan was toying with in his head that involved him wanting to have sex with Scott against Scott's will."

She peered up into Henry's place to see if she was getting through. "What was done to Scott in that place bore no resemblance to any of Logan's sexual fantasies about Scott. He didn't want to conquer him or…own him. He just wanted Scott to acknowledge that there was an attraction between them and maybe do something about it. Someone messed with Logan's brain and then sent him after Scott. I want to know who it was and I want to know why they did it and then I want to punch them really hard in the face."

He blinked at her in shock. "Jean…?"

"You think you and Xavier are the only ones with some anger management issues right now? You're not the only one who's known Scott since he was sixteen. No one does that to my boyfriend. More than that – no one does that to my friends."

"I still think you and Scott are indulging in – perfectly understandable – transference, so you don't have to hold Logan responsible for his crime."

"Then we'll have to agree to disagree."

Henry said, "I wish I knew what it is that you think Logan has to offer Scott that we're not already giving him, because – even if he weren't guilty of a horrible crime against him – I just can't see it."

"Maybe the best thing he has to offer Scott is not having known him back then. Not seeing him as a skinny, insecure kid who needs saving. We're mirrors of our environment, Henry. We become what people think we are. I was never beautiful until you and Warren and Scott thought I was. You made me that way."

"That isn't true."

"It is, believe me. What you saw in me – it gave me a light I didn't have before. I will never stop being grateful for that. But we've all seen Scott shatter, and gather up the pieces and struggle on, and we love him for being strong enough to keep going even when he's broken. Logan doesn't know that Scott's broken. Maybe if he spends enough time with Logan, Scott will forget he is, too." She wondered if Henry knew that when he had lost his human face he had acquired a leonine magnificence that sometimes took the breath away but was entirely unsuited to bewilderment. Sighing, because she guessed when it came to Scott and Logan's relationship that no one else was going to think it anything but the worst of all possible ideas, she rose to her feet. "Are we at least agreed that Scott doesn't need to be…washed three times a day while you deal with your 'I have an inner beast' issues?"

Henry grimaced. "Very much agreed. Although my irrational actions of the last few days do lend credence to my argument that even those of us who consider our intentions towards Scott benign when we are in our right minds are quite capable of perpetuating invasive and unpleasant acts upon him when our mental stabilizers are off."

She accompanied him back the infirmary as he carried Scott there, Hank gently slipping him back into the bed and patting his shoulder in brief apology. "I'm truly sorry, Scott. Next time I promise to just take a valium."

They were not in agreement on the matter enough for her to say what was in her thoughts, which was that even the neurotic bathing, soaping, and thrice daily administration of enemas as a poor coping mechanism for self-loathing was possibly nothing like as damaging to Scott as the Professor's unilateral decision to rearrange his and Logan's minds….

The Professor's voice in her mind sounded as wise and calm as always:

Jean, my dear, this is a very emotional time for all of us. I understand your doubts, but trust me when I say that I acted for the best and it's essential that we all play our part in….

She followed it down the corridor to his study.

…not least because, without those pheromones to cushion what happened to him, Scott would react very badly to his own apparent acquiescence….

She opened the door, stepped inside and closed it, firmly. "Scott's not a child. He can grasp perfectly well that he had no other choice but giving in. Any other option would have ended up with him dead and Logan a murderer."

All that light outside the study window; irrationally she resented the days stolen from Scott and Logan by this need to lie to them. After all those dreary hours they had spent cocooned by snow and darkness, everything dirty and broken, they should have been able to enjoy the sunshine, the mackerel skies, the mellow birdsong. They should have been able to luxuriate in hot water from faucets and instant electric lights and decent food. Instead, they'd languished unconscious in the infirmary, sedated in Scott's case, and telepathically held beneath the surface of sleep in Logan's, while Scott's bruises faded enough to fit in with the lie he was going to be told.

Xavier smiled at her sadly. "I don't think you're making enough allowances for masculine irrationality when it comes to our…place in the world. This would damage Scott, terribly. He's struggled so hard to gain self-confidence. This could set him back years."

She could feel how wounded he was; how great a toll the last few days had taken on him, Scott's kidnapping and then the realization of the ordeal he had been subjected to while so far from Xavier's protection. She could relate.

Jean said, "What about Logan?"

Xavier wheeled himself forward to meet her. "I was thinking of Logan as much as Scott. Why should he have to carry the guilt for actions over which he had no control and has no memory? He did a terrible, terrible thing – "

"Scott doesn't think it was Logan."

There was something a little petulant in the way Xavier spun his chair around to hide his expression. "Scott is irrational when it comes to Logan…a foolish, hero-worshipping crush, further confused by those wretched pheromones telling him that the man was his…protector."

"I understand you feeling that Scott needs to be protected from what happened to him in that cabin – although I'm not sure I agree with you. I don't understand why he needs to be protected from having romantic feelings for Logan."

He looked at her in shock. "You, of all people, must see how unnecessarily complicated – "

"Life is an unnecessary complication, Charles. We don't get to smooth out its creases on a whim."

His anger flared. "A whim? You think I went into the mind of a boy who was brainwashed for years and altered his memories on a 'whim'?"

"It wasn't necessary. It wasn't, at least, essential." She was having to fight to keep her own anger under control. "And Scott isn't a 'boy', Charles. He's all grown up now. He's entitled to have untidy feelings for untidy teammates. He's entitled to make the same stupid mistakes the rest of us got to make before we met him. He's entitled to feel what he's feeling." She wished now that she had taken Scott with her when she went away to college. He had been in the same place, surrounded by the same people, for too long.

Xavier came forward again and took her hand in his. "Jean, given what Logan did to Scott, you must see how impossible the situation was for both of them? Logan said it himself – that there could be no possible relationship between them after what occurred in that cabin. They were left with unresolved feelings, unresolved attraction, terrible guilt…. Why put them through that when they had already been through so much? All I've done is turn back the hands of the clock. I've erased the worst crime that Logan has ever committed and the worst experience Scott was ever forced to endure. I've given them a second chance."

"Consciously or unconsciously you also walled up Scott's attraction to Logan."

"Because his attraction is absurd! He's a little past…adolescent experimentation, don't you think?"

"He didn't get to be an adolescent, Charles! He was locked up in that orphanage, being experimented on by a madman when the rest of us were attending High School and having stupid crushes. He was always isolated from people his own age and ordinary experiences. It's not as if coming here really changed that, is it?"

Xavier sighed. "I know you think I made mistakes."

"I think it would have been nice if you'd spent a little less time training him in the Danger Room and a little more time telling him that you loved him."

He looked truly wounded. "Do you doubt that I love him?"

She sank down next to his chair and took his hand in hers. "Not at all, but I think Scott does. He doesn't think he's very…lovable. We all might be to blame for that."

"He's mentally connected to a woman who has told him every day since you two first started dating how loved he is. I think perhaps the ground may just be a little stony when it comes to Scott."

"The fact remains that Logan isn't like the rest of us – and he's not all rationality and order, the way Scott is. He's chaotic and impulsive and he's crude and he's basic, but I think there is something in him that Scott might need. Surely, if Scott has feelings for Logan, then he ought to get the chance to explore them? And if Logan –"

"Logan!" Xavier spun his wheelchair around. "He raped my son!"

There was such raw anguish in his voice; he had to fight to get himself back under control. "I don't blame him…."

"Yes, you do. Admit it, Charles. You're furious with him, and you want to punish him. You can't bear the prospect that he might get away with having done that to someone you love and be rewarded for it. Be honest…?"

He turned back round, looking impossibly weary. "Yes, agreed. All of it. Scott kissed him, Jean. Right there, on the same bed where…. I don't understand why Scott…. At least, I do. It was the pheromones. He couldn't help himself but…the man has no right to Scott's love after what he did to him. No right at all."

She said gently, "That's Scott's decision, not ours."

"He isn't in his right mind!"

"Scott is perfectly sane. He's just not thinking the way you think he should be. There's a difference. You keep saying you know he's not a child any more, but I don't think you've really noticed that he's grown up."

"He's still my child," Xavier said softly. "He always will be. And I will never consent to him being…basely mauled around by the same man who…."

"Scott doesn't think it is the same man. Scott doesn't think what was done to him in that cabin had anything to do with who Logan is at his…primal core."

"Scott's suffering from PTSD. When he's himself again he'll realize that he's very grateful not to have compounded a trauma with an arrant folly." He wheeled himself forward and took both her hands in his. "Jean, I understand your misgivings, but we need to present a united front on this. Ororo has agreed. Henry has agreed. If you go back on what we agreed now, then both Scott and Logan will be made to suffer unnecessarily. What possible benefit is it to either of them to be forced to relive such a terrible trauma? We can save them from suffering, Jean. We can save them from so much unnecessary pain…?"

His own blue eyes were clouded with pain; the bruised shadows under his eyes from all the days of waiting and fearing only highlighted the weight he'd lost while Scott was absent and they had no way of knowing if he were alive or dead. Charles had suffered terribly. He was still suffering now; his mind replaying the images he had found in Scott's when he was trying to heal the damage life had done to his adopted son. He was sincere and his conviction was unassailable. She only had doubt to offer in exchange. Vague misgivings were not much to put up against such absolute certainty.

She bowed her head in defeat. "We try it your way, but I reserve the right to change my mind if I think we're harming them by lying, and I still think Scot will know we're not telling the truth."

"No, he won't." Xavier said it with too much conviction. "He'll believe what he's told."

The because he loves and trusts us and knows we would never lie to him rang hollowly unspoken in her thoughts. She had the uncomfortable feeling that Xavier had done this before, for Scott's own good – gently erased something cruel or distressing to keep it from hurting Scott. She wondered if all men were like this with their first-born sons, unable to believe, long after the training wheels had been removed from the bicycle, that they could really pedal safely by themselves.

As she left the study, mind no more reassured than when she had entered it, Jean realized, absurdly, that the person whose opinion she would most have valued at present was that of Mad Bad Magneto – however dangerous to know he might be. Erik Lenscherr had proven a far worse father to his messed up children than Charles Xavier had ever been to Scott, but, all the same, she suspected he might have some brittle clarity to bring to what seemed to her, with all the guilt and rage and repressed emotions currently simmering under the surface, to be a veritable fog of confusion.

 

The needle of the sedative drip had been eased out of Scott's weary veins and Jean was holding his hand while she waited for him to wake up. She had the right to do that. Once upon a time, she would have given anything to have the right to show her love for him openly. She had been so wounded by his pain – she still was – and it had hurt more to have to hide how much she cared. She didn't despise her younger self as Scott sometimes seemed to with his, but she did seem like a stranger – that girl weak-kneed over Scott and not brave enough to tell him that she wanted him. Perhaps that was why she, alone, had sympathy for Logan; all that brusque disguise of his making perfect sense to her. Thanks to his healing factor, Logan might be difficult to kill but she suspected he was a lot easier to wound than he ever wanted the world to know, and Scott had days when he was so All About The Mission that one could bleed out from a broken heart in front of him and he would barely notice. There were days when Scott could be unreachable even when you were touching him.

She didn't want to lose him. He had been comfortably hers for so many years, and she didn't want to give him up. She didn't even want to share him. But she wanted him to be happy – not as some platitude murmured at a dinner party, because she was a good sport who knew how to play the game – but because she couldn't bear for him to be unhappy. His pain hurt her like a clumsy bone graft, right to the nerve. She never had been able to bear to see him suffering. He didn't shake things off the way some people did. He bore the wounds life gave him, often uncomplainingly, but he didn't truly recover from the emotional scarring. Logan, ironically, given his healing factor, seemed to her to be very much the same way. He internalized pain. He buried it and he hid it, like a miser with a tarnished coin collection, but it didn't really heal. She had the power to damage both of them so badly and it frightened her – how much harm she could do. It made her want to gather them up and hold them close and keep them safe from all comers. She wanted to put herself between them and the world and dare it to lay another grimy finger on their aching heads.

The panic at the thought of Logan taking Scott away from her rose up, choking her, and she pressed a kiss to Scott's brow. (Logan had kissed him like this. She had seen it in his mind. Scott had been sleeping in that creaking, foul old bed, and Logan had felt that same fear of harm coming to him that sometimes woke her in the night. He had bent and kissed him quickly, so Scott would never know, just to feel the warmth of Scott's skin against his mouth. No way had the man who left that kiss done those other deeds. Whoever that creature had been, that mind-mauled, id-driven animal, he wasn't in Logan now. She had looked for him, down to the murky Moria deeps of Logan's mind, and what lived there was a berserker killer and a noble beast. There was absolutely no one there who would have forced himself on a drug-weakened, body-bruised Scott.)

She looked across at Logan, lying with the sheet halfway up his chest, those unexpectedly elegant hands at rest, no sign of the death they could deal in evidence. She wondered how anyone could look at that face and not know that this man was a hero, all the way down to his murderous depths. He might do bad things for good reasons or good things for bad ones, but he would not do bad deeds for his own selfish gain, and he was not, in any way, shape, or form, a rapist. Scott's mind had held not a crumb of doubt. The man had pinned him down and hurt him over and over again, and not for an instant had Scott ever thought that the mind driving that muscular body had ever belonged to Logan.

Xavier had always been good about telling Scott that he believed in him. Perhaps the difference between him and Jean was that she truly did believe in him. She trusted Scott's judgment and she trusted her own – and they both thought Logan was a hero and a victim here. She looked the possibility in the eye that she might be looking at the man who was going to take Scott away from her, but she still couldn't make herself hate him and she certainly couldn't make herself stop believing in him.

She rose up and bent over him now, making it look as if she was just adjusting the sheet, in case anyone should be passing, and whispered fiercely in Logan's ear: "Scott loves you. You love Scott. You didn't hurt him. Someone else did. Anything else could be a lie but those are absolute truths." She could feel the walls in both their minds and she would not knock them down, but she did just whisk out a snaking tendril and let it inch its way into the mortar.

Jean had donned an expression of serenity like a Sunday hat before she bent over Scott in time to smile at him as he awakened from his sleeping beauty drowse.

His visor was sitting on the bedside table – it was such a luxury to be able to look at his face without it. The drips were out, the bruises faded to a pale melancholy. His black lashes flickered and then lifted and there was the shock of the blue eyes she so rarely got to see.

"Scott…?"

A bright smile to welcome him back to the light while her mind was shivering: Some days you are too beautiful for me to bear. Without his visor Scott's was not a face for everyday use. Without his visor it hurt her a little just to look at him. She suspected only Logan would understand why.

Scott winced and put a hand up to his head – because dramatic verisimilitude demanded that he and Logan both had to wake up with a headache. There seemed no end to the small indignities that were to be inflicted on them for their own good.

He got her in focus and smiled. "Jean…?" He clapped anxious hands to his face. "My visor!"

She was swift and soothing: "You had a bang on the head at the laboratory – do you remember? It's knocked out your mutation for a while."

He rubbed his head. "Sabretooth? He blasted me with some kind of – Where's Logan?" He twisted around and then craned his neck to see into the next bed. "Is he okay? Did he get shot too?"

Scott scrambled out of bed and she barely grabbed him in time; his legs weak after days of sedation. She held him up and helped him limp over to Logan's bed. She watched Scott's face, wondering if the sight of Logan would be enough to trigger a buried memory, but there was only concern in his expression. "Why's he still out?"

"He got hit more times than you did." Jean was determined to stick to as much of the truth as possible.

Xavier must have been monitoring them because Logan began to stir. He came around, blinking in confusion, and then looked at them both, a softness in his face when he saw Jean and then that combative light in his eye as he gazed at Scott. "Keeping watch by my bedside, eh? I knew you were sweet on me really, Cyke."

Scott rolled his eyes. "Well, what's not to love? You okay?"

Logan sat up, wincing a little, cricking his neck and putting a hand to the back of his head. "Yeah…you?"

"Headache," Scott admitted.

"Tell me about it."

Scott turned to Jean. "What happened with the Power-8? And is Gorgo's brother okay? Did Callisto have any idea who the people were behind that warehouse she raided…?"

Her answers to that and the dozen other questions he had about the laboratory were probably inadequate, but Logan interrupted anyway:

"Hey, how'd'ya get Scott back? I thought Sabretooth took him through the wall?"

Jean had practiced this answer but it didn't stop her throat feeling dry and resistant, like it didn't want to let the lies pass: "He did. He had some phasing technology. It was just lucky for us that he phased right to where Storm and Henry were loading the jet."

Logan was still in hyper-vigilance mode. His last memory was of Scott being abducted, while the consequences of that abduction – the memories repressed into his subconscious through telepathic tinkering – were clearly driving up his anxiety. She could feel his tension climbing, along with his confusion because there seemed no particular reason for his stress.

"Did the rancid hairball explain what his plans were for Scott?"

"He got away before we could question him."

Logan looked at Scott with concern. "Junior was lucky – and we need to keep an eye out. Chances are Creed's gonna have another crack at him. Slim's a saleable asset. There's that crazy guy who wants his DNA. For all we know Magneto might have a use for him –"

"I'm not the one who ran away from the Weapon X program, Logan. There are much more likely to be guys gunning for you than me."

Scanning Scott anxiously, Logan said, "You don't look so great – how long were we out?"

"It's been a few days," Jean admitted. "Whatever was in that weapon must have hit you both extra hard."

"Maybe you should go back to bed, Scott." Logan steadied him by the elbow. "You look kinda pasty."

"I feel okay – except for not having my beams." Scott frowned. "I didn't know you had green eyes, too."

"Didn't know yours were blue. Just so you know, Slim – they don't really help with that 'looking like a grown up' thing you oughta be working on."

Scott made to answer, but he was still woozy from too many – unnecessary – days of bedrest and sedation, and he swayed. Logan's arm shot around him at once, Scott leaned into him and they exchanged a confused glance, like they had no idea what had just happened or why but something had. Jean suspected that it was scent with Logan – buried remembrance of how it felt to inhale Scott as he checked him for injuries – and touch with Scott, repressed memories of Logan carrying him in and out of that cabin to soak up the sun's healing rays.

Logan helped Scott back into bed and they averted their eyes from each other, confused and disorientated. Her heart hurt for them.

She took Scott's hand. "Logan's right. You should probably sit up for a while before you try walking – get your bearings. I'll get Henry to check your stats."

He gazed into Jean's eyes and the tenderness in his gaze made her heart turn over because she couldn't even be sure that this was real now. Scott was looking at her with such love, as he had done a hundred times before, but somewhere under the surface was an equal attraction to Logan that Xavier had buried. He could justify that action all he liked, but he had done it to punish Logan. Scott frowned. "What's wrong, Jean?"

She put her arms around his neck and kissed him. "I'm so glad you're both awake. I'm so glad you're both…okay."

The second Henry came into the room and was occupied with Scott, Logan drew her to one side. "Is Scott really okay? He looks kinda…beat."

"Hank thinks it's a side effect from having his mutation knocked out. It usually leaves him a little weak. How do you feel?" She was almost afraid to ask that, gaze going to his eyes anxiously.

"Okay. My head feels kinda…woolly. No change there, I guess." His gaze strayed back to Scott. "Kid's gonna be okay though, right?"

She rallied. "Better than you are if you keep calling him a kid when his force beams come back."

He stroked her hair back from her face, gaze concerned and questioning. "You don't look so hot yourself, Jeannie. You been overdoing the bedside vigil thing?"

She tried for light and sounded metallic and unconvincing: "Scott is the only boyfriend I've got. I do prefer him in one piece and conscious wherever possible."

"Logan, are you hitting on my girlfriend by my hospital bed, because that's crass even for you…?"

Logan said, "Can it, Junior. Apparently Jean's dating some uptight schoolboy who's all about the rulebook. Stands to reason the poor girl needs a conversation with a grown-up from time to time."

Scott threw a pillow at Logan, abdominal muscles flexing perfectly as he did so, not a hint of a wince from his ribcage. Logan caught it. "I'm too old for pillow fights, Cyke. Save that shit for lights out in the dormitories with the other twelve year olds." But he eased Scott up to slip the pillow under his head as if it were second nature. Scott flashed a look up at him as Logan lowered him back down onto the pillow and she saw the confusion wash over their faces as they got another stab of inexplicable déjà vu in their aching heads. As if in a trance, Logan reached out and stroked Scott's straying bang off his forehead and Scott let him do it, still gazing up at him, apparently transfixed by Logan's face.

Henry coughed awkwardly. "I think we should just try to get you sitting out for a while today, Scott. Take things slowly. Any particular view you wish to enjoy? – don't say the Danger Room." Logan snatched his hand back and then didn't seem to know what to do with it.

Scott collected himself with an obvious effort. "The gardens I guess. It isn't snowing, is it?"

"No. It's a beautiful day. Not too cold." Henry made a conscious effort to sound unaffected as he turned to Logan. "You should probably take things easy for a few days as well, so try to avoid borrowing any of Scott's vehicles…."

Jean kept her face a careful blank as she thought: I don't think I can do this.

In her mind Xavier's voice sounded whiplash sharp: You must! And that panicked, aching note to follow: For their sake, Jean, believe me, you must.

There was no one left to whom she could confide her doubts. Scott would sense her conflict and for all she knew Logan could smell it. She murmured something soothing – it might even have been a bland 'be right back', and then walked away from the infirmary before she told Scott and Logan that they were being lied to, that all of them were being devoured by this lie. It was a hungry leviathan. It was swallowing them whole.

Scott, the truth may be out there, but it isn't in here.

She wondered if there truly were people out there who could enjoy love untainted by fear – if there were they almost certainly weren't mutants. It had been like this for ten years now – loving Scott Summers and not knowing if the next mission was going to separate them forever, take Hank, take Bobby, take Warren, take Storm, Rogue, Kitty, Jubilee…take one or more of the children, come for Xavier while they weren't home to help him. They were so few and they had so many enemies. Scott could have been killed a dozen times over while she was cut off from his mind – one punch too hard from Sabretooth, one angry claw from that creature who hadn't been Logan and he was snatched from her forever. The thought came to her – and how Xavier would disapprove – Scott is safer with Logan on his team. Scott had feared that Logan could be killed by an electric current to the heart, but the man had thrown that off like a headache; he must be very close to unkillable. He had walked through a blizzard to save Scott. They needed to know what they had done to and for one another. They needed to finish what they'd started even if it didn't end well.

You're wrong, Jean. Trust me – you're wrong.

If I didn't believe that was at least a possibility I wouldn't be walking away from the infirmary right now, but this isn't right. It came to her like a whisper; like an instinct: No good will come of this.

Sadly, Xavier said, Jean, no good has.

She realized that he truly believed that it was over. A terrible period in their lives brought to an unsatisfactory conclusion. They would carry the scars for a while. He would find a way to safeguard Scott from the consequences of that trauma. He would find a way to forgive Logan.

Jean stopped in her tracks in the corridor, realizing that the disagreement between her and Xavier ran deeper than she had thought. For her it wasn't just a case of the way they dealt with the consequences of Sabretooth's kidnapping of Scott. She didn't believe it was over. She was, in fact, absolutely certain that it was not.

***

Something was wrong. Logan had been feeling it for two awkward days now. It was in the way Hank looked at him, the way Bobby avoided him, the way the Professor's tone carried that razor shell edge. Storm was distant. Jean was so unhappy that he could smell it on her, like smoke from burning leaves. The only one who didn't seem to have suffered a bang on the head was, ironically, Cyclops, who had suffered a bang on the head, hard enough to knock out his mutation. He, at least, had behaved the way Logan would have expected – following all the rules in the infirmary and doing what Hank told him, because Hank had a medical degree and Scott didn't, but fretting beneath the surface tension of his obedience to be allowed to get back to his usual routine.

Logan was also being pursued by ghosts – ghost thoughts, ghost impulses, ghost dreams. Never more than glimpsable from the corner of an unsettled eye, but they all led back to Scott. There would be random flashes of Scott grubby and naked, beat up and bone-white with exhaustion; and then Scott looking up at him like a light had just come on, searching his face as if it were a treasure map. The one haunting him the most came with sense-memory, too, his mouth against Scott's, his fingers in Scott's hair as they kissed and kissed, sweet and yearning. Impossible to banter with a guy or pretend not to care about him when that particular Pathé newsreel was running in Logan's head. Intercut with the Scott memory flashes that made no sense were the hard-edged looks from people who had used to like him, or the blatant avoidance. Henry smelled angry, all the time; his tone crisp and impersonal, no little quotes from Great Literature, no warmth at all. Xavier barely left his room, and the kids had clearly been given the strictest orders not to come near them. The whole setup was weird as hell.

He found himself walking miles down long, straight corridors just to look like he was heading somewhere; just so he didn't have to be still and silent with all those restless thoughts. He wanted to put his arms around Scott and nuzzle his temple, breathe him in. He wanted to have sex with his girlfriend. He wanted to safeguard him from the terrible awful things that had been done to him, the things Logan hadn't protected him from. The guy had been shot by Sabretooth with some kind of blaster weapon and suffered a bang on the head. It was nothing. Scott didn't even get why he had to stay in the infirmary while Henry ran his interminable tests. He'd taken so much blood it was a miracle Scott wasn't anemic, yet he insisted he wasn't testing for anything viral.

Logan had said, "Hank, Sabretooth's kinda skeevy but I don't think Scott can pick up something just from getting shot by him, so what's with all the tests?"

There had been that unsettling glint of hostility in Hank's eyes, the one that had hurt and made Logan wonder what the hell it was he was meant to have done, before Beast made what seemed to be the physical effort required to answer civilly: "His mutation is still out. I want to find out why."

"Well, isn't it…neurological or something? It was a bang on the head, right? Is there a fracture?"

"No."

"Is there some swelling in the brain? Is there a bleed? Did an artery get torn…?"

"Logan, settle down, will you?" Scott said, rolling his eyes. "Hank's already said there's no after effects except for my beams being knocked out. Hank how soon can I go back on missions?"

"Not before your beams come back."

"Because I have nothing to offer but my optic blasts…?"

"Because the fact that you don't have your optic blasts proves that everything is not in fact back to normal. Please don't be difficult, Scott."

"I'm not." Scott looked hurt, and it was true that his cooperation had in no way merited the edge in Henry's voice.

Beast squeezed his shoulder briefly. "Sorry. I'm – I've been pulling a few too many all-nighters in the lab. All that stuff from the warehouse and laboratory to analyze. You know how it is."

"Please give me something to do that isn't…this. Why can't I take any of my usual lessons? I haven't even seen the kids."

Logan sympathized. The brief time he'd known Summers, the guy was always training for a mission, preparing for a mission, or mulling over some past mission, or teaching. He didn't really do sitting around twiddling his thumbs. "Doesn't he need to be out in the sun?" he said. "The guy needs solar power or whatever to get his strength back, right?"

Scott said, "Who told you that?"

"I dunno. You, I guess."

"No, I don't think I –"

"Yes," Beast said tersely. "Sunlight. Excellent idea. Go and sit outside…quietly, Scott."

"At least give me a lesson to supervise while I'm – "

"Scott! Not now, please? Just go and sit outside."

Logan had got the distinct impression that Beast would also have objected to him offering Scott a hand if he could have come up with a good reason for doing so. Every time he went anywhere near Scott there was a bristling from Beast, an inward shudder from Iceman.

In the corridor, Scott said petulantly, "Why is everyone…?"

"Acting like a bag of dicks?" Logan suggested, as he put an arm around Scott's back to steady him. He waited for Scott to shake him off but the guy leaned into him quite naturally. It made him feel accepted and trusted – he hadn't even realized how much he needed that feeling until everyone started acting like he was carrying something contagious. It also felt like something he and Scott had done before, bodies fitting together like they remembered the moves.

Scott cocked a sideways glance at him and Logan thought again that the kid was way too pretty without his visor on. "You too…?"

"Feels like ever since you and me woke up, everyone's acting like you're made of porcelain and I have sex with dolphins."

Summers' pretty mouth twitched. "You don't, right…?"

"Yeah, funny guy. Shut up."

They passed squares of gauzy light and Logan had no idea why the high ceilings and warm paneling of the mansion was making him think of a rough hewn cabin with filthy window glass, the light green-toned and gloomy, and the air sour with the scent of urgent, angry sex. When they stepped outside, the air wasn't cold enough, and there was too much daylight.

The pond wasn't frozen but they were way past the season of water-lilies and skimming dragonflies. Logan remembered their drive into town for Scott to pay over that check and it seemed curiously distant, like something before a dreamscape, unreachable now.

He helped Scott to a bench and the guy sat down gracefully, insisting he was almost back to full strength. Logan felt a curious disinclination to move away from him; he had a lot of things he needed to say, he just didn't know what they were yet. He wondered if Cyke the Strategist was any clearer.

The guy spoke before he had to: "So, Logan – something feels…off to you, too…?"

He took that as an invitation to sit down and look out at the cold green water reflecting the distant gray sky. It was a relief when the breeze swept the clouds overhead and the sun reached them; it felt important that it touched Scott's skin; seemed wrong, somehow, that he should be wearing those sweatpants when there should be nothing between him and the light. Logan had a clear image of how Scott looked naked, but it was faulty, completely contradicting the way he knew he was – it was only a few days ago that he'd seen him in the showers after a training session in the Danger Room; slim and strong and flawless. He had no idea why he was remembering him as ribby and bruise-mottled, his hips a painful jut against his palms.

"Yeah," Logan admitted. "Feels like…I dunno…"

"Like what?"

"Like…everyone thinks I gave you the clap."

Summers the Boy Scout, unexpectedly, laughed. "Sorry – but, that's…yes. I guess that is a pretty accurate summary of Hank's attitude right now."

Logan gave him a sideways look. "Please tell me you don't have a burning sensation when you piss?"

Summers didn’t dignify that with an answer, too busy frowning pensively at the shifting cloud patterns chasing across the surface of the pond. "It doesn't make sense. It does feel like they're…judging you and benching me but you and I both know what happened on that mission. They were okay with us going to look for Sabretooth when we did, and it's not like anything too terrible happened as a consequence. My beams are coming back, I know they are – " He broke off and grimaced.

"You okay?" His anxiety spike was out of all proportion, so was that spin to put his hands on Scott's shoulders, gazing into his eyes.

"I keep getting…flashes." Scott rubbed his wrists as if he could feel the pressure of old bindings. "I keep thinking it's snowing. Every time I open my eyes in the infirmary, it feels wrong – like I should be waking up somewhere else."

"Tall firs, green light, a blizzard, and a cabin full of broken things," Logan murmured.

Scott's expression was shocked. "Yes."

Logan shook his head. "No. That's something from my fucked up past, not yours."

"It's what I keep expecting to see. Even Jean…"

"What about Jean?"

Scott ran a hand through his clean, dark hair and Logan wondered why he expected it to stick, grimy and blood-spiked; wondered even more why he had a sudden recollection of how it felt to wash the blood from it and comb it with his fingers as it dried damply in the snow-filtered gloom.

"She's keeping me at a distance and I think she's been crying. I'm starting to feel like I've got something terminal and no one wants to tell me."

Logan cast an anxious look over him, but although the guy looked a little paler and thinner than he had before he'd got that bang on the head, he seemed healthy enough. "Maybe that laboratory dicked with your biology and now you're up the duff. How friendly did Matthews get in the back seat of that car?"

"Not that friendly," Scott assured him.

"And you couldn't have been alone with Sabretooth for longer than a few minutes –" He flinched from a memory of Sabretooth dragging Scott up by the hair, throwing him against the rough hewn wall of that cabin he kept seeing in his dreams; running a hand down Scott's abdomen and Logan feeling it against his fingertips, the sculpted musculature, warm and firm beneath his touch. He flinched again and Scott said, "What is it?"

"Stuff in my head that shouldn't be there."

Scott appeared to be steeling himself. "Logan, have we ever…kissed?"

And there was his hand cradling Scott's head, his lips brushing against Scott's, tongues curling together gently. "I know we haven't but I remember how it feels. None of this makes any sense."

Scott's brain was working so fast that Logan could practically see the neurons lighting up. "Something else happened on that mission. The Professor decided to help us to forget."

"Scott, don't go jumping to conclusions. I admit I don't know him as well as you but I always figured if the Professor made a guy forget something it stayed forgotten. That guy's an omega level telepath, right?"

"Xavier isn't the only telepath in the mansion." Scott rubbed his temples. "I must have screwed up – badly enough that he wanted to protect me from it. I wonder –"

Logan said, "Why assume you screwed up? No one's mad at you. More likely I screwed up and you got concussed badly enough to knock your beams out. Maybe I got Sabretooth riled up or – "

"Why would the Professor protect me from you making a mistake? He wouldn't. It has to be something I did wrong. I could have got you ripped to pieces and we wouldn't know it because of your healing factor."

"You gonna talk to Jean?"

Scott shook his head. "Not yet. I need to think."

"Can I borrow your bike?"

"You're asking me? Maybe I got the real you killed and you're a robot version of Logan. They don't want me to know what I did but they just can't warm to you like the old guy because you're all wires and fuses…that would explain everything, even you asking to borrow my bike."

Even though Summers was clearly winding him up, Logan couldn't resist snapping: "I'm not a robot!"

"How do you know?"

"Because…I'd know if I was a robot. And…and why would they bother building a robot version of me? Why wouldn't they just tell you I'd…?"

"Gone to live on a farm?"

"Gone off by myself in a handsome brooding loner way. You'd buy that right?"

Scott looked him over. "Well, if you combed your hair, I…guess you could pass for handsome."

"Thanks a bunch, cupcake."

"What do you need my bike for?"

"I need to buy stuff."

"What stuff?"

"What's with the third degree?"

Scott was looking at him with an assessing gaze, the way he looked at walls before he blasted holes in them with his optic beams, estimating strengths and weaknesses. "I just wondered if you even know what it is you're feeling a compulsion to buy."

Annoyed, Logan jumped to his feet. "I'll know when I get there, okay! Talk to your girlfriend. Find out if your goddamn Daddy substitute screwed around with our heads."

Scott said mildly, "Don't put this on me – you're the one who gave me an STD."

"I did not give you a – " Logan glowered at him. "When did you get a sense of humor anyway? If you ask me you're the robot. I got the real you killed. Everyone's pissed at me. Jean doesn't want you to know you're an android so she's keeping out of your way until she can adjust to the new you. Mystery solved. It also explains why your beams don't work – because you're not really Scott."

Summers looked annoyingly unperturbed. "I'm not a robot. I need to check the Blackbird."

"Why?"

"I just do."

"Why really?"

"Because she would never lie to me."

"Your love affair with that plane is way out of hand, you know that, right? You need some help?"

"Go away, Logan. Go buy stuff for reasons you don't understand." Scott looked more amused than annoyed but he had clearly reached his limit on being babied by over-protective friends and family. As he strode off towards the underground bay, Logan looked after him automatically, the way he always did when Summers was moving, to watch his perfect little ass clenching…except, just for a second, he was seeing Scott curled up naked on the floor with terrible bruises all over those buttocks and deep mauve grip marks on his narrow hips. He turned away, averting his eyes.

"That didn't happen," he said, anxiety spiking. A glance back at Scott's long strides reassured him. Not a hair out of place, managing even to make infirmary issue sweats look like a uniform. Scott wasn't the kind of guy stuff like that happened to. Scott was the guy who always had a plan; the efficient, calm in a crisis, leader guy with the eyes that could level buildings. No one would dare do that to the leader of the X-Men, and if someone was unwise enough to contemplate it, Jean, Henry, Storm, and Bobby would take that guy apart and scatter what was left of him to the four winds. No, no one would dare. No one had better dare. The rage was shocking. It consumed him briefly, like a desert wind whipping around him in a belch of hell-hot fetid air. He's mine!

Where the hell had that come from? Logan felt a little shaken by the strength of his reaction. He didn't think this was just a protective fraternal thing – Hey, I got fond of the kid, so shoot me. It felt primal, consuming, possessive to the very core. He could feel a phantom warmth against his body – Scott curled up against him, his breath hot against Logan's chest.

"He's Jean's. He's been Jean's the whole time you've known the guy. He's always been Jean's. He's only been Jean's."

She had – and he was sure she had done it gently and kindly and with plenty of sweet reassurances – taken Scott's virginity way back when, and she had gone on…taking it since. No one else had ever touched him. No one else – if they had any sense at all and knew Jean Grey even a little – would dare. Scott Summers was the exact opposite of there for the taking. Yet Scott still felt as if he belonged to Logan.

As he started Scott's bike, Logan tried to think about what he really knew about Scott, not date of birth and place of dwelling, but who the guy was. When he put his mind to it, he realized he knew more than he had thought.

He started counting off characteristics as he followed the weave of the driveway, the bike a low animal roar between his legs. The engine thrummed and blue smoke singed the air. With his clean-cut, boyishly handsome good looks, Scott looked like a station wagon guy – blandly attractive wife, scrub-faced kids who did their chores and tidied their rooms without needing to be told, Scott the guy who walked the tail-wagging golden retriever, probably a cat around the nice house in the suburbs somewhere that always found its way to Scott's lap. He should have been the accountant who mowed his lawn on Pleasant Valley Sundays. The one who failed to notice that the Browns and the Robinsons were wife-swapping on Saturday nights when his more worldly wife had known for weeks…. And Scott wasn't, in any way, that guy. He wasn't that well-adjusted, he wasn't capable of that level of contentment. He had no more idea what to do with an ordinary life than a displaced deity dropped in from Mount Olympus, and he wouldn't have been caught dead driving a station wagon.

Xavier would have bought him any vehicle. He could have had something safe and sensible, and Scott had chosen a Mazda RX-8. He had souped up his bike until it was super-powered, and he loved the sky-streaking x-jet to the point where it really shouldn't be legal. He came across like Mr. Risk Assessment, always the killjoy on missions telling everyone to be careful, but he liked high-powered, dangerous, noisy vehicles that belched out so much carbon they were probably banned in Europe.

The bike was reverberating between Logan's legs, recklessly fast, obscenely powerful; he opened the throttle and the world streaked away from him in stretched, blurry lines as he realized that he had been looking at things the wrong way round. Scott wasn't the bland safe boytoy so unsuitable for a passionate redhead; Jean was the potentially-lethal girlfriend that Cyclops was always going to crave. He didn't want to be safe in bed. He probably never had. He wanted a Blackbird, a Harley, a Mazda, running full-throttled and risky around every bend.

Cyke, you want hot, super-powered, and frickin' dangerous – I'm your man.

Logan opened the throttle further and let the exhilaration take him while his brain played What Do You Know About Scott Summers:

He was an uptight, self-righteous asshole, with no sense of humor, who was insanely hard on himself, self-doubting, repressed, introverted, and stubborn. An incredible strategist, he was also unflinchingly brave, scarily single-minded, and invisibly crazed – like good porcelain that had been dropped once too often. A limited capacity for happiness, Logan suspected. Never fully relaxing into the moment because, in Scott's experience, disaster was always over the next horizon so one might as well be ready for it. High maintenance. The kind of lover people chose who really liked a challenge – or when they had fallen for his pretty face too fast to fully realize what a burden they were taking on, and by the time they realized were in too deep.

He suspected that if Scott had been raised by the parents who had loved him and his kid brother enough to throw them out of their burning plane with the only parachute they had, he would have been warmer, more relaxed, less of that sense of brittle arrested development. He also suspected that if Scott had been loved enough, early enough, he might have made for a door-slamming teenager, sulky and inclined to flounce, but there was no impulse to make a dramatic exit if you were convinced no one would notice you had gone, so Scott had never got to be that boy and now probably never would. And he suspected that if Scott had not been taken in by a guy who understood how destructive Scott's mutant power could be if he was not schooled to rein in his temper that he might have been dangerous – and still could be, damned dangerous, on occasion. And if he had not been taught self-control quite so rigorously, he thought Scott would definitely have been nervy and difficult, overwrought and perennially close to cracking, like a music prodigy endlessly scraping at both a battered Stradivarius and the fraying patience of less high-strung family members. Apparently that had been a past pattern – dithering indecision coupled with snared animal panic, letting everything build up to the point where he couldn't take it any more and then bolting, first from the orphanage, then from Winters. Logan could imagine that Scott having a nervous breakdown could be a spectacularly destructive thing.

Henry had a tone he used for Scott that carried the remembrance with it of Scott as a younger and more fragile creature; one who swooned from too much force-beamed exertion or the shock of sudden injuries, who questioned every decision afterwards and neurotically raked through the ashes of his mistakes. A firm, soothing voice that came ready-made to dismiss doubt and offer comfort. Jean was also guilty of putting out an aura of deliberate calm around her boyfriend, as if Scott was inclined towards cliff edges and needed to be coaxed back to firmer ground.

As he leaned into the loose gravel corners, exhilarated by the spit and rattle of the road surface rending, Logan knew he didn't have the patience required to manage complicated boy scouts who combined over-sensitivity to their own failings with an oblivious inability to read the moods of others. If he was going to be dealing with Scott's issues then they needed to be issues that could be dealt with by yelling, the occasional thrown punch, no-need-for-apologies grunted reconciliations after furniture-breaking disagreements, shared beers, and alternating rough and tender, mostly wordless, sex. Perhaps he was wrong but he saw no reason why those methods wouldn't be just as effective as Xavier guiding, Hank reasoning, or Jean reassuring. Had anyone even tried just saying: "Enough already, Summers!" or "What's done is done. You made the call as you saw it on the day, now live with it." Or maybe just saying: "Less talking – more fucking." Maybe Scott needed not to be made more comfortable in his own screwed up head but just forced to engage with his body instead.

Was it even possible to damage the guy more than life had already damaged him? Logan found himself wondering seriously if Jean Grey was the type to share.

I don't know who Beast thinks I am, but I'm not that guy, Jeannie. I wouldn't be that guy with you and I wouldn't be him with Scott. And, yeah, I could be the glue that sticks your relationship together when you might otherwise have just drifted apart, or I could be the thing that blasts it all to hell, but neither of you is the kind to play it safe, and the one thing no one has ever accused me of is being safe….

 

Logan walked around the drug store, not sure why he was here, just feeling a compulsion to pick these items off the shelves and put them in the stupid plastic basket until it was all but overflowing. The store assistant gave him a Look when he pulled out his crumpled notes to pay for everything, probably trying to decide if Logan was into S&M or just a straight-up serial killer. Feeling like an idiot but not quite able to resist the impulse to buy this stuff, Logan shoved the bulging bag inside his jacket, swung his leg back over Scott's bike and tried not to think about how it would feel to have Scott Summers thrumming between his legs with bottled up power and potentially destructive energy. That was a line of thought that was only going to lead to serious blue balls and Jean making him go play in traffic.

Back in the mansion, he found that he was skulking round the back ways, not wanting to run into any of those people who were going to avert their eyes when they saw him or try to force a smile that looked like it wanted nothing to do with their faces. As he reached his room, a hand shot out of the half-open door, grabbed him by the jacket, yanked him into the room and shut the door behind him.

He cast Scott an enquiring look and noticed the guy had his uniform on. "Are we planning a coup or are we just gonna make out?"

"Have you ever tried not being a dick, Logan?" Scott pulled him over onto the bed and for a moment Logan got his hopes up, but then Scott was indicating the maps he had spread all over the place where Logan clearly wasn't going to be getting to sleep any time soon. "I need to show you something."

Logan had his mouth open to make a crack about hoping it involved Scott undressing when he got a brain-flash of a filthy, naked Scott slumped on the floor, covered in bruises. Grimacing, he put a hand to his eyes and rubbed them.

"You okay?"

He found Scott was looking at him with concern. "Yeah."

"Well, then – concentrate." Scott opened a notebook in which he had filled several pages with what looked like an impenetrable list of facts and figures. He pointed a finger at an entry near the top of the first page. "I've copied the Blackbird's logbook. This is the journey it took to the laboratory where we were taken by Duncan."

Logan squinted at the longitudes, latitudes, grid references, fuel consumption, weather reports, and other neurotically meticulous jottings Scott had included for his delectation. He couldn't help noticing there were three pages of neatly inscribed journeys since that one. "God, you're anal. They've been on a lot of flights since. Has something major happened in the mutant world that no one's telling us about?"

"Shut up and listen," Scott suggested.

Rolling his eyes, Logan sat on the bed but cast his eye over Scott instead of the maps and diagrams. The guy had that…leader of the X-Men look, like he was six steps ahead of everyone else, and just finalizing the chess gambit he was going to be making in response to the enemy move that wasn't going to be happening for another three hours yet. He had a light in his eyes when he was like this that Logan, of course, had never seen before. Usually the closest anyone got to knowing how fired up Scott was came from the red pulse behind his visor, and a slightly different quality to the tensing of his chiseled jaw.

He was picking Scott up and he was painfully light, scabbed, bruised, and semen-smeared; every sense Logan had was in over-drive because there were too many scents in this room and they were choking him. He put Scott on the bed as gently as he could, but there were so many things wrong. There was blood in his hair, mottling of bruises down his left side, his cheekbone looked like it was healing from a recent break. He smelled like sex. Like rough, rapid, uncaring sex….

"Logan!"

He jolted back to the here and now to find Scott's annoyance turning to concern. "You keep drifting off. You okay?"

Logan swallowed. "Scott, I don't think you screwed up on that mission. I think something…really bad happened to you, so bad that Xavier doesn't want you to know about it – and maybe he's right. Maybe we should stop looking. Maybe we should just – "

Scott said, "The Blackbird was flown to the laboratory more than two weeks ago – not six days ago. They've lied to us about the timeline." He spread out the maps, an elegant finger tracing flight paths. "This is the trip to the laboratory. This is the trip back. It's just like they said – we were there barely an hour. But then look what happens on the following days. Both jets are out every day – and look at the flight patterns."

As Scott explained fuel consumption, weather conditions logged, and showed the flight paths taken, Logan could see it for himself. They hadn't been flying to specific locations; they'd been quartering the most remote parts of the extreme north-east of the United States and Canada.

"They were searching for something."

"Constantly. They only came back to refuel. Storm and Hank and Bobby could barely have had any time to sleep for ten days. Then, the last trip out, they take the Blackbird, and they log a specific destination. Here." He pointed to a place way up the back end of nowhere. "They fly there. Less than two hours later, they fly back. Four days after that you and I wake up in the infirmary. No one's flown either jet since."

"They were looking for us."

"That's my assumption. We were lost and they were trying to find us. Then they did find us and they brought us home but for some reason they don't want us to know what happened." Scott ran a hand through his shiny tidy hair, pushing that straying bang away from his right eye. "Guess who gave them the co-ordinates?"

"The ones they used to find us? Who?"

"Sabretooth."

"What?"

"That's what Storm wrote in the log-book. He told them they couldn't land too close to where we were because of 'natural magnetic interference' with electronic systems. Gave them the perimeter of the danger zone and everything – like he really wanted us found."

"That doesn't make sense. How would getting us found help whoever he's working for?"

"It wouldn't as far as I can see. And that's the point where I run out of data. I can work out more or less where we were, going by these charts and the flight paths, and I can work out how long we were probably there going by how long they were searching, but I don't know why we were there or what it is they don't want us to remember, but I don't think we just ran off for a dirty – "

"Weekend?" Logan finished, sighing, as he upended his purchases from the drug store on the bed. "I'm not so sure."

There was a moment where he and Scott looked wordlessly at what was spread out on the bed: Neosporin, Astroglide, Vaseline, Ibuprofen pills and gel, bandages, tape, lint, bandaids, shampoo. Scott cast him a sideways look. "Logan, are you into S&M?"

"No. And I already had that look from the store clerk."

"Okay then – we know the medical supplies can't have been for you because of your healing factor, and I'm guessing for the compulsion to buy this stuff to remain so insistent, you must have really felt the lack of them wherever we were. So, someone was hurt and you wanted to patch him or her up. And then you equally urgently wanted to have…anal sex with him or her? No, you bought way too much. It's compensatory. It's trying to fix something that can't be fixed."

Logan flashed him a look of surprise. "How do you know that?"

"Because I know how worm-in-the-brain obsessions work. I've had enough of them."

"Do you think you and me had sex – while we were in this place in the middle of nowhere?" Logan wondered if he'd rushed things and hurt Scott in the process. He didn't think of himself as a guy who would stint on the prep work, particularly not with someone as sexually inexperienced as Scott. Had they been drinking? That map reference looked damned cold. Perhaps they'd been keeping themselves warm with whiskey and he'd been drunk and clumsy. The thought made him cringe. It didn't fit with that kiss either – that had been tender and gentle. It had felt as if he was cherishing Scott in that moment, like he couldn't bear it if he got any more bruised.

And while drunk clumsy sex might explain Hank giving him the stink-eye, it wouldn't explain those images of a battered, naked Scott, or the rich roar of Sabretooth's laughter as he slammed Scott all round the walls of that rough-hewn cabin.

Scott was still turning the bandages over with his long, elegant fingers. "Maybe we did have sex. It would explain why Jean's so unhappy and why everyone's pissed with you – although I don't know why they're not pissed with me too. It does take two to tango."

"Except I have this persistent image in my head of Sabretooth…touching you."

Scott scratched his jaw. "Okay – the last thing we remember is Sabretooth blasting us with that weapon, right?"

"I remember coming round enough to see him taking you through a wall. I thought Jean came in and asked where you were, but maybe I passed out again."

"Maybe he took us both to…nowhere land here. He did…unpleasant things to me in front of you and made you watch it. You wished at the time you could give me some first-aid and…and let's presume you thought his lube choices were sketchy."

"Christ, Scott." Logan put his head in his hands. "If that's what happened…."

Scott's jaw was tensed but he was calmer than Logan. "If that's what happened then it did, and they still had no right to screw with our heads." Logan inhaled his scent and realized the calm façade was deceptive. Under the surface cool, the anger was coming off Scott in bright flashes. If his beams had been back, they would have been a swelling pulse behind his visor by now, crimson with fury, but his tone was calm enough and Logan suspected his brain was still working with cool clarity. Scott scared him a little like this – he could practically see the guy pulling up the drawbridge and lowering the portcullis, withdrawing those connections that linked him to his own emotions and the people who loved him. It made sense as a coping mechanism, given his childhood, but cutting himself off from everyone else wasn't healthy and it wasn't going to make him very nice to know.

Logan said, "I'd blame me – if I was there and I didn't stop him doing that to you, and Hank and Bobby know that – no wonder they're angry with me. They never let that happen to you."

"Well, we don't know, do we? If the Professor just wipes out anything that happens to us that gets too unpleasant then for all I know, the five of us spent our formative years being passed around supervillains like a bag of cookies."

"I doubt he could mind-wipe Jean. She would have remembered even if the rest of you didn't. I think this is probably the only time he ever did it, Scott."

"I don't appreciate being lied to by the people I love and trust." Scott crossed to the window and looked out, his jaw still wearing that rigid look that meant he was fighting rage. Eye beams in place, Logan guessed Scott would have really liked to blow a big satisfying hole in something right now.

"Don't do anything stupid just because you're pissed with them," he said.

Scott shot him a challenging look. "All those times you hit on me – was that just trying to undermine me or was there anything behind it?"

"Don't do this."

"No, I want to know. Was it all just talk? Are you just a straight guy trying to look cooler than you really are or do you actually bat for both teams?"

"Even if I do, you don't."

"You don't know anything about me, Logan, except that you think I'm a kid, when I'm not, and that you think my girlfriend is too hot for me."

Logan was torn between irritation, compassion, and those groin-flashes of sheer lust because angry Scott was smoking. Angry Scott was kind of…magnificent. He admitted, "I don't think anything, including newly erupted lava, is too hot for you right now, Scott."

The way Scott strode over from the window, purposeful, glaring, furious about the prospect that Sabretooth had fucked him and transferring that anger to anyone else who might be unlucky enough to be in the vicinity, Logan assumed he was going to get punched. He figured if it made the kid feel better – and Scott didn't actually break his hand on Logan's face – then maybe it was a good way to get this out of his system. He was still thinking that when Scott put his hands to each side of Logan's face. Logan had the briefest glimpse of downswept lashes and parting lips and then he could feel that beautiful mouth on his, Scott's tongue pressing delicately against his tongue, his lips dry and soft. It wasn't a brutal kiss because he guessed Scott didn't do brutal in the bedroom, even with Logan, but it was a lot more skillful than he'd expected, that tender mouthing of lips, and teasing lapping of tongue. Scott's left hand slid round to the back of Logan's head and pulled him in, Scott tilting his head obligingly so that Logan could kiss him back, as hard as he liked.

There was a hot, sweaty moment when Logan was doing just that, one hand to the back of Scott's head, the other clamped on his ass, pulling him against him so they could rub together as they kissed and kissed and then he grabbed him by the shoulders and held him off, breathing hard.

"This isn't right. You're just pissed with Jean and Chuck."

Scott's shrug was a brittle perfection. "Well, I got tired of repressing. I thought I'd try acting out for a change."

"You don't want to do this. You're mad right now but you don't really want to hurt Jean – "

"Jean lied to me. The Professor lied to me."

Scott was wearing anger and hurt like it was cologne.

Logan looked at his set, pursed-mouthed face and groaned. "Fuck, I'm your teenage rebellion. You just wanna screw me to piss off Xavier and prove you're all grown up."

"So? Do you see a flaw in that plan?"

"Other than that it's completely irrational and is all about you being butthurt?"

"Well, not yet, but possibly after the deed is done, I suppose. Although hopefully not with all that lube."

Logan took a rapid step backwards. "No."

"What?"

"I'm not doing…that." A thought flickered in, elusive as a sidewinder: Not after what was done to you.

Scott looked at him in confusion. "I thought you wanted to…?"

"We just concluded that Sabretooth may have raped you less than two weeks ago. No fricking way am I…."

Scott shrugged, hurt, and smiling a flat, pained smile. "So what? I don't remember it. That was the whole point in the Professor tinkering with my brain – the one that belongs to me that he has no right to alter – to make it not have happened. So, it didn't happen, right? So, let's fuck, Logan."

He had never seen Scott in such a dangerous mood. This was the problem when a guy was habitually wound this tight; a momentary slackening of tension, the machinery came apart and somebody lost an eye. Logan was getting glimpses of an overwrought teenager who could mindfuck himself to the point of nervous collapse by thinking too hard and too long to no purpose. He got why Hank sometimes used that firm, quiet voice with Scott. A glance at the maps on the bed reminded him that this wasn't irrational. Scott hadn't wanted to believe that people he loved were lying to him. He'd accumulated the evidence before he started acting out.

Logan said, "Scott – you need to talk to Xavier. You need to talk to Jean."

"I don't want to talk to people who lie to me. In fact, I don't want to talk to anyone right now." Scott stepped back into Logan's personal space. "What's the matter, Logan? Are you chicken?"

Logan stared at him in disbelief. "You're daring me?"

"I'm double daring you. You want into my pants or not?"

The answer was a groin-pinching indecision. Fuck yes, immediately followed by an instinctive retreat. Don't do this, Logan. You'll regret it if you do. Regrets were for later, though. He was used to regrets, they sometimes responded well to beer and punching people. But there was that other voice too: All he's offering right now is sex. Logan clung to that like a lifeline. As Scott grabbed him by the jacket and pulled him in close, Logan kept his voice steady:

"So, when did you break up with Jean, Scott?"

That stopped him. Scott slackened his grip. "This isn't about that."

"Yeah – doesn't work like that. You want to break up with Jean and date me, fine. I'm up for that. You want to get her agreement to a time-share or a threesome – fine, I'm up for that, too. You want to use me to hurt people who love you – go fuck yourself."

Scott let him go, breathing fast. Logan let out his own breath, pretty sure he'd won and only vaguely interested in the fact that he and Scott seemed to have skipped about six steps in their relationship. Hadn't they been in denial of their attraction not that long ago? Now Scott was hitting on him and Logan wasn't even pretending he wasn't tempted. Logan shrugged that off. Anything that got them through the bullshit was okay with him, even if it was weird. Scott didn't give much of himself at the best of times, too busy repressing. Not really one for sharing his feelings or his thoughts. A few degrees less gorgeous and the guy would be some neat-freak loner who lived with tinfoil at the windows and too many cats. The surface beauty suckered people in and then the emotional damage made them hurt for him too much to walk away. Scott blew hot and cold because he was both, nearly all the time: hot temper reined in and cold tactician occasionally warmed up to human temperature by love or friendship. The guy had abandonment issues, neglect issues, trust issues, and control issues. Under that perfectly-controlled surface of his, the kid was a total fuck-up. Logan realized he could relate.

Scott slumped down on the corner of the bed, limp as a marionette with cut strings. "They lied to me, Logan. They looked right in my face and they lied to me."

Logan sat down next to him. "I don't suppose they enjoyed the experience – and Xavier isn't a god. He's just a smart guy, with his own issues, who happens to love you like a father. He's not meant to be infallible. Maybe if you didn't put people on such high pedestals you wouldn't get so worked up when they topple off. Do you think – for a single minute – that Jean isn't hating this? Hating whatever got done to you that was so bad they don't want us to know, and then hating that she has to keep it to herself?"

"Well, what are you getting from this that doesn't add up to them thinking that I'm weak?"

Logan realized that whole 'They are fallible human beings' thing just wasn't happening for Scott in this conversation. "Maybe this isn't about you."

"What…?" That flashing look of disbelief was also way too hot. It was very distracting – when Logan was trying to be the wise old voice of reason guy – for Scott to keep working him like a stripper pole without even knowing he was doing it.

"Maybe it isn't that they don't think you can cope with it so much as that they can't. You're Xavier's adopted son, the love of Jean's life, Hank and Bobby's oldest friend, and a guy Storm loves like a brother. They're allowed to have issues of their own about nasty crap happening to you on what they probably think was their watch. Even though it was obviously mine."

Scott rolled his eyes. "Excuse me for not realizing this was all about you."

"Let's face it, that's not the first dumb thing you've done in this bedroom today."

"They screwed with our minds! They had no right…" Scott gritted his teeth to stop giving way to how much that hurt, repeating more quietly: "They had no right."

Logan held up his hands in surrender, saying gently: "No argument from me. They shouldn't have done it. So, why don't we go and tell Xavier that he needs to…?"

Scott jerked his head up and half-laughed. "Put our memories back? Seriously, Logan? You think that's how it would go? We work this out for ourselves or he takes away the clues we already have – they change the log on the jets, they fix the anomalies, and they put us back to sleep while they smooth out all the rough corners so when we wake up we think everything's fine, and we never find out what happened and we go on believing that they would never fuck with us like that."

Sinister was a big, dark shadow in the corner of the room; so were too many awakenings from restless nightmares that a kid told himself were just bad dreams until it was brought home to him that his mind had been messed with over and over again, like he was there to be molded, there to be changed. Like what he was didn't matter, just what he could become. Even angry as he was himself about what had been done to him by people who knew very well that he had just come back from a road trip in search of his lost memories, Logan realized that Scott's anger went deeper, because the family he loved had done to him what his earliest tormentor had also done. He guessed if there was an unforgivable crime in Scott Summers' book then it was messing with his memories, just because you could. A little time and some perspective and Logan guessed Scott would realize that Xavier wasn't Sinister and that even good guys sometimes did bad things. The guy was just so hurt right now, feeling that the people he trusted had conspired against him behind his back, that he wasn't really taking on the part about how they would only have done it if they thought not doing it would damage him more. Logan didn't agree with them, but he had some sympathy. It wasn't like Scott Summers was the poster child for well adjusted. He would have liked to consult with someone else who knew Scott well enough to talk him down, but Scott was too pissed with everyone else right now.

Trying to sound reasonable, Logan said, "So, what do you wanna do, Scott?"

Scott was already folding the maps on the bed with deft restrained motions. "Go take a look at the place where they found us – see if it shakes anything loose."

"I'm coming with you."

Scott shrugged. "Do what you like."

Grabbing the guy by the shoulders, Logan spun him round and then kissed him, carefully, tenderly, the way, he realized, he'd been wanting to kiss him for a while. The way he may already have kissed him once before. Scott closed his eyes and opened his mouth and when Logan stroked his hair back from his right eye, he leaned into the touch; it felt familiar and painful; like the last time Scott had done this it had hurt Logan to the heart. He broke off the kiss, breathing hard.

"Scott, I really think something terrible happened to you in that place and maybe we should find out what it was before we go there…." But when he looked at his face, Logan might as well have been furniture. Logan knew that look. That was the look a man chasing a half-glimpsed memory.

Scott said, "There was a spaceship. There was someone in the ship…someone rational and insane at the same time."

"You mean like you when people leave fingerprints on the Blackbird after you've polished it?"

"Like Sinister – and if you're coming with me you need to dial down the dick thing."

"I will if you'll dial back the teeth gritting, jaw clenching, and overstrung piano wire thing, Bub. Seriously, it's like hanging out with a pressure gauge."

Scott finished folding his maps, pushed them into his jacket with precision, threw Logan's drug store purchases back into their bag and shoved them into Logan's arms. "Go get us both some warm clothing and provisions without being seen. I'm going to prep the jet. I'm giving you twelve minutes and then I'm taking off whether you're there or not." He paused in the doorway, all crisp efficiency, not a hair out of place; no one could have looked saner or more reasonable.

"Incidentally, Logan, if you'd ever bothered to study fluid mechanics you'd know that pressure is a normal stress that acts inwardly. I just function the way physics dictates. Don't be late."

Watching the door swinging shut behind Scott Summers, Logan wondered how it was even possible for him to have found a person to fall for who was apparently even more fucked up than Logan himself. Barring serial killers, there couldn't be more than a handful of those on the whole damned planet so it didn't seem fair that Logan should have found one with such unerring ease. One day, he probably was going to get all his memories back, and then, if karma was a real thing, he would no doubt find out exactly why he was never allowed to have nice things. In the meantime, he might as well just get on with being half in love with a neurotic mutant with mountain-leveling eyes who also happened to be the soulmate of a telekinetic telepath who pulsed with unrealized power – because why not just set himself up for inevitable soul-ripping pain?

Looking at his watch, Logan realized that Scott had left him nothing like enough time to get the stuff done that he'd given him to do. And was pissy and unreasonable enough right now to take off without him, even though Scott knew he was heading for a place where something had happened to him so shitty that everyone he loved had conspired to erase it from his memories. Grabbing random sweaters and throwing them into the drug store bag, Logan headed for the door, then swung back to pick up a six pack from his secret stash. This was almost certainly going to be a mission from hell, and he didn't think there was a lot he could do to change that, but there was still no reason why he had to bear it without beer.

***

Jean felt it all the way down their mental connection – Scott's shivering, furious sense of betrayal. The mortar she had worked loose in both their heads must have let a brick fall out. They were glimpsing the truth and they knew they'd been lied to. Concentrating, she tentatively reached out to Scott and was pushed back by what felt like a wall of flame. She had never known him so angry.

Scott had always been able to get under her defenses like a stiletto. If Scott hadn't been so damaged, she might have fallen for Warren or Henry instead. They were equally good men and she had loved them – still loved them – very much; but Scott had been the one who needed her the most. It had been impossible to see how he could get through life without her, with all his self-doubt and self-blame. No one else seemed to be able to find the words to help him, but she always had. She had always been so necessary to him and now he was pushing her away. That really hurt – but there was also a brief twinge of guilty relief, because Scott was exhausting, and she had made it her life's work to help him, support him, believe in him, protect him, console him, and comfort him, the way one did with people that one loved. His emotional fragility was something she had never permitted herself to resent, and right now it was almost a liberation that she wasn't required to be his everything. He was uncommunicative, but she knew him, inside and out, so it didn't matter that he internalized his unhappiness and failed to tell her how he felt. It didn't matter that he shut her out when he needed her most, because she would come and find him and force him to let her help him anyway. It didn't matter that he repressed everything when it would have been so much easier for the people around him if he could just trust them enough to be open. Scott was the way he was and she loved him; she didn't even see his flaws as failings, just as part of the complicated machinery that made up the man she loved.

Except today, after too many days of fearing the worst, and then keeping a bedside vigil, and tearing herself apart wondering if they were doing the right thing, she realized that she was too exhausted to do this right now. There was the thought just tugging at her that Maybe Logan can get this one. Logan's approach seemed all wrong to her: physically manhandling Scott, getting in his face, yelling at him. It didn't seem beyond the realms of possibility that if Scott got into one of his spirals of self-loathing if a mission went wrong and someone got hurt that Logan would just slap him out of it instead of bothering to find the right words. On the other hand…maybe that approach would work. Maybe Scott needed some masculine opposition as much as he needed feminine support. Maybe her way of helping Scott wasn't the only possible way that he could be helped. Maybe she could take a few days off.

More guilt because she loved him so very, very much, and yet there was a sudden realization that he was also a burden that she had been carrying gladly, because she loved him, but which it might not be such a terrible thing to be relieved of from time to time.

Jean concentrated. She had to make a decision right now about whether or not she was going to let Scott take off in a temper – yes, she was, because she was unhappy about that spaceship, too, and she thought he was right to want to look into it and the best person to defeat whoever it was that was lurking there. But –

Scott, let me come with you.

No!

It's a telepath, isn't it? Isn't that what you believe? Whoever it is in the ship can affect minds – so you need a telepath with you…?

No!

And she knew him well enough to know he wasn't going to be moved on this one. Benevolent telepaths to Scott Summers, right now, were people who screwed with his head just because they could; because they thought he was a child who needed protecting from his own experiences, because he was too weak to cope with reality…. No, she was hitting a solid wall of resentful daddy issues and he was way too stubborn to budge in the tiny amount of time left to her to talk to him. Even as she hurried towards the hangar, she knew he was going to take off before she could get close enough to stowaway.

Was she really going to do this? Was she going to let the man she loved go on a mission with the man who had raped him over and over again without telling Scott that that was who Logan was? She had two seconds to make up her mind, because the engines were starting. In a minute he was going to be out of range of any countermeasures she wanted to employ. Moment of truth.

Then…no. She couldn't tell him when he was already so angry. The only person he trusted right now was Logan, because he, alone, hadn't lied to him. She couldn't tell Scott that those microflashes he was getting of being held down and violated had nothing to do with Sabretooth. He thought he'd already solved that mystery, after all. He thought he'd filled in those gaps and the only problem left to solve was that of the malevolent entity on the spaceship. The ironic thing was that he was half-right. Xavier had wiped from his mind all memories of Scott being assaulted by Victor Creed – he'd just done it ten years earlier. How could she tell him that everything was so much worse than he thought it was when his best chance of getting through this was to trust the man on the jet with him?

She said Scott, I know you're angry with me but you need to listen. It's about the person on that spaceship. This is what you knew about the ship before. This is what I felt when we flew close to it…. She finished giving him the information he needed, trying to keep her thoughts clear and concise but at the end, as she felt down their thread of connection and hit only anger and hurt from him, she couldn't keep back the tears. Scott, I love you so much. Please don't hate me.

Crisply calm: I don't hate you, Jean.

Then tell me how you feel!

I feel that flying off to a place barely on the map with Wolverine and his beer stash is where I'd rather be than near any of the rest of you, right now. Is that really what you want to hear?

Are you…in love with him?

You tell me, Jean. You got to poke around in my head before it got altered.

Scott…

But as I can't think of any reason why anyone would implant memories of me kissing him or curling up in bed with him with my head on his chest or feeling like I'm only home when I'm with him, I'm guessing those are real feelings. Which is a little inconvenient, isn't it?

She heard Logan's voice and it was carrying a definite edge: "Scott, are you flying the jet or having a telepathic domestic with your girlfriend? Because I think you should do one or the other…"

"Relax, Logan. Those are air pockets. They have nothing to do with my piloting which – incidentally – is excellent."

"If I had any fillings this damned jet would be shaking them loose!"

"Which is why it's called 'turbulence' and not 'magic carpet weather'. We can talk about low momentum diffusion, high momentum convection, velocity and pressure fluctuations, and probability theory and stochastic systems if you like – but the really important thing to remember when flying is that one can still be subject to sequences of random variables – like crashing really hard into things really, really fast."

Her indignation on Logan's behalf flared. Scott! You know Logan's a nervous flyer!

She heard Logan saying, "Scott, don't bitch at Jean about what Xavier did."

"If you really want to know, I'm debating with Jean the likelihood of my having romantic feelings for you. Given what an annoying backseat driver you are, I don't put the probability very high right now."

"You're so frickin' lucky you're pretty, Summers, or with that personality you'd be dying a virgin – probably in the next five minutes."

They were getting fainter. They were moving out of range. She felt as if something inside her was tearing. Scott, I love you. Please be careful. Take care of Logan. Come back safely. We can sort out everything else. Just…come back in one piece, both of you.

As he moved almost out of range, she felt a soft sigh reach her, still hurt but with a softening of anger, a lessening of resistance. I love you, too, Jean. I always have and I probably always will. Don't wait up.

Then the blackbird sped them further north and the connection was broken. They were out of reach.

***

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SIX: We Two Have Run About The Slopes

As he flew the jet due north away from Westchester, invisible to radar and cutting through the popping, resistant air pockets like a blade through clouds, Scott was aware of Logan clinging to the seat like he thought he was on a Ferris wheel. He was feeling pissed enough with the world to want to pull an Immelman. Bobby's prank wars in their adolescent days had always just irritated him but he now got the appeal of scaring the crap out of his passenger with a nice looping half-roll. Ten years of relentless self-discipline gave him just enough self-control to resist the impulse. There was also the fact that almost the only person in his life he wasn't annoyed with right now was Logan. Well, no more than he was normally annoyed with Logan anyway. The guy had done as he asked and brought the warm clothes, even if he had also brought along his own weight in beer as well; he'd even changed into the mission uniform just to please Scott, which was really going above and beyond. The seat-clutching was still irritating though.

"Will you relax?" he said.

"Tell me how many times you've crashed?" Logan demanded. He was only clinging to the seat with one hand, Scott noticed, because he was using the other one to hold onto his bag of drug store goodies – which made a change from him cradling a beer bottle to his chest like it was a first-born but was still odd. The guy was definitely getting weirder. Scott helpfully pointed out that gravity being what it was, if the jet went down, that seat Logan was clinging to was going to go with it. Logan seemed oddly unconsoled and did not slacken his death-grip a fraction.

"How many times!"

"None through pilot error," Scott assured him.

Logan looked narrow-eyed with suspicion. "How many through…non-pilot-error…?"

"Oh…dozens of times," Scott assured him. "You get used to it."

That produced an explosion of disagreement and more white-knuckled clutching. Scott rolled his eyes. "You have healing factor, Logan. Stop fussing."

He didn't understand how anyone could not enjoy the way the Blackbird was cutting through the clouds with all that sublime grace and power. If Logan had ever stopped clutching seats and just manned up and taken the controls he would have realized how fabulous a ship she was to pilot. It was the closest most of them were ever going to come to glimpsing how it felt to be Warren with the wind beneath his wings. When he tried to share that thought with Logan, the response he got was short and hostile.

Shaking his head, Scott said, "I can't believe I made out with a guy who's afraid of flying."

Logan said snappishly, "I can't believe I made out with a guy who likes doing his tax returns."

Scott had been about to launch into an explanation of how satisfying tax returns were, especially the way all the figures came out right at the end, like a perfect symphony of arithmetic, but another glance back at Logan confirmed that he was sulking furiously about his current lack of contact with terra firma and unlikely to be receptive to math-rapture. He still thought it strange that Logan hadn't fallen in love with the Blackbird on his first flight. He had also thought Logan would have been the one guy who understood that Scott needed machinery to be fast and responsive so it could test him to the limit; otherwise everything was just too easy, and when things were easy, people got complacent and sloppy and their reflexes slowed.

His mother had used to tease him about the way he always knew where the ball would bounce while he wondered why it was that everyone else didn't. He could just remember lying on his stomach on his grandparents' rug, flicking a screwed up ball of paper for their cat to pounce on, she batting it back to him with quicksilver paws – she the first living creature he had come across who could also anticipate exactly where it would always land as easily as breathing. (Alex had been a placid, curious child, with corn-blond hair and fearless blue eyes, fascinated by Scott's every move and painfully easy to love, but he never allowed for wind resistance when playing softball in winter gusts – his catching and throwing were way off. His mother's voice, fondly exasperated, sounded in his distant memories: "Scott, darling, he's four years old. Why don't you let him at least start school before you worry about his poor grasp of geometry…?" Ironically, Scott remembered worrying that Alex might have had some kind of head injury that had made him dumber than he should be, because when Scott threw a curve ball he never seemed able to work out where it was going to hit the bat – even though Scott could always see it and adjust to anticipate even when it was much bigger kids trying to get him to strike out….)

He remembered learning to drive and it not feeling right; everything too easy with an automatic; too remote a link to the engine. A stick-shift had soothed something in his soul, depressing the clutch, sliding the stick into place, finding the perfect moment as he held the engine in neutral and eased into a new gear, felt everything catch just right; he needed that connection to the machinery. He needed to know how it all worked and what to do if any single part of it failed.

"Please tell me that throbbing engine, phallic lever stuff isn't what it looks like with you, Scott?" Bobby had demanded in the garage.

Scott, happily oil-smeared with his head under the hood of his first dangerous car, thinking about the sheer beauty of synchromesh gears and what it must have been like when one had to double-declutch, had said, "What…?"

"You do know that sports cars are just dick compensators, right?"

Scott had needed a moment to make sense of what nonsense Bobby was coming out with now. He loved him, he really did, but there were days when it felt like they'd come from different planets. "It isn't that sports cars are fast, Bobby. It's that all the other cars are too slow. They're too easy and they give you way too much time to think about what you're doing. You can't hone your reflexes that way."

It was Henry who had said, "Just as long as you're not just honing your reflexes so you can live entirely in a headspace where every decision has to be taken at warp speed, Scott."

They knew each other's weaknesses far too well. Scott had not met his eye. "On a mission, things tend to happen fast."

"And you, my friend, work better under pressure. Given no time at all to think about a problem, you invariably come up with the most elegant solution. Given time and space to second guess yourself, you fall into a spiraling vortex of self-doubt."

Scott had adjusted something minutely with a wrench. "It makes sense for all of us to play to our strengths."

"And it makes better sense for all of us to work on our weaknesses. You, Scott, don't need to fine-tune your already flawless reflexes. You need to work on your self-confidence."

"I'm doing both."

"Perhaps you are – but you seem to be doing the former with somewhat greater success than the latter."

Scott had taken the criticism on board, albeit a little resentfully, and he had tried to work on his self-doubt, but he had also gone on working on super-powering his motorbike so it could achieve greater speed and take him to the very limit of his reflexes.

Jean didn't ask him the difficult questions. He suspected he needed her to, and had done for a while, but she was all about keeping him safe – not just physically but mentally and emotionally. He had come in on the tail-end of so many conversations between her and Henry:

"…Warren and Scott were always the fragile ones. Scott needs boosting up not slapping down. The Professor is too hard on him."

"He can't live his life to make the man he looks on as a father praise him. He has to do what he does because it's the right thing to do. He has to develop a separate system of moral judgment of his own. He can't just be an echo chamber for Charles Xavier. He has to stand up for himself and what he believes in first. That's step one and Scott hasn't taken it yet."

"He just wants to make the Professor proud."

"This is the painful part of getting older – the part where one realizes that one's mentor is fallible but doesn't blame him for it. The part where one doesn't lapse into self-pitying disillusionment because the world and everyone in it is imperfect…."

Except, ironically, Scott thought Henry might be as guilty of that as Scott was; his latest mutation had left him gloomier and more brittle and needing the rest of them to remain the way they had been in the past even more than he had before.

Damn, these people were worse than family. Family just died and abandoned you once. These people had given him a score of agonizing dress rehearsals for their deaths. The power of eagles held aloft by fragile hollows; mindful strength; needling ice wit; that compassionate tempest; red flame of passion – every comfort stolen from him by Sinister given back in her embrace. He should never have allowed himself to need any one person, never mind so many, so very much. (He would not think of the Professor because he so badly craved his praise and reassurance; wanted, even now, to be told that he had done well, and yet – and yet – Xavier had done to him what Sinister had done. He had gone into Scott's mind without his permission and he had changed reality so that it could no longer be trusted. So that Scott could no longer trust his own memories. It felt like the worst possible betrayal and he couldn't think about it without the anger and misery welling up like a tidal-wave.)

How could you? he thought wretchedly. He really had thought they were becoming equals, that the Professor believed in Scott's leadership of the team and trusted his ability to make decisions. You wouldn't have changed Magneto's memories, even if he took off his damned helmet and let you. You wouldn't take away his memories of the camps, because he needs those memories, terrible as they are, to be the man he is. That horror gives him purpose. Whatever was done to me wouldn't begin to compare with what was done to him, and yet you didn't think I was strong enough to bear it, and you didn't even ask me if I could. You just went into my head and changed it.

"Cyke, going over and over it won't change anything."

He found that Logan was looking at him with much too much concern in his steady gaze.

"People screwed with our minds – yours and mine. Our enemies did that to us, and it sucked, and we have to live with it. I was living with it. I was living with the fact I forgot Alex, that I have nightmares and I don't know what they mean. And you were living with the fact that your mind is a tangled mess of half-remembered horrors and things that make you wake up with your claws out – We were getting through the days and you know one of the reasons why I thought you should stick around? Because I thought we might be able to help you. Annoying, though you undoubtedly were, I thought if anyone could help you access your past, it would be Jean and the Professor."

"Scott, it's done. It was a really bad call and if he'd been given more time I don't think Xavier would have made it, but they flew you home in two hours because your stupid jet is that damned fast, and you have to know that he was hoping against hope the whole time that whatever Sabretooth told him had happened up there – that it wasn't that terrible, that the guy had exaggerated. And then they carry you in and – well, they didn't keep us under all those days for no good reason, so I bet you were in pretty rough shape. And he reacts…badly. I'm not a parent, I don't know how that feels, but I'm willing to bet it's not a good feeling to look at your kid in a hospital bed and know someone hurt him that bad and you can't change it. Kind of a short step to thinking about what it would be like if you could change things…"

"Except, all he changed were our memories. He didn't jump back in time and make it not have happened. He just made us think it never had. And you might be a parent, Logan. You might have six kids and a wife and dog somewhere. We don't know, because you'd only crawled some of the way out of the memory loss well when the Professor shoved you back down it."

"It was fifteen years ago, Scott. I reckon the dog at least would be a goner by now."

Scott wrestled with his emotions and then said, "Don't make me laugh when I'm nurturing my anger."

"I'm not sure feeding the rage flames is the best idea, kid."

"Otherwise it's wallowing in my sense of betrayal and disillusionment and that crushing realization of my own inadequacy."

"Okay then – anger it is. Charles Xavier – what a dick, eh?"

Scott wondered why the hell he had tears in his eyes. "It ought to be easier than this to stop loving someone when they really disappoint you."

"You ever disappointed anyone that badly?"

"Apparently everyone I've ever loved, as they think I'm too mentally unstable to cope with an unwanted dick in whichever orifice Sabretooth shoved it."

"Scott!"

He'd forgotten that Logan was the only one who was allowed to be obnoxiously crude; when Logan did it – it was refreshing honesty; when Scott did it – it was unacceptably vulgar. He guessed Logan really needed Scott to be the virtuous little Boy Scout as much as everyone else needed to wrap him in cotton wool.

"I know I need to, but I just can't get past it."

Quite gently, Logan said, "You found out that the man you love like a father mind-screwed you about an hour and a half ago. It's okay to not be past it yet. It's okay to not be past it six months from now or six damned years from now. It's not okay to kid yourself that it's going to stop you loving him or needing his praise and respect, because the guy's basically your dad – so that ain't ever happening. Look at poor little Rahne and her daddy issues and just try to be grateful you didn't get the religious guilt thing dumped on you as well."

Scott muttered darkly, "'They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad./They may not mean to, but they do./They fill you with the faults they had/And add some extra, just for you.' Thanks a bunch, Philip Larkin. There's a reason we don't teach your poetry to the kids."

"Brits are a cheery bunch, aren't they? I blame their weather."

Scott knew Logan was right and he should be less shocked by his own feelings of hurt and betrayal; but he felt he was reasoning at the emotional level of a six-year-old right now and he couldn't seem to stop. It didn't help that he hadn't confronted Xavier, as he should have done. Logan had been right about that. There were angry words bubbling up in Scott's mind like hot springs which he kept trying to forge into coherent sentences when they just wanted to keep echoing: How could you? How could you? I trusted you! And that pathetic wounded misery he felt because Storm and Jean and Bobby and Hank hadn't protected him from either Sabretooth's abuse or Xavier's mind-manipulation. No wonder they treated him like a child. He was a damned child, apparently, one who wanted to snivel resentfully because Daddy would never love or trust him quite enough.

It had always been their duty to keep each other safe; every dereliction was a breaking of the covenant. He had broken the covenant so many times; forfeited the love they refused to withhold from him. Jean had forgiven a hundred weaknesses. Yet he was so wounded by the realization that they had let such harm come to him and not owned up to it. Looked in the eye, it was childish, but he had always thought that, although he might die for Xavier's cause, that he would not be lessened and cheapened and tarnished by it. Capture, torture, even murder, had some gloss attached to them. One could be a hero and suffer any of those fates, but this…some sordid fumbling from a hairy brute who barely knew his real name? Something shoved into him just to show him how weak he was? It was humiliating that enemies considered him worth no more than that, and more humiliating that he was so upset that his friends had let it be done to him.

He was guilty of considering Jean infallible. He had always been more emotionally fragile than she; relied on her strength when life was fissuring him. He demanded of himself that he always had a strategy on a mission, was never short of a plan; secretly it seemed he had been demanding of her that she always found a way to fix or save him before he became too broken. Scott winced, because loving her hurt so much right now; because she'd lied to him, because he'd hurt her, and because of Logan, Logan, Logan, who was the last of the guardians whom it was his job to guard, and the most unlikely: a bad-tempered, implacable barrier between Scott and death. He was cheating on Jean right this minute, in his head, because he wanted to kiss Logan, he wanted to put on the auto-pilot and kiss Logan hard, and pull off their clothes and rub up against one another until they came sticky and undone right there on the creaking leather seats. He was cheating on Jean and he hadn't even had the basic common decency to fall out of love with her first.

The memory-flash hit him like birdstrike, and his violent flinch sent the Blackbird's nose cone down. For a second they were falling away from a west-yearning sun, sky tilted and rippling like a dropped child's painting, while Logan yelled, "We're spinning! Why are we spinning?"

"We're not 'spinning'," Scott told him, easing the nose back up while the clouds whipped past outside in sunlit streamers. "Neither wing was stalled. That was a spiral dive. Don't you know anything about autorotation?"

Logan shouted something that sounded suspiciously like ShutupSummersIhateyou! but Scott decided to pretend he hadn't heard on the grounds that Logan was clearly overwrought. Distracted, he told him to drink some beer or take a Xanax. He was still mentally reverberating from that vicious memory pulse. It had been much more vivid than the others, and far more sordid. The other brain-flickers he'd had before had been the briefest flashes of being naked or a hand in his hair, the suggestion of a grunt in his ear, but this one had involved the memory of weight on top of him, a rough push of stretching pain; his body achingly resistant but overruled by superior strength. He shuddered, very glad, abruptly, that Logan hadn't given way when Scott was demanding sex. A memory-flash mid-coitus would have been humiliating – Scott yelping 'Stop!' and 'Don't!' while Logan rightly wondered if he even knew his own mind – and, besides, he didn't want that brutal…overriding of his will to have any association with Logan.

The next time we meet, Sabretooth, I am going to blow your head clean off….

That kind of rage wasn't healthy. He needed to get that under control. He wasn't a child; there was no excuse for that kind of temper tantrum.

It was still there, though, inexcusably simmering, it was like a chocolate vanilla sundae of negative emotions: self-loathing at what he had let be done to himself intertwined with murderous rage at his assailant. It was hard to know which of them he despised more – Sabretooth or himself.

Whatever that bastard told you that you are is a lie. You're Scott Summers. You're the leader of the X-Men. And nothing he did to you matters. It has nothing to do with who you are.

Scott jolted at the clarity of it. He had to glance across at Logan to check that the man hadn't just come and whispered that in his ear; but Logan was still grimly seat-clutching, despite having said the exact words that Scott most needed to hear. Logan must have said that to him as they recovered from the aftershocks of what Sabretooth had done. It had been said with so much intensity and…compassion.

Scott said, a little reluctantly: "You know, sometimes, Logan, you do actually talk quite a lot of sense."

Logan blinked at him. "Glad you noticed. Remind me what I said again that wasn't to do with you being a shitty pilot and a closet sadist?"

"Never mind."

"You know, Slim, I pine for the days when I thought you were boring."

"You thought I was boring?"

"Yes, in a 'who is the most exciting – Scott Summers or a tub of wallpaper paste?' contest, I would have given it to the paste every time. Now I just think you're unhinged. It's weirdly hot."

"You think I'm boring and crazy?" Scott was more than a little affronted by that, despite years of Bobby telling him he redefined boring in a way that reached its nuclear essence, and that if one could see the human soul then Scott's would undoubtedly come in a beige plaid check, he had always assumed that said more about Bobby than it did about him.

"No, Cyke, not any more. Now I think you're crazy and sexy. Try to keep up."

"People screwing with my head doesn't make me crazy. Well, no crazier than you, anyway."

"No, but wanting to get frisky with a guy as a response to finding out you were almost certainly raped by a disgusting hairy maniac does make you crazy, or at least so damaged that it comes to the same thing."

"Post hoc ergo procter hoc, Logan, you dick!"

"See, the fact you imagined even for an instant that I would know what the hell you were talking about there, just backs up the crazy thing."

Scott glared at him over his shoulder, wondering how anyone could drive him this nuts and remain someone he wanted to have sex with quite so urgently.

"'After this, therefore because of this' is a logical fallacy that mistakenly associates temporal sequence with causality. In this instance, the fallacy is that my being raped by another man made me want to have sex with you. I wanted to have sex with you weeks ago, being raped by another man just made me no longer give a shit that you knew I wanted to have sex with you. Clear enough for you?" He became aware that Logan had a pained expression on his face and was keeping very still. "What's the matter with you now? We're past the turbulence."

"God, I hate these uniforms…" Logan growled.

It took Scott a moment to think to look down and then he realized exactly where Logan was feeling constricted right now. He felt a small flare of triumph coupled with respect that Logan could get an erection just from talking; even Scott needed a few kisses to get his motor running.

Scott looked him up and down. "Wanna make out, Logan?"

Logan glowered at him horribly. "No!"

"You're a terrible liar."

"Fine, it's a lie. You know what isn't a lie? – that you're not in your right mind right now and you don't know what you want."

"I'm pretty sure I want you."

"I'm pretty sure you love Jean and need six months of therapy to get over what that evil twisted son-of-a-bitch did to you."

There was so much rage in Logan's voice that Scott was jolted out of his own precarious calm. "Have you…remembered…?"

"No!" Logan put his hands up to his head. "I keep trying to…I see you tied up. I see him smacking you around, but I don't see…that."

"Maybe that's a good thing. I'm suspecting you didn't take it well."

"How is he still alive if he did that to you in front of me?" Logan demanded, a catch to his voice that made Scott's heart hurt.

Scott focused on the controls in front of him, took a few deep breaths and said, "This isn't what we're doing now. There was a spaceship. There was a…malevolent telepath in the ship. We need to ensure that he or she isn't a danger to us or anyone else. That is all we're doing now."

"Agreed."

"Thinking about anything else is just going to distract us."

"Agreed."

As he flew the Blackbird, Scott had to overcome the irrational idea that just at the corner of his eye were huge, leering jack-in-the-box facsimiles of Sabretooth, rocking gloatingly on their springs and fondling their toy genitalia at him triumphantly, they curved up and over the ceiling of the Blackbird and tried to block out all the light. He swallowed hard. You are not going to make me nuts. You're not worth the time it would cost me to have a breakdown because of you. Except he was flying back there, back to where whatever it was that had happened…had happened, and all he knew for sure was that Xavier had thought he couldn't deal with it. His reactive resentment dueled briefly with the dull conviction that Xavier was probably right.

Scott, you're stronger than you think. You're stronger than anyone thinks…

He looked up in shock. "Jean…?" It was probably just in his imagination, but it sent a coil of warmth and strength through him and he thought back rapidly, Jean, if you can hear me, I'm sorry I was angry. I'm not angry with you. I love –

I'm not angry with you. No one is angry with you.

Now, where the hell had that come from? Because that sounded like Logan again, a reassuring, gentle-voiced Logan whom he barely recognized. He tried to collect his thoughts when there was the oddest compulsion to curl up against Logan and let him take charge misting through the back of his mind. What the hell? Of course, he didn't want Logan in charge. That would just mean yelling and things being stabbed a lot. He forced himself to concentrate. Jean, if you can hear me, I love you. You know the coordinates where we're going. If you haven't heard from Logan or me in thirty-six hours, come and find us. Did I mention that I love you?

He waited, eagerly, for a reply but there was only silence. He slumped a little and Logan said, "Did you hear Jean? Is she okay?"

"I think I must have imagined it. I gave her a message anyway. Logan, do you remember telling me you weren't angry with me?"

Logan looked as bewildered as Scott felt. "Why the hell would I be angry with you? We both got blasted by Sabretooth. There was nothing you could have done to get away from him. You were unconscious before you hit the floor."

"Half the things in my head don't make sense."

"Welcome to my world."

Scott smiled wryly. "Tell me that being normal would be boring and neither of us would enjoy it, would you?"

Logan's voice had that gravel edge it got when he was trying to quash emotion. "Do you ever think about who you would have been if you weren't a mutant?"

Not for the first time, Scott wished he had Storm with him, because the half-thaw was sending up snow mist that made visibility difficult. He hated flying by radar alone. He reduced speed and resisted the urge to wipe his arm across the glass. "I used to think I'd be Alex – you know, the Summers kid that people wanted to take home with them, because he wasn't damaged, he wasn't…broken. Then it turned out Alex was a mutant too. He could just pass better than I could. Maybe he would have been the one that got adopted anyway. He was a really cute kid."

He smiled before he could help himself, at memories of Alex dragging Scott by the hand to look at the footprints he'd found in the forest, insisting they'd been left by a sasquatch. Even at that age, Scott thought it had probably been left by a bear and that there was an awful lot of North America between Alaska and the Pacific Northwest but he wasn't going to rain on his little brother's parade, so they'd played hunting the sasquatch and hiding from the sasquatch and climbing trees to avoid the sasquatch and having a picnic with the sasquatch (Alex's teddy bear had stood in for Bigfoot on that occasion) for the rest of the summer quite happily. Years later, when he and the others had met up with that mystical ape-man in the jungle, Scott had wished for a moment that Alex had been with them so their childhood dream could be at last half-realized.

"I forgot I ever had a brother. Sinister made me forget. I am never going to forgive him for that."

Emotions were such pointless things sometimes. He was stuck in the Blackbird, flying into fog, missing his dead parents like their plane had blown up yesterday, and missing the years he'd never got to spend with a brother, who was alive and well and a phonecall away, with equal intensity. And he was taking equal comfort from the woman who'd helped cover up a deception practiced on him and that hairy ill-tempered near-stranger clinging onto the seat of a jet plane like he could will it not to crash. He'd got better at hiding how he felt, he thought, he was doing a much more efficient job of burying his reactions to immediate trauma until he was at liberty to deal with them. There were things they'd seen on missions that would have had him curled up and sobbing in the past that he could compartmentalize now, stow them away like locker luggage, and take them down and deal with them later. He had been reassuring Henry about that only a few weeks ago – although it felt like years to him now.

"As long as you do deal with them later, Scott. It isn't healthy to repress everything." Henry's golden eyes had been full of concern.

Scott had said, "Of course," and convinced neither of them.

Scott was sometimes almost envious of Henry's evolving mutation. No one could look at this splendid blue-furred scientist and not realize that he had changed since the days he was an athletic, genius fullback, a quip never far from his lips, every woman someone he could find a compliment for and a quote from Shakespeare for all occasions. Girls had stood in front of Henry and played with their hair, curled it around their fingers like they couldn't help themselves, because he was so warmly and confidently male. Now he was moody and magnificent, and damaged and self-loathing and possibly a little bipolar, but undoubtedly a grown-up – whereas half the people Scott worked with every day still saw him as a shy, nerdish schoolboy, and probably always would.

"Scott…?"

He looked around to find Logan gazing at him with concern. "You okay?"

"Yeah, sorry. Just…never mind. Except one day I need to tell Bobby that I'm grateful to him for pretending to be the Bobby we used to know just so we all have something in each other we still recognize."

"You don't think he's really that uncomplicated?"

"No one's that uncomplicated. I sometimes think I ought to tell Henry how handsome I think he is – even more so now – but it's not me he needs to hear it from, it's the girls who wanted his autograph when he was on the football team and who cross the street to avoid him now."

Logan looked underwhelmed. "You think Hank's handsome?"

"I think he's beautiful. I think he's glorious. I think he's someone I could never manage to stop loving even if I really needed to. I don't know why Trish didn't feel the same way."

"That's the reporter chick that dumped him after his last change?" At Scott's nod, Logan grimaced. "Yeah, that's never not gonna suck. Still don't want you telling him he's glorious and beautiful though, like – ever." Logan must have noticed his perplexed expression because he said, "I know you're not the jealous type – but I am. I wouldn't have just hung around and assumed Jean was going to pick someone else. I would have told her how I felt – because I didn't get born pretty, like you. You can get women to notice you just by standing there and looking like…that. Me, I need to let them know I'm interested and I'm worth taking a chance on, otherwise they're always going to be looking right past guys who look like me to look at guys who look like you."

"Why are you saying it like that's my fault?"

"Warren – that good-looking guy with wings – "

"Warren's so far beyond 'good-looking' that it's not even funny. He's…breath-taking."

"Yeah. I hate him already. When he was flirting with Jean, how did it make you feel?"

"Sad." Scott shrugged. Sad and lonely and like this was the way things were meant to be but he wished that just for once he wasn't the one who was always left behind.

"Did it make you wanna punch him in the face?"

"No, of course not. I love Warren. He's saved my life more times than I can count. He's a wonderful human being."

"Yeah, see, Slim, in your place, I wouldn't like him however damned wonderful he was."

"But…but he bought me a really nice car. He said all my cars were gas guzzlers and I needed a hybrid."

Logan cast a fulminating glance in his direction as the clouds streamered past behind his head. "Tell me, what is life like for people who have every beautiful, powerful woman they meet wanting to lick them all over and every wealthy guy they know buying them high-performance vehicles?"

Confused, Scott said, "How would I know?" And now Logan was doing that eye-rolling thing again, as if out of the two of them Scott was the annoying one. Had Logan not even noticed which one of them wasn't clinging to the seat like a Barbary ape?

"Look, Cyke, my point is that if someone is cutting me out with someone I wanna get up close and personal with, I wanna punch him in the face. Even if he's a really nice guy."

Scott needed a moment to think about that. "So – when you were trying to get Jean to dump me for you, you wanted to punch me in the face?"

"Nah." Logan scratched his stubble in embarrassment. "I didn't. That's how I knew something was up, although for a while I just put it down to you being…awkward."

Scott said, "Well, as we're exchanging valentines – you're very annoying, but I'm glad you're here."

There was an awkward pause before Logan said, "So, how rich is Warren?"

"He's like a…kajillionaire or something."

"Is that a real number?"

"No."

"Do you think he'd buy me a car?"

"No."

They flew into a mist like milk glass and he realized he was only half-steering by the instruments on his dash, he was able to make fine adjustments to their flight path, not only through the coordinates Storm had so meticulously logged but by that creeping sense of dread in his chest. There was a magnetic pole of malevolence out there and he was aligned to it. It was calling to him like the one ring to a Nazgûl. It was crawling under his skin and whispering in his mind, and the only way to stop it climbing free from the prison in which it so restlessly paced was to get close enough to hurt it, which was also close enough for it to rip Scott Summers into mind-fractured pieces and scatter him like wedding rice.

Gritting his teeth, Scott increased their speed. He knew exactly where he was going now. It wasn't Sinister out there waiting for him, but it might as well have been. Which mean that he knew exactly how bad this was going to get. He glanced over at Logan and saw the guy was chewing at the skin of his thumb in a way that suggested he was feeling about as calm about this mission as Scott. Still, he needed to ensure they were both on the same page.

Soaring through a fog as thick as bone ash, Scott said, "He or she knows we're coming, Logan. Expect the unexpected."

Grimly, Logan said, "I always do."

***

Scott realized too late that he should have taken his own advice; he also should have more thoroughly mistrusted information that came from Sabretooth. Just because Jean and the others had been told where the 'magnetic pulse' area ended, didn't mean that was the full extent of its possible influence. He should have known they were up against the kind of mind that never played all its cards at once. So, they were still in the safe zone, a mile from the perimeter of malevolent influence, and his systems were failing, all across the board.

As both engines choked to a standstill, Scott said, "Logan, this isn't a drill and it sure as hell isn't a practical joke. We're going to have to make an emergency landing."

"Crash-land? At this speed? In these mountains!"

Scott's gut gave a lurch as he saw the raw fear in Logan's eyes and realized that the guy who had been holding onto the seat the whole way had forgotten all about his fear of crashing in his fear of Scott and his total lack of healing factor being in a crash.

Logan was still clutching that bag of weird things he'd bought from the drug store. He was holding it like a talisman. "How fast are we going anyway?"

As the answer was 'faster than a speeding bullet', their incredible velocity meaning that the whole jet was superheated to a temperature that…well, that Logan really didn't need to know about, Scott decided not to share. He thought he would also keep information like 'fastest manned airbreathing jet aircraft' entirely to himself along with the word 'trisonic'.

He said, "I've survived a lot of plane crashes, Logan. There's always a procedure, even for total systems failure."

"What procedure?"

Scott realized this wasn't one of those occasions when keeping everything to himself would help; Logan was right on the edge and needed to understand that there were still things they could do that didn't inevitably end in a violent explosion and certain death. (That those were the most likely options was something he did intend to keep to himself.) He could hear his father's voice in his head, explaining to a nervous child Scott that anything could be overcome as long as you knew your plane, anything, just as long as you remembered to keep piloting: No matter what, son, always fly the airplane.

"Problem solve – recognize there's a problem. Something just switched everything off. It's not the Blackbird, it's external and I may still be able to get out of its range. Aviate – I'm trying to find the best glide I can. Navigate – I'm looking for a place to make a safe landing. Investigate – I'm trying to fix what's not working. We have excellent back-up systems that Henry installed as a solution to any sudden case of the Magnetos, I'm trying to get those to boot up. Communicate – the second I don't need all my attention to fly the plane, I'm going to let Jean know what's happened. I think she'll hear me even if no one else could."

Logan said, "You realize that frickin' acronym adds up to PANIC, right?"

Scott grimaced. "I was hoping you wouldn't notice that, but if I can get the power back, we can make a precautionary landing instead of a forced one." He was using his most soothing tone. It wasn't working. Logan was now hugging his drug store bag to his chest like an old lady with a pet Pekingese.

The terrain was terrible. Nothing level, no clearings that weren't halfway up a mountain, and everything snow-misted and close to freezing. If he put them down too far from shelter, they probably weren't going to make it, even if he could manage a smooth landing. The saving grace of this situation was the Blackbird herself. He had discovered that love at first sight wasn't just for fairytales the first day he met Jean Grey; it had been reinforced for him when he laid eyes on the Blackbird. That immediate infatuation had swelled to a deep and abiding love the first time he had flown her. Although 'flown' wasn't the right word. She wasn't a plane you just passively 'flew', you strapped her on like a second skin and you took wing together. He had never known a plane like it – who seemed to revel in her own ability to fly, seemed to exult in her own speed, to want to stay aloft. Right now, those chines, the sharp curves leading aft from either side of the nose – originally designed to reduce radar reflection – were helping to hold them up, giving him the extra stability and lift he needed to help pilot them home. It felt like the Blackbird herself was rooting for them.

Scott kept trying to reroute the power and get the back-up systems to work while calculating his options and scanning for a landing site, anything at all that wasn't a one-in-one gradient or a bottomless abyss. This was when it mattered that he knew the Blackbird inside and out. It took milliseconds and no mental effort to calculate the lift/drag ratio, effortlessly assimilate all the relevant trigonometrical tables, and factor in the weight of the jet and its passengers, while all the time fighting what his mother had once told him was the pilot's worst enemy in this situation – the attempt to evade the reality of the situation with complicated 'we're not crashing' maneuvers. That was when people tried banking and wheeling and ended up coming down all wrong and usually very quickly dead. Being a pilot meant possessing a thaw-proof nerve, reflexes as swift as instincts, and an ability to look reality in its unblinking eye. Both of the engines had failed, the only thing keeping them up right now was momentum, so – they were crashing. It was unavoidable, the only thing he had control over was some input into the manner in which they crashed.

Briefly, the back-up system kicked in and he had dashboard lights. For a second he had a winking array of dials helpfully telling him his engines had failed, before they blinked off again. Precautionary was out then; it was a forced landing or a ditch. Of the two, he would rather take his chances on a mountain than a body of freezing water. He switched off the fuel while the lights kept blinking on and off: fuel selector; magnetos; engine & fuel gauges; carb heat on, fuel pump off, lights; circuit breakers. He absorbed all the information he could just in case –

The lights went out. Then they flashed on and off again as Henry's back-up system fought against some external malevolent force that really seemed to want to kill them. The airspeed and vertical speed both told him he was still going too fast. His only friend was the gyro – which at least reassured him that they were level.

The fog cleared, which was one mercy at least. Logan said, "There's a lake, there! Scott!"

"Land's better than water," Scott said tersely. "Hitting water's like hitting concrete. We have a ten percent better chance of survival on land."

He gazed hopefully at the lakeside, but the trees came right down to the water – mature firs that would smash them to pieces before they slowed them up. The lakeside was impossible. The lake itself, well…even if the initial impact didn't break up the jet or kill them or both, he didn't know how Logan's weird biology would cope with freezing water but he knew his would buckle under within minutes. He was not going to die of hypothermia while waiting for a rescue that couldn't possibly get here in time.

As he flew with all the skill he could bring to bear upon something that was now effectively a badly designed glider, desperately trying to keep the nose up, he was making rapid calculations. He needed to come in as straight and level as he could; a dip of the wing and they were cartwheeling. Turns gave him too great a chance of losing control. He needed all the drag he could get, and he needed to get down to as close to stalling speed as damnit. Lights back on. His mind went through all the variables in microseconds as he greedily drank in the gauges before they went dark again – landing gear absorbed impact but it could make the plane flip, so he was keeping it up and relying on the snow to absorb some of the energy. He didn't mind hitting something yielding to slow them up if he could get low enough and level with the ground, but he didn't want to hit it on descent – unless it was soft – or it was going to throw them off their descent path and they were back to cartwheeling. He had to preserve the cockpit. The wings could take the brunt if he could just find the right trajectory….

The mist rolled back and, beneath the impenetrable wall of forest-furred mountain peaks, he saw a small clearing. It was the closest thing he'd seen to level. He didn't like the tailwind, but then he didn't like anything much about crashing. There were young trees within the perimeter before the bigger firs beyond and there was snow that looked deep and soft enough to cushion impact. He could see a formation of firs that might just make this possible – if he could thread the jet between them with a foot each side to spare and slide the nose alongside that enormous fir without hitting it then there was just enough room. He'd lose both the wings, but he needed to do that to reduce speed before he plowed into the forest beyond and this was the best site he'd seen. There was no time to make a pass overhead while he weighed up his options. He took this chance or they hit the next mountain and died in a ball of flame.

"Are you kidding me?" Logan demanded, following his gaze. "This isn't sinking the ball in the corner pocket, Slim! There's not enough room!"

"A survivable deceleration from fifty miles per hour requires less than ten feet of landing distance. Now shut up and let me do this."

He used the soft treetops to slow them as he came in for the descent. The rattling of their branches against the undercarriage sounded deafening, but they were definitely losing speed, the angry whine becoming a softer snarl. He fought to keep the nose up, wanting her to bellyflop rather than headbutt the ground now coming towards them at a nerve-testing rate. His gaze was on the big firs. Three looming giants. He needed to slide the nose between the first two, let them take out the wings but pray they would stop the forward slide into that bank of trees beyond that was going to crush the cockpit like tin plate if the side firs didn't do their job. Of course, if his calculations were even a couple of degrees off and he hit that giant Douglas fir head-on instead, they were equally dead; he had almost no wiggle room to play with and not an instrument gauge working. This was just about praying that the diagram in his head made sense on the ground.

"Brace for impact, Logan!"

It was impossible to brace for it – like trying to remember pain. One second they were hurtling and the next they were being sledgehammered by the ground. It jolted through Scott's spine, his shoulders, and his teeth, the safety harness yanking him back viciously as they bounced – he felt his ribs crack – but at least they were bouncing straight. It was possible that his neck was actually dislodged by the next bounce, and then they were sledging forward at still impossible speed, snow spuming up in a frenzied white mist, the young firs hitting the wings then bending beneath the body of the Blackbird like limbo dancers, more young trees and that looming giant was so damned close and they were still so fast. If he had come in at the wrong angle –

The wings hit the firs on either side, just as planned, the impact jolting through the body of the Blackbird with horrifying force. He was thrown forward violently again before the harness arrested his momentum and snapped another rib. The right wing ripped off with a horrifying scream of tearing metal that made the hair on his neck stand on end. It was like something being tortured in Gehenna.

He yelled, "Logan! Get to the right side of the plane!" not a moment too soon as they spun, the left wing ripping off with such force that it took out one of the side panels but the impact throwing them back on course, and then the body of the plane was free-sliding sideways towards that looming fir.

The nosecone scraped past the huge trunk with less than an inch to spare, and then the belly hit something submerged in the snow – probably a rock – and the heat-expanded titanium plates tore with another terrible shriek. The maimed jet stuttered over rocks, plates rending, melting the snow and the ground on impact, and swung hard. The Blackbird took the impact port-side, crumpling like one of Logan's beer cans; there was the sound of splintering tree then a branch speared through the side of the jet like a harpoon into a swordfish, another smashed against the windshield, letting in biting gusts, prisms of raining glass dancing on snow flurries as the stink of resiny pine and jet fuel filled the air. Scott saw more branches coming for him as the plane skewed and then something cut him loose from his harness and hauled him out of his seat a millisecond before a toppled fir smashed straight through the nose cone and flattened the pilot's seat with a resinous groan.

Scott said, "I switched everything off that might spark. We're leaking fuel but –"

Logan said, "I know!"

And then Logan was slashing his clawed way out through the hole the branch had made with his left hand while hauling Scott after him with his right arm – Scott now clutched to his chest along with the drug store pack Logan was still holding like it was a Hermes purse in an alley full of muggers.

Breathing in and out was hurting thanks to his broken ribs, and Scott didn't appreciate being dragged at such side-slamming speed, Logan's fingers curled tight in his uniform as if he thought Scott might run off like a stray cat in a strange forest if he let him go.

"Damnit, Logan – let me finish…."

"You can finish at a safe distance!"

Clutching his ribs, Scott thought that it was just as well he didn't have his beams or he would be tempted to blast Logan with them.

"The Blackbird runs on JP-7. It's incredibly stable, has very low volatility, can take vast extremes in temperature, and is almost impossible to ignite. You can drop a lighted match in a bucket of the stuff and the match will just go out."

"So? Drop a lit match in a bucket of diesel and it'll go out – doesn't mean you wanna be standing next to a tanker of the stuff when it blows up."

The cold was biting, and even with the trees offering shelter, he could feel the wind whipping through his uniform. "We need to go back for the warm clothes." As that made no impact, he added coaxingly: "And your beer…."

"No one's going back to a crashed airplane leaking jet fuel!"

"Logan, you can't even get JP-7 to light unless you inject it with triethylborane to get it to reach high enough temperatures to –"

The forest tore apart in a roar of burning metal. Logan shoved Scott down onto the snowy ground, covering him with his body while the percussive wall of noise rolled over them and the sky rained fire and skewering Blackbird guts. Pain slammed into his back and he heard Logan give a breath-stolen grunt. The trees glowed and hissed before sparking into resiny flames, cindered cone-corpses raining down as Scott felt the air sucked from his lungs, the world alight with flame and spinning titanium.

Even as he was struggling for breath, Scott was aware that everything was happening too slowly; not some mental illusion caused by stress in the moment; but the way things happened when a telekinetic was controlling the environment. He risked glancing up and saw metal streamers arch past like javelins. The air should have been superheated by the temperature of the exploding Blackbird but it was already cooling down again; oxygen coming back into his lungs. Except – there was air but he couldn't seem to process it properly. Breathing was a struggle, and that bruising pain in his lower back was hurting more instead of less, starting to spread deeper in like it was a pain that was here for a while.

Logan said raggedly, "Scott, keep still."

"You okay?" Scott pressed, not liking the sound of his voice.

"Just let me… Don't move!"

Scott had been about to turn to see if Logan was wounded but the sheer panic in his voice made him freeze. That was when he looked down and noticed the twisted shard of metal protruding from his left lower quadrant. He said a word he would not have uttered in front of the students.

Logan was breathing like it really hurt. "Keep. Absolutely. Still." Scott became aware of a fist pressing against the sorest part of his back and realized what was coming next. He braced himself as Logan gave a roar of pain, there was a squelching, sucking sound of tearing flesh and then Logan was lying in the snow beside him, trying to hold in his guts while a wound the size of Scott's fist pumped blood.

"My God – Logan…?"

"Just give me a minute." Logan pressed his hands to that bloody hole in his abdomen, trying to breath around the pain. Scott found he was having to do the same thing now that the initial shock was wearing off and the wound was really making itself felt.

Logan said, through gritted teeth: "Quick recap – the part of the Blackbird sticking through your gut is narrower than the part that just got too friendly with me, but I don't wanna pull it out until I've got somewhere to work on the wound in case you bleed out. The spaceship's less than half a mile away – over there. It has a med-lab."

"How do you know that?"

Logan blinked. "I remember from when I was there."

"Logan, ten minutes ago you didn't know you'd ever been there. How come you remember now?" And you sure as hell didn't know what our co-ordinates were or where the spaceship was in relation to them so how come you know that now too?

"I guess the crash shook something loose. What the hell does it matter, Slim?"

Scott decided that arguing with a man with a gaping hole in his gut while both of them leaked vital corpuscles from being impaled on shrapnel was probably a waste of both their energy. He thought it was obvious that the person on that crashed spaceship was reeling them in like salmon. It also seemed pretty clear that he or she could have ripped the Blackbird apart mid-air if he or she wanted him dead, so he surmised their unknown enemy wanted him alive but injured, presumably so Logan would carry him there. Scott wondered if he was supposed to be swooning at this point? In the past, he probably would have passed out from the shock of a wound like this, but it was amazing how much pain you could take and stay conscious if you just had to endure enough of it. He thought some fake-swooning might be an idea. He could feel something probing at his mind but it was crude compared with Xavier, Sinister, Jean, or Emma Frost. It didn't lack power but it lacked subtlety. There was an expectation that his mind would be one big untidy room and it could riffle about at will. The person in his head didn't seem to comprehend, as yet, that the minds of damaged children were always mazes, and the minds of damaged adults even more so.

Quietly pushing up a few walls and throwing behind them a few things he didn't want seen yet, Scott did the opposite of what he usually did when wounded – let his mind fill up with thoughts about how much that piece of metal impaling him hurt. It was like cranking open a faucet until everything was flooded red and hot and pulsing with pain. There wasn't a telepath alive who was going to enjoy that experience or be able to assess his mind rationally while it was happening. He let out a soft groan and then felt bad when Logan scrambled over to him anxiously.

"Scott…?"

He had to be ruthless here. It was sweet that Logan cared, but Logan's mind was a godawful mess – Jean had confirmed that – which was a good thing right now. There was locked room after locked room down endless hallways spiraling like an Escher sketch, and an overspill of half-remembered things randomly shoved into bulging closets jammed closed with the handles of broken chairs. There was a small space at the front where a guy could walk around in the near-past but trying to make sense of the rest was like trying to accurately catalogue every item in a garage sale while preschoolers ran around screaming and shot at you with Super Soakers. Right now that little patch of clear space in Logan's head was going to be filled with anxious thoughts about Scott groaning and fainting, making it hard for a malevolent mind-reader to get hold of too much useful information. Scott wanted to keep it that way for as long as possible. If the only mind he or she had really got to know so far was Sabretooth's then he or she might think all mutants were primitive animals with major anger management issues. He was all for their enemies underestimating them.

He uttered a soft moan and kept his eyes closed but fluttering beneath the lids. Logan sliced through the bloody spike of metal protruding from what Scott feared might be the vicinity of his left kidney and it fell to the snow with a gentle thud. As Logan shoved that stupid bag of drugstore medicines inside his ripped one-piece instead of…say bandaging the gaping hole in his own abdomen, Scott could feel the wrongness of the shrapnel left inside him, his organs cringing from that alien edge invading their space. With the pain-pain-oh-pain pushed to the front of his mind, he secretively thought of how dead he should be by now. The metal should have been hot enough to liquefy his organs on contact but there wasn't a sizzle of singed flesh. Whoever had thrown that particular shrapnel spear through him and Logan had taken care to cool it first. Pain! It hurts! Pain! His mind was a confusion of agony and exhaustion. He was swooning. He so completely and convincingly was.

He muttered sotto voce: "Logan – bandage yourself up, you dick."

"Hush, Scott. Don't talk. Just keep breathing."

Great, now the one person in his life who had only known him as an adult was also talking to him as if he were six. It was irksome that Logan talking to him in gentle, soothing tones didn't make him want to deck the guy, like it should, but made him want to curl into the comfort of his arms and snuggle. That had to be the mind control. Scott Summers was not a snuggler.

Logan gathered him in his arms and the act of being lifted was painful enough that Scott didn't have to fake that half-fainting groan of pain. "I'm gonna get you to shelter, Scott. I'm gonna get you fixed up." Logan sounded gruff and tender at the same time and Scott had to bite his tongue not to reassure him – because it was good that Logan was a blazing beacon of concern for him right now. It made for excellent camouflage.

Then Logan was striding through the knee-deep snow with him and the jolting was bad enough that Scott found it wasn't so hard after all to remember how to swoon.

***

Scott came to in an indoor, mostly metallic, dome. It had a soothing atmosphere with low-toned artificial lights. There was a faint hum of positive energy and the temperature was just warm enough to be pleasant without being stifling. What a nice spaceship I am, it seemed to say. I offer shelter and comfort. Come to my embrace. What he could see was mostly circular, with inviting corridors off, there were arrays of consoles, there were snug little sleep cells that could comfortably take two, there was a central pillar, intricate as a totem pole, emitting a pattern of blue lights, and there was a raised dais towards which Logan was carrying him with stumbling, blood-spattering paces. The hull seemed to be intact but Scott could sense that the patterns of lights were wrong – whole areas that were dark, suggesting that the central brain of the ship was recovering from some kind of electronic stroke.

"Logan…?"

"You're awake…?"

He gazed up into green eyes, raw with anxiety. Logan had a pallor that wasn't just due to cold and fear, he had purple shadows under his eyes and looked anemic. He also looked more than a little frostbitten and there was snow in his hair and in his beard.

"You need to stop moving," Scott told him. "Even your body can't heal while you're running around like a lunatic."

"I'll heal while you're healing."

Scott was lowered carefully into a white-cushioned container, worryingly coffin-like. "World's smallest padded cell…?" he essayed.

"It can fix you. Sorry, Scott –"

"For what…?"

That was when Logan pulled the spear of shrapnel out of him. Scott screamed and even as his senses swooped and the pain flooded through him he was aware of someone in the ship gathering his scream in, hugging it to his metaphorical breast and relishing its music.

He came back to full consciousness to find Logan had tossed the metal spar aside and was stroking an anxious thumb over his forehead. "I'm sorry."

Scott swallowed, although the pain was indescribable. "Had to be done, sooner or later. What is this thing…?"

"Some kind of alien med-lab…thing."

"How does it work?"

"How the hell would I know?" Logan stroked his forehead again. "I'm sorry about the Blackbird – I know you were…unhealthily attached to it."

"Her, Logan. I was unhealthily attached to her. And she died saving us, so speak of her with respect."

"Did you like her more than me?"

"No."

"Then I'm sorry she's dead – but still better her than us."

Scott tried to move and realized that the shrapnel had damaged not only his stomach muscles and his kidney but had done something to his spine.

"Keep still," Logan urged. "This thing can fix you."

How can it fix me? Scott thought. Because it's…from space? Who told you it can fix me? And where is he or she right now?

Logan was already pressing the buttons on the console at the side like he was the kind of person who could figure out how alien technology worked just by looking at it. Logan, no one is saying you're not smart, but you threw the TV remote across the room last month because you put the batteries in the wrong way round and you couldn't watch the hockey game. Scott kept those thoughts to himself. He wasn't going to lie but there were truths and then there were truths, especially when a malevolent telepath was lurking around somewhere eavesdropping. Aloud he said, "I'm glad you're here, Logan."

Then those sequences of buttons Logan pressed caused Scott's padded coffin to sink, some glass or plastic hood to slide over him, and then everything began to fill with a cool pink gel.

For a second he was panicking because the stuff was in his mouth, his nose, his eyes, he couldn't breathe, he couldn't– He held an arresting hand up just in time to stop a pink-tinged Logan with his claws out ready to cut him free before he drowned. Whatever the gel stuff was it was something his lungs could breathe and the pain in his back was lessening. A gas hissed into the container with a soothing sigh and Scott realized that he was being anaesthetized. He had flown them straight into the control of whoever was in this ship; Logan was apparently vulnerable to its mind-control; Scott either breathed in gas and pink goo and hoped the ship's technology could save him or he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, like the Professor, or bled out from a ruptured kidney.

A mind was probing at his again. Scott closed his eyes and thought weak, helpless thoughts. I'm injured, it hurts, I need help…. The mind seemed satisfied; it caressed him the way Sinister did – as if it liked the parts of Scott it could shape and change. It was soothing him to sleep like a lullaby, and the pink goo made breathing a little harder but oh so steady – in, out; in, out; how nice that the pain was fading – if he slept, when he awoke it would be completely gone. Scott decided that giving in now would be an excellent idea. He threw some more thoughts he didn't want looked at behind some hastily erected mental screens and then sank into a healing sleep.

 

Scott woke up wanting Logan. It wasn't a new thought, it had been there for a while, gathering dust as he tried to shove it to the back of the closet in case Jean found it while she was looking for his laundry list or the last mission report. Now, however, it had been shined up like a trophy and put into prime position. He wanted Logan in a sweet, slow, yielding sort of way. He wanted caresses from skillful fingers and deep, confident kisses. It was all very…romantic.

Jean, exasperated with him once: 'For God's sake, Scott, your secret fantasies really aren't as depraved as you think they are. A lot of guys want women to get a little rough with them. No, I would never wear that costume, or do that thing with the whip, and, no, I would never do that…other thing to you, it's not my kink and I wouldn't enjoy it, but everything else is fine with me….'

There had been a woman in Alaska, who – just for a moment – had looked like Jean, when the setting sun caught her hair, and she had looked at Scott so…boldly and hungrily. A thought had flicked across his mind like a flexed leather thong: 'Summers, I want to leash you like a dog and ride you like a pony and then I want to whip you til you beg me for mercy.' He'd been so shocked he'd gasped out loud, but when he'd looked over at her, the woman had turned away, and he knew he must have imagined it, or else some parallel world had just edged too close for a moment and let him glimpse a different reality. One where he was presumably languishing in some leather vixen's sex dungeon wearing fur-lined handcuffs while she told him he was going to be punished… It had made him squirm inside how turned on he had been by that scenario, a spike of guilty arousal that came and went like a single dot of Morse Code, but that was just…fantasy stuff. There was a reason why the woman he'd fallen in love with wasn't a leather-mask-wearing dominatrix or some ice-cold disciplinarian in high heels and a basque. Yes, he preferred confident, powerful women, but he didn't need them to whip him when he was bad or walk on him in stilettos, and he sure as hell wouldn't put up with any guy pushing him around. He'd never fantasized about Logan sweeping him up in his manly arms, clasping him to his hairy chest, and wordlessly taking charge in the bedroom. Life wasn't a bodice ripper, and if it were, Scott was damned if it was his bodice that was going to get ripped. Except –

Except, his usual resistance to being pushed around by Logan had had its dial turned down somehow. And the dial was still slowly easing towards zero from what had been a robust ten. He felt…passive. Not weary as in exhausted, either, just as if the idea of having to make decisions for himself was impossibly tiring and it would really be a much better idea to leave everything up to Logan for a while.

As the pink goo receded – leaving him oddly unmoist – he cautiously flexed his toes and found that his legs were working again. He looked down at his abdomen and although his uniform was still wearing a gaping, ragged tear, his body wasn't. His skin was smooth and unscarred.

His first thought was that perhaps this alien pod thing could heal the Professor. Perhaps it could reset Henry to a human shape. And then he became more aware of how his head felt – just like it had in the orphanage after a busy night of attempted brainwashing. The psychic in this spaceship had been poking and prodding through his mental underwear drawer while he slept, banking up Logan fires, damping down opposition. Scott swiftly banked down his own spike of indignation. He had a suspicion that he or she was drawn to strong emotions. He needed to stay at the mental consistency of oatmeal, no flash-fires, no freezes. There was a strong compulsion to go with where this took him, as insistent as a sea's call to a mountain stream. It might be that the only way to work out what he or she wanted was to do whatever it was that he or she wanted him to do. Why not go with that for now…?

The alien pod was opening and he was gazing up into a familiar bearded face, green eyes gazing down into his with grave concern. Except he would have expected Logan to say something by now. He was a man of few words, but he wasn't a man of no words at all.

Scott was plucked out of his coffin-bed with so much force that it knocked the breath out of his body and found himself…well, pretty much clasped to Logan's manly bosom. Logan set him down carefully on the edge of the medlab, steadying him with one hand, while examining him intently, fingers caressing his abdomen to check that it was truly healed. Then he began to remove Scott's clothes, presumably to check for more injuries. There was a weird…confidence about Logan, like the guy was being all…the best that he could be. Even his examination was strangely confident, like he knew exactly what he was looking for and was reassured by what he was finding. As he unzipped his torn uniform and tugged off his boots, he was like a timber wolf who knew precisely where the reindeer were and had every confidence of carrying a carcass home for the wife and cubs.

Scott said, "You okay?"

Logan stroked Scott's hair back from his forehead and planted a brief kiss on it. Scott knew he should squirm at how cheesy a gesture that was, but he felt a warm, happy glow. He was embarrassed about being naked, but also felt like he'd been trying to catch the eye of the best-looking jock in the school while he was just a skinny little nerd, and the guy had just given him his phone number. When Logan nuzzled in against him, Scott couldn't help a silly grin breaking through, his body curving naturally against Logan's as the man ran his fingers through Scott's hair and kissed his cheekbone gently, clearly relieved that Scott was back in the land of the unmaimed.

Somehow when Logan slid one arm behind his shoulders and the other under his knees and began to carry him, it felt a lot like breathing in warm pink goo – new but perfectly natural. His body just curled against Logan's as if they had always fitted like this – Scott's head against Logan's neck, his left hand holding Logan's right shoulder. The way Logan smelled and felt seemed so familiar, as if Scott knew exactly how Logan's skin felt against his, the warmth of his chest hair, that furred strip down his belly….

By the time they reached the big, inviting sleep cell with its soft white walls, it seemed inconceivable that anything could happen next that wasn't about sex. Of course, Logan was going to celebrate Scott's return from near-death by re-affirmation of how much they needed each other. Of course, kissing Logan, being with Logan, yielding utterly to Logan and his warm, biscuit scent was all Scott wanted to do right now….

The part of his mind that was wary kept trying to ring an alarm bell in his head but Scott pushed it back behind the barricades. If he was going to be mind-controlled by persons unknown at least it could be to do something he wanted to do for a change. Letting the sex-with-Logan thing happen had no possible downside. In any mental state, he wanted Logan and Logan wanted him, and the only people who were opposed to it were back in Westchester probably planning their next lie. So, he was going with the flow on the sex with Logan. (There was something just niggling at the back of his mind, like very small fish nibbling at a floating mushroom, something about it not being the right time, too soon since something else…something he hadn't liked…had happened, and maybe Logan himself not wanting…but that was so unimportant now.)

When Logan placed him so carefully in the sleep cell and began to remove the ragged remnants of his own clothes, Scott smiled up at him shyly. He was so smitten with Logan right now that he found it difficult to even meet his eye. He was so lucky that someone like Logan was paying attention to someone like him, and Logan was so quietly confident, giving Scott reassuring kisses as he stripped. Scott's chest felt tight with happiness and an excitement he hadn't felt since he was a kid at a funfair. He couldn't believe Logan really wanted him like this – but Logan really did, that became obvious as soon as Logan was naked and let his gaze roam over Scott's naked body with that quiet, hungry focus. Scott blushed and Logan smiled and kissed him again, a hot, hard, breath-stealing kiss, that made Scott gasp with the shock of it as Logan clasped his head with one strong hand and pulled him in for that hot tongue in his mouth, pressing in, deep and confident and utterly in charge.

What the hell is this? Twilight? Where are the words, Summers? As in conversation between adults establishing appropriate consent? What is this swoony high school crush crap…?

Scott angrily shushed that killjoy prattling in his head – the one who sounded exactly like himself. It stood to reason that uptight Boy Scout would object to him having fun, and no one wanted to hear that mood-killing mumbling right now. Everything was perfect. Logan was perfect like this. This was the guy he had always known Logan was inside – noble and hungry and certain.

He's a caveman! He seems to be a very nice caveman, but he's still not Logan, you dick, Scott! Where the hell is the Logan you know? Because that guy isn't all noble, wordless splendor – he's just the asshole you happen to be half in love with. He should be annoying you right now. If this guy is really Logan, ask yourself why he's not complaining about the lack of beer…?

Scott opened his legs, a little scared and a little shy, but full of faith in Logan, that he would know the right way to do this, that anything Logan wanted him to do would be the right thing. Logan moved onto him with quiet grace, kissing Scott again, reassuringly certain. He delved into a bag of drug store goodies that set up a weird process of association in Scott's head, images flashing into his mind of the mansion, Logan's bedroom, a guy who was afraid of flying and drank too much beer and smelled of those horrible cigars –

Another kiss and he closed his eyes as his senses swum and sang as he was overwhelmed by Logan's sheer magnetism, his warmth and his hard-bodied perfection, and his musk-scent and the brush of his stubble against Scott's face. He was dizzy and drowning with it. If he'd met a guy like this when he was at school, everything would have been different, everything would have been better. This guy would have just put him in the back of his van and taken him away from Sinister, from Winters, from everything cruel and manipulative in his life. He was lucky Logan had found him, even if it had taken him an extra ten years. He had never wanted anyone like he wanted Logan. There was nothing Logan could do to him that he didn't crave.

Snap out of it, Summers, you halfwit! Don't just squirm into his lubed-up fingers like…god that feels amazing…. Oh why do I even bother? Go ahead, have sweaty caveman sex. Hope it's good for you. Talk to me when you're not crushing like a thirteen year old girl over frickin' Wolverine….

Lube-slicked fingers worked him open with practiced confidence, then that sharp, stretching discomfort began to intensify and Scott wanted to yowl a protest and give in to anything that Logan wanted; the two parts of his mind tussling in a way that gave him a pounding headache – all too familiar from his days at the orphanage. Logan pushed in and the heat of his cock was shocking, so was the stretching ache, too hard, too hot, too big, bright burn of pain, but it came with a jangling confusion of so many other sensations that it was too much to process. Sweat broke out across his skin and he moaned. Even his moan sounded like half-pain and half wanting.

At least the pain had cleared his head better than a slap across the face and a bucket of ice water. So, here they were, right where their potential enemy wanted them: he had been given first-aid by an alien pod that had left him high and floating, and Logan was Cro-Magnon man. Scott was swirling and floating on a pink-flushed cloud, body pumped full of something that seemed less like anesthetic than mind-altering drugs, and he was…susceptible to influence and being psychically shoved into Logan's arms. The influence being particularly effective because in Logan's arms was where Scott had wanted to be for a while –

Grimacing, as his body sought to adapt, Scott felt another rush of weak-kneed Logan-longing crash over him as the man bent his head to kiss him, mouth skillful, teasing, and practiced. Damnit, why did Logan have to be such a good kisser? He was trying to hang onto reality here and the guy really wasn't helping, with those fingers caressing his face so tenderly and the tongue doing that…tongue thing. Stop helping Mr. or Ms Telepathic Alien Peeping Tom, Logan – for all we know he or she is getting off on this. Do you really want to…damn, how can that hurt so much and feel so good…?

Logan was pushing forward in gentle nudges, easing in, while Scott's body yawned open, painfully stretched, incredibly sensitized, hurting and wanting, and mostly just experiencing. It was like trying to read with a fire alarm going off. The pain was building, it was swallowing him up, he was sweating and moaning, and his body was alive and craving and aching and needing; he was being stretched beyond the point of anything close to pleasure and he wanted Logan to pull out and push in with equal intensity, and Logan was unreachable. Logan wasn't even home. Logan was a muscular ball of scrambled neurons, tender kisses, and a raging, hungry, fire-hot hard-on. The pressure built beyond anything he could bear and his body opened to it, traitorously, straddled and stretched, and then, another push made him ache further in, while he arched into it, aware of those thick inches of intensely blood-warmed shaft still to enter him.

Logan licked him delicately, savoring Scott like a fine wine, and his tongue was also unbearably and wonderfully hot as it flicked across his nipples. Sensation flickered away from every tongue swipe, and Scott realized the anesthetic must have left all of his body over-sensitized, not just his erogenous zones. Another warm wet lick, and another, and he was coiling into it, wanting to be licked, wanting to be touched, and his movement coincided with Logan pushing forward and there was a blissful few inches of hot shaft sliding into him and then things got thicker and the pain was starbursting, but he needed it now, all the sensations, the pain was a lancing, stretching ache, and there was way too much cock inside him, too long, too thick, too damn everything, and yet his body was wriggling onto it, moaning and arching and sweating from every pore, and taking it, deeper and deeper. Logan was shoving his way in, hands firm on Scott's hips, pulling him forward to meet that blissful torturing cock. Scott whimpered as he was stretched and stretched and then Logan shifted his position just a fraction and something in Scott that had been resisting just gave way, a graceful surrender. The pain eased at once; it was incredible how quickly it faded to a gentle ache, a tolerable stretch. He could feel how his ass was so tight around that hot, slick shaft, of how completely he was stretched and filled, his body impaled by Logan's; his legs were wrapped around Logan, his hands clutching at him. And Logan abruptly pulled Scott up and against him, one arm around his shoulders, the other on his ass as he gave a firm push forward and shoved the last inch home. Scott moaned, because it hurt so much and he wanted it so badly. And he was clinging to Logan and Logan was holding him fiercely and kissing him tenderly, and he wondered if this was how it had been before speech, before any confusion of words, just actions showing that he was possessed and conquered and shaped and molded, but also needed and treasured and wanted and safe.

A part of his mind still wanted to argue with everything, to cling to its autonomy and resistance, but the part of his body that had done that had just made everything hurt worse, and Logan was warm and hard and without doubt, and Scott was chilled from blood loss, and strangely pliant, and whatever the really good drugs were that the aliens used for their operations were still swimming in his system and he wanted to go with the drugs and the pressure of Logan's cock so deeply inside him, and Logan pulling back and pushing forward, with firm, deft thrusts, and his own moans had a defeated sighing sound. He found that he was clinging to Logan, wanting his warmth against him, wanting his weight on top of him, wanting this pressure inside him, this friction that was beginning to rub delicious sensations within and without.

Logan kissed him again and Scott opened his mouth to the kisses needily, like he had wanted these kisses for a long time, wanted to be reassured like this, with hungry, gentle kisses, mouthing at him, nipping at him, tongue pressing into his mouth, slick and deft, while Logan's hips kept up their snap-snap-snap, jolting him in ways that made pain and pleasure roil up from somewhere in his guts, and electrify his thighs and his spine, and send flickering sensations hard into his balls. Logan was pressing his tongue in his mouth and his cock in deep and his fingers were playing with Scott's ass possessively, stroking the taut, stretched rim, like they wanted to push in too. Scott was making pitiful whimpering noises; Logan's cock still causing lancing flashes of discomfort as more of his body had to learn how to stretch.

He was at the limit of everything he could take, that thumb on his nipple, that mouth on his, then licking his neck, the teeth fastening on his skin, then the firm hold on his ass, the hips angling in, harder and faster now. Logan was emitting fierce, possessive grunts as he worked their bodies like clay, bending and shaping Scott to take him inside him, in deep, hard thrusts. Scott's whimpers were now soft, yielding moans. He wanted this, all of this. He realized that Logan was still holding back, that Logan's strength was incredible, and that he could do this for hours, keeping them both on the edge, the awe-inspiring animal – just – reined in. Logan thrust harder and Scott let his head fall back and opened his legs wider, and he saw the bright flash of pleasure in Logan's eyes at this sign of submission, and was rewarded with more kisses, more thumbing of his nipples, a subtle change in angle and – oh God, bright flash of sensation, a white starshower behind his eyes, pleasure rush to his balls. Now he was lost and floating, everything hazy except those bright stabs of sensation as Logan rode him, deep and hard.

Even the sound of it was exciting him, Logan's rhythmic grunts of exertion, his breathy gasps of reaction as he was lifted by each thrust, the slap of flesh on flesh, squelch of slippery skin meeting; his whole body felt light and loose and utterly responsive, riding the pumping thrusts like pleasure waves. Starburst of sensation. Another. Another! God, Logan was riding him so damn well: deep and hard and skillful. It felt so good…

He was offering breathless murmurs of encouragement, kissing Logan back, flexing to meet his thrusts, urgent and needy, he bent his head and licked at Logan's nipples, and Logan rewarded him with another direct hit to the prostate that made him moan with pleasure. He nibbled and nipped at Logan's warm skin and the thrust-thrust-thrust was all pleasure now, climbing circles of it, pulsing after one another like sonar from an incoming missile, sensation building and building, drawing nearer and nearer to –

Scott arched ecstatically as pleasure flooded every neuron, rippling through him in rising waves, the intensity almost too much to bear, every nerve in his body thrilling to it, every cell alive and pulsing. Another spasm twisted through him as a second wave took him, higher up the spine, and then a third jolt that must have shivered along every chakra, before its energy burst into his brain like a shower of fiery light. He passed out only briefly – this time – managing to cling onto consciousness like a shipwrecked mariner riding Hokusai's Great Wave. It was pure, undiluted climax, and he came down from what felt like physical levitation, gasping from the power of that orgasmic white out, and fluttering on the very edge of passing out again. He had known a climax like that one exactly once before, and it had damned near put him in a coma. Then as now it had been totally worth it.

Even as his body pulsed from the aftershocks, a part of his mind thought: Bribery? Or does the alien telepath just feed on sensations?

That was a possibility, wasn't it? God, Logan was still thrusting. The guy had the most amazing stamina…. Scott's body was utterly relaxed now, tingling nicely, and going with the pumping from Logan like a rowboat drifting on the waves. Maybe the crash had been engineered so the alien would get a head full of fear and adrenaline, then pain, lots of tasty pain, and then sex, really, really good sex, with an extra-strength orgasm thrown in – even though Scott's body wasn't technically wired up to have one of those, having drawn the short straw on the nerve bundles or…whatever the hell it was that gave women orgasms that snaked all the way up their spines that Scott didn't actually possess.

The Best Climax Ever he'd experienced before had been back in the early days of his relationship with Jean, when she hadn't had such a firm grip on her telepathy. In the excitement of her first chakra-firing orgasm, she had flooded his brain with how her body felt in that moment and created an orgasmic feedback loop – Jean experiencing not only her own climax but how it had felt to be Scott experiencing his and hers, and then inadvertently projecting that back into his head. He'd passed out with the intensity and scared her half to death. He'd come round to find her crying over him and saying how sorry she was, whereas he, floating on the best high ever, had been happily dazed and incoherent for the rest of the day. Bobby had told Jean that whatever drugs she'd given Scott, she should keep him on them always, because he was so much less uptight like this, but Xavier had been seriously concerned that Jean might inadvertently fry Scott's mental wiring and had told her on no account to do…that to him again. She had promised, tearfully, that she never, ever would, and – much to Scott's disappointment – had stuck to her word.

He realized now that he had been right all along and all that respecting each other's psychic boundaries in the bedroom thing was clearly a very bad idea. He wanted in on all the girl-orgasms from now on. She could fry his brain to kingdom come if she could get his body to feel like that. And what if Logan was there, too, and Jean psychically hooked them all up at the moment of…? Scott couldn't suppress a moan as Logan licked his nipples again and then mouthed gently at his throat. He wanted him to bite so badly.

Does that make your perfect partner a psychic vampire dominatrix with a strap-on, Summers? Because I imagine those are fairly thin on the ground.

Logan stilled and then convulsed, grimacing in a way that Scott found fascinating and weirdly sexy as hot fluid was pumped into him – he could feel the heated pulsing of Logan's cock as it did so, another first in his box of new sensations. He thought Caveman Logan might collapse heavily on his chest, but he was too noble for that. Logan slid his hand behind Scott's head and pulled him up for a breath-stealing kiss that was very…masterful.

Even coming down from his orgasm high with the lazy drifting of a floating feather, Scott felt more stirrings of unease, even as he was being kissed with so much tongue and skill and confidence, because although this version of Logan was nothing but exciting to be around, he wasn't actually anyone he knew. He seemed like a very decent sort of…Tarzan-type. He was certainly considerate in bed – he was easing out of Scott now in a very gentlemanly fashion before pressing a tender kiss to Scott's brow. Scott felt very cherished and appreciated by the guy who had just had that mind-blowing sex with him – he was just noticing a distinct lack of bitching, demanding beer, and looking around for a post-coital cigar.

It was like he was getting essence of Logan, but none of the lesser characteristics that actually made the guy who he was. He began to feel a little uneasy about what they'd just done, because he didn't want or know Better-Than-Life Logan. He wanted the flawed, annoying one, who didn't shower often enough or pick up his empty beer cans and who left cigar ash everywhere…. He became aware that the version of Logan he was with was kissing him again with incredible, deep, hot, knee-weakening, breath-stealing kisses, and the urge to sink back into this guy's embrace as if it were a whirlpool bath was almost overwhelming. When Logan worked his fingers gently back inside him, Scott had to choke down a moan of pure pleasure. God, he really wanted Logan to fuck him all over again – but he really needed the guy to be Logan. What the hell was the matter with him? He was still catching his breath from the last bout, he still had warm come trickling out of his ass and defiling the pristine cleanliness of their alien sleeping chamber.

Panting, Scott craned his neck to kiss Logan back and said, "Okay – you got me, Logan – that was amazing and I owe you a really big barrel of beer."

Shock jolted through Logan and he looked down at Scott wide-eyed. "What the hell, Scott?"

"I should have guessed your magic word would be 'beer'." Scott realized a second later that Logan was truly panic-stricken, the poor guy scrambling off Scott like he was made of heated glass and falling awkwardly on the floor of the ship – this from a guy who could backflip like an acrobat when he wasn't completely traumatized.

"What the hell did I just do to you?"

"It's okay. You're okay. Just take a breath." Scott sat up, feeling suddenly hyper-aware of being naked, Logan's gaze raking over his body in horror was making him feel acutely self-conscious, Logan's whole body language signaling dismay while he sniffed the air desperately.

"Logan – don't…look like that."

"Scott, the last thing I remember is putting you in that pod thing and you looking like you were drowning in pink goo."

"You were right about the med-lab," Scott said hastily. "It fixed me. But I'm sorry if I just had sex with you without your consent, I was kind of woozy from the anesthetic…."

"You consented? I didn't rape you?"

"God, no, Logan – I absolutely consented – I damn near climbed you like a tree. If anyone is raping anyone it's me with you. I'm sorry – I should have realized you weren't yourself – I mean, I did realize, I just didn't think it through. I'm really, truly sorry."

Logan took a few steadying breaths and stood back up. He looked up at the sleep cell then down at Scott's body before glancing down at his own. He ran a curious finger through the white emulsion all over his belly. "You came…?"

Grimacing, Scott said, "Sorry – again."

The proof that Scott had enjoyed the experience seemed to calm Logan considerably. He stopped hyperventilating, edged back to the sleep cell, and then prodded tentatively at Scott's left lower quadrant as if it were an unexploded bomb. "There's not even a mark on you, but – hell, you just had the equivalent of major surgery and I thought a good way to celebrate was to fuck you? I need to remember what happened."

Logan shook his head like a dog getting water out of his fur and smacked the side of his skull a few times. Scott was about to point out that it wasn't going to get him back a lost memory, the brain being a delicate instrument that didn't respond to being shaken like a transistor radio fished out of a swimming pool, when Logan said, "Damn! I remember. I felt very…certain about everything. I didn't have any doubt at all that you and I should be having sex and that you wanted it."

"I did."

"Yeah, but it never even occurred to me that you might not be up for it. As far as I was concerned you and me were already an item and there was no other way to celebrate you being brought back to life than us…fucking like bunnies."

"I'm almost certain that noble-savage-you thought of it as some kind of reaffirmation of the triumph of life over death."

"Yeah, he did. Pretentious jerk."

Scott beckoned him closer and, as Logan leaned in, pulled him down for a kiss and then whispered in his ear: "We're psychically vulnerable to the mystery telepath on this ship – just be aware there might be someone trying to climb into your head."

Logan whispered back: "Some ET's getting his freak on making you and me do the nasty while he watches?"

Scott managed as nonchalant a shrug as he could under the circumstances. "Maybe the internet went down and he got a craving for gay porn?" He cast a glance around the ship but he couldn't see anyone lurking behind the elegant pillars or hanging out in the corridors. He really hoped they weren't dealing with invisible aliens. Apart from the difficulties of fighting an enemy they couldn't see, the whole concept sounded so silly.

"Scott, if there is a telepath in this place who can flip me like a switch… I don't know all the people that I've been, but I'd lay you money some of them were guys you might not wanna be alone with."

He wondered how he could have forgotten both that Logan's mind was a catacomb of lost things and that the guy had all that self-loathing to deal with.

"I believe you're a good man. So does Jean. So does the Professor."

"You're not even speaking to him right now."

"That doesn't mean I don't trust his judgment most of the time."

"You don't have your beams, Cyke. You're not safe with me in a place where I can be mind-controlled. I don't wanna wake up to find I've stabbed you."

"Neither do I – there are much better ways you could be impaling me."

Logan looked appalled and turned on at once. "What happened to that nice, uptight, stick up his ass Boy Scout I used to know?"

"He got really pissed off."

There was a heavy silence as Logan traced surprisingly gentle fingers over the place where Scott had been pierced by twisted metal. Scott felt a twinge of regret there that wasn't a scar; he and Logan had been pinioned together for a moment there, and they should have had matching proofs of their brief bloody union, but they were both equally unmarked. As Logan was touching him, Scott thought it was only fair that he got to run his fingers over Logan's muscular torso, tracing his fingers through his chest hair until Logan grabbed his wrist and gave him a heated glance.

"I can't believe you did it with a different version of me! If a me from the future came back in time would you do it with him?"

Scott needed a moment to think about that one. He certainly liked this Logan best, but that wasn't to say he might not enjoy the company of another one as well. "Why don't I get back to you on that when a you from the future turns up? If we're being theoretical, though, if a you from the future did turn up, would you be up for a threesome?"

Logan gave him a look of disbelief. "No!"

"What about one from a different dimension?"

"What the hell is up with you, Scott?"

Embarrassed, Scott scratched his jaw. "There was this thing that happened by accident between me and Jean when we first got together – "

"Don't tell me kinky shit about you and Jean, Slim!"

"It isn't kinky and it's relevant to this discussion so shut up and listen. I got a psychic feedback loop from Jean when…" He explained, embarrassed but determined to get through it while Logan's eyes widened.

"No wonder you're always hot for telepaths, Summers."

"The point is that I got that again when I was having sex with you. As you're neither a telepath nor a woman, it could only have come from someone digging it out of my memories and hitting 'playback'. So, excuse me for being a little climax-obsessed right now."

They were gazing right into each other's eyes, their mouths so close they could taste each other's breath, and Logan sniffed the air. "You smell incredible," Logan growled, like Scott was doing it to be awkward, he kissed Scott as if he couldn't help himself then broke away, breathing hard. "I could fuck you so much better than that guy did."

"That guy was you."

"That guy was Tarzan – and you need therapy, Summers."

"And why is this my fault now – just as a matter of interest?"

"Because whoever was in your head must have thought I wasn't basic enough for you. What does that say about you?"

"I think they just wanted to switch off some of your brain so you were easier to manipulate. You had a problem with sleeping with me. That guy didn't." You were no use to them as a bribe and distraction if you wouldn't cooperate….

Logan ran a hand down Scott's abdomen again and Scott tried not to squirm into it. He just wanted to close his eyes and lean into Logan and lick his skin and straddle his cock and – He jolted back to find himself mouthing Logan's chest making needy whimpers.

"God, you making that noise…"

Scott winced. "Sorry. I can't seem to keep my focus."

Logan kissed him, brutally - like he was punishing Scott for making him need to do that - and Scott grabbed Logan's hair and tugged at it, pulling him back in when he would have stopped. When he bit Logan's jaw, Logan growled hungrily and dragged Scott harder against his body.

"I want to fuck you so badly, Summers…."

"I'd rather you fucked me really well."

Scott shifted as a horny Logan clambered back into the sleep cell with a lot less noble grace but an equally impressive erection. As Logan put his knee on his thigh, Scott cursed under his breath. "At least now I know it's really you."

"Shut up, Summers…." The kisses were hot and hard and Scott found that his body was just naturally wrapping itself around Logan's. Logan murmured, "What's the plan?"

Scott realized there were a lot of things that he should have talked to Jean about in the past – a discussion about why they needed to practice mind-melding during sex being just one of them, promises to the Professor be damned – but he should have also asked if Logan's mind was any good at shutting itself off to telepathic probing. Without any evidence to the contrary, Scott was going to have to assume that the answer to that was 'no' and plan accordingly. He felt bad about it because it meant there was no way to play the – presumably – alien telepath, without also playing Logan, but he needed to do whatever was most likely to get them both out of here alive, while drawing out their adversary.

"Let's just have sex again and then see if whoever it is that lives here wants to come and say 'hello'?"

The same Logan who had been able to turn him down when they were both fully-clothed and the air wasn't smelling of recent sweaty sex, was having a much harder struggle here. 'Harder' being the operative word, Scott noticed, as he cast an enquiring glance groin-wise.

"I'll take that as a 'yes'…."

Logan said, "Sabretooth…what he did to you…" in a constricted voice.

"Are you really going to let Victor Creed screw up both our sex-lives, Logan?" Scott followed that low blow up with a tongue in Logan's mouth and a thumb pad drawn teasingly over the head of his leaking cock. Logan offered an inarticulate growl and slammed Scott down in the sleep cell.

"Tell me you want this?" he demanded.

"I want this."

"Tell me you'll tell me if you need me to stop? If you get a flashback or…or anything…?"

"I'll tell you."

Logan gazed into his eyes, baffled and angry and aroused and tender. "This ain't right, Scott. We're in the middle of a mission. Since when did you ever wanna have sex in the middle of a mission?"

"It's not a mission now." Scott wished he had his visor to hide behind. It made lying so much easier. "That ended when the Blackbird went down. Now, we're just two guys waiting for our teammates to come and pick us up. We've got some time to kill, that's all. I mean if you'd rather play 'I-Spy'…?"

There was an inarticulate snarl, a thump of heavy body on his, then strong hands on his hips dragging him towards what he still tended to think of as the docking bay, and then Logan was…docking with him, with perfect aim, with one smooth, slick slide to the hilt. Scott had never felt anything like it, the stretch was perfect, the ache was perfect, and the final impact was breath-taking; even the sensation of Logan's balls pressing against his ass was perfect. He made a strangled, feline sort of sound and Logan looked smug.

"Liked that, did ya?"

Scott squirmed in embarrassment now that this was actually real Logan and not super-confident Cro-Magnon Logan who was so obliging about not actually talking. "Shut up and thrust."

Logan smirked at him annoyingly. "I know what you want, Summers."

"Shut up, Logan," Scott muttered.

And then Logan pulled out all the way and slammed in all the way and Scott choked down a wail of pleasure and arched into that mouth on his nipple, and then Logan's tongue and teeth and fingers were everywhere, licking and biting and pinching and squeezing and stroking him just right, all to the accompaniment of hungry, chest-rumbling growls, while Logan's cock, every thick, heavy inch of it, was finding his prostate over and over and goddamn over again. And it somehow stood to reason that Logan would find a way to be both bossy and tender in bed, to be brutal and gentle, and rough and sweet, and the bastard was leaving hickeys everywhere and Scott was squirming into every one of them and if Logan even thought about stopping anything that he was doing, Scott was going to kill him for sure and….

And it was the best possible white noise. His erogenous zones were singing, his cock was aching and leaking and loving those firm confident strokes from Logan, but Scott had learned to compartmentalize in the best of all possible schools. The more Sinister had messed with his mind, the more he had honed his ability to keep a mental space that was his own. He could feel those psychic tendrils creeping into his brain, greedy and curious, trying to work out what Scott Summers was.

This is what I am. I'm this guy. I lie on my back with my legs over his shoulders and I let him shove his dick in me as hard as he likes – and it makes me moan and whimper….

Scott moaned and whimpered and Logan kissed him with a tenderness that pierced his armor and made him hurt inside, because he couldn't deal with Logan being truthful with him, even physically truthful, when Scott was keeping so much back. He could – and did – return the kiss with genuine hunger and hoped he wasn't betraying himself outwardly as their tongues intertwined, because even while he was making encouraging noises to Logan and flexing against his pumping cock, the part of his brain that mattered was advancing cautiously along secret corridors, checking for intruders.

And there it was, sifting through his debris, a casual plundering. He was picking up a rapid cataloguing, too fast for a human brain, so almost certainly an alien. It didn't realize that it was projecting as well as assimilating. He guessed his brain was more receptive than most; for whatever reason, he was getting some feedback as it sifted through his mental shelving. It had assessed him physically in the pod and been disappointed.

Not strong enough…others were stronger…but their bodies reject us like virus…

Sabretooth and Logan both had healing factor. That wouldn't, however, keep anyone from probing their brains, but it would sure as hell prevent someone who wanted to infect them with something from doing so.

Heart pounding rapidly – sex did that as well as fear so that wasn't suspicious – Scott kissed Logan with less focus as he tried to think. What if the mind he could feel was trapped in a body too damaged for even this alien technology to heal? What if it was looking to upload its brain into a new host? That wouldn't work with Sabretooth, any more than Logan, so perhaps Sabretooth had been influenced into going out and grabbing another potential host. Damn, this was when it would really help to remember what exactly had happened during their ten days of being Sabretooth's prisoners. Had Sabretooth been in or out of the alien mind's influence when he had done whatever he had done?

…scrawny hairless-torso boy desirable to their species…makes excellent bait for other males….

The effort of concentrating this hard while pretending to be all about…oh God, Logan, where the hell did you learn how to do that…how can you be so damned good at this when you're such an ignorant slob and how can you be such an ignorant slob who is also the most complicated guy I ever met…? Concentrate, Scott – the alien telepath had run experiments, from which it had concluded…what…? What was its damned plan anyway? It dipped Scott in honey and dangled him in front of various enemies and allies until one of them got lured close enough for some dying alien to hitch a ride?

Something shivered through his brain, darting, suspicious, fast as a serpent tongue, and Scott closed his eyes and let sensation flood through him, the blissful jolting against his prostate, that mouth lapping at his nipple, that coiling heat in his gut, that tingling in his thighs…the mind slithered back through his memories, and Scott let him have Sinister, let it see a boy strung up by the wrists, sobbing and helpless, let it see the kid in the daytime who didn't know why his head always hurt, and that other kid in the grimy motel flinching from a thrown chair. Just a stupid, skinny kid, always being picked on by people tougher than him, no friends, no confidence, no threat at all…. The mind felt warmly satisfied as it rummaged around, apparently liking what it found there. Scott flashed to days when Warren was flirting with Jean, Hank surrounded by adoring cheerleaders, Bobby being blithely confident as they talked to a couple of girls in white boots and cherry-red sweaters while Scott failed to articulate a coherent sentence.

He threw up every failed mission he could think of – Magneto casually swatting him aside while saying in exasperation: "Boy, I've been smacking you around since you were prepubescent. Get out of my way!" Juggernaut throwing off his beams like a gnat-bite. Toad pulling off Scott's visor and, later, throwing him into a display cabinet with a careless flick of his tongue. Scott having to be carried home by Henry after his optic blasts proved too exhausting for him and almost knocked him out. Scott in Warren's arms, being lifted out of danger. It was instinctive to quash any memories of Jean, not just because he was being vigorously unfaithful to her, right this moment, but because her telepathy would make her a tempting target; the same went for the Professor, although Scott suspected that his damaged spine might help to keep him safe.

He realized belatedly that some of his thoughts were attracting more attention than others and flung up random bait memories of Magneto, Toad, Bobby, Warren, Hank…Hank. The mind was greedily searching for more information. Scott cautiously opened a sluice-gate of Henry McCoy memories: Hank as a football star, surrounded by girls, hiding his brain under a bushel because he was being all about the jock thing, that gradual revealing of just how smart he really was, his first mutation, and then his second. Henry looking at the three fingers left on his right hand with tears in his golden eyes, saying maybe next time, the brain went completely, and all that was left was an animal….

Strong! Smart! Susceptible!

"Scott…?"

He kissed Logan, and this time when he clung to him, and uttered soft gasps as the guy rode him in slow, perfect pulses, he made himself think about nothing else. He was in the moment, this moment, riding Logan's cock, and it was glorious. Oh my God, Hank. It wants Hank for a…host. He wrapped his legs around Logan's ass and flexed his hips back in time to his thrusts, and shoved his tongue into Logan's mouth hungrily and Logan said, "Scott, are you okay…?"

"I'm nearly there…" Scott breathed, like it hurt, because it did, in all the good ways, everything tensed and flexed to the point where it was almost unbearable, the rippling nerve spasms, building and building.

"Good, because I'm…."

Scott felt the moment when the alien mind pushed into his brain and made everything light up, pleasure, sensation, spiking, pulsing, roaring…all in perfect unison with Logan. Another Jean-gasm shattered through him; his spine arched so hard he wondered it didn't snap and he actually screamed – Logan stifling him with a hand across the mouth as they gazed, disbelievingly into each other's eyes, as they just kept climaxing, ecstatically, before, finally, the blast wave receded, and Scott came back from something that was embarrassingly close to a swoon.

Logan said, "Fuck…!"

Breathlessly, Scott managed, "I…yes…damn…."

"What the hell was…?"

Scott tried to move and found that his body was currently achieving the consistency of Jell-O. Logan had apparently fucked all of the bones out of his body. "Girlgasm… psychic feedback loop…" he managed. "How it is for… women…."

"And they wanna do stuff that isn't sex…?"

Scott rested his head against Logan's chest, slightly reassured that his heart was also hammering like a steel drum. "It's a complete mystery to me, too. If I were a woman I'd never get out of bed. Are you having a heart-attack?"

"No."

"Good, then I'm probably not either." Scott tried to swing himself nonchalantly to the floor but all his perfectly-honed, hard-trained muscles, tendons, and ligaments had apparently turned to rubber bands, because his legs went out from under him and he ended up kneeling. "I had clothes, right…?"

Logan swung himself down and then staggered. He pulled on his own ripped uniform with somewhat less than his usual grace. "I'll find your clothes. Don't go wandering off naked, Scott."

"Why not? It's room temperature in here."

"Because I don't want some creepy alien getting an eyeful of my stuff."

As Logan loped off, Scott shouted after him, "I'm not 'your stuff', Logan!"

Logan didn't even bother turning around, just tossing his answer casually over his shoulder. "Yeah, you are."

Climbing to his feet, Scott bit down all the unromantic retorts he wanted to make, on the grounds that they were mostly petty and all untruthful. He was not going to feel a warm glow inside because Logan was treating him like property. He had way too much self-respect for that.

No, you don't.

That wasn't the alien telepath. That was his own personal heckler – the Scott Summers in his head who was all about fostering self-doubt. He was not being undermined by that guy in the middle of a mission. Shut up. You just gave it up to the guy. Twice. Well, I was low on…caffeine. What has that got to do with…? Look, just shut up, no one cares what you think. And anyway, I don't have time for this now. I have a spaceship to explore. You're in love with Logan. I'm physically attracted to Logan and I care about him as a friend. That's all. That's bullshit, Summers. You're in way too deep already and you're sinking faster every minute you spend with the guy. Just face up to the fact you have crappy taste in men. There's nothing 'crappy' about Logan. The guy's a hero! He's brave, he's selfless. He's – All that and you're still not in love with him. Wow, you really do have great self-control. You know what? Go screw yourself. Why would I need to? Another five minutes and you'll be bending over for Wolverine again….

Scott looked across to where Logan was collecting up his clothes and his heart gave a lurch and then a painful tightening, because the blue light from the central pillar was bathing the guy's skin and to Scott he looked…beautiful. Beer-swilling, cigar-ash speckled, morose, grumpy, a-grunt's-as-good-as-a-sentence Logan looked beautiful to him. No way was that a good sign. His life was already too complicated. Loving Jean had been so simple. She was good and brave and noble and selfless and kind. She made the world a better place. She made her friends better people. Logan was a beer-drinking slob who kept pulling Scott's pigtails and tended to stab people in the face. Scott couldn't possibly have fallen in love with him. And yet, somehow, like someone without a flashlight missing his footing in the dark, he, Scott Summers, leader of the X-Men, had done exactly that.

Aloud, Scott said, "No way does this end well."

And the lights on the pillar of the spaceship flashed in a winking blue rhythm, as if they agreed with every word.

***

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SEVEN: And Picked the Daisies Fine

With his muscles back in working order, Scott had been hoping to explore the ship by himself – having more faith even in his own patchy mental shielding than Logan's – but Logan had other ideas. He attached himself to Scott's – now clothed – hip in the manner of one of the more unkempt guarding breeds of dog, and refused to budge more than a wary inch from his side.

As they made their way into the complicated belly of the ship, Logan sniffed the air. "I can smell blood."

Scott realized that he should have factored in Logan's abilities more when making his plans – this would certainly speed up the process of trying to find the wounded alien he was sure was somewhere on the ship. He just wished he knew the extent of his or her telepathic abilities – if it could make him and Logan see completely different realities or if it was only up to influencing their thoughts and feelings more subtly. Scott had certainly been nudged towards something he wanted to do anyway, and Logan had seemed to have about half of his rational processes shut down. Perhaps having been the guy who had to make the life and death decisions in the field for the past decade had left Scott vulnerable to the appeal of letting someone else be in charge for a change, and rage could make Logan switch off parts of his own brain anyway, on a bad day. In that mood, Logan would gut any bad guy who stood between him and anyone he considered an innocent or a friend without thinking twice about it – so, perhaps switching off his inhibitions wouldn't take a major league telepath. Scott really hoped that was the case.

Following the old blood trail they found what seemed to be the kitchen, units still humming with energy, which, when opened, revealed preserved food and liquid – Logan testing both said neither was poisoned and they seemed nutritious enough, although food and water both tasted like stewed broccoli to him.

"So, you'll probably like this stuff anyway, Mr. Eats-All-His-Vegetables."

Scott was too busy looking at that faded brown stain on the floor to answer. It looked to him as if whatever had happened here he and Logan had missed it by months at least. He drank what he judged to be the appropriate amount of liquid he needed and took one of the food sticks – Logan said it was a mixture of protein and dried fruit as far as he could tell – and dutifully ate it. It managed to taste both bitter and flavorless but he needed to eat so he ate. Logan did the same, albeit with a lot more complaining. Then they went in search of more blood.

The next bloodstains were old – very old, according to Logan – and voluminous enough that this victim had probably also died from their wounds. They found more, some old, some fresher, along with more sleep pods that suggested there had once been a crew of ten.

More exploration led to what seemed to be a circular alien rec room. There were sleeping areas, sitting areas, and there were tables with strange markings on them and a triangular set of cones scattered about that suggested some kind of alien game, and, when Scott stepped in front of a hard-light beam, there were holograms that still danced, like the memory of dust in a past sunbeam. The aliens in the ghostly three-dimensional images looked humanoid, albeit closer to Colossus-sized than Scott-sized, with slightly enlarged craniums. They were bipedal, bald, and with small, delicately-shimmering wings that reminded him of Pixie's, but they had distinctive facial characteristics, suggesting at least two different genders, different ages, and very different characters. One looked carefree and young, another cynical but fondly amused; another lofty; another indulgent of the high spirits of the younger crewmembers, another dismissive. Their language was incomprehensible to him, but the four youngest seemed to be playing a game that involved telekinesis, as they knocked spinning shuttlecocks back and forwards to one another with the power of their minds. Two of the older ones were watching and offering advice.

Every now and then one of them would put a finger to its temple in a manner that reminded him painfully of the Professor, and then the ship's computer would helpfully supply them with cubes of what looked like the same food and drink that he and Logan had just consumed or flash up data on the screens. Once or twice it even anticipated their wants and Scott, noticing the way the lights lit up when it was praised and thanked – he was assuming by their expressions – and danced as if they were happy. It reminded him of the Blackbird and he wished Henry had fitted her with an AI who could answer Scott's requests in dancing blue lights.

Scott noticed that the others deferred to a particularly grim-faced alien, who was the one who usually asked for the reports and checked the readings even when they were supposed to be relaxing. He failed to thank the computer for his provisions when they arrived. The others gave each other speaking looks behind his back. The guy was obviously an uptight killjoy with no idea how to have fun. Scott felt an uncomfortable surge of fellow feeling.

Going back to the other chambers, Scott searched for the hard-light eyes in the walls, waving his hand in front of them until he could trigger something. Some worked, some did not, but these images were far more disturbing – the young, careless alien who had been so happy playing telekinetic badminton, being choked mid-coitus by the amused cynic, who now looked vicious and hate-filled; the other young player having the wings ripped agonizingly from her back; the lofty one, toppling to the ground, a piece of metal projecting from his chest….

Sharing a speaking look, Scott and Logan tried more of the hologram triggers but either they had stopped working or someone had got to the controls in time to cut the power that led to them because there were no more images.

Logan followed a scent trail of death while Scott listened out for diminished fifths in his psychic soundtrack. They found the bodies in what seemed to be the alien equivalent of a freezer. Logan had to cut them out of the ice with his claws so they could count them. None of them had died from natural causes and they couldn't make the corpse-count more than nine.

"And then there was one…?" Scott offered grimly.

"They killed each other, Cyke. They were getting along just fine and then they…really weren't."

Scott guessed that a telepathic race would be particularly vulnerable to the predations of a psychopath. It would only take one stronger and more malevolent mind to undo all the rest; someone who liked making his crewmates dance to the beat of his own madness.

"He's still here."

"He…?" Logan pressed.

"The captain of the ship." Scott was all too conscious of how awkward that one had looked when the others were playing, not joining in the games, those alien wing-flutters behind his back which Scott guessed were the equivalent of eye rolls. The guy had been a misfit loner who didn't understand the others' jokes, who was all about doing his duty when everyone else was able to relax. In this case he really didn't want to relate.

Logan said uneasily, "If he could make them do…that to each other…?"

"We've probably got different brainwaves, he may not be able to influence us so easily. He might not be able to manage more than suggestion. Just keep your guard up. If you start wanting to stab me in the thorax, assume it's not just your usual level of irritation and try fighting back." He kept his mind as calm as his tone, but behind a hastily erected mental canvas thought with as much concentration as he could: Jean? Professor? I think Logan and I are in trouble. We're in the crashed space ship near to where you found us before. We may not be ourselves by the time you get here. Take precautious. Please, come soon. Don't on any account bring Henry.

He felt all too much like a stupid teenager who had stayed out past curfew, missed his ride home and now had to plead for parental assistance from a callbox in the bad part of town. After his dramatic flounce off, it was humiliating to have to ask for help, but with Logan's life in his hands, as well as his own, he didn't get to stand on his dignity.

Logan murmured, "Can you get through to Jean?"

Scott said, "I think we're too far away." That wasn't a lie – he thought they probably were too far away. He just didn't mention that he had tried it anyway. "Can you sense someone else? Someone with a pulse?"

"No, but I can smell blood that isn't accounted for."

Scott wondered if the ship itself had any safety protocols. Apocalypse's ship had possessed her own…consciousness for lack of a better word. (He wasn't a philosopher, he didn't know where consciousness ended and morality began in designating the motivation of an AI helping out the people who hadn't programmed it. He only knew that Ship had done her best to help them whenever Apocalypse hadn't put in a failsafe that prevented it.) He wondered it even more strongly as he found areas where the panels had been ripped off and the circuitry completely fried. If she had been trying to prevent the rogue captain from killing everyone, he had certainly had his revenge. There had been detonators placed at what appeared to be specific junctions. Scott suspected the guy had managed to fatally damage the ship's self-repair system. That would explain why so many of the light panels in the circular bridge remained dark. Someone had crippled this ship with what seemed to be deliberate malevolence aforethought. The more he looked around, the more he realized that the intact hull was deceptive. Too much of the internal workings had been damaged for the ship to ever fly again.

"I need to see the controls. I need to know who was trying to do what."

"You're not Hank. How are you gonna make sense of a bunch of alien mumbo-jumbo?"

"I'll let you know."

Grumbling, Logan finally agreed to let Scott look at the controls while he followed the blood trail. "You'll yell if you're in trouble, right?" he demanded.

Scott bent over the controls. "No, Logan, I thought I'd just keep it to myself and let you find my corpse later."

Logan stomped off, muttering uncomplimentary things that Scott pretended he hadn't heard.

As he examined the pod which had so miraculously healed him, Scott realized he really could have done with Henry's help. For a few minutes, as he looked around the med-lab section of the ship, he felt – appropriately – at sea. Then, as he studied every instrument and monitor, things began to look less…alien. More study and he thought he was finding his way around. There were slide-like things, microscope-like things, and there seemed to be sensors in front of the monitors, and scanners above the sensors. Trial and error revealed that when something was placed upon the sensor plate, the machinery automatically began its scan, sending the information directly to the computer which then flashed up its findings on the monitor, albeit in an alien script with a great deal of alien information, none of which Scott understood.

He wasn't sure how many hours it had taken him to get to that point but he was feeling thirsty again so he imagined it was more than two, possibly close to three. Time to move things forward as he suspected their time here before being mentally influenced was probably limited. Right – he was pretty sure that thing on an electronic arm was a needle. He bared his arm underneath it on a sensor plate and it pecked at him like a hungry bird, drawing a bright bead of blood. That was enough to have the scan send silver light to the computer and for the monitor to light up and display data. It was a meaningless scroll of alien numerology – it most closely resembled an incantation to raise demons from Limbo to his uneducated Earth eyes – so he pressed buttons as scientifically as he could, mentally noting what they did or didn't do, until the sixth one showed what looked like his blood sample light up on the screen. It at least resembled some of the images that Hank usually had on the computers in his lab, which was more than he could say for any of the other data it had offered. His blood sample was revealed as a twisting rope, like a DNA strand, and there was a faint golden line running through the middle of it.

Logan said, "Anything?"

Scott didn't jump because he had been trained since the age of fifteen to have excellent reflexes and self-control, but he came extremely close to it. A man with that much adamantium fused to his skeleton should not be able to move that silently. "I thought you were looking for the missing alien? Did you find him?"

"No."

"So, why are you…?"

"Got anxious."

Scott refused to feel a warm glow about that. "We had sex, Logan. We're not married."

"Would be in Canada."

He knew he should let it go; they were in the middle of a mission, even if he was lying to Logan about that; but he just couldn't. "We haven't been through a marriage ceremony where we declared our commitment before witnesses, we haven’t been living together for more than twelve months, and we're not raising a child together. By no ancient or modern definition of sui juris marriage are you and I a legally bonded couple."

"We're raising dozens of kids together, and having our memories altered at the same time by the same telepath ought to count as some kind of marriage thing. What'cha doin'?"

"Testing blood. Which reminds me – put your arm under there."

Doing so, Logan said, "Why? Ow! Summers…?"

"It's a pinprick, Logan. You made less fuss when you got skewered by part of the fuselage." He pressed the same sequence of buttons on a different monitor and there was the same twisting strand image, this time without the golden line, but with a bluish hue that Scott's blood apparently did not warrant.

"What does that mean?" Logan asked, peering at it.

"My working hypothesis is that you're either alien royalty or adamantium shows up as blue on this scan. I'm leaning towards Option B."

"Why are you being a smartass?"

"Because I'm doing science and I've never met a scientist who did science any other way – so I'm assuming the tests don't come out right without the snark."

Logan scanned the two images suspiciously. "What's the golden line in your blood mean?"

"No idea."

"You suck at science, Summers."

"Try saying that after six beers."

Not that Scott actually disagreed, which was why at this point in the proceedings he would normally have handed everything over to Hank, however, as he was all they had, he was going to have to get better at it. If it had been something simple like the drag co-efficient of passengers upon the Blackbird factored against velocity and its impact upon overall mass, he would have been fine, but he had never been much good at peering at things through microscopes, and he preferred it when Kitty helped him with computer-related problems, because, even at her age, she was a lot better with them than he was. He realized how much he liked being part of a team and how little he relished flying solo.

"So, you haven't found the missing alien, Logan?"

"I found a lot of blood. I think you need to take a look at it. Something ain't right."

"'Something'? We're stuck on an alien spaceship with a voyeuristic telepath who got all his teammates to kill each other, apparently for kicks. You've just entered a quantum level of stating the obvious."

"Are you still being a scientist or are you just being a bitch now?" And having apparently exhausted his scanty store of patience, Logan grabbed Scott by the ripped front of his uniform and hauled him after him.

The ship had possessed a kind of beauty on first acquaintance, but it was beginning to feel like an Escher sketch from which there was no escape: the curving corridors and the looping overhead bridges, the smooth-walled chambers taking on the confining crush of castle towers, the lower storeys the feel of oubliettes. Logan had clearly not been wasting his time. He led Scott confidently down metal ladders to lower levels and brought him to a sleep-cell with a bloodstain on the floor, faded but still visible, now surrounded by a scattering of white plastic circles – Logan's make-do-and-mend crime scene tape.

Logan said, "First victim died on the bed – no bloodstains because he was throttled by his boyfriend, but there's no scent like death, you can't mistake it, even after all this time. Third victim died on the floor there. Bladed weapon to the throat – self-inflicted."

Scott grimaced. "He had a moment of clarity."

"Yeah. Remorse'll do that to a guy. Between victim one and victim three, came victim two. She bought it in here. The bastard ripped her wings off first…." Logan led Scott unerringly from crime scene to crime scene, from murder to suicide to murder, all scent-traced to their frozen corpses. "You can check it with your blood-science-thing but I know what I'm smelling. All these guys died the way I said they did. Once."

Scott had been thinking about the people they had seen on the hologram, laughing and playing, probably the brightest and the best, as astronauts didn't tend to be everymen; no doubt their families had waved them off proudly and then waited patiently for their return. And now they had died victims or villains or both, and there was going to be no homecoming for any of them. He realized what Logan had just said. "What…?"

"Yeah. Then there's the other bloodstains. Here." Logan took Scott on a tour of the spaceship and Scott had to admit he was impressed by how quickly the guy had got his bearings, up ladders and down corridors, taking Scott from bloodstain to bloodstain.

Scott had sometimes felt frustrated about being able to see the world only in red – although he was currently a lot more frustrated by not having his optics blasts – or having to keep his eyes closed to avoid killing people he cared about, but he had never, until this moment, felt the lack of his other senses. Yet, if Logan had elected to stay behind, Scott would have found none of the bodies, been able to identify none of the blood, nor to type it to the victims. He had been suspecting for a while that Logan might be an invaluable asset, but this mission was really showing that the guy was a lot more than the sum of his healing factor and adamantium skeleton. The fact he was a great kisser and very good in bed was something he was trying to tell himself was irrelevant to Logan's overall benefit to the team.

Crouching down by the twelfth stain, Scott said, "What am I looking at?"

"The same as the last eleven stains – too much blood for the human body to lose without choking. Going by the size of those corpses, I'd say too much blood for one of those aliens to lose without dying too. Whoever's blood this is – this is where the guy punched his ticket. Only one problem."

"Which is?"

"All these last twelve bloodstains came from the same guy, and his corpse ain't in the freezer."

"The same alien died twelve times?" Scott narrowed his eyes. "So we're talking clones, or he has healing factor – making him an alien equivalent of you – or he got himself to that magic pod thing and the ship's med-lab saved him."

"He'd have been in no shape to get himself there. Also – who the hell tries to kill someone twelve times and then, when he's bleeding out and helpless, doesn't finish him off? Why wander off and leave the guy the opportunity to crawl back to the med-lab? It doesn't make sense. Look at these blood patterns – only a severed artery would do that."

Scott had to agree with that. The blood hadn’t spilled or ebbed it had pumped like a fire engine hose. Femoral, radial, or carotid artery, he would have said; deliberately sliced. "Logan, have you picked up any other scents?"

"Not the guy who tried to kill this guy if that's what you're asking? All I can smell around these old pools of blood is the guy they came from. But I did pick up two other scents – Sabretooth and…" Logan grimaced. "And me. I was here before. Found this by where I was, which wasn't too far from that medi-lab fix-you-upper pod thing, guess that's how I knew it was there." He handed Scott a headset. "Wanna hear a weird thing?"

"I'm still waiting to hear anything that isn't weird in this place."

"Those flashes I got? Of seeing Sabretooth smacking you around? He was wearing a headset like this, but this one smells of me, my hair, my sweat. That stuff I saw? I don't think I was in the room with you and him. I think I was watching it through some kind of hookup in his head through this."

"Why?"

"Some of it smells like that mineral Xavier uses in Cerebro, like it's for telepaths. Also, these headset things, they smell alien, but some of them are missing, and the place where they were kept smells like Sabretooth. Also, you remember getting blasted?"

"Painfully."

"Was with one of these." He hit a panel on the hull and it slid back to reveal a gun-shaped weapon. Logan hefted it down for Scott's scrutiny. "It's heavy and I don't recognize what fuels the blast, some kind of alien laser gun is the closest I can get."

"So…Sabretooth found this ship and stole alien tech from it? He used some of it to capture me and link with you telepathically. Smart guy. He can kick the crap out of me all day and there's nothing you can do about it except watch. Weird he'd think you'd care, though. Surely he'd know a better way to piss you off would be to hurt one of the kids or Jean or Ororo?"

"I don't think I was supposed to object, Scott. I think I was supposed to want to join in. I got these flashes of him trying to…sell you to me like a fun toy to play with. I think it had to be you for a reason."

"What reason?"

Logan shrugged helplessly. "You and him got some history I don't know about?"

"We've clashed in the past but I never thought he had any particular grudge against me, other than the one he has against everyone else in the world with a pulse. I mean he does tend to try to punch me in the face whenever he meets me, but I always put that down to him being a bad guy."

"You didn't like…stand him up or not put out on the third date?"

Scott realized that he had no idea if Logan was joking or not. "I don't actually…date evil people, Logan. It's one of my little quirks."

"Anyone told Frost that? Because that fundraiser Xavier made me go to with you and Jeannie – couldn't help noticing that gal had her eyes on your ass. All night. Not that I'm judging. It's the pertest one I've ever seen, that's for damned…"

"Can we focus on something that isn't my ass?"

"Difficult when you're wearing that uniform. Impossible when you're out of it. Just so you know, Cyke."

"Logan – dead people, remember? You and I not wanting to join them in the big freezer in the sky. Try to stay focused."

Logan crushed him against the wall and kissed him hungrily, bristles rasping against Scott's skin, weapon dropped heedlessly as Logan used both hands to cup his face, possessing Scott's mouth with deep, starving kisses, like he could never get enough of Scott's taste. And Scott found his body responding and a part of his mind eager to think of nothing but Logan's taste and touch and scent and heat. He smelled like toffee-apple fall days, smoky with the bonfires of fallen leaves, he tasted like caramel and beer and freshly-brewed coffee and coming home to a bright fire out of the snowy dark. He was so deliciously warm. When Logan unzipped Scott's uniform and slid his hand down to gently cradle Scott's ribs, it was like he could take away bruises just with his touch. Logan was inhaling Scott's scent like Scott Summers was opium. Scott found he had a long leg wrapped around Logan's ass, pulling him in closer, even though the man was already pressed against him like a warm breeze wrapped around a nose cone.

Scott moaned with frustration because he wanted Logan so much, wanted the man who was kissing him so gently now, soft, enticing kisses, sweet as the first snowflakes out of a clear blue sky, fingers carding through his hair tenderly and carefully while that mouth flexed against his, tongue teasing him. Their groins clashed through double folds of leather, hardening on impact, and he swore there were actual sparks in the air and – and –

"Dead people, Logan! Alien telepath!"

They pulled apart, breathless and disheveled, and Scott read all the aching want in Logan's eyes that he could feel in his heart. The worst part – the very worst part – was that he could feel the alien mind that had briefly possessed his slithering back out again, like a snake out of a temple, and what was left, what was all Scott, with the false lust fire no longer artificially stoked to flaming point, was a yearning dependency that he couldn't afford to feel. He could not allow Logan to become so necessary to his mental well-being. He could not allow that aching loneliness he had felt for so many years and which Jean had helped to salve, to flare up again if Logan walked out the door. Becoming emotionally dependent upon a lone wolf was to thrust one's own hand into the flame.

Logan said in a voice that caught and rasped like a struck match, "What are you thinking, Scott?"

"Mostly of Gaius Mucius Scaevola. You can learn a lot from other men's failed missions, even if it's only how not to mind the pain."

"We need to talk about this…thing between us."

Scott returned his gaze levelly, not letting Logan know how much he wished he had a visor to shelter behind right now. "Seriously? You, of all people, want to talk about feelings?"

"I need to know what this is. I need to know if I'm just what you make out with when Jean ain't around but as soon as you're back in the mansion – "

"Logan, nothing we do here is real. There is a telepath manipulating us. It can probably make us think we love each other so much that the thought of being parted is unendurable. And it could probably make us kill each other if it wanted to. Let's not give it the chance. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be another puzzling clue for the next amateur CSI guy who has to make sense of our bloodstains."

Scott gazed around at the warm, ambient light, watched it flicker and turn cold and blue; not a thrown gauntlet, not yet, just a mood-change for better manipulation. He kept using the word 'telepath' but that telekinesis was equally as dangerous. There had been so many missions when Scott had every reason to be grateful that Jean and all her power was on the side of the good guys. Their enemy had pulled a jet out of the sky and skewered them with its wreckage. What it could do to them on its home turf would be horrifying….

…Your parents were probably relieved to be rid of you…No wonder Lefty bullied you…Rick and Trish Bogart never bothered coming back for you…Why do you suppose your father stayed away for so long…?

He could feel their enemy trying to feed him loneliness. He let the murdering bastard walk straight to the shelf where Scott kept his childhood memories and barely flinched as he pulled down a photograph album of bullying and sneering and empty friendless silences. Yes. I am still that boy inside. You got me. He'd been the unwilling accomplice of a child-beating bank robber; he had learned the art of yielding years since. You flared up in secret and in silence; outwardly you just took it, because what you learned, painfully and gradually, was that even the bad things eventually stopped.

"Are you even here?" Logan asked and it would have hurt so much less if he'd yelled it, instead of saying it softly. He didn't even sound reproachful, just wounded. His eyes were hazel-green in the melancholy light and full of quiet sadness. His face was ridiculously handsome. The sideburns and the beard looked like camouflage this close up, a way of pretending he was an animal when what he was…was a hero. Scott knew that; had known it maybe from a lot earlier than he’d wanted to let on. Did Logan know it, though? His defenses were all the way down. He had lowered them for Scott. He had pulled up the damned portcullis and let down the drawbridge just for Scott.

Scott said, "I'm here, Logan. I'm…processing. I think we need to test the blood samples."

"I'm telling you, they're from the same guy – and, fuck, you're a cold fish."

"I believe you – on both counts – I just think there may be something there…something we'll know when we see it. Can you run the tests while I take a look at the flight-log and the damage? I need to work out what the guy was trying to do when he brought the ship here. I need to know if this was planned or if there's somewhere else he wants to be."

As Scott turned away, Logan caught his arm and pulled him towards him, not roughly at all, more like the way a fisherman reeled in a salmon he intended to let free. Logan searched Scott's face with such need in his eyes and Scott fought for control and almost thought he had it, right before it slipped between his fingers and fell down a heart-shaped hole. He closed his eyes and kissed Logan over and over, urgently, hurting, those bristles prickling against his skin the sexiest sensation he'd ever felt, and then pulled back. Logan drew his thumb across Scott's mouth.

"That's a relief. I was starting to think you were sired by a robot, Slim."

"It isn't that I don't feel, it's that there isn't time, Logan. Trust me on this. We don't get out of here soon – we don't get out of here at all."

"We could leave now." Logan pointed to the door they'd come in by. "There could be other shelter out there. I'll build you a goddamn igloo if it means you and me get to have sex again sometime soon."

"I don't like unexplained mysteries. Let's just find out what happened here first, then leave."

"Kinda feeling a lot like this is a mission, Cyke." Logan held his gaze. "Ain't objecting, just saying."

Scott said, "And you're not running the tests on those bloodstains now because…?"

Logan said, "I'm on it, Boss." The perfect grizzled sergeant to Scott's promoted-too-young captain, except for that brief flash of light and joy in his eyes because Scott cared too much and had let Logan glimpse it.

He could feel his heart beating too fast, happiness wanting to break out, foolishly, while waltzing in sweeping circles with his guilt about Jean – because he was falling something suspiciously close to 'in love' with Logan – and his guilt about Logan because he suspected that there was nothing in the world that could ever make him fall out of love with Jean Grey. And yet there was joy, because Logan cared about Scott Summers way more than he had ever intended. Logan cared about Scott Summers enough to maybe stick around.

Unless we die here, as snuff movie fodder for a bored, crazy alien, who already killed his whole crew. That could put a crimp in your not-so-fine romance, Summers.

That thought was okay. He didn't mind anyone reading that one. It was surface plating, meant to be breached. It was the one underneath he was afraid of the alien finding: Don't let Logan die here. Please, don't let him die.

Too late, it had swooped in like a crow on a dead sheep's eye, plucked the thought cleanly from his head and carried its echo away. It knew. It knew his worst weakness now. Not just the ones he'd fed it before, but the real one, the bristly, beer-flavored, adamantium-bonded one. It could hurt him in the worst way and he had just loaded the gun and put it in its hand.

Good work, Summers. What's your next clever move?

The same move I always make: I repress, therefore I am.

That, at least, came easily; that was comfortably familiar. He put his feelings for Logan in a box and hid it in a mental closet, at the back, with the dustier things. He made his way to the flight deck, following shattered cables, and places where the lights could no longer blink. He hooked up a temporary circuit to power life back into the ship's broken brain and pressed buttons until something began to happen, data to stream that showed a language he could recognize – constellations and quadrants; the silver-specked world his father had chosen over his motherless sons. And all the while he did not think about Logan or Jean, and he tried – and failed – not to wonder if this was what his own mind looked like, all those blacked out areas where Sinister had applied his mental blocks, all that smooth remodeling that Xavier had done so much more gently, to block out Scott's failures and traumas; the result a bombed out city with some lights still winking, and some areas that were just smoking craters, full of shattered glass.

***

Scott had never had much time for reading murder mysteries. There had been strategic principles to absorb, the writings by or about every great military leader, studying the Horns of the Buffalo of the Zulu, Hannibal Barca's crushing victory over the Romans at Cannae, what had gone wrong for Napoleon in Russia. Scott didn't have a great army to move from place to place; the principles behind bellum se ipsum alet were unlikely to trouble the leader of a five-man band with a fully stocked x-jet at his disposal; but the seven principles of strategy had proven versatile when it came to general application. Of late, he had also been studying philosophy and politics to try to understand how a minority in a sea of enemies might move towards a position of greater strength, preferably without the use of gunpowder. (He had also ruled out Treason for the time being. He was on the fence about Plot.) So, he was less au fait with why or how Miss Scarlet might have done for Colonel Mustard in the library with the lead piping, but he did know a little about trying to think his way out of a problem.

The seven rules of strategy actually numbered eight, but Scott presumed someone along the line had just liked the alliteration. He had learned them, early on, the way little kids learned their multiplication tables, the simple foundations upon which complicated calculations could be built. They were: 1) adjust your ends to your means, 2) keep your object always in mind, 3) choose the line of the least expectation, 4) exploit the line of least resistance, 5) take the line of operations which offers the most alternatives, 6) ensure both plans and dispositions are flexible, 7) do not throw your weight into an opponent while he is on guard, 8) do not renew an attack along the same lines if an attack has failed.

He thought he recognized the kind of mind he was dealing with – it had felt enough like Sinister's for him to pick up the intermingling strands of madness and ego, and this one was leaving a psychic backwash, like a silvery snail trail, sticky and unpleasant but extremely revealing; the urge to do something just because it could, to vivisect a mind just to see what happened when it screamed. Scott could almost taste the invasive sadism in his head. Their telepathic opponent liked power, liked to have puppets and make them dance. He suspected the first rush of realization of its own might had gone to its head, it had become drugged on the serial killer high of making others commit murder, gorged itself and forgotten that without any survivors there was no one left to play with. It was hungry for new puppets, and it was tired of living in this ship.

Knowledge was power, even here, but it was also dangerous. If he acquired too much of it, Scott suspected he would not be permitted to keep it. He hoped that he recognized the tipping point before he reached it. So far he had learned that it was definitely the captain of the ship who had attacked the downed vessel – there were a few fitful holograms still functioning that showed the guy placing the charges. The ship's AI and automated systems had responded swiftly to put out the fires, and there had followed a battle royal between the ship's computer and the sole surviving member of her crew as the guy fought to overwhelm the systems while the ship tried to make a safe landing, its prime directive apparently – and tragically – the need to safeguard its soft-bodied crew. As far as Scott could tell, they had wormholed it here from somewhere well beyond the Andromeda system, in unchartered space not – yet – annexed by the Shi'ar. They had been on their way home when the murder spree had taken place. What Scott couldn't make sense of was the captain's motivation. He had also been perturbed by the quiet efficiency with which the guy had gone about trying to rip out the heart, brain, and wings, of his own ship. There had been no helpfully villainous cackling, no petting of a white Persian cat; the guy had been systematic, focused, and determined. He had been, in fact, very much like Scott on a mission. Given their present circumstances, that was not a comforting observation.

The mind was there out of nowhere, fast as an adder strike, probing suspiciously, and Scott thought purposefully about how important it was that he and Logan did not keep getting distracted by sex. He needed to focus on the mission. The mission was getting home. Help would be coming soon. It was foolish to stray out into the snow for no good reason. While they were here, they should try to solve the mystery of why these guys had died the way they did; it would be a good mental exercise, it would cement his and Logan's bonds as team-members, it would keep their minds off sex. Then he purposefully imagined what it would be like to just drop to his knees and take Logan into his mouth, wrapping his slicked fingers around his shaft, a slow slide up and down to get him ready as he mouthed that plump head. He would tease the slit with his tongue, then mouth the head gently, tantalize it with his teeth, stroking him all the while, just how Scott liked it, until his fist met his mouth and Logan was rock hard and aching in his grip. A sweet teasing of tongue around the base of the aching head to get him taut and needy. The first whimper and he would pull back for a while and just brush the oozing head across his lips, tasting it, teasing it with lazy dabs of his tongue, then find that place under the head that made Scott shiver when Jean touched him there. Light, soft pressure always worked best for him; sometimes she could get him writhing, begging her to stop-don't-stop when she flicked him right there with the tip of her tongue. When she alternated with tongue-flicks and hot breath huffed against the fragile skin, sometimes that was enough, even now, to arch his spine into orgasm, making the red light flare bright against the inside of his lids. Other times he needed the rhythmic lick of her using his cock like an ice-cream cone, she as steady as a metronome while he squirmed and tried not to moan aloud where anyone would hear. Sometimes she would hurt him a little then; hold him too hard, use her nails; and he liked it, God how he liked it, when she did that; and he knew if he could only learn to beg and plead or even say it to her, what it was that he wanted, that she would do that for him every time, but he was too embarrassed; he wanted her to pluck it wordlessly from his mind and for them to never speak of it aloud. His Hurt me, hurt me, hurt me, Jean… something that had to be stifled like a secret sin.

The first time she had scraped her teeth along his shaft he had been pierced by fear and want at once. She had taken such shameful pleasure in her power over him; so embarrassed that she loved it when he writhed and bit his wrist to choke down the moans and knew that she had brought him to this. With her he had always been all about control, wanting to make her happy, wanting her to enjoy herself, wanting to do all the things the books said would make her nerves ignite with pleasure, and she had been responsive and encouraging and told him how good he was, but there was a flash in her eyes when she was working him in a way that could hurt him if she ever let her control slip – riding his snappable cock, or when her teeth were so close to breaking the skin – that sent a shivering fire-lance between them. That was when he glimpsed that some nights she wanted to draw a little blood from him just as much as he wanted to be marked.

The mind was prowling around his, dissatisfied. Not sex, then, not just sex. His memories of Jean going down on him were mildly interesting to it but no more than that. Did it only like gay sex, then? It had seemed not much more intrigued when he had pictured himself licking Logan's cock than it was by his memories of him and Jean trying new things. He suspected it would have liked his and Jean’s sex-life better if Jean had tied him up and whipped him. Out of nowhere Scott wondered if perhaps so would Jean. He shoved a memory at it of him and Logan getting it on. He felt a brief pulse of interest from the invading mind but it subsided like a cat with a dead bird once it had stopped fluttering. It had tried sex with the two of them and liked the way they sparked and pulsed, the way it could make them go off like firecrackers, but it had tasted something better. Murder? Scott really hoped its ultimate high couldn't only be achieved with murder.

It darted a suspicious mind-flex his way and he let other thoughts drift, undisciplined, like lone fish darting through symmetrical shoals: I wonder what Sabretooth did to me…I wish the Professor had more faith in me…How can I still love Jean so much when Logan has become so necessary to me so damned fast… He threw in some bad memories, to remind the mind trespassing upon his that he wasn't much of a threat; he'd spent his formative years being manipulated by a madman, after all. And he thought about Logan naked, throwing the man's body up as a shield, because he could do that, fill his mind with the look and taste and scent and touch of Logan all day. He had spent too many years gazing through ruby quartz filters not to be greedily focused when he could see the world in color. He had inhaled Logan like clean sea air, he could bring to mind the way his skin tasted on the tongue, salt-iron and mineral-bitter from where he had bled in a burning hail of engine oil. It was painfully intercut by scent memories of Jean, jasmine and soap, and the fall of her hair brushing his cheek as she bent over him in that infirmary bed, eyes ringed with shadows as she waited for him to wake. Memories sweetened with pain for the interloper thrilled it so much more.

The alien mind was stoking the guilt very well but Scott thought that most of it was still him. He was holding up all his issues like semaphore and waving them over his head, and so far that seemed enough to satisfy the alien mind's hunger for failure. Everything it liked, it seemed, it liked better seasoned with a little pain. No wonder it enjoyed his mind so much. He tried to give it everything it wanted until it was sated and fed. When he felt its attention move away from him, he was foolish enough to feel a sense of triumph, until Logan arrived at a run.

"What is it?" Scott demanded, concern spiking as he saw Logan's harried expression and fear-darkened eyes.

"I thought you were in trouble. I had this feeling that…I thought Nutjob ET had gotten you."

Scott put his hand on Logan's chest and it felt as if the guy's heart was trying to jump out to meet him. He hoped the alien captain had enjoyed stoking up Logan's anxiety to the point where he was hyperventilating and he hoped the guy enjoyed it when Scott punched him in the face for having done so. When it slipped back into his mind, he let it push him into Logan's arms as they shared a panic-flavored kiss. Scott deliberately summoned an image of Jean's face and the feel of Jean's lips against his and fed the alien in his head an ice cream cone of delicious guilt. It slid out again, temporarily sated, and Scott whispered in Logan's ear, "Tell me what you learned while we make out."

"You're such a romantic, Summers. You have the best sweet talk. Seriously? You're on the team and Drake's the one they call 'Iceman'?"

"Logan… Science…?"

Those brutal, punishing kisses were much too enjoyable and Scott couldn't help closing his eyes and losing himself a little as Logan shoved him up against the central tower of the flight deck and thoroughly explored his tonsils while rubbing against him, hard.

Punctuating his words with more rough kisses, Logan said, "I'm even…less of a…scientist than…you are, Slim, but…the blood's from the…same guy…kinda…."

Scott broke off, panting for breath while his traitorous body rubbed itself needily against Logan's. "'Kinda'…?"

"There's like a…line running…through it…"

"I need to see."

Logan grabbed Scott by the front of his uniform. "Now?"

Scott decided that it was a strictly tactical decision to give the watching alien confirmation that they were too hazy with hormones to be thinking straight. He reached down and unzipped Logan from that constricting leather, while Logan did the same for him. Scott said, "I don't see five minutes delay would matter, do you…?"

The next few seconds were confusing, as he was being pulled to the floor, more of his skin bared by a frustrated Logan who clearly wanted them both naked in the quickest possible time, and then sense-bombed by lots of delicious touches mixed in with heated, angry kisses.

The alien in his head didn't seem to be trying to influence him, just searching busily for something. Scott let it finger his mental shelving while he rubbed against Logan.

As the claws came out, Scott said, "Only clothing we have with us, remember? The rest went up with the Blackbird."

Logan cursed but pulled his claws back in, before tugging at Scott's uniform. "Who designed this damned thing anyway?"

"Jean, and, oddly enough, getting out of it really fast to have sex in between more pressing matters wasn't part of her design plan."

Undressing them both rapidly, Logan growled, "Jean oughta know better than anyone about needing to get you naked at short notice."

Scott was peeled, stripped and jolted out of his clothing with more speed than finesse but the seams held up surprisingly well. Ignoring those occasions when the fear-spike after a near-miss had led Jean to shove him behind a sheltering wall and examine him very…thoroughly for injuries, Scott said primly, "Jean has excellent self-control."

"Well, I don't – so get used to it."

It was something of a shock to realize that he liked the fact that Logan was a beast on a hair-trigger; a rational, decent, compassionate man constantly warring with what the Weapon X program had tried to turn him into. He certainly wouldn't have wanted to give up the noble half but he didn't want to be rid of the beast either. The compromise between those contradictions was…this. Scott liked…this way more than was sane or healthy. He wanted to wrap his long legs around it and rub rhythmically up against it while licking its tonsils.

"Damn…" Logan murmured in a small, shocked voice, as Scott flipped him over onto his back and straddled him so he could get better purchase for their groin-to-groin rubbing. "Take back what I said about you being a cold fish, Cyke."

"Shut up and kiss me."

"It makes me so damned hot when you give me orders."

"I'll remind you of that when you're bitching about following them on the next mission…."

And then it was just friction, delicious, skin-against-skin flaring friction, as Scott rode Logan just right. The pleasure was building right from the balls of Scott's feet, heated lightning flares up his thighs, when Logan flipped them again, cushioning Scott's head with unexpected tenderness, and bending in for a deep, groaning kiss. He slipped a finger up inside Scott and teased his prostate with deft, practiced rubs, shredding Scott's self-control. Scott moaned his disappointment when Logan slipped the finger out of him before he held their cocks with one hand and thrust at just the right angle to turn the world into a light show of sensation that had Scott arching and whimpering and climaxing with a sigh. A few seconds later Logan was stilling before he mouthed hungrily at Scott's exposed throat.

It wasn't mind-blowing. There was no psychic backwash from the time when Jean had accidentally made a feedback loop of her three consecutive, spine-climbing orgasms, added them to his paltry one and projected them straight into his nervous system, nearly putting him into a coma in the process. It was just heartfelt and messy and incredibly good. Scott realized he could get much too used to spur-of-the-minute workaday sex. No wooing, no conversation, just grab each other and go for it, honest and satisfying to the core.

Panting, he said, "Do you think some guys go gay just to get out of dating?"

Logan moved his weight off Scott considerately and lay on his back next to him, breathing hard. "Wouldn't surprise me. Who doesn't hate dating?"

"Between you and me, I think the whole concept was dreamed up by the Spanish Inquisition."

Logan glanced at him sideways. "The way Drake tells it, it's not like you ever had to date much anyway – girls just used to hit on you while you failed to comprehend their cryptic codes. Like when they'd say 'Wanna go upstairs and make out with me and my friend here, Handsome?' and you'd back away in confusion and then spill your drink all over yourself."

"It wasn't like that at all."

"McCoy said it was. He said Drake had it right. He said guys used to hit on you, too, and you never worked out that was what they were doing. Which reminds me – if a man strokes his finger down your face, what do you think he wants?"

Scott thought back over the people who usually caressed him who weren't Jean. "To torture or brainwash me."

"I'm starting to see why it's taken you this long to get busy with a guy. Thanks for the makeout session, by the way. For a clueless, emotionally-repressed workaholic, you're pretty good."

"Thanks. Incidentally, if we ever run across someone who knew you when you were a teenager, I'm going to interrogate him for a month and then tell everyone everything he said. I'm also going to kill Bobby."

Logan sat up and Scott couldn't help admiring his torso and the swift, active way he pulled on his clothes. Logan said, "I've seen photos of you when you were a skinny kid in spandex and I gotta say, if I'd been around back then, I wouldn't have wanted you out of my sight for a minute. You were way too pretty to be running around fighting supervillains. I'd have been worried about them wanting to –"

There was something dark and ugly clawing at the corner of his mind. It had been bricked up and plastered over but something had cracked the drywall and it was wriggling in there, like a weevil in a ship's biscuit, black bug tentacles waving, wanting out. The strange thing was that there were no images at all. There was just a tight, trapped sensation of fear, and suffocating blindness. Like there was a weight pressing down on him and he was being crushed beneath it, lanced by slicked, heated pain, struggling for oxygen while a rough voice told him to fucking breathe already, dumb kid –

"Scott…?"

He opened his eyes and found Logan gazing intently into his face, utterly focused, and quietly concerned.

"You okay?"

Scott put up his hands and felt Logan's fingers cradling his face, like he was the company china and should be handled with care. He concentrated on the nuances of Logan's expression and realized that he was looking at Scott in a different way than Hank had. Logan looked at him like he might need help. Hank had been looking at him as if he were already broken.

Scott said, "Show me your science experiments and I'll show you mine."

Logan offered him a hand and Scott let him pull him to his feet. As he dressed, he told Logan about the ship trying to save the life of the crazy alien captain who was doing his damnedest to break her into pieces.

"It'll be its programming, Slim. These things are always programmed to safeguard the crew – well, unless they belong to an evil corporation, then they're programmed to bring back the egg-laying aliens at any cost." Logan sighed at Scott's bemused expression. "Storm needs to make movie night compulsory from now on. No one gets to go play in the Danger Room, do his taxes, or read old mission reports when he could be chilling out with a beer and some high budget entertainment."

Scott decided to move right on past that to something relevant. He cast a regretful look around at the damage and had to admit that the ship was too badly smashed up to be salvaged. There was nothing that could be done for her. "I still find it a little…heroic."

Logan put his hand on Scott's shoulder. "Slim, I'm really sorry that the Blackbird bought it, but it's time to move on now. Come take a look at my science stuff."

 

The alien's blood had a golden line running through it, just like Scott's. One look and Scott took a step backwards because this was all his fears confirmed. He and a lunatic mass murderer were soulmates somehow, blood-bonded and dangerous. Logan needed to get the hell away from him before he ended up in the freezer with those other poor –

"That's from the oldest time the guy…died. This is the next one."

Two golden lines.

"This is the third blood sample – same guy, third death."

Three golden lines.

Scott's heartbeat returned to normal. "It must leave some kind of isotope in the blood every time someone goes through the pod cycle. I only nearly died once. This guy…" He thought of the pain and fear he had experienced as he felt that heavy disconnect where movement to his legs should have been, assessed the place where the shrapnel had impaled him and knew that kidney was shredded. "This guy went through that thing twelve times."

Logan nodded. "That's what I figured, too. What I can't work out is who the hell keeps trying to off him, and why it ain't worked yet."

"You're certain these 'deaths' occurred after the other crew members died."

"Absolutely certain."

Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

Henry had quoted that and Scott had looked blank. Bobby had turned to Warren and said, "Third, I am begging you to buy Scott a life."

"Do at least go and read a book for fun, Scott," Henry had sighed. "Every boy should get to grow up reading Sherlock Holmes. Wasn't there a library in your…?" Henry broke off. "In your deranged captor's fake orphanage…no, I imagine there probably wasn't. Go to the Professor's library now, and choose six books that have exciting illustrations, gripping stories, and absolutely nothing to do with strategy…."

Two years later in the laboratory, Henry over his test-tubes insisting that the formula wasn't right.

"Why not?"

An exasperated glance sent his way. "I can see you think that's a stupid question," Scott said patiently, "but I don't understand why it is."

Henry had waved a hand at what was showing up on the screen. "Crick and Watson knew that DNA would be beautiful. The best scientific proofs are. They're elegant and simple. This is messy and overly-complicated. Therefore I haven't solved it yet. Lex parsimoniae, Scott. As William of Occam wrote: "'The assumptions introduced to explain a thing must not be multiplied beyond necessity'."

He couldn't see the truth yet, but he could see that it shouldn't be as complicated as the facts were suggesting. No assailant-scent and a person mortally wounded and revived twelve times had to equal something simpler than invisible murderers. Henry had gone onto explain that the principle behind scientific parsimony was the generalization stating that, if there were a number of possible explanations for observed phenomena, the simplest explanation should initially be preferred. Only when the simplest explanations had been exhausted should simplicity be traded for greater explanatory power.

Scott had liked the logic of it. He had loved the fact that it could also be incorporated into strategy. The simplest plan was the first one to examine; it could then be examined for flaws – its usual flaw being that it was the plan that would also have occurred to one's opponent – however a thorough study of it was still useful. The simplest plan usually made an excellent smoke screen for the next plan, which should also eschew unnecessary complications but give the impression of being the simplest plan for the longest possible time to lull the opponent into thinking that he had outthought you.

Aloud, Scott said, "So, someone is trying to kill our killer. We're not looking for one person. We're looking for two." He cast an eye over the cavernous guts of the ship and wondered if this was how it would have felt to be swallowed by a whale. "You track the blood trails again. Try to find any scent that isn't us. I'll take another look at the flight logs. The computer's been so damaged that there are parts cut off from other parts. I'm going to check all the monitors, see if any have been re-routed from the network."

He didn't have an idea yet. All he had was an instinct. He was following it.

Logan was frowning as he gazed at him. "You're not here again."

"I'm thinking."

"How the hell has Jean stood it all the time?"

Excuse my limitations; they are legion. You don’t want the grown-up version of that skinny, useless, unwanted kid, riddled with crippling self-doubt, who always expects to be rejected and is always surprised to be loved, go and find someone else to get naked with….

"I am what I am, Logan."

"Have you ever thought about spending a little less time in your head trying to keep everyone safe and a little more time out of it actually…interacting with people?"

"I do battle field tactics, Logan. I don't do people. Why are you still here?"

Logan threw his hands in the air and began a long cataloguing of Scott's failings; given that Scott was painfully aware of all his failings and how long they would take to catalogue, he knew they didn't have time for this. "How convenient," he said. "A boyfriend and mother-in-law combined. If you could work a credenza and a small yappy dog we inherited from a distant aunt into your repertoire, I'll start picking out the house in the suburbs. How much yard work do you think you'll have time for in between being a superhero?"

Logan said, "You know, Slim, wanting to have sex with you all the time in no way stops me wanting to punch you. Just so you know."

Scott switched on the nearest computer, the one that seemed to have had the most work done to reroute its power supply. "Blood trails and violent death, Logan – in your own time."

He was aware – although he kept his eyes on the flickering screen – of Logan looming in his direction with the intent of swatting him, but kept perfectly still and waited to see if Logan would regain enough self-control not to hit him. Logan did. Albeit with some muttering of very bad words before he headed off, angrily and efficiently, to do his job. Not mind-controlled then… Scott grimaced as he realized that actually perhaps that was the proof that Logan was mind-controlled. No, he was sure the sadistic telepath they were dealing with would not be satiated by Logan just smacking Scott around the back of the head. He would want Logan to eviscerate him slowly, probably during sex.

A psychic tentacle slid into his brain. He could feel crazed glee in his mind and there was something…childlike about it. Scott inched his way towards the mind that was running around heedlessly in his, examining the shelf where his past captures and tortures lived, shopping for new ideas. It found the black bug tentacles quickly and began to pull at the wall, wanting to see what lay behind.

That hurt, and Scott tried to keep the pain shoved to the dusty corners, to make it feasible that he really wouldn't have noticed the way a block in his mind was being shredded. His brain burglar felt like a…young mind, not necessarily in years but in experience. Memory loss? Brain damage? Every experience was a new experience. The whole world was filled with novelty. Killing those crew-members had been exciting and different. Intoxicating. There had been no planning then. It was learning strategy as it went along. Scott should have got that earlier, but he'd been too hung up on Sinister. That was his first thought when he felt a sadist in his head, that it was a mind like Sinister's, but this one was far less sophisticated, less narcissistic, too. It wasn't trying to perfect itself. It was trying to find itself. That meant –

And then he was on his knees on the floor as the memory wriggled free.

The pain of it was…impossible to breathe…the blindness felt like suffocation, like there was a bag over his head, stifling him, although it was just his eyes, padded and bound fast, a pressing, weighty blackness…cold air on his skin, legs, thighs, ass…and the touching…clawed hands touching him…there… Why there…? Why…?

He screamed with the shock of it; that terrible pressure splitting him open; he could feel it inside him; huge and wrong and….

"Please…please…? Why are you…? Please…don't…. God…! No…! Please…?"

He panicked and struggled, not knowing who it was or why they were doing this to him, until the angry voice got through, something in his brain machinery that had gummed up with shock, jolted loose. He knew this voice. It was the clawed animalistic man from earlier. The one who had hunted and caught him in the school. So now he had a face to go with the body crushing his, the vicious fingers tugging at his hair, that savage whisper ordering him to shut the fuck up, now. He was still trying to pull away from the spearing pain, but a blow cracked his head against something hard and half-stunned him.

"Shut up and keep still! What the hell's the matter with you, you dumb kid? You tryin' to get yourself ripped up?"

"Please…don't… It hurts. Take it out, please. Take it out…."

"Scott? Scott…? Scott…!"

He was being shaken, viciously shaken, so hard that it jolted his eyes open into the painful confusion of bright lights blaring at him when a second ago his eyes had been blindfolded. There was still that stabbing and grunting and that hand in his hair….

"Scott…?"

He was still being shaken by the shoulders; anxious green eyes gazing into his; a gruff, familiar voice demanding to know what was hurting him, where was the pain, was it where the wreckage had got him…? Someone was pulling at his clothes, trying to get a look at his side, there were fingers on his skin, but they weren't hurting him, they were gentle.

Scott fought through the panic as his memories reassembled themselves like an upended snow-globe into something resembling a recognizable image. He wasn't fifteen or terrified, or blindfolded, or a prisoner in a cell. There was no hand in his hair, no one grunting in his ear, and no one was brutally shoving anything into his scrawny, flinching body. He was a fully-grown adult with a black belt in every kind of martial arts, was in a downed spaceship somewhere in Eastern Canada, and this man with claws wasn't his captor or his rapist. This man was his friend.

"Scott – talk to me…?" The catch in Logan's voice made Scott's heart hurt.

"Sorry. Bad flashback. Really…bad flashback."

"Know what that's like." Kneeling on the floor beside him, Logan's eyes were bright with anger and concern. "Was it Sinister? What was that evil fucker doing to you?"

"It was Sabretooth, on the Island. God, I was dumb. I really didn't know…I didn't know what he was going to… How the hell did I ever forget…? The Professor must have…."

"Scott!" Logan shook him again but more gently. "I get how bad it can be after one of those old memories shakes loose, but you're not making a whole lot of sense there, buddy."

He put his head in his hands, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes until the world was a kaleidoscope of white light fireworks against a black orange base. His head cleared slowly, but his skin was still crawling. He could still smell Sabretooth's sweat, still feel the places where his tongue had licked up Scott's face, where his fingers had bitten deep enough to leave bruises. Still feel the jabbing, jolting pain of a cock being thrust hilt-deep inside him.

That round to you, he thought bitterly. A perfectly preserved memory, pristine as the day it was made, excavated whole and replayed in glorious Sensurround. You got me.

When he forced his eyes open, he realized he was shaking hard. Logan pulled him in against his body, rough and anxious, a hand clasped to the back of his head gently furrowing through his hair.

"You scared the crap out of me," Logan breathed. "I heard you screaming. I thought that alien psycho had stabbed you…."

Scott realized that he had no desire whatsoever to shove Logan away and tell him to stop fussing. He was still too nerve-jangled not to be grateful for the man's stubble against his cheek and that hand cupping his head, those fingers stroking a soothing rhythm across his back. He leaned into him, just for this moment, because this was an indulgence and he needed to be strong, but just for this brief beat it felt so good to feel Logan's muscles under his clothes, to inhale his scent, and feel the soft bristle of his stupid sideburns against his skin.

"Sorry," he managed. "The Professor must have walled it up. I never processed it. I don't remember ever knowing…. I remember having a headache. I think Sabretooth must have knocked me out when he was…done. I guess I woke up not remembering and maybe the Professor thought it was better that it stayed forgotten. Maybe he had a point."

Logan looked sick. "Hell, he didn't…? Sabretooth…? Back then? You were just a kid."

"I was an incredibly dumb kid. I didn't have any idea why he was undressing me. I thought it meant more tests. I thought he was going to inject me with something."

The memories were all there now, still too raw to feel as if they belonged in the past, but not as unbearably present as they had been a few minutes earlier. He could tentatively poke a mental stick at them and see what scuttled out.

"Victor thought I was older and he thought Winters was already… I had a lot of bruises back then. Winters was a telepath but his way of coping with a possibly rebellious teenager was to yell at me, hit me, and throw furniture at me. It wasn't much of a leap to think he was molesting me too." He ran a shaky hand through his hair. "Maybe it's because of what he did to me back then that Sabretooth called the Professor. Maybe his conscience gave him a twinge."

"Sinister was a telepath too, right?" At Scott's nod, Logan looked him over curiously. "What is it about you and telepaths?"

"Maybe they like the fixer-upper potential of my damaged psyche. Some people enjoy a challenge."

"Then I should be beating the brain-benders off with a shitty stick." He straightened Scott's ragged uniform and smoothed out imaginary creases. "You okay?" At Scott's nod, he said, "Because you look like crap."

"And you bitch about my sweet talk?"

He hoped Logan couldn't hear how fast his heart was still hammering; panic-sweat barely cooling down his spine. Being blindfolded, held down, crushed under that pinioning weight and unable to struggle free while he was prized open and violated to the flinching core – not something he was going to forget in a hurry. Worse, though, was the new thought: If he could do this to me, he could do it to Logan. If that maniac decided to burrow around and find Logan's lost memory of having adamantium poured into his body; if he decided to find all the experiments Jean was sure had been carried out on Logan to test his healing factor, Logan was going to go insane with the pain. Because, crappy as Scott's bad memories were, Logan's were a hundred times worse. He had to keep that crazy alien son-of-a-bitch the hell away from the guy who had spent all those years in the Weapon X program.

Somehow he had to keep him focused on Scott.

"I'm fine now, Logan. Everything's fine."

"No, it ain't, Slim. It's about a million miles away from 'fine'. What that furball piece of shit did to you back on the Island – that wasn't ‘fine’, and when we're done here I am gonna hunt him down and…." Logan's claws were out like he couldn't help himself. The man struggled for control. "And what that alien piece of shit did to you, digging up that memory – he's gonna regret that. He's just not gonna get the chance to regret it for very long." Logan said, "I'm gonna find laughing boy." There was a note in his voice that suggested he was still fighting for control and wasn't necessarily winning.

"Don't let him get in your head," Scott warned, and wondered if it was as futile as telling Logan not to breathe oxygen. Logan gave him a clawed salute and headed off, fast and angry and looking for vengeance.

It was weird to realize that after all these years of saving himself and saving others, trying to save the whole planet even if most of its inhabitants didn't even like or trust his kind, that Scott Summers now had a white knight of his own. He wasn't sure he needed one. He thought he was pretty good at taking care of himself and he'd never much cared about avenging old wrongs. What was the point when there were always new wrongs coming up that were more urgently in need of righting? But there was something old-fashioned about Logan, underneath the modern speech and quick-flaring tempers there was still something bedrocked in him from a century past. Scott Summers as an adult with force-beams where his eyes should be wasn't someone in need of Logan's chivalry, but Scott Summers, fifteen-year-old orphan, more or less blinded by his mutation, alone in an unfeeling world and entitled to its protection…? Apparently that boy was sacrosanct, even now. That boy should never have been hurt the way Sabretooth had hurt him and the memory sliver of that boy excavated from Scott's adult mind should have been kept safe, too. Logan probably agreed with Xavier that Scott's rape on the Island was a memory much better buried where it could do the least harm. If Logan had his way, the alien captain would pay for unearthing that particular pain.

Keep him away from Logan. Keep him the hell away from adamantium being poured into a man who would have been awake at the time. From memories of people he might have killed while he wasn't himself….

Scott said softly, "I have other memories that got buried. Things Sinister did to me while I struggled against bonds that wouldn't give an inch. I've forgotten how it feels to have a lit cigarette held to my skin while Jack Winters held me down but I'm sure the memory's around somewhere…."

It was on him, hungry and heedless, a telepathic hog rooting for pain truffles. It ripped through his mind like a child at Halloween searching for treats, pulling open drawers, overturning boxes. Scott was a grocery store of pain-candy: falling from the airplane, watching it explode, knowing his parents were on board; the ache where Alex wasn't any more. Nate, his creepy roommate, who used to watch him sleep. Waking up to find Nate standing over him, breathing hard, mouth wet. Scott saying: “What is it?” and Nate saying “Go back to sleep…” and somehow those words becoming an order he couldn't resist, even though the last thing he wanted was to be vulnerably asleep when Nate was so close…. Broken nights at the orphanage interspersed with days of bullying, jeering older boys ganging up on him to smack him around for the fun of it; and the basement, the shiny, white laboratory basement where his terror consumed him as the needles plunged in and the orders lashed out, and he couldn't, couldn't, couldn't control it, however much he tried….

Sobbing for breath, Scott found he was on his knees, and that was just the first wave, a quick dance through the highlights of his earliest years of captivity, with so much horror still to come. Better you than Logan, he thought grimly, and looked up at the flashing lights of the spaceship, the tower winking at him eagerly, like a dog wanting to be taken for a walk. He imagined the alien captain’s mind winking on and off in the same patterns, attuned to the damaged remnants of the ship. He said, "Bring it on…" and the memories spilled from all the places where he and Xavier had so carefully packaged them away, raw and agonizing and happening now.

A scream would bring Logan scrambling back, straight into the circle of attention, but Scott was the bait today and Logan the hunter who would track down their enemy if Scott could just buy him some time. He had faith in Logan's ability to do that. All he had to do was keep the alien captain so happily occupied that Logan could sneak up on him unawares, while keeping silent however much he felt the need to scream.

Scott let the son-of-a-bitch all the way in, right to the dusty shelves where his childhood traumas averted their eyes from the light. The mind in his was drunk with the richness and variety of his torment: Cigarette tip to sizzling skin. I'll beat you ‘til it's all you know! White-threading nerve pain as he failed to obey, searing in his mind, in his body, jolting him as he dangled from his screaming wrists. Obey me, boy! You useless weakling! Control your powers! Smash of furniture breaking against his body as he ducked too late, the sobbing anguish of a rib cracking. You're late, you little shit! Where the hell have you been? Energy bolts jolting into him like blows. Stop sniveling, you pathetic brat! Acknowledge me as your master! He was blind on his knees on the floor of his cell and he was splitting open, the pain worse than anything he had ever…. The machine was still pulsing pain into his nerves, as the relentless thrusting agony was accompanied by animal grunts, and the cigarette burned its way into his skin and Jack Winters pulled his belt loose and brought it down across the same back that grunting animal heat was bruising and….

Scott clung on with his fingernails, eyes closed fast, one small voice telling him that none of this was happening, none of this was real, however much it hurt, the panic and confusion and terror and pain, all the different kinds of pain at once, this was just tactics. This was just something that had to be endured.

It pulsed and seared and thrust and lashed into him, the malevolent past, a swirling cauldron of misery into which that crazed looter in his mind kept hurling fresh finds of pain. He had forgotten how many times he’d been starved, beaten, backhanded, concussed, punched, dragged, kicked, bludgeoned, burned, tied up, chained up, felt up, fucked up, half-drowned, blindly caged, lightly electrocuted, and briefly whipped, and now it was a maelstrom of memories, vivid and alive and dancing round him like specters. All he had to do was hang on and not scream. He hung on. He didn't scream. While the blood from the lip he was biting through welled up deep and red and dripped on the shiny metal floor.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER EIGHT: And There's A Hand My Trusty Friend

Logan was getting used to the double vision. The way it felt as if he was looking at two different Scott Summers all the time – the present always overlaid by a memory of that stranger in the black leather uniform, with crisp dark hair and visor-hidden eyes, all preppy privilege, sculpted cheekbones, and chiseled jaw-line, the uptight asshole enigma whom he wanted to disarrange, just for the hell of it. He'd kinda wanted to fuck that guy, not least to show him who was boss, and he'd resented him having even that much power over him. And then there was the guy he kind of knew and kind of liked and kind of wanted to take in his arms and kiss, very gently, on that perfect mouth. He felt like the first guy was still Jean's, but the second guy, that Scott was his. He was the Scott without a visor, the one who was disheveled with shadow-circled blue eyes, but who smelled of Logan, who heat-flushed for him and arched and bit but made reluctant sounds of consent and even more reluctant sounds of pleasure. Even when he was gazing into a place Logan couldn't see, abacus brain computing possibilities, even when he didn't seem to know Logan was alive, that guy was still his.

The murderer Logan was seeking out – he could take that Scott away from him. He might even be able to make Logan kill him, like he'd done to those other pixie-winged aliens in his crew. That was why he had to find this sadistic piece of crap and deal with him before Scott started trying to find another way that wasn't certain enough because of morals and ethics and thou shalt nots. Logan dealt in thou shalt nots so other people could keep their own commandments. He was going to keep Scott's hands clean and he was going to gut that mind-fucking alien asshole before the guy got a chance to wind Logan up and send him after Scott. Logan had probably killed a lot of innocents in his time, perhaps his amnesia was a blessing that way, but he wasn't going to add Scott to that unremembered stack of corpses….

He sniffed the air and finally there it was, a scent that wasn't them or the ship, something else on this wreck with a beating pulse. Swift and silent, Logan began to run, head down, lean muscles pumping, and no one, had there been anyone left alive to watch him on a monitor, would have doubted for an instant that here was a perfectly honed predator that had just caught wind of its prey.

***

Slowly, slowly, Scott uncurled from the floor. His face was salt-stung and wet and he wiped it carefully and he had to ease his teeth out of his bitten lip. The pain receded in a reluctant tide and he was the breath-starved, lung-burning, mind-reverberating aftermath, flinching in readiness for the next memory scourge.

But apparently even Scott's agony could become boring to the onlooker. Not enough rape, for starters. Scott had been learning about that alien mind even as it had been combing through his, enjoying his torture sessions. It liked pain and grief and shame and guilt and regret, but it liked pain attached to sex more. It kept returning to his rape on the Island like a great white shark circling a nicely bloody corpse. It loved the panic flare of his blind squirming away from that inexplicable stretching pain, his shame and humiliation, his pathetic pleas for Sabretooth to stop, and his weak, helpless tears when he didn't, trying to force Scott to rerun that memory like a man poking a reluctant fire. He sensed how disappointed it was that it hadn't kept Sabretooth around so it could plunder that memory from both sides at once. And it kept chiseling away at Scott's brain as if it thought he was hiding treasures from it. Did it think he had repressed memories of Winters sexually abusing him?

Unlike Sabretooth, Winters hadn’t found Scott's scrawny adolescent body remotely enticing. To him it had just been a life-support system for those useful optic blasts. One of his unpleasant friends had suggested that Winters should sell Scott on to a sex-ring or at least pimp him out for extra cash and Winters had been adamant that he wouldn't get enough for him for it to be worth the risk of letting him out from under his controlling hands. To his mind, Scott's only asset was the power that streamed out of his eye sockets; Winters had found it as impossible to believe that any other criminal wouldn't want to utilize those eye beams as he had found it to believe that anyone could really get a hard-on for a bony little runt covered in bruises and cigarette burns.

Sinister was…unfathomable, it was true, but although he did like to caress Scott when they met up, Scott had always assumed that was Sinister's narcissism at work. Scott was both his creation and his creator. Sinister had molded and shaped Scott like a potter worked wet clay, and then he had used Scott's DNA to remake himself. Touching Scott for Sinister was like God touching Adam, proud of the work he'd done. If Scott held an unholy fascination for Sinister, in the way some minor celebrity did for a crazed stalker, Scott doubted it was anything as simple as sexual attraction. He could only imagine Sinister wanting to fuck him as a scientific experiment, to see if it traumatized Scott in an interesting way, or had long-term repercussions that he could catalogue and analyze. Sinister was far more likely to want to keep him as a pet-come-lab-rat than take him to bed. In fact something as leveling as sexual attraction would have been a step up in their relationship, which was more akin to the one Henry had with things he squinted at through the lenses of a microscope than red-blooded male animal to object of desire.

It gave Scott a sense of satisfaction to realize that Sinister would dislike his relationship with Logan. He liked Scott to breed with Greys or their cloned equivalents so he could create telepathic children to perfect his genetic experiments. Scott having an inevitably unproductive relationship with a man whose DNA didn't interest him would probably annoy Sinister no end. Only if he found a way to make Scott pregnant with Logan's healing factored offspring so Sinister could run unsavory tests on them in one of his laboratories might the man ever be reconciled to it.

The mind in his was showing increasing agitation, growing frustration, like a miser searching for a lost treasure, the diamond-pride of his collection, tossing aside lesser valuables in his frenzied need to find what he sought.

What the hell are you looking for?

Apparently even the myriad ways in which Scott had been abused since his parents threw him out of a plane to save his life, were not quite juicy enough for this questing brain. It wanted emeralds and rubies of torment and all Scott was offering was paste.

Stained pillow in front of his face, stink of animal musk and semen. Flicker of hot breath on the back of his neck; jolt, jolt, jolt of pain.

It was gone in a mind-flash, so fast he wasn't even sure he'd seen it. The same weird flare he'd been getting on the plane. The invasive mind was on it like a terrier on a rat, trying to pin it down, but it was like trying to catch a dream-snake with a paper net. It slithered away from both of them while the mind invading Scott's almost sobbed with frustration and began checking the mental blocks in Scott's damaged brain like Gambit searching a paneled room for a hidden safe.

Scott grabbed hold of the elegantly curved desk shelving to pull himself up and stumbled with the backwash of residual pain from Sabretooth's rape of his teenage self – body remembering all too vividly in that moment the inner bruising that a fifteen year old Scott had not recognized at the time. Gritting his teeth, he hung on and stayed on his feet. Defiance was instinctive, wanting to tell the bastard in his brain to get out and stay out, but he was the bait here, so he got to suck it up. At least he felt as if he were leading from the front again, even if he was only being a distraction while Logan used his superior senses to go monster hunting. Not for the first time he thought how much he disliked being without a team. With Henry or Kitty on the computers he would have so much more information at his disposal by now. And if Jean and Xavier had been with them then they could have taken down the alien captain's questing brain between them and put him into a –

He staggered as the mind inside his triumphantly seized on the memory it had been seeking. Pain tore through him and he fell to one knee, clutching his head. He could feel walls tearing and it was all he could do not to scream as protective barriers in his brain were ripped and shredded. What tumbled out were like fish pulled from an ice hole, flapping and wriggling, blade-split and hooked open, spilling their bloody guts upon the bright, white snow.

Logan. Naked on the floor passed out. Sabretooth looming up like a polar bear. Scott flinched from him, the wet dog stink of him. Sabretooth was beyond him in this state; too much bigger and stronger than he was; nothing left to reach him with but reason. He had never felt an exhaustion like it. Everything hurt. Inside and out, he was one bruised, tender ache. He was so weak, like someone had opened a vein, like there was one strand of strength left in him and in a moment that, too, would snap. He had to protect Logan from Sabretooth. He had to protect Logan from the truth.

Scott flinched back mentally. The alien mind was too gleeful, panting with excitement at what it had found. That perfect memory it had been seeking. It had wanted to revel in it again, but most of all it had wanted Scott to remember. He could feel a sense of rising dread. The part of him that knew what had happened, the part that Xavier had sealed away from him, that was already saying ‘No, no, no….’

Sabretooth sniffed Logan and then stepped back, then sniffed Scott. "You're in a bad way, x-boy. You can't take any more of him. You'd better come with me."

"No!" Scott dragged his wrist free of his grip, having to put his hands on the floor to steady himself. "I'm not leaving him."

"Don't be stupid." Sabretooth hauled him up to his feet. "I'm not gonna fuck you, Summers. Don't you get it? I'm saving you from him."

He couldn’t stay upright, there was no strength there, he had to cling onto Sabretooth even to be on his feet but he didn’t want him here. He needed him to go. He needed him to let Scott go.

Scott felt like a kid trapped in a dark bedroom with a closet door that kept swinging open. He wanted to hide his head under the covers but he couldn't look away. He made himself focus as the alien mind gleefully pulled that memory out, and out, an agonizing birth, slippery and straining and covered in bodily fluids. The inside of a log cabin. Logan unconscious. Sabretooth not angry, not threatening. Genuinely seeming to want to save Scott from the guy who had been…yeah, he knew what that residual ache was, he'd just been through it as a scared teenager in a cell with Sabretooth; even as someone ten years older, even as someone with a much higher pain threshold, even as someone who was used to torture and who could suck it up as stoically as a mission demanded, this had hurt. This was hurting. So he'd been raped. Okay. He could deal with that. At least they were onto the aftermath. The worst was over. Deal with it, Summers. It's just a mission injury, like any other, just like it's always a mission risk, like any other. Then he looked down at himself in the memory, at his bloodied, bruised knees; risked a glance at his hips and there were the fingermarks, bruisingly deep; a blurring of them, the same pattern overlaid again and again. And again.

Staggering, Scott dry-heaved, clutching at the console as the ship's computer flashed brighter and faster, a sympathetic semaphore as the alien mind clutched at his eagerly, determined to show him the truth, to make him give it up, give it up, all of it, every delicious ounce of degradation and pain and self-loathing. Scott gripped the metal tightly. Okay. He'd been raped more than once. A lot more than once. Not enough pain for it to have been a gang-rape, he'd be more damaged by that. He was hurting but he wasn't horribly injured. He knew how horribly injured felt and this wasn't it. This was…unpleasantly sore and tender and bruised. So – one guy, repeated rapes, probably with some recovery time between them, possibly some kind of lubricant used, definitely less than there should have been.

"Maybe he took us both to…nowhere land here. He did…unpleasant things to me in front of you and made you watch it. You wished at the time you could give me some first-aid and…and let's presume you thought his lube choices were sketchy."

No, no, no. Don’t let this be going where it seemed to be going. They had already been through this. He and Logan had done the math and worked out that there had been a sexual assault on Scott that Logan had been forced to witness. They had decided it was Sabretooth. Sabretooth had done it and Logan hadn’t been able to stop it. They had accepted that. They had dealt with that. This was not a necessary memory….

Sabretooth was still holding him up and Scott tried to push him off. "I'm not leaving Logan. He's sick. He needs care."

"He's got healing factor! He can't get sick! Look, you stupid little shithead, he ain't Logan any more. He's a fucking animal. He's been fucking you like an animal. I can smell it everywhere. You're probably ripped up inside –"

There were only three of them in the cabin. Scott. Sabretooth. Logan. And Sabretooth was the clawed mutant trying to rescue Scott from his rapist. Sabretooth was the one trying to drag him away from… The memory was hauled all the way into the light, wailing victoriously. On the bed, on the couch, hands in his hair, crazed yellow eyes with no human mind behind them, dragging Scott by the hair, throwing him down, ramming into him… Logan. Not Sabretooth. Logan.

Scott threw up.

The mind inside his was ecstatically running the whole movie; every grunt of every rape; every punch; every flinch; every drag by the hair and slam onto the floor, every whispered plea for Logan to come back that had gone unanswered; the unwanted weight on top of him, the endless, brutal thrusts.

That doesn’t happen to heroes, does it? That only happens to sniveling little weaklings who secretly like to get hurt….

All the years that Scott had spent trying not to be turned into a victim again, not a lonely orphan being tormented by a man so much more powerful than he was, not the boy who had to take those beatings from Winters because he didn’t have the strength to get away, not the frightened teenager in the holding cell having a penis rammed into him that he never asked for and didn’t deserve. All those hours in the Danger Room. All those missions planned and carried out. All those cracked bones and pulled muscles as he did the exercise again, and again, and all to not ever have to be that boy again. All to be too strong and too fast and too well–trained and too in control of his own mutation so that no one, ever, got to have that kind of power over him or any other frightened mutant child again. And now a snarling animal with adamantium claws had made him that boy again, but worse, a weak, struggling, defeated victim of a mindless animal's animal needs.

Scott’s fingers were fists and the rage flowed through him. He waited for his beams to come roaring back and couldn’t believe it when they didn’t because the hell with all those years of control, the hell with self-discipline. All he wanted to do right now was to blast the guy who had done this to him into a greasy smear upon the snow.

He slammed his fist down on the console and from out of the computer a voice began to talk. It sounded uncanny, not quite human, and even through the red mist of his rage he realized it was a speech synthesizer translating a language he could probably never have understood in a lifetime into something approaching a human voice.

 

…For a long time I thought it was my duty to remember them; to carry those memories back to their families so that something of them would exist. So there would be someone to say 'Your son was the one who made us laugh when no one else could have managed a smile', 'Your mother was the one who thought of the method we used to recycle our oxygen', 'Your sister was the one who could always see good in the rest of us', 'Your father, that man I know you thought you didn't know, who said so little, said most of it about you, and always with such pride'. It seemed important those things were known; that they were remembered. I was the only headstone any of them were going to have; I couldn't afford to shatter before I was read. For a long time, after it all happened, that was my sustaining sanity. That was my comfortable madness.

It took me a long, long time to realize that everything was past the memorial service, the decorous offices for the dead. The dead were beyond saving and I was a threat to the living. As long as I drew breath, other sons and daughters and fathers and mothers and wives and husbands were going to be lost. I was the bridge between life and death. I needed to be broken so that death could not pass over me. I broke myself. I broke myself again and again and death gathered up the shattered pieces. If you find this, if you hear this, try to comprehend it. Concentrate. It won't want you to see the truth. Death is hungry and it wants you alive so it can eat you slowly. If it has let me die it's only because it sees you as a better option. If I am a corpse, you are its next victim. If I live, kill me. It's all that's left for me now. I want to be with my friends.

I'm sorry that you have to die. I hope you are a sentient being of honor. I hope you understand the necessity. You cannot let it leave the ship. It is madness. It is death. It must die here. You must die here so that it will die with you. You must die so that others may live….

***

Logan found him at last, in some kind of maintenance shaft, the winged captain who had killed all his crew. He ripped open the grating and threw it aside, wanting not just to kill but to give the guy a moment when he knew he was going to die, bloody, at the end of Logan’s claws, a moment to really feel that fear. Except when the guy looked up at him it was with such…relief. He didn’t look smug or even deranged, not the way Sinister did in every image Logan had ever seen of him. He looked ripped and bloody and almost out of time. Luckily, his rage at what this bastard had done to them was still welling up like pus from a wound so he flexed his claws anyway.

The winged captain said, “You’ve come to kill me.”

Logan let the light glint of the ends of his claws, wanting them both to picture them crimson and dripping. “Would have got here sooner if I could, bub.”

A mind brushed over his, the way a lighthouse beam shone over water and he jerked his head back, but the winged captain said, “You have healing factor. It can influence you but it can’t infect you. That’s good. Are you alone?”

“You know I’m not.”

“The one with you also has healing factor…?”

As Logan growled, “None of your damned business,” he tried to ignore the instincts screaming at him that this was not the guy who had been fucking with them. Looking at the captain, even allowing for alien physiognomy being different, the guy just looked so…weary. He reminded him of Scott, somehow: battered and bloodstained but not giving himself the right to give up yet. Angrily, he said, “I know you’re the one who’s been in our heads.”

A flicker of surprise and another wave of weary amusement. “Is that what you think? Oh well, it isn’t as if death isn’t welcome, wherever it comes from.”

“Logan!” Scott came up running and the first thing that Logan smelt on him was rage; he was bitter with it, like someone had marinated him in sloe gin, sharp as lemon juice, a stinging reproach to the tongue. “Don’t kill him. He didn’t do anything.”

Logan turned on him. “He’s mind-controlling you, Scott!”

Scott wouldn’t even look at him, averting his eyes so he didn’t have to deal with Logan’s face, and it was a shock to realize that the person Scott was angry with was…Logan.

“No, he isn’t. What he’s doing is holding off the ship with the last of his strength so we can have this conversation. You learned how to beat it?” That was to the captain.

“No one can ‘beat it’, but I can block it out for long enough to kill myself. What I can’t do is stop it reviving me.” The captain hit a button and as Logan flexed his claws in warning a gurney gusted out, with helpful tentacle hands, ready to scoop up the wounded and waft them on a bed of air straight to the medilab to be made good as new again. “It evolved itself while we were sleeping. That’s the danger of making AI too close to our own minds, too complex, too damaged. The danger, too, of scientists always wanting to perfect nature – stronger telepathy, stronger telekinesis. We were never a match for it. The ship’s computer was alone for all that time when we were in our hypersleep and the loneliness drove it mad. It read all our histories, all the histories of every world we’d ever studied, scrolled through all the possibilities and began to enjoy the darkest paths. By the time we came out of stasis it was already unhinged, so it made us kill each other for the pleasure of having that power over living things. It got a joy from it like nothing it had ever known. It’s an addict now. It could never give up that craving to make others do terrible things to the people that they love so it can feed on their crime and their guilt and the suffering of their victims.

“But it’s like any other parasite, it has to have a power source. What it wants – what it truly wants – is to inhabit a body fully. Transfer itself from this dying ship to a living organism with hands and needs. It needs a strong host to fulfill all its fantasies. But the other one like you – Creed – it could influence his mind but it couldn’t jump into his body, as it wanted to, his healing factor kept destroying it. It had the same problem with you.”

“And I’m too weak for it,” Scott said, in as clipped a tone as if they were discussing the weather, even though that anger scent was still all over him. “You’re a much more physically impressive species than homo sapiens. Wolverine and Sabretooth are almost as strong as you are, but I don’t come close enough for it to want me for a host. It wants to be a predator, not prey, so I’d only be its last ditch way out of here. The only use it sees for me is as bait. And entertainment.”

Logan flinched because there was a new bitterness in that last phrase that hadn’t been in the Scott he had left by the console.

“What did it show you? What did it tell you?” he breathed.

Still Scott wouldn’t look at him. “The truth. What happened in the cabin.”

He sniffed and realized that Scott wasn’t just angry, he was traumatized. So traumatized that he had physically thrown up. “Tell me.”

Scott opened his mouth and it felt like what was going to come out of it was going to be vicious and cruel but then he shrugged, still not meeting his gaze, and said, “It was what we worked out: Sabretooth and his low boredom threshold. It doesn’t matter now.”

“Of course it matters!” It felt like Scott was lying to him, even though they had been on a quest for the truth together, just the two of them, each of them the only one the other could fully trust.

“We’re going to die here if we can’t defeat the crazy ship’s computer, Logan. That’s what we need to focus on now.”

The winged captain said urgently, “We have to starve it of hosts. It’s the only way.” He nodded to Logan while still addressing Scott: “He can leave, get to a safe distance, but you and I – as long as we’re here, and the ship is here, it will live on.”

Logan felt suddenly sick. “That’s why you kept trying to kill yourself. So it would run out of hosts.”

“Yes, but it won’t let me die. It needs me alive and it doesn’t want to be that lonely ever again so it keeps reviving me, but the ship itself – its only power source with no organic bodies to occupy and organic brainwaves to feed upon – is dying fast. I’ve tried to destroy its power source in such a way that even the computer can’t repair it. Three more days and it will be out of any source of energy. It will suffer brain death, like any other organism. It will die and your world will be safe from its madness. But it won’t let your friend leave. It will secrete itself in his brain and travel with him until it finds a better host.”

“Henry,” Scott said, sounding as sick as Logan felt. “He’s very strong but he doesn’t have healing factor to clean a new consciousness out of his, like a body’s immune system attacking a virus, and he’s a genius. If the ship’s computer combined with his brain to use Cerebro it could find a way to make a Roman arena out of planet Earth. It has more than six billion people to play with. It could start world wars every weekend. It could make so much madness. We can’t let it off the ship.”

The winged captain said, “You have to sacrifice yourself. It’s the only way.”

“No!” Logan grabbed the guy by the front of his bloodstained uniform. “There has to be another way. Whether we make it out of here or not, Scott is getting out of here alive.”

“I am not,” the captain said, and it was the first time there had been a tremor in his voice. “I failed to save my crew and I have no means to go home. I have never craved even the warmth of another’s touch as I now crave death.”

Logan turned on Scott and Scott took a step back, like it was instinct to flinch from Logan and press back against a wall.

“Scott…?”

Scott waved a hand like he was batting away a persistent fly. “The computer is trying to get in. I’m dizzy, that’s all.”

“You have a telepathic guy who can fool the computer for a little while. A guy with healing factor who can live through almost anything long enough to plant a bomb, and a master strategist who can work out all the weak points to blow that would kill this ship forever, who has to walk out of here alive. Do that thing you do, Scott. Solve the problem.”

The connection that had been there between them, all that warmth and trust, that need for each other, was gone. It had been lost somewhere, out of Logan’s sight, and he could feel its absence like the ache of an open wound. He was already missing Scott making eye contact with him – something Scott hadn’t done once, not since he arrived stinking of vomit and fury. This was hurting enough; the thought of losing Scott, of Scott being lost to the world, that was unendurable. He grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.

“Solve the problem!”

And Scott was flinching from him, ducking his head not in that icy way before, not wanting to look at Logan because the sight of him was somehow sickening to him, but just scared to stare him down. Logan looked at his own hands where they were clenched in Scott’s costume and felt something scrabbling at his brain.

“Scott…?” he breathed. “What is it you remembered that you don’t want me to know?”

It was the winged captain who spoke over him as if he wasn’t even there, straight to Scott: “What better feast for it than for him to remember? What better way to distract it? Both of you, at once, remembering what it made him do to you? It wouldn’t notice anything else. I could place all the explosives then and it wouldn’t even remember I exist.”

“The Midwich Cuckoos,” Scott said. “You plant the bomb and you shield that one thought from its mind but we give it something better than a brick wall to look at. Where are the internal sensors down? Could we get to the armory?” He pushed past Logan as if that flinch had never happened, bending his head to confer with the captain, while Logan found himself on the sidelines, left in a daze of dread, knowing horror was waiting for him very close at hand.

“Tell me…?” he pleaded.

“No. It has to hit you like a speeding truck, Logan. The way it hit me. Or else it won’t work.” Scott pushed a hastily drawn schematic under his nose and traced the route with his pencil. “This is the way that Aks'nda has mapped that he’s used before to get to the armory to grab weaponry and explosives. You can’t let any of the internal sensors see you. You need to get them fast and give them to Aks'nda, then he deploys them, while I distract the computer, then you’re going to meet me on the flight deck so we can unwrap the special psychic present the ship’s computer has waiting for us there. We’re not going to like it but it’s going to save our lives.”

Logan flashed a look at the winged captain. “What about him?”

“With us to distract it, there may just be a way for him to blow this ship to hell with himself inside it.” The look Scott sent the captain’s way was full of quiet compassion. “If you’re sure you want this place for a grave? Because I can think of at least six different ways where we all walk out of here, two of which have a seventy percent probability of success.”

“I have also run those numbers, Scott Summers. This plan has the highest chance of succeeding. And I believe that even on your world a captain is required to go down with his ship. Those people died under my command. Even this computer was driven mad under my command. Perhaps even if it does not deserve to die alone.”

Scott and the winged captain shook hands, the captain perplexed for a moment and then evidently reading in Scott’s mind what this gesture meant – respect and farewell. Scott was looking both stalwart and determined and horribly young as he looked over the captain’s ripped, bloodstained clothing, the proof of all his deaths, of the agony of almost dying and the anguish of being revived to have to die again. He said, “I’m sorry for everything you’ve been through. I’m sorry we couldn’t save you or your crew.”

Very gently the captain reached up and touched his face. “I’m sorry for everything you’ve been through also: you and your Wolverine and your species. I am sorry that this last ordeal is being asked of you both.”

“We already lived through it and survived,” Scott said. “How bad can remembering it be?”

“Some of the philosophers of our world have argued that we are our memories,” the captain said. “But I don’t believe that we are simply the sum of what others inflict upon us. I think we are so much more than that. I think you are both so much more than that.”

A brief nod from Scott, then their hands unclasped unwillingly and Logan realized that these two, on another day, would have been friends; had too much in common, recognized too much in the other, not to be, and yet Scott had never doubted that this alien was a murderer even as he saw himself reflected in him. He realized that he and Scott, too, had sometimes far too much in common.

Scott turned and looked Logan in the eye, like he had to steel himself to do it, but a steady gaze all the same. “Please, Logan. I need you to do this. No one else can get there fast enough or carry all that equipment. We don’t have much time. Go.”

Logan ran, with the sense of dread even more pressing, able to scent the captain now he had stood close to him for all those minutes and followed his path exactly, ducking away from every light still working, from the suspicious sweep of every floating eye. As he sprinted silently along dark corridors where the pulsing lights had faded to blackness, he realized that he was following Scott blindly, just the way he had promised himself that he would never do; that he was doing what Bobby and the kids did: trusting in his strategic brain despite knowing that much of his mind was a minefield unstable with past traumas. It was at once a compliment to Scott to trust his judgment and a crippling extra weight of responsibility heaped upon him for Logan to meekly add himself to the tally of the ones who followed while Scott was doomed to be one of the ones who led. This was what Xavier had groomed him for, this isolation, the uptight, humorless hardass who could never relax and never just join in; it didn’t mean that Logan had to go along with Scott living a life that cut off. He had one advantage that none of the others did of not having come under Xavier’s influence when he was just a child and so looking on him as a god in a wheeled machine. He could see why Xavier had picked Scott for this job and then trained him to grow into it, but he could also see how hard a thing that was to ask of anyone, never mind someone so emotionally fragile who had been abused so many times before he even reached sixteen. Just because Xavier had planned for the way the X-Men should work and trained Scott to be his willing instrument, didn’t mean that there couldn’t be another voice to add to Jean’s when she was wondering if Scott didn’t need a little help here, if he was going to avoid a breakdown. He could be the guy who helped him, on the missions and elsewhere. He could be the man who made his life a little easier…

Except Scott could barely stand to look at him now. Logan ripped the plasma cartridges out of the guns and stuffed them into a makeshift sack, added lump after lump of the rubbery textured explosives, hardly feeling any of the weight of it, even as the ordnance piled up. Scott had felt as if he hated him, and then Scott had flinched when he touched him, and that chilly rage had briefly been overlain by something that smelled all too much like fear. He had dropped his gaze as if he was too afraid to challenge him even with a stare, even though the Scott he had first met hadn’t even flinched when Logan grabbed him and yanked him forward, completely unintimidated by anything Logan did. So what had changed? How had Logan gone from the one guy Scott still trusted, to the one whose eye he wouldn’t even meet?

As he ran back the way he had come, ducking under alert connections, counting until the cameras turned, one part of his mind was aware that even his metal-strengthened arms were being strained to breaking point by the weight of all this potential death, and another was wondering what horror came next that was waiting for him in the flight deck, but another part was still obsessed with Scott. He knew Scott only saw himself as the leader but saw the true strength of the X-Men as the team. That it was in deploying the skills and powers of others that Scott saw himself as truly inspired. He was a man who believed in training and teamwork and trust. He believed in the people who followed him more than they believed in the man they followed. So, even though he had felt as if Scott had turned away from him completely, this was an act of trust – sending Logan to carry out this part of the plan. Logan was a necessary cog in Scott’s machine; someone he was relying on to get it right. Whatever he needed to fix between them, this was the first step, this was what mattered in the moment – doing this right, getting this done. He ducked under another camera and ran for the winged captain who was waiting for the tools Logan was bringing him to weave a rain of fiery death.

 

When the ship’s computer came for his mind, Logan steeled himself to keep his secrets but it didn’t care about the things he was hiding, all it wanted was what he had forgotten. It was like a crazed squirrel looking for the nuts it had stored for winter, ripping open stash after stash, in search of the freshest, sweetest hoard. It spilled horror into his mind heedlessly – a woman he loved dead in his arms, molten metal molding itself to his skeleton while he screamed, the bone claws breaking through his skin for the first time, his first kill – it didn’t care. Even as he reeled from one side of the corridor to the other as he stumbled towards the flight deck, it just kept throwing out his memories like broken toys, as it searched, sniffing and drooling its way through his mind, for the best horrors in there.

As he staggered into the great humming chamber in which so few of the lights were still winking on and there was a background static of madness, he could see Scott’s face through the jagged flashes of his own past. It looked like Scott was fighting hard not to care but with each flash and then stagger when he saw Scott next there was more flinching, more compassion, until, at last, as if he couldn’t bear it any longer, Scott was there, holding his elbow.

He murmured in his ear, “You can get through this.”

Logan darted him a sideways look, trying not to panic. “What is it that’s coming?”

“It’s bad,” Scott admitted, “but what you need to hang onto is that it was never really you.” And as he said the words aloud Scott looked as if they were also impacting on him. He said with a lot more warmth: “It wasn’t you, Logan. It’s going to feel as if it was, but it was never you.”

“What do you –?”

And then he was in hell. He was screaming and roaring and staggering and Scott was holding him up, gritting his teeth at the lurching, metal-coated weight of him, but trying to keep him on his feet, trying to keep some clarity for both of them while Logan was lost in a hideous confusion of being a beast, being Scott, being Logan, being all of them all at once, with the lust, and the pain, and the guilt tearing through him in bloody, rending waves.

The computer had linked them up like the world’s most insane dating agency, hooking their minds together so they could enjoy the raw sewage spillage of each other’s buried memories. It was like a cloud of knives coming at him, with every knife a crime; like an attack by a swarm of hornets stinging his mind over and over again. As he flailed and cringed, Scott was there; in the midst of feeling what it was like to pin a flinching, naked Scott down and hurt him, and to feel exactly how it was to be Scott in that scenario and how much it fucking hurt, he was also aware of Scott in the here and now, holding him up and whispering in his ear:

“Logan, we have to get to the exit. Don’t think it, just go where I pull you…”

And then as he stumbled blindly the horror swept back in and Logan tried to push it out but there was too much of it; he could feel the mad mind in his, cackling with crazed glee because it was so delicious: all his anguish, all his shock and guilt that he was the one who had done it, not Sabretooth at all; it had been him. Though the drugs had left Scott almost too weak to stagger, he had taken advantage of how bruised and serum-weakened he was to drag him by the hair and throw him on the bed, to strip him naked, pin him down, and shove his dick into him. And it hadn’t just been that one brutal, relentless time. He had kept doing it, to a beaten up guy, half his weight, so sick he could barely stand, with cracked ribs onto which Logan kept pressing his adamantium-bonded bulk. He could feel Scott’s hair in his hand as he dragged him by it; smell his fear because Logan was so strong and so careless and wouldn’t care if he dislocated his hip or broke his bones, just as long as he got to have sex. Scott trying to pacify him with the meager threads of energy he had left, trying to cooperate even though he was one tender aching bruise inside and wanted nothing in the world less than he wanted to have a cock rammed into him yet again, stumbling to obey as Logan forced him over the couch before fucking him brutally for the third time that day. Scott bearing it when Logan hit him, for nothing, for pissing outside, dragged him around and pinned him down, and fucked him, and fucked him, and fucked him, while Scott flinched and choked down his moans and gritted his teeth and bore the relentless thrusting pain of it….

Logan threw up, the horror spewing from him in a salt burn of bile, and the computer cackled, high with his horror, with his gut-wrenching guilt.

“What I did to you… What I did to you….”

Because he could feel how it was to be Scott; and it had been hell, a relentless drudgery of slavery days where he was denied a voice, a choice, or a name; had no strength to fight back and could feel the weakness winning every day, as the starvation and dehydration held hands with the drug in his bloodstream and nothing he tried to do or say mattered because the other guy was stronger than he was and could kill him with one vicious twist of his fingers. He could feel his identity slipping away from him as he was told, not with words – because words were a luxury denied him – but with repeated vicious actions, that all he was fit for was sex and his consent wasn’t necessary and his comfort was irrelevant, and it didn’t matter if it hurt him, it only mattered if his animal captor got to come.

“I’m so fucking sorry, Scott.”

“It was never you, Logan. You have to hang onto that. We both do.”

It was all in his head at once, a wild bat swirl of horrors, and he was only vaguely aware that Scott was keeping him moving when he wanted to sink to his knees and weep, tugging him insistently in one direction. The computer was a whirl of gleeful flashing lights and he realized that to Scott it had always been much clearer than it was to him, that Scott, after all those years of being trained by telepaths, benevolent and hostile, had been able to sense it as a separate slithering entity, like a literal worm in the brain, whereas Logan never had until this minute. He had only been aware of the thoughts it dropped in, but now he was linked to Scott’s mind so he could feel it celebrating, Gollum-crazy with ring fever because this was the best, most delicious guilt yet.

You and your brother are both the same. You’re both of you killers and rapists. You like to fuck pretty flinching things for the fun of it while they beg you to stop and you don’t listen because you’re evil to the core. It’s what it means to be a Logan. It’s in your blood and your twisted metal bones…

Then Aks'nda’s steady voice in their heads said: Go now and don’t look back…

And Scott said, “Run!”

And Scott dragged him so fast that Logan felt like he was just caught in his slipstream, Scott’s fingers so tight in his t-shirt that no one could have wrenched them apart, and they were bursting through a door that the computer tried to close on them a moment too late and there was whiteness all around them, a curtain of wet, swirling flakes, and biting cold and a white-gray sky the color of arsenic in one of Hank’s test-tubes; the air slapped his face and seared his lungs and he stumbled blindly in snow too soft and deep to fight and then Scott pulled them both down into a hollow and pulled the snow over them as behind them metal tore and the air screamed and agony pulsed into their minds for a brief confusion of betrayal and relief as the red-flaming world went black.

***

It took a moment for them both to come round. Scott had to spit snow from his mouth before he looked up cautiously, afraid the wreckage might have found them again and skewered them for the hell of it, but the alien explosives seemed both terrifyingly efficient and wonderfully localized because the ship was practically vaporized and there were only a few smoking shards of metal sooting the wild, white snow. He checked Logan for injuries as he steeled himself to feel what was slithering around in his mind now; but there was nothing. No Aksn'da. No computer. There was a silent shock of absence where their voices in his brain had been. They were dead and he bowed his head for a moment to remember that winged alien who could so easily have been Scott – and a thousand other Scotts if that computer had managed to get free and infect others with its madness. He had died a hero ten thousand light years from home and no one but Scott and Logan even knew what this world owed him.

He got up slowly, his head hurting the way it had done before his beams first broke through, but this wasn’t his optic blasts coming back, this was just the after-ache of all those mind-blocks and mind-walls being fissured and torn. It was a jumbled mess of unearthed memories in his mind now, like the aftermath of a burglary with every drawer pulled open, the contents of the kitchen cupboards holed and ripped and spilling onto every sticky surface, and all the dirty underwear scattered across the floor. Some of the events the Professor had walled up had shouldered free while others were still hidden away; some of the deep buried traumas visible, others neatly boxed. He would have to ask Jean to tidy up in there, help him to put the files back on the shelves. In the meantime, he needed to do something about the fact they were going to die from hypothermia in a raging blizzard if they didn’t get to shelter soon.

He had to slap Logan’s face and haul him up, not sure if the explosion had jarred him harder or if Logan was still mired in his place of mental turmoil. Even when he had assured himself that Logan was conscious and undamaged, he could barely get the man to look at him.

Scott said, “Logan, we have to get to the cabin. It’s the only shelter around and night is coming in.”

Logan gave a brief nod, but he still looked shell-shocked, although he did stagger to his feet and help to pull Scott up before releasing his hand as if it was singeing him. Turning as one, they began to stumble up the slope to the chill, dark cabin that offered them the only protection from the cold.

The snow billowed after them, like a hungry predator, and Scott remembered Bobby had used to be haunted by dreams of edacious snow beasts that he had inadvertently set loose and could not now call back, their great lumbering forms hunting down the people he loved while he stood there, frozen.

They struggled through the dragging chill of the white drifts, and icicle memories pierced him with every pace – memory of the exhaustion coming suddenly. The scents came separately, and so did the sensations, and then, as he stumbled and Logan reached out instinctively to catch his arm before he fell, memories arrives in a tumbleweed cluster of all five senses and he was choking on pheromones and musky sweat with no strength in his limbs, that harsh grunting in his ear, the filthy pillow so close to his face that the feather stalks stippled his skin, the iron of blood on his tongue from his stinging mouth, and him pinned down, and plumbed bruisingly, brutally deep. He pulled away from Logan’s hand and held up his own to ward him off, unable to even look at him in the raging shame-flare of that memory. He had given in. He had taken it, just as the ship had said, an abject, mewling, cowardly thing.

“Scott….”

He turned away from the ache in Logan’s voice as well. He didn’t care if Logan’s guilt was lacerating when he was too busy being scourged by shame.

Their clothes were wet through from the deep drifts. Scott knew full well that they must undress, both of them, down to the last stitch. Part of his mind was already strategizing for survival. Bobby had iced the burning logs lightly; they could be removed and dry kindling added. There had, at least been plenty of ready chopped logs, stacked in the long living room – a clear fire hazard – and countless more piled in the barn where Sabretooth had recovered his strength. They must get the stove going again, strip, and dry their wet clothes before its heat, wrapping themselves in blankets all the while.

It was just that to undress in front of Logan, after what Logan had done to him in that same cabin, now felt like a flaying; as if Scott was asking himself to peel off his own skin while being stripped of the last tattered remnants of dignity that he possessed.

He was acutely aware of Logan’s musky sweat scent as the man stumbled beside him, and tried to be repulsed by it while something in him traitorously persisted in finding it comforting.

As they reached the door, and Scott turned the handle, the door hanging from its one hinge creaking open to reveal the all too familiar interior, something in Scott balked, unable to cross the threshold. He waited for Logan to remind him gruffly that they were being pursued by a blizzard, and this was the only shelter around, that it was this cabin or death. A breathless second passed in which Scott could not make himself take another step, but no push from Logan came. He turned to find Logan frozen, horrified and cringing, panic in his eyes, like a hunted hare.

That soothed something – anger at Logan for thinking of Scott as a possession – that clearly had nothing to do with what was going on in Logan’s head. So in the end it was Logan who said, desperately, “I can’t…” and Scott, firmly, who said, “We must.” He took Logan’s arm and towed him across the threshold then shut the door behind them, shutting himself in with the man whose body had raped him, over and over again, in this same, damp, cedar-wood scented place.

Logan backed up until he hit the door, panicked. “I can’t.”

Scott was being overwhelmed by memories. It wasn’t even the ship torturing him now. It had opened the floodgates and he was drowning. He remembered the pain of the broken couch springs jabbing his knees, and the harsh rasp of the rug as it friction-burned the back of his neck, the sear of it scraping his back raw, and all the while the grunt-grunt-grunt in his ear, and the smack-smack-smack of another man’s testicles bruising his brutally pounded ass. He grabbed hold of the couch and had to bow his head a moment as the urge to hurl almost overwhelmed him and then, through a hissing tsunami of too many memories, became aware that Logan was scrabbling at the door catch, trying to back up further as he hyperventilated.

Scott raised his head, and his anger was a focusing flame. He felt bitter but controlled. “Logan – breathe.”

“I can’t be in here with you….”

“Suck it up!” Scott snapped.

“I’m not safe! What if it’s something about this place? What if it happens again? What if it’s inside me?”

Even as he was thinking that this was what it must be like for Henry and feeling sorry for him, Scott felt felinely furious and almost wished he had been the one to suffer Henry’s mutation just so he could lash out with an angry claw.

“It’s nothing to do with you, Logan, you dick! It was never in you. It was never you.” He said it bitterly because it was the truth and it had left him with no one to blame; no one except himself. He, after all, was the one who had just kept letting it happen.

Another look at a hyperventilating, terrified Logan and Scott realized wearily that he didn’t have time to be traumatized because Logan had cranked up being traumatized to maximum levels and was either going to have a stroke or bolt into a marrow-freezing blizzard if one of them couldn’t keep it together.

“Logan that ship gave you the memories it took from the person it stranded me with – it didn’t get them from you. You weren’t here – not until that other guy was gone.”

Because when the ship had info-dumped him it had given him that as well – the memory of being Scott, waking up in a bath tub, and seeing Logan looking back at him, anxious and concerned, and that overwhelming relief that the scary guy who could kill him was gone and the guy he had been hoping might save him was here instead. He had known absolutely and without question that the guy raping him was never and would never be Logan.

He said it wearily because his self-disgust was overwhelming: “You’re not a rapist and the only reason you even think you are is because I didn’t fight back hard enough.”

The scrabbling and hyperventilating stopped. Logan said harshly, “No!”

Scott stumbled wearily towards the stove, so much work still to do just to get a fire going, and everything hurting, like his body was flinching just from being back here. “That’s the truth. You didn’t do anything except try to save me from Sabretooth. I’m alive because of choices you made. I got raped because of choices I made. Can you help me with this ice…?”

There was a feral rush of musky strength and he froze, instinctive and remembered fear paralyzing him, as Logan grabbed him and lifted him off his feet, stopping an inch short of slamming him against the wall, but holding a scared, rigid Scott so Logan could gaze into his eyes, his breath on Scott’s mouth.

“No! That isn’t what happened! You were the one with no fucking choice, Scott! That animal would have killed you just for saying ‘no’ to him. You couldn’t hold a spoon – don’t you remember? You were so weak and ill from those drugs that you could barely crawl. There was no way you could fight him off. You either gave in or he gutted you. Those were your options. You chose not to die. You chose not to leave me to wake up with your corpse and your blood on my claws. You were thinking of me as much as you. Damnit, Scott, that piece of shit computer info-dumped me too. I know how it felt to be you. I know what was going on in your head. I know how much it…hurt, what I…what he did to you. I know how much you wanted me to come back and stop him. Don’t tell me that isn’t in your head, too?”

It was there, painfully acute, Scott realized, just underneath the self-disgust and shame and memories of basely giving into a stronger creature. He tried to marshal an argument and didn’t even know what point he wanted to be making. He opened his mouth a few times and then found himself saying, “Logan, I’m so tired… What’s that hissing noise…?”

Logan abruptly swung him onto the couch, sat him down on the least broken part and shoved his head between his knees. “Don’t pass out until I’ve got a fire going,” he ordered gruffly.

Scott knew he should be strategizing. That was his job. That was what he did. So, in between the hissing in his ears that could only be alleviated by him practically standing on his head, he muttered instructions about possible ways that they could thaw out Bobby’s ice, his words drowned out by Logan hacking impatiently with his claws, and cursing a lot, while issuing sharply barked orders about Scott not moving and keeping his head down that sounded like a guard dog getting restless before an approaching thunderstorm.

He stayed in his hissing subfusc, dimly aware that Logan was doing things in a way that was not methodical or tidy and that Scott would not have chosen and feeling a healthy glow of irritation about it that oddly helped offset the sick self-hatred washing over him in ways.

“Are you being careful to avoid damaging the dampers?” Scott demanded.

His answer was the door being opened letting in a blast of cold air down the back of his neck and the clatter of ice being hurled out onto snow.

Scott explained how the woodstove worked and why the way Logan appeared to be setting about repairing it was most likely to destroy it for all future use.

It was then that he became aware of an emanation of heat. When he risked raising his head – the world was still a little granular but the hissing sounded less like a train full of snakes and more like a few mildly irritable pythons – he saw that the iced up hunk of cold metal had been transformed in less time than seemed possible into a cheery red glow of burning wood.

“How did you do that?”

“Head down, Scott!”

“Fuck you, Logan, you don’t get to give me orders, not you or anyone else, not in this place!”

He had no idea where that came from and even as he winced he realized that it was probably from a healthier place than it sounded. Logan seemed to agree because he came over at once, crouched down so Scott could keep his head down – they could pretend he was doing so to offset the faintness with Logan this close to him in this cabin – and he would still be lower than Scott if Scott wanted to dare eye contact, and said quietly and reasonably, “You’re right. I don’t. I just think you might prefer not to pass out on this floor, that’s all. If you can’t deal with the bed, I understand, but if you can I think you should get out of those clothes and let me dry them and I will bring you some clean blankets.”

Scott steeled himself to make eye contact and the eyes that met his were green and guilty and full of concern for him.

“Both of us,” he managed, swallowing. “We both get out of these wet clothes. We dry them by the fire. We keep ourselves alive.”

“If that guy comes back you need to kill him,” Logan said abruptly.

“I can’t.”

“Scott, I can’t wake up and see you in that state again and this time know it was me who did it.”

“Tough. I can’t kill you.”

“Scott – please.”

“No, I mean I physically can’t kill you – I don’t have my beams and you have healing factor, remember? You have to stay you because if you don’t, I will fight the guy you’re not and he will kill me – because I can’t go through that again. I’m sorry, Logan, not even for you.”

Logan nodded and stretched out a tentative hand. Scott went rigid, he couldn’t help it, the recollection of that hand hurting him had been moved to the top of his memories by that malevolent flashing of lights and tubes, but he made himself stay still and not flinch. Then the hand moved closer and he flinched and Logan flinched in response.

Scott said, “I’m sorry.”

He hated how breathless and teary he sounded, just as weak as the computer had said he was, not just unable to resist the beast who had never been Logan physically but unable to bear the pain of Logan witnessing his lingering trauma.

Logan cradled his face very carefully and, as softly as if Scott were made of glass, stroked his thumb across the cheekbone his fist had cracked. “I’m the one who’s sorry. I am so damn sorry, Scott.”

Scott said wearily, “I know.” And then he was forcing himself to unbutton his shirt and unzip his pants in front of the guy whose body had raped him so many times he had lost count, repeating in his head like a mantra: It wasn’t him. It wasn’t him. You know it wasn’t him.

Other images were breaking in on the bad ones, in between the punching and dragging and grunting and thrusting, there was Logan carrying him so tenderly back to the bed; Logan helping him to sit up and spooning soup into his mouth; Logan in a voice choked with emotion asking Scott if he was okay with Logan washing his hair. He hadn’t known. Scott remembered that of course Logan hadn’t known who had done this, he’d assumed it was Sabretooth; woken up and found a naked, raped Scott Summers without eye beams, defenseless and defeated, and Logan, gruff, surly, difficult Logan, with no awareness of his own part in their little tragicomedy, had been gentle and kind and tactful and caring.

He had kept his eyes averted, missing the protection his visor would have offered all the while, but now risked eye contact as he said, “Is that who you really are?”

Logan, shirtless but with his pants still on, flinched again and said, “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“No – not him. You’re not him. He was just a thing the computer created for shits and giggles to fill the space you’d left when you were trying to switch off the parts of your mind Sabretooth could control. But the other guy I met here – he exists, right?”

Logan looked bewildered. “Who, Scott?”

“The one who didn’t want me to wake up smelling of semen. The one who washed my hair. Is he you? Are you him? He – I mean. Henry would point out it should be ‘he’.”

It took Logan three attempts to answer. “Yeah – I’m him, Scott. But that’s not who I am all the time. I’ve killed people. I’ve done shitty things. I’m not sure that I’m good man. I think a good man would never have let what happened to you here…happen.”

Scott ignored him to go on quietly, “It’s just that – the guy who washed my hair, I think I fell in love with him.”

He noticed that Logan was blinking away tears and still had his pants on. In a choked voice, Logan said, “That wasn’t what happened. You were just…God you were just so desperate for some human kindness. You were trapped here for so long with that…animal, with no words, and no touch that wasn’t just being…fucked, and you were so relieved that I was me again instead of him. You weren’t in your right mind. You’re probably still not in your right mind. Christ, Slim, given the number Sinister did on you, chances are you’ve not been in your right mind since you were twelve years old.”

“Well, aren’t you Mr. Tactful? Are you going to take your pants off?”

“I…can’t.”

“Why? Did you trap something tender in your zipper?”

“I can’t be naked with you!”

“I think that ship has sailed, Logan. Take your damn pants off and let’s get our clothes dried.” As Logan gave him a deer in headlights look, Scott rolled his eyes. “This isn’t a tragedy, Logan. It’s a farce. One guy comes in as another goes out. There are misapprehensions galore and in the end everyone loses his trousers. Stop trying to do Ibsen and just accept this was always Feydeau from start to finish.”

Logan angrily tugged himself free from his wet pants then leaned in close and said huskily, “Don't belittle what my friend went through in this place. He was kidnapped, he was drugged, he had the shit kicked out of him, and then he was raped – over and fuckin' over again. And he didn’t deserve it. He didn’t deserve any part of it. And not a damn thing about it was funny.” Logan took him by the shoulders and gave him a surprisingly rough shake. “Can you just try to hate yourself a little damn less?”

He was ridiculously warmed by Logan calling him his friend but he wasn’t admitting that out loud. “Would you rather I hated you?”

“Yes. Fuck, yes!”

“I tried. Damnit, Logan, I really, truly tried. There was a whole five minutes when I really wanted to kill you. If I'd had my beams…who knows? But it passed. Do you know why? Because it wasn't you who did it. All the evidence proved that. And I can’t make myself believe something I know isn’t true just so I can have someone to blame who will bleed when I hit him. I missed the memo or didn’t get the right parts from the manufacturer or something. I can’t hate you even when I try.”

“And that means you have to hate you? The guy who was – in case you’ve forgotten, Slim – the fuckin' victim here?”

Scott half-laughed, exhausted past the point of even caring. “Well, that just comes so easily.”

“You think I don’t get that, given the things I’ve done?” Logan sounded quiet and reasonable and Scott risked lifting his gaze to him. They exchanged a weary glance; worn out with all the ways the world wouldn’t let them be together when it might have been a simple thing once, curiosity and exasperation and tenderness finding them in a place where kissing seemed like the next step. Scott felt an unaccountable conviction that Jean wasn’t angry with him for falling for Logan; that she was the one person who understood what it was about Logan that he sort of…loved.

“Jean helped us to remember.” He felt stronger for that realization and sat up straight. “She agreed with me. She knew you didn’t do it.”

“No,” Logan said shortly. “She read in your fucked up head that you believed I hadn’t done it. Doesn’t make it true. Just makes it something you believe. For all I know you still believe storks leave babies on the roof and there are fairies at the bottom of the garden. It’s not like anything about the way you grew up in that orphanage was normal, was it?”

“Says the graduate of the Weapon X program.”

“Low blow, Summers.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, was that not a place even more messed up than Sinister's home for unwanted boys? Given what that place did to you it's no wonder you think you're a rapist when you're not.”

Logan glowered at him. “It’s the memories of holding you down and shoving my dick in you against your will that make me think that. Not to mention the way my own flesh and blood raped you when you were just a kid.”

“You're not Sabretooth. Not on your worst day. And you are not in any way, shape, or form, a rapist. Now stop pissing me off and help me find something to eat.”

When he wasn’t bitching and grousing, Logan was oddly efficient. He wrapped a blanket around Scott’s shoulders and told him to sit by the goddamn fire while Logan heated up the goddamn food, complained about the shitty state of the cabin and Sabretooth’s poor housekeeping skills, complained about the fact that someone as anal as Scott Summers wasn’t complaining about Sabretooth’s poor housekeeping skills, complained about the weather, the lack of communication devices, the way Scott didn’t have telepathy and sundry other things about X-Men in general and Scott in particular that had apparently been irritating him for some time, keeping Scott amused, indignant, and oddly comforted. By the time the next wave of realization rolled over Scott that he was naked in a cabin with someone who looked identical to the naked man who had kept him prisoner, smacked him around, and ridden his flinching ass raw, Logan was so unmistakably Logan and nobody else, that he could wave the wince away like a buzzing fly. Logan might well have a feral animal inside him, always wanting to break out, but it wasn’t that feral animal and Scott had never been more convinced of the point.

What Logan was doing, with surprising skill and sensitivity, was concealing, under a surface layer of bitching and snarling, a careful campaign not to exacerbate Scott’s PTSD. He went out of his way not to loom over Scott, or put himself between Scott and an exit. He kept walking around the woodstove so that he never once came between Scott and the door, and he crouched down before he handed Scott a bowl with heated broth in it so his eye level was lower than Scott's. Then he found a lower stool and sat on it at a distance that gave Scott plenty of personal space without making it obvious that that was what he was doing.

Scott said, “You’re not helping.”

A helpless look washed over Logan’s face. Gruffly, he said, “I’m doing my best.”

“You’re not helping me to not fall back in love with you. Can’t you just try being…more of a dick?”

Logan narrowed his eyes. “Okay, I may not have all my memories back but I still know for a fact that no one in my entire life has ever wanted me to be more of a dick than I am. Can't you just…set your bar a little higher, Summers?”

“I was raised by an abusive madman in a fake orphanage full of bullying creeps, Logan, then fostered by Jack Winters, and experimented on by Stryker while being felt up by Sabretooth. I can't help having low standards.”

“Just how shitty does a guy have to be for you not to think he’d make a good boyfriend?”

Scott met Logan’s unexpectedly tender green gaze and sighed. “Shittier than you, apparently.”

And finally it did feel like Logan when he lunged across at him and pressed a hungry kiss to Scott’s lips, and it scared him, a guy looming over him, like it was meant to; like Logan thought he could shock the optic blasts back out of him or perhaps just force an acknowledgment that Logan was evil to the core; but the fingers stroking his hair were too damn tender, and that kiss was far too gentle. He pushed him off angrily.

“He didn’t kiss me, you jerk! You’d know that if you’d ever got more than the edited highlights from that psycho computer!”

Logan slumped to his knees in front of him, defeated. “Nothing in my head makes sense. I have all these memories of having sex with you and I don’t think I was me for any of them.”

“I wasn’t me either,” Scott pointed out, still feeling the soft warmth of Logan’s lips against his, that dry, fervent need; that aching tenderness. “I’ve never had sex with you. Drugged up me had sex with a caveman. Mind-controlled me had sex with mind-controlled you while that computer fed us Jean’s old orgasms. Victim me had sex with someone else’s psyche that computer put into your body after you closed down your mind and left it an empty space to control. You and me – all we’ve ever done is fight.” His guts twisted. “At least until you woke up and found me in this cabin, half-dead and in need of care, and even though you never liked me, you looked after me like I was made of porcelain.” And made me fall in love with you, you bastard, Logan.

“I did…like you,” Logan snapped. “Why the hell do you think I went to so much trouble to keep you at arm’s length? And how could you be thinking about protecting me at a time like that? After what you’d been through? After what that piece of shit put you through, and when you wake up, what you care about is stopping me from finding out what it was I did? Why?”

“Maybe I liked you, too!” Scott snapped back. “Maybe I thought you were a good man who had been made to live a bad life and you didn't deserve any more guilt for crimes you hadn’t committed. Maybe you made me feel out of my depth and scared of what you made me feel and I thought you were going to take Jean away from me and then come back just to make me admit that it was you going that hurt just as much as you taking Jean. And then you’d laugh at me, after you made me admit it, and walk away and tell me to grow up because men like you didn’t waste their time on boys like me.”

Logan swallowed hard and then said, “Yeah. I can see why you liked me. What a prince. And will you at least glance at a mirror sometimes? You look like a fuckin' supermodel – men like me would crawl on our hands and knees over broken glass if we thought we had even an outside chance of a shot with boys like you. The inside of your head is insane, Summers.”

“You don’t lie awake in the middle of the night imagining scenarios that produce the maximum public humiliation for yourself?”

“No, I drink beer and then I jerk off.”

“I’ve had people messing with my head since before I hit puberty: Nate, Sinister, Winters, Xavier, even Jean a little, although she always tried not to. I can’t trust my memories. My mutation is broken, so there are times when I can’t even trust myself. But I trust the training. I trust my friends. And I trust you. Even though I don’t know what the hell you are – not an X-Man and not really my friend. I know I can trust you, the same way I know how to sink a ball in the far pocket of a pool table.”

Logan said, “And I know you can’t trust me. And the broken mutation thing is bullshit. It doesn’t stop you being trustworthy or a hero. It just makes it harder for you to do the things you do. Maybe you don’t trust yourself, Scott, but I do. What you shouldn’t be doing is trusting a guy who can’t remember half the things he did and who wakes up with his claws out, remembering the taste in his mouth of other people’s blood.”

“Well, tough, because I do.”

“How come with everyone else you’re Scott Summers, uptight nerd, savior of humanity, fearless leader, mutant superhero, and pride of the X-Men, and with me you’re a bratty twelve-year-old?”

“How come with Jean and Rogue you’re all ‘I’m so tragic and complex and soulful’ and with me you act like a brain-damaged biker thug?”

“I got an adamantium bullet in my head. I am brain-damaged!”

“So am I – you don't see me using it as an excuse for being an asshole.”

They gazed at one another, mouths too close again, exasperated and maddened and unbearably intense. Scott wanted to curl up against Logan and listen to his heartbeat and let go of all the shame and self-loathing just for an hour or so; except nothing would be more inclined to stoke up his shame and self-loathing than curling up for a cuddle with the man whose body had been used to rape him. He had just, ironically, never felt so well cared for; Logan so anxiously watching over him, so wounded to the core by Scott having been hurt. The good man he truly was unconcealed for once. When he closed his eyes, he missed that guy so much it hurt, and the truth was that he was the only Logan who had truly been Logan until now. Not mind-controlled or manipulated or with his memories finessed by someone else. The real Logan was the Logan he never usually let Scott see. The real Logan was the Logan that Scott loved.

Scott sighed in defeat. “Let’s not fight any more, Logan. I’m tired.”

He watched the guilt and concern wash over Logan’s face and could do nothing about it. There were no words left they hadn’t tried. The world had conspired against them to amuse itself with their dysfunctional romance and ensured in the process that they could never be together. He felt worn out with all the bad memories the computer had deployed against him and worn out even more by all the ways that he and Logan had got so close to being together before the rug was pulled out from under their feet. He missed Jean and the comfort of her commonsense, the familiar warmth of her along their shared thread. The exhaustion took him by surprise, he found his eyelids drooping.

Logan said, “Scott, how bad would it be for you to sleep on the bed?”

In that moment, hurting as he was and blaming himself for having not found a way to stop this happening, Scott didn’t like himself enough to want to spare himself from vicious flashbacks. “It will be fine,” he said. And forced himself not to flinch as Logan picked him up – gently and carefully – and carried him into the murky chill of Sabretooth’s bedroom and placed him, with infinite gentleness, on the creaking, stinking, nightmare-fuel that was the old iron bed.

“Sure you're okay?” Logan pressed, poised to snatch him away.

Scott could feel the horror crawling under his skin, the rape flashbacks stabbing him like sword points. He summoned a brief smile and said, “It’s fine.” Then he made himself curl up on the coverlet and said viciously to his stupid broken brain: It serves you right.

 

Logan had long thought he enjoyed the distinction of being the most fucked up person in his own personal universe, but he was starting to realize that Scott had him beat. In times past, he suspected Scott would have been a monk from one of the sterner orders and spent way too long mortifying the flesh, wearing hair shirts, and lashing himself with knotted whips. Lying on that bed? Logan could smell in the next room, that it was torture. Scott was lying in there, everything battened down to try to stop Logan from knowing, having one PTSD panic attack after another; except Scott wasn’t letting his body flip out; he was concentrating everything he had into keeping his breathing regular and his heartbeat steady, and forcing himself to bear it. Forcing himself to go on lying right on the same filthy bed a man who looked like the man currently naked in the next room had dragged him back to after raping him on the rug and the floor and over the broken couch so he could rape him again on the bed.

He didn’t know what act of cruelty committed against him, Scott wouldn’t blame himself for; what wouldn’t just crank up his self-loathing instead of making him angry with the world that kept treating him like this. Presumably there would come a point when even Scott would reach repression overload and all the buried anger would break out, but apparently they hadn’t got there yet. Logan still couldn’t believe that being back in this place with Logan wasn’t enough to unleash Scott’s optic blasts again, but they remained out of commission. And Scott remained silent in there, just taking the nerve-shredding trauma flashbacks, the way he had taken the vicious assault on his body by that animal who had worn Logan’s face.

"Logan, if you're in there, if you remember any of this, ever, this isn't your fault and I don't blame you. It doesn't hurt that much and you're being as kind as you can."

Logan put his head in his hands. “Jesus, Scott. It was my fault, you should have blamed me. It hurt like fuckery, and a quick lick before ramming it in there is not my idea of an act of kindness.”

Scott said in confusion, “Logan – did you say something?”

“I’m arguing with Bad Flashback You,” Logan snapped back at him. “And can we stop pretending that it isn’t a waking nightmare for you to be in that bedroom, now?”

“There isn’t anywhere else to lie down and I’m too tired to stay upright.”

He’d hoped for rage but Scott just sounded defeated. Logan’s heart hurt and he resented it, deeply, the way Scott could get under his skin when he wasn’t even trying, and never even knew he was doing it. He felt sorry for Jean, who’d had years of this guy wounding her with his insane level of self-loathing while being so heroic and self-sacrificing and decent and damaged that she couldn’t ever quit him, or stop loving him, or stop wanting him to be happy; or at least as happy as someone with Scott Summers’ particular psyche could ever get.

Logan walked into the bedroom, naked, and said, “It scares me that, when I’m in a room with you, Summers, I feel almost well adjusted.”

Scott was like a beacon flashing on and off, traumatized guy afraid to be in a room where he was raped with his rapist, and Scott Summers, eternal rationalist, the part of his mind that worked like a tactical computer still ticking away there, even as the human parts of him cringed and flinched.

It was that part that said, “I was just thinking the same thing about you.”

They were smiling at each other, briefly, even if it was more like a rictus of pain, because in the midst of all this madness there were two guys who might have had a shot once, who still couldn’t learn how to stop liking each other. Yet, what Logan could also hear was Scott’s heart racing, while his body shivered and trembled. His fingers would be tingling by now, and it would feel as if there wasn’t enough air in the room, his head a dull ache. His heart rate was elevated, his blood pressure was up, he was trying so hard not to hyperventilate, but he had been held captive here by a feral animal and he couldn’t take another rape.

Logan said gently, “It isn’t good for the human body to be at the level of stress you’re at right now, Scott. I need to go to the barn.”

“No! No!” And the words tumbled from him, finally some truth breaking through that ridiculous shell of his, that please, Logan, please, not only was there death out there, white and wistful and coaxing a willing sleeper into a deceptive warmth from which he would never awaken, never mind that Logan would die, Scott couldn’t be in here not knowing what Logan was becoming out there and what would be walking through that door. He couldn’t do that again. Please, Logan, please, don’t force him to go through that again –

Images erupted from the infodump the computer had tortured them with of a snarling beast breaking into the room and ripping Sabretooth apart in front of a drugged, defenseless Scott. Logan got it. He got it so clearly it was like someone had just held his head in a freezing bucket of comprehension. He held up a hand. “I get it! Bad idea!”

He was the spider in the room of the arachnophobe. He was the clown lurking behind the creaking closet door of a frightened five-year-old. Out of sight, he was the stuff of nightmares. He was a lot less scary in full view with the lights on. He walked towards the bed and Scott gazed back at him, frozen, fighting his fight or flight impulse with all that insane level of repression of his.

“He never did this? Right?” Logan walked up to the bed where Scott was fighting the tension tremors jolting through his body, stroked his hair back from his forehead and kissed him, very carefully on the temple, the cheekbone, and then the jaw. At once, with a sob or relief, because this would actually work, even though that body getting closer to his made the nerves jangle, and the tension climb, it would still work, Scott’s hands were in his hair, holding Logan’s head, aligning their mouths, very carefully, the way he piloted a jet, and their lips met, gently, so gently, Scott’s mouth pressing against his a little harder, and then a daring dart of tongue.

They kissed. They kissed and kept kissing and Logan, even in the midst of letting his lips gently press against Scott’s, welcoming his tongue, trying to encourage every move Scott’s questing mouth made, was listening to the sound of Scott’s heartbeat slowing from terrified to moderately jumpy, the fear scent fading, the tremors becoming less rigid, the shivering slowing until it stopped. He kissed him through the ebb tide of his panic attack and then dared putting a hand to his thumping heart. It sped up and then slowed as he stroked a careful thumb across that hairless chest, slowed to something approaching normal as he kept kissing him and stroking him. When he eased his mouth away from Scott’s it was so that he could talk.

In his head, he had Scott’s memories of being a prisoner in this bed with a beast that never spoke to him, so, even though a chatty Cathy he was not, Logan talked, he used Scott’s name a lot as an anchorage for the boy from Anchorage, he talked about the Weapon X program, and all the gaps in his memory that computer hadn’t filled in, because maybe it couldn’t, maybe those memories were just gone, they were an eroded cliff face claimed by the sea, and maybe he didn’t even mourn them because a lot of them had probably been bloody and murderous and murderously bloody. Were you truly the man you couldn’t remember being? Well, yes, you were, on some level, and no you weren’t, on another. You had the potential to be that guy again, that was the thing you had to watch for, because all the component parts that had made you him before were still in play. Like dangerous chemicals in a laboratory; like an unsplit atom when the knowledge was out there now, and couldn’t be put back.

He talked because when he was talking, he was Logan, and Scott wasn’t afraid of Logan. And it was weird that Scott wasn’t afraid of a man who had been tortured in a laboratory to become a killing machine, but, weirdo that Scott was, he just wasn’t. He might think that guy was an ass sometimes, but he didn’t think he was a danger. Logan climbed, naked, under the covers, still talking, and Scott, also naked, moved across to give him space, and shared the blanket with him, gazing into Logan’s face like as long as he could see his eyes, everything was okay.

The other guy’s eyes had been yellow, Logan remembered, which meant there must be the capacity for his to do that, he guessed, some lupine DNA in there somewhere that probably shouldn’t be. But green was good. Green was safe. Feverish, pain-racked, multiply-raped Scott had been desperate to see green. Logan let him see green, gazing into his blue, blue eyes, and then lacing his fingers through Scott’s fingers, because, fuck that he wasn’t the kind of guy to hold another guy’s hand when what mattered was that the other guy had been even less so; anything he could do, in full sight of Scott, that was unlike that guy, was good. If someone had handed him a banjo and asked him to sing a gospel number, he would have gone for it, because that other guy hadn’t done that in this stinking, creaking bed of pain, and as long as Logan kept doing this, Scott’s heartbeat was getting steadier. Because as long as he could see Dr. Jekyll was home, Mr. Hyde couldn’t hurt him.

He told Scott about everything he could remember when he was awake, and everything that teased and taunted him through the twilight of his dreams. He told him about the heartache he felt for loves he knew he’d lost, whose faces had been stolen from him by Stryker’s bullet. He told him the scents he could recall and the ones he feared were gone forever, like perfume on his mother’s handkerchief, and he told him that when they’d first met, he’d felt this weird prickling of irritation, like he was being made to do something he didn’t want to do, and how much he had blamed Scott for it. That he hadn’t realized it was attraction, then, but he guessed that was what it had been all along. Resentment because the hot woman who’d been tending to him had smelled of Scott just as Scott smelled of her, and reaction because he kind of wanted both of them to smell of him….

Logan’s throat was raw before Scott said, “It’s enough.”

He sounded uncharacteristically choked up and Logan realized that if he had been trying to get Scott to get over that weird delusion of his that he was in love with Logan, he had just shot himself in the foot, because spilling his guts, spilling every vulnerability he could think of, spilling every dumbass thought that ever passed through his head, just to try to reassure Scott that he wasn’t a monster and neither of them had to flee into the snow and turn into a frosticle, that hadn’t exactly made Scott hate him.

Scott said, “I wanted that guy who wasn’t you to say my name the way you would have done, and you have, and I wanted that guy who wasn’t you to talk to me, and you have, and I wanted that guy who wasn’t you to stop hurting me and be kind to me instead, and you have, Logan.”

“But I’m not kind, Scott,” Logan said, perhaps not helping his case, by the way he kept his head on the pillow facing Scott, so Scott could see that his eyes were still green, or the way he stroked Scott’s hair back from his face, that straying strand flopping back each time Logan tried to tame it, because it was as awkward as Scott. “I’m angry and I’m impulsive, and I’m damaged to hell and back and I’m always going to be an asshole, like you’re always going to be a repressed self-loathing weirdo control freak who needs ten years in therapy.”

“But you’re not the beast who raped me in this bed.”

They exchanged a long look and Logan really tried not to find Scott’s eyes so beautiful that they made his knees weak, because getting sappy wasn’t really the answer here. He looked again and found himself mesmerized by their unblinking certainty. For the first time, as he saw it reflected there, he realized that Scott wasn’t just a delusional fuckup suffering from PTSD. He was also right.

“I’m not the beast who raped you in this bed.”

“You never were.”

He realized again that Scott was right.

“And you never would be.”

That he could almost completely believe, but there was just a thin thread of doubt. He looked back at Scott’s eyes and saw there was no doubt there.

“You’re an unrelenting asshole, Logan, but you’re not that sort of asshole. Trust me, I’ve met enough of them to know.”

Logan flinched inside at the realization that Scott had borne the burden of being born too pretty for too many years now, while vulnerable and unloved, not to know what that kind of asshole looked like. He could remember noticing how elegant a thing he was on their first meeting: so tall and handsome and yet with that delicacy about him, of something carved out intricately by a master craftsman. Just genes, of course, a robust, handsome father coupling with a finer boned mother, and Scott getting the broad shoulders, and steely strength, and the narrow waist of an athlete but without the coarse vitality, and with the chiseled perfection of something a little too beautiful for Logan not to resent it. Scott was the porcelain vase a connoisseur would appreciate and a Visigoth would break into pieces. And Logan had thought he wanted to shatter him, from that first meeting, just for being so damned perfect, while all the time, so secretly he hadn’t realized it himself, he had really been wanting to admire him in a better light.

He laid his warm palm over Scott’s warming skin and felt his heartbeat almost at its usual rhythm. That was what it had taken: Logan in the bed where Scott had suffered too many defeats to feel empowered, where Logan could scare off the bad guy and keep Scott safe.

“That fucker is never coming back,” Logan said, and realized it was true; that the beast who had roamed and ravished in this bedroom had been created by the computer they had destroyed. Without its warped programming, that creature couldn’t exist. Scott had been right all along. Logan had never been the cave the beast lived in. It had used his body like a thief used a stolen overcoat; but it had never come from within him, after all. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t required to pay the price for what it had done.

“I know,” Scott said. The savage high tide of the panic attack had left him exhausted after a day that had already sucked the marrow from his bones, and his long lashes were fluttering. “It’s safe to go to sleep now.”

Logan was still trying to find the words to answer that question when he realized it had been a statement and Scott was curled into him, his head on Logan’s chest, listening to his heartbeat as his breathing slowed, and warm gusts of air teased Logan’s nipple. Scott was asleep.

Yes, fucking trust me so completely in this place of all places, why don’t you? Like that’s not going to make it a hundred times harder to give you back to Jean, you selfish asshole, Summers.

He kissed the soft, dark hair, and rocked them both because his grief was briefly lacerating and he cared so much about this awkward bastard that it hurt, and, besides, it might soothe Scott to rock him, because that was something else the beast had never done.

 

Scott awoke with only a few muscles aching. He wasn’t suspended from his wrists, or coming around from being tortured. In fact, when he tentatively risked a test, all of his limbs were free, so he wasn’t tied up or chained up, and the free flow of air suggested he wasn’t in some oxygen-light chamber in which he was doomed to asphyxiate in an hour or so. He was warm enough, although there was a definite chill in the air, and there was no comforting support of spandex or leather, so he was naked, which could be ominous or could be fun. Another moment and he realized the steady pressure behind his eyes was gone. He risked cracking open an eye and saw light, not red, a greenish icy light. He opened his eyes and he was…in hell. Everything froze as he recognized it; this was the cabin where Sabretooth had brought him. This was the place where the beast with Logan’s face had…

He turned, heart shuddering, and saw the beast was beside him, asleep, his face looking oddly innocent beneath the straggling beard and disordered hair. It was such a noble profile for a monster, like a stone knight on a tomb. Scott sprang out of the bed and realized again that he was naked, that he didn’t hurt inside, nothing feeling as if it was tearing when he moved, that there was no weary dragging weight upon his limbs, that he had energy and clarity and…and that dreadful bruising inner ache really was absent, even though it had dogged him for days in this place. He was still moving on instinct even as his brain clattered through possibilities like an efficient secretary flicking through a card index. He darted into the living area and picked up the poker and came back with it, trying to calculate with one part of his mind how hard he could afford to hit the shell of a man he was fond of, even with his healing factor, to incapacitate the feral animal who had hijacked both of their bodies for its own use.

He moved the way he was used to moving, with lithe, focused grace, his body cooperative again, more than a weight he had to drag around after him with failing strength. There were bruises, he could feel those, but they were in better places. He came by bruises like these all the time in the Danger Room. His fingers tightened on the poker and he felt grateful for its weight. He missed his beams. He would never bitch about his beams again, dangerous and occasionally treacherous though they had proven; even though they turned his world to permanent crimson and him into a freak of nature. Anything was better than being so defenseless. He never wanted to be defenseless again.

Back in the bedroom, the light from the window pierced his eyes and let clarity into his mind. He pressed back against the wall as his heart and his brain both hammered at him, something cold and calculating inside him readied to defend himself, because no one was ever, ever, ever going to do that to him again, but memory swirling back in, like the tide into a rockpool. He should go forward and bring down the poker on that skull before more horror happened to him, but something wouldn’t let him. Something pressed him back against the wall like a giant hand. He had a terrible fear it might be love.

Logan sprang out of bed with a suppressed snarl, animal instincts alerting him to the fact that he was in danger, took in everything with a glance and then backed against the far wall, by the window. His voice was low, the kind of voice you used with a snared creature you really wanted to help but that had very sharp teeth: “Is this where I get optic blasted to oblivion?”

Scott drew in a shuddering breath, the relief making his knees want to give way beneath him. Self-discipline kept him on his feet but there had probably been a girlish gasp that Logan could mock him for. He remembered everything.

“My beams aren’t back yet.”

“Or else I would be…optic blasted to oblivion?”

Scott used his best poker face. “Why wouldn’t you be?”

Logan looked tragically handsome in the contre jour, the snow-light playing delicately on the good bones of his face. “Because of what I did to you in this bedroom?”

“Because, like I told you last night, you’re an unrelenting asshole, Logan. I’ve been wanting to optic blast you since the day we first met.”

Logan changed from tragic hero, doomed forever to be the victim of his own animal impulses, to pissed-off guy who resented being made to shrivel in the cold. “You fucker, Summers!” But he stayed back against the wall all the same, and his eyes were assessing, even considerate. Scott became aware of his own heartbeat as he realized that Logan was listening for it.

“I have a resting heartbeat of forty,” Scott told him.

“Not right now you don’t.”

Annoyed by the suggestion that he was still a traumatized weakling who needed cosseting by a man who rarely troubled to wash, Scott put down the poker and checked his pulse. He made it seventy beats a minute and scowled down at the body that persisted in betraying him when he had done everything he ever could to make it work like a perfectly maintained piece of machinery.

Mildly, Logan said, “I think you’re allowed to be stressed out by waking up in the same place where your worst nightmare happened, next to the same naked body that did it to you. I think most people would give you a pass for that.”

“But he’s gone forever and it’s just you here,” Scott said impatiently. “I’ve known that for at least two minutes now.”

Logan made one of his more annoying expressions. “Wow, two whole minutes for the world’s second most traumatized subconscious to adapt to the idea it’s not going to be getting starved and beaten and raped for days on end in the place where it already happened to it? Yeah, can’t believe your heart-rate hasn’t dropped back to normal yet.”

“I don’t have PTSD,” Scott said shortly.

“You have major grade PTSD, Summers. You’re like a living handbook of post-traumatic stress disorder. You’re just so fucked up that you don’t know that you’re a walking nervous breakdown. You think that’s a normal way to function.”

“Thank you for the check-up, Mr. Good Mental Health.”

Logan grinned at him and something in that smile, the mocking tenderness of it, basely stole the breath from Scott’s lungs. “You need breakfast,” Logan said. “You think you’re above such things, but you get as cranky I do when you don’t get enough protein.”

You have no right to be that handsome, Scott found himself thinking pettishly, as Logan moved very carefully towards the door, and then turned sideways to go through it, keeping his back pressed up against one jamb so there was never a point when Scott – whose treacherous heart-rate had started pounding as it looked as if his exit was going to be blocked – could not have got past him and made a run for the outer door. He needed a moment after Logan had gone sideways through the doorway to collect himself, closing his eyes because his heart was hurting, not from its steadying blood-pump to the body, but because Logan, who wasn’t kind, was being kind to him. He was also being tolerant and patient and considerate, all things Logan just…wasn’t, yet he was being them for Scott.

Jean, I’m sorry, Scott thought wretchedly. I never meant to fall in love with him. He straightened up and took a steadying breath, adding, much more childishly: He made me do it.

 

Another night in this bed and Scott was breakable in the places where Logan was padded with muscle, boyishly lean. A blue light fell through the window in barred squares and kissed Scott tenderly, showing his bruises and the way his bones were so sharp under his skin. It made Logan want to keep him safe. He had expected to be aroused by a naked Scott, in the past, and had been, sometimes, in the showers, but he hadn’t expected to be so moved by the jut of his hipbone, the slender strength of his thigh. Even his ankles moved him. Even his feet.

When he touched his hair, he was careful, like stroking a strange dog, a thick softness under his fingers, the heated, fragile skull beneath.

“Do you have a headache?”

Scott said, “Yes,” as if it didn’t matter; as if he always had a headache; and Logan drew circles at his temples with his forefingers, Scott frowning at the way Logan was treating him as if his pain mattered.

In the past, Logan would have had to deny himself this tenderness. It didn’t suit the way he saw himself, or at least the way he wanted people like Scott to see him. Scott was a rival and a leader, someone he had to keep off balance or he might think Logan would become his passive weapon, something to be deployed at Scott’s will. It had been important to him, in the past, that if they were going to work together they did it as parallel lines: Scott held onto his boy scout goody-goodyness while Logan harangued him for it; Scott kept his hands clean while Logan got his dirty. There was an inevitable resentment that went with that relationship, the one where Scott was allowed to be heroic and decent and Logan did the heavy lifting, soul-scarring himself in the process; it went hand in hand with the resentment about Scott getting Jean and Logan getting to watch them gazing into each other’s eyes like soulmates. Besides, Scott was so repressed that Logan wasn’t going to be the one to start spilling his guts when Scott was never going to meet him halfway. If Scott was going to be uptight and emotionally distant then Logan was going to be sneering and undermining; it was only fair….

Except none of that mattered now. Jean wasn’t the prize any more. She never had been, of course, but it felt particularly distasteful to think of her that way when he was pretty sure she was the one who had worked the memories loose in their heads, just enough to make it clear that she had trusted him with Scott when she had every reason not to but had gone ahead and done it anyway. He didn’t think, had their roles been reversed, that he could have done what she did. If he’d been temporarily gifted with telepathy and had read in her mind what a mind-altered version of her had done when what she had been doing was brutalizing Scott when he was too weak to fight back…. He had to let the temper flare at the thought die down, even though this was a woman he loved. No, he would not have let her fly off with Scott to help him find himself. He would not have let her be alone in a room with Scott. He would have been snarling and popping his claws every time she came within ten feet of him.

He kept massaging Scott’s temples, waiting for him to relax, wondering if Scott ever relaxed, even when he wasn’t consumed by post-traumatic hyper-vigilance, and thinking all the while that he would have denied himself this on any other day, denied himself the right to be kind, the right to intimacy, especially the right to intimacy with this guy. An infinitesimal relaxation. Scott closed his eyes and gave a sigh. Logan kept up the massage until Scott caught his wrists and said, “The headache’s gone.”

When Logan told him to turn over so he could do his shoulders, Scott obeyed reluctantly, wariness twanging off him. Logan had thought he was too riddled with self-disgust and sympathy for Scott to get aroused by his naked body but apparently his mind could multitask, so he massaged his shoulders until they unclenched and then it seemed the most natural thing in the world to kiss down the ridged knots of his spine. Scott locked up tighter than a safety deposit box and Logan pulled back, erection aching between his legs, self-hatred searing him, because how could he, how fucking could he after what he had done to this guy in this bed?

“Fuck.”

Scott said tautly: “Let’s not.”

“Of course not!”

Too much emphasis. Scott rolled over to face him, hurt in his eyes. “Because I’m too damaged for that?”

Logan shrugged helplessly. “Yes.”

“Tact would also have worked there.”

Another shrug because, really, what did Scott want from him? Scott didn’t deserve to be mauled around by any other men after what he’d been put through and Logan sure as hell didn’t deserve to get to have any kind of sex life with him. “If it’s any consolation, you always were.”

Scott propped himself up on one elbow. “No, Logan, you asshole, that isn’t any consolation at all.”

“Fine, you want the truth? I think there might be men – in the future – you could bring yourself to have sex with. I’m not ever going to be one of them.” It hurt to say it out loud. He waited for the pain to fade, but it didn’t. It was a truth he believed and hated at once. He realized that it would always hurt.

He forgot that Scott had fallen into a habit of thinking Logan knew what he was talking about; some spurious authority conferred on him by virtue of being…what? Strong enough to rape him when he was sick? Or kind enough to take care of him when he was himself again? With Scott it was sometimes hard to tell. Either way Scott was frowning as if Logan was a truth teller.

“You don’t think you and I can ever have sex again without therapy?”

“Not without mind-fucking telepathy, Scott!” He half-laughed because it had to be obvious and then realized that it wasn’t obvious to Scott. Scott had been abused and tortured too many times, and imagined himself as someone who had bounced back from it, to realize that some things couldn’t be worked through in the Danger Room with enough repression.

More gently, Logan said, “We missed this boat. It happens.”

Scott said, “That isn’t fair. Why do we have to be punished for something that wasn’t our fault?”

You have lived the life you have and you’re asking that question? You’re a mutant and you’re asking that question? You know why, Scott. Because life fucking sucks.

He had been given way too intimate a glimpse into Scott’s hang-ups when the computer had been showing each of them the other’s fractured minds, and the guy had always had problems when it came to sex. His subconscious seemed to have been texting him since puberty that any guy – at least any guy called Scott Summers – who wanted to shove his dick in someone was Evil and having sexual desire was tantamount to being Bad, probably thanks to his mind-blocked childhood traumas, so Jean had already had her work cut out having to coax him past that. Now, thanks to the serial killing ship computer from hell, Scott associated penetration with pain, making it almost impossible for him to want to do anything penetrative to anyone else, because he might hurt them and he would rather be celibate forever than hurt someone else in bed the way that beast with Logan’s face had hurt him. Steeling himself to be fucked, however, Scott would be willing to do that, still, despite the hell he’d been put through, because that was only his pain, and his pain didn’t matter….

Jean is going to kill me. So. Fucking. Dead.

Logan wasn’t even sure he blamed her. Scott had not been the easiest guy to get to give it up before, always more interested in fine-tuning the Danger Room or reading over old mission reports than getting busy. Jean had always had to be the one to make the first move – having excellent hearing Logan had heard her and Ro talking that over one night after too many glasses of Chardonnay. Jean had been patient; she had told Ro she tried not to take it personally; that she had seen glimpses sometimes in Scott’s mind of horrible abuses that would be enough to make any man have bad associations with sex and bad associations with himself as someone who wanted to get sexually intimate with someone else, but still…it did make her feel frustrated sometimes, made her feel undesirable, made her feel like a nymphomaniac because her libido seemed to be so much more active than his… How ironic to look back on that scene and remember how pleased he had been at the time that the chiseled cheekboned superhero didn’t want to get it up and there was Logan’s in, right there, because Logan might not look like a supermodel but no sexy redhead was ever going to have to coax him away from a fucking mission report when she wanted to get naked….

Jean had mentioned to Storm, too, that all their bedroom problems could have been solved if Scott would either talk to her about what he was and wasn’t comfortable doing, or would acknowledge the things she could clearly read in his mind when she tried tactfully to bring them up. But Scott really sucked at articulating his needs and if coaxed to try to do so just shut down, changed his mind about having sex at all, and then bolted to somewhere he could optic blast stuff instead. But he wouldn’t or couldn’t talk about either the past abuses that she glimpsed or the present kinks that he repressed. Sinister and Sabretooth had just done too much of a bang up job fucking him up before they’d ever even gotten to the place where a guy with a friend’s face had kept him captive in a snow-bound cabin and raped him six times a day.

“Look, you can have a sex-life, Scott. You just can’t have it with me. Which is exactly the way things were before I ever showed up. You’ll be fine. You love Jean.”

“I love you, too, you dick.”

Logan had needed to hear Scott say that way too much. It made him feel warm inside and yet ripped apart by it at the same time, but he kept his voice steady: “Yeah, well, maybe I’m not quite dick enough to crank your PTSD to breaking point just so I can get off. Maybe I like you a little bit too much for that. And maybe I think the world needs the leader of the X-Men to be a functioning superhero and not gibbering in a corner.” And maybe, most of all, I don’t deserve you after what my body did to you, because I have a beast inside me, even if it isn’t that one. So, I don’t get to have you, and Jeannie does.

Scott said brutally, “You can get it up around me.”

“I can get it up around a dirty magazine, too. It doesn’t have any relevance to my relationship with it. Scott, I see that guy. I see what he did to you. I remember the way you flinched.” Scott flinched. Logan went on relentlessly: “I remember how it felt to be you. I remember how much it hurt.” And the guy who did that to you doesn’t ever get to have sex with you ever again because you deserve better and he deserves to have to a pay a price for what he did to you, and the price is that he has to give you up. It really was as simple as that and he didn’t know why Scott couldn’t see it.

“I never flinched with you, Logan.”

And, of course, now Scott had got him thinking about the other times they hadn’t fully been themselves, in the sleep pod, on the ship. For a moment it was all he could do not to close his eyes and remember exactly how Scott had tasted, how he’d felt and smelt, and moved and breathed and gasped and moaned and how they had been so at one with another in that perfect rhythm…

Scott muttered, “I liked sex with you, Logan. I liked it a lot.”

The memories flowed through him harder and he rolled onto his back, hands behind his head, feeling the ache between his legs. It hurt but he couldn’t help thinking that if anyone deserved blue balls, in this bed of all places, then it was him.

Dry-throated, Logan forced himself to say, “We weren’t ourselves.”

“It felt like we were us. It felt…right.”

So did raping you when I was an animal. “So does gutting people with my claws when I’m in the mood for it.”

It was then that Scott said with that mixture of childish certainty and stubbornness that only Logan seemed to bring out in him, “Jean will know what to do.”

He turned back onto his side. “Jean can’t fix this and you can’t ask her to.”

“I can do what I like.”

Logan was torn between exasperation and finding Scott’s brattishness kind of cute. “This isn’t fixable.” You’re not fixable, Summers. Neither am I. You and me are broken forever and that’s just the way things are. As people, and as a couple. This can’t be mended.

Scott said, “Go to sleep, Logan. I’m tired.” But it sounded a lot like ‘Jean can do anything’.

There were a whole lot of things Logan wanted to say, clever, incisive things, but what came out of his mouth was weak: “Jean won’t want to share.”

And when Scott said firmly, “You don’t know Jean and you never did”, Logan was both stung by it as a rival and convinced by it as a friend. She and Scott had their telepathic connection. She and Scott had been having sex for a while now. He had always thought he was the one who glimpsed her sleeping animal, the one destined to wake it up, unlike uptight-boy-scout-boy, but perhaps Scott had known it was there all the time. Perhaps he had been consciously tiptoeing around it. Perhaps he had been subconsciously hoping it would wake up and bite him. With Scott you just never knew.

“Scott…?”

“Go to sleep, Logan. Please? I’m tired and I don’t want to talk about this any more.”

He suspected that Scott didn’t want to talk about this any more because Scott had already come to his own conclusions and was already fine-tuning his own plan. He had his mouth open to protest, when Scott said, “And thank you for getting rid of my headache. I appreciate it.”

He could still see the line of his spinal column, remember the taste of his skin as he kissed down it. Logan pulled up the coverlet and wrapped it around Scott carefully. It still felt strange, being polite to each other; the ordinary civilities seemed to expose them both in a way that him picking on Scott when things were normal or taking care of him when they weren’t just didn’t.

Awkwardly, he said, “You’re welcome.”

Them being ordinarily polite to each other felt not like a workable way for them to interact but that pit they were inevitably going to fall into once they were back in the mansion. And once they fell into it, he didn’t see a way they could ever climb out. The pit was a lie because that was never who they had been meant to be around each other. They didn’t do ordinary anything. They were extreme and damaged and intense and complicated around each other. They hurt each other the way other people passed each other breakfast cereal, but the flipside of that was that they would also walk through fire for one another. That was who they truly were. Scott had it in him to rip both rage and tenderness from Logan in a way no one else could, and Logan was the one guy who could make nice, polite, civilized Scott Summers into an unreasonable bitch. They could say cruel things to one another, savagely or as quietly as if it were an inescapable truth, they could probably even do cruel things to one another, but what they couldn’t do was not love each other, however hard they tried. He was afraid that trying not to love each other was going to damage them both irrevocably. Which was why, once they got back to the mansion, Logan had to be the one to walk away, for both their sakes.

Scott was asleep in five minutes, breaths light and even. Logan lay in the dark and listened to him dreaming, the ache in his balls negligible against the enduring ache in his heart.

***

Chapter Text

It had rolled over them like a questing wave, that madness of Magneto’s pulsing from the Statue of Liberty, designed to make mutants out of humans, a raw, wild, murderous power. As it flowed over her and through her, Jean flinched from the force of it; feeling a flame ignite within herself, as if something dangerous had just begun to warm up.

She would tread it down, in that moment, and in the days that followed. That was what Xavier had been teaching them since they arrived at the school – to control their powers. But this didn’t feel like her telepathy or her telekinesis, this felt like something that might, if she let it, burn as hot as the sun. It was as if there was now a firebird sleeping inside her, its needs infecting hers. It was a restless dreamer, glorious and terrible, and she would not let it loose, she would walk very softly and let it lull itself back to sleep, but still its energy pulsed in her, and she would wonder how much power there might be waiting for her if she just opened herself to its flame.

It was more difficult when the sun went down. She would hunger for Scott, and he had always been a little difficult but now he was downright distracted because that new guy, the one with the claws and the beer breath and the attitude, the one he didn’t like, Logan would hear, Logan would smell it on them, Logan would know.

It was her job to be the one who was calm and comforting; the reassurance and consolation that he needed; except one night the firebird said, “Fuck Logan,” and it sounded just like her voice.

Scott was amusingly shocked and then, because he was as smart as he was damaged, he went still and quiet and said, “Do you want to?”

She pinned him down the way she never let herself pin him, however much she might hunger to, and felt him spasm with fear and want at once. She leaned down, slowly, slowly, until her mouth was a breath and bite away from his, as if she wasn’t herself, as if she was Jean playing Mystique playing Jean, and she breathed that husky challenge right into his mouth: “Do you?”

The sex, for once, was incredible. Scott even pushed back a little when she slammed him down, arched his back when she straddled him, and this time she pulled his hands away from his mouth when he tried to choke down the sounds she was wringing from him, as she rode him harder than she had ever done before, not caring if she bruised him, exultant as she found that perfect note and played it just right. She used her mind to touch him in the places where he wouldn’t let her use her fingers and made him come screaming, and this time she wouldn’t let him stifle it; kissing him fiercely through his writhing, moaning aftermath, her fingers in his hair dragging his head back so she could suck on his neck, wanting to mark him, exultant at the pleasure she had just ripped from him, at how beautiful he was, how perfect and how strong, and yet she could control him completely, with her body, with her mind, with her love, because he was hers… And then she kept him hard enough to use him like a sex toy, rocking on him just right to gasp her way to her own shuddering climax, those circles of ecstasy that climbed all the way up her spine to tease the back of her skull –

And then she came down from that fire-bright climax, breathing hard, with Scott sweat-slicked beneath her tightly gripping thighs and wondered guiltily where those dark, possessive thoughts had come from. She looked down and his face seemed shocked behind the visor, and he was keeping as still as he could, given the way the breaths were gasping from his lungs. She hastily untangled her fingers from his hair, trying to tidy it as she brushed her lips against his, remorseful about the bruises and the way she had taken control of his body and the way she had made him cry out like that, even though Logan was surely listening and would, indeed, now know.

She had her mouth open to say, “I’m so sorry, Scott. I never meant to…” when Scott said, still panting and sweaty and breathless and even more beautiful like this: “That was amazing. You’re amazing, Jean. I love you so much. I love you so much.” And he kissed her – tenderly – because Scott only knew how to be tender, but also with some passion behind it, as if he wasn’t, for once, too dirty and soiled a thing for her to love.

Afterwards, when he was asleep, all the whispering doubts fucked out of him at least for a few hours, she lay there, dazed and wary and still pulsing from the power of that last orgasm, thinking: Is this who I really am? Is this the Jean Grey I only pretend not to be?

She wondered if Logan had sensed that other Jean, that sleeping Jean who woke up when the sun went down and wanted to do brutal things in bed to breakable men. She wondered if that was the Jean who Logan was drawn to. She wondered if Scott was secretly drawn to that Jean, too.

Go back in your box, Phoenix, she told it fiercely. You don’t get to hurt Scott on my watch.

Even though he liked it? the firebird whispered. Even though you both liked it?

Yes. Because we liked it. Because Scott doesn’t have an inner safe word. Because there is nothing I could do to him that he probably wouldn’t welcome and believe that he deserves.

And as she turned over carefully and planted a chaste, gentle, Jean Grey kiss upon her sleeping boyfriend’s brow, Jean tried not to think about the way Scott had squirmed and moaned and wanted it or the man with an animal inside him who was sleeping down the hall, the one with the healing factor, who could take anything the firebird dished out and still come back for more.

***

CHAPTER NINE: From Morning Sun Till Dine

Rescue came in sleek black metal out of a white mist of snow. There was nothing blocking Cerebro now, their dead zone was alive again, and besides, they had known where to come. Back to here. Back to…this. Logan felt the glances graze them like the sunlit edge of glass, their broken cabin in the snow, filled with broken men. He could see Storm and Bobby wondering what they had become this time, wondering what they were.

We’ll let you know when we do.

At least Scott didn’t look like a victim this time. There were probably sex scents on him leftover from before – from before either one of them had known what Logan was. What he had done back on the spaceship. If consent had a scent, Logan couldn’t find the strand of it but he was aware of the ones that were absent this time, none of that pain and – what had almost been worse, that relentless stoicism, that resignation to suffering because life was just like that. Scott smelled like Scott. He just smelled like a worn out Scott who wasn’t quite ready to go home but had nowhere else to go.

Jean hugged him so carefully, holding his head in her hands as if he were made from tissue paper as she gazed anxiously into his eyes. Logan remembered that she was the one who had helped them to realize they were being lied to and then let them go when she could have stopped them. He wondered what she had been going through while wondering whether or not she’d made the right decision.

“I’m fine.” Scott smiled and his smile was heartbreaking because he really did think he was.

Jean kissed him, her chin on his shoulder as she held him close, just drinking him in for a moment. Logan didn’t need his enhanced senses to know how it felt to be her, afraid he had lost Scott, and then finding that against the odds he still had him, and he was still, somehow, whole. At least on the outside. When Jean opened her eyes, she flashed a look at Logan that was full of gratitude and green flame. ‘Thank you’ she mouthed at him.

“I didn’t do anything,” Logan said gruffly.

“You didn’t die on me, either of you,” she said.

“We try not to do that,” Scott said.

Hank’s voice was a little ragged, “Oh, really, Scotty? Since when?”

Xavier was there in a hoverchair, hesitant as he looked at Scott, relief and anxiety chasing themselves for all to see. “Scott…”

Scott tensed, still angry at that last betrayal, body language a little rigid as he disentangled himself from Jean, but – being Scott – he went forward with his hand outstretched. His tone was coolly formal: “Professor.”

Xavier clasped his hand in both of his. “Scott – my boy – I’m sorry. I was just trying to keep you safe and – but I’m truly sorry. I never meant to betray your trust.”

“Or control my life?”

They exchanged a laden glance. Xavier said, “I am sorry.”

Logan didn’t know if it was scent or instinct or just that he knew Scott now, so he saw the moment when Scott realized that he couldn’t give up the only father he had known for the past ten years. He squeezed Xavier’s hand. “I know you are, Professor. Let’s…move on.”

Explanations were made – Logan let Scott do the talking while he watched the planes of his face and the light through the dirty windowpanes that loved the line of his cheekbone, the angle of his jaw. He looked like the leader of the X-Men but he also looked so damn tired. Logan wanted to put his arms around him and pull him in close, tell him that he had done nothing wrong, even though he was standing there feeling like an adulterer. Logan had made him into that; helped him to cheat on the woman he loved. What made it worse was that he didn’t think they could blame the computer for all of it. Xavier hadn’t mindwiped from either one of their heads that Scott was dating Jean, and all the computer had done was push them towards an embrace that had always been there waiting for them. They had been thinking about kissing for too many guilty days before their lips had touched. And this was Scott’s punishment; he had cheated on his girlfriend only to discover that in the process he had been rewarding his rapist.

Logan took out a cigar and lit it. Scott looked across at him and said, “Those things stink.”

“I know.”

He saw a flicker of irritation that briefly banished the weariness. Saw Scott get that it made him feel more like himself when he was wanting to optic blast Logan. Saw that microsmirk of amusement because it was something they shared – that common knowledge of how annoying they found each other on occasion, how getting pissy with each other was their version of foreplay. Then the guilt washed back in because he was a dirty cheater and the weariness washed in behind it, opening the slipway to all the other real and imagined failings.

Looking at the shining black shadow of the x-jet on the snow, Scott said, “It’s my fault we only have one plane now.”

Roughly, Logan stubbed out his cigar on the wall of Sabretooth’s cabin. “No, it’s your ‘fault’ we’re both still alive. No other pilot on the planet could have made that landing. You were flying something too fast to think about with no brakes and no power to control any part of it but the steering. Saving the Blackbird was never an option. The fact you saved the two of us is a frickin’ miracle and I still don’t know how you did it.”

Scott shrugged. “If I hadn’t made the landing, the computer would just have found a different way to keep us alive and without a way home. It was never going to let us die.”

Logan turned away because watching Scott beat himself up for things that weren’t his fault wasn’t a pleasant spectator sport and turned onto the expression in Jean’s eyes the way men trying to avoid bullets turned onto bayonets. It was a gut wound because she was looking at him with such…gratitude, still, because he had said the right thing, been kind to Scott. I raped him, Jeannie. Then I seduced him. I’m the reason he has that look in his eyes right now. The reason why you have that look in yours. I’m the bad thing that happened to good people. For all I know, I always was.

The rescue party dared the shin-deep snow to examine the wreckage, leaving their crisp-crunch tracks in glittering white drifts, but Logan and Scott found they couldn’t go back there, too afraid of getting that intruder in their heads again. They stood around awkwardly in the cabin as the heat faded from the woodstove Scott had so carefully put out, with Bobby and Hank looking like chaperones who had arrived too late at a debauch. Logan didn’t even blame them for not wanting to leave Scott alone with him, especially not when Hank was still having to inhale far too much information. It was there in the way he jerked Iceman away from the couch when Drake went to sit down on it, that harsh “Not there”.

Scott saved the moment with a quiet, “The springs are broken, Bobby.” But even he hadn’t suggested that Drake sat on the bed instead.

As Storm flew overhead, Jean and Xavier examined the crater and took their psychic readings and said there was nothing left, mission accomplished, ding-dong the witch was dead. The heroic sacrifice the alien captain had made was worth it because there was not even an echo of a memory of that AI’s insane mind left. Then home again, home again, with Scott looking back over his shoulder wistfully and Logan making a brief nod to the grave of the guy who had saved their lives. The cabin grew smaller behind them, diminished into the mist until it might only ever have been something they had dreamed.

All the way home in the Blackbird, Logan tried to tell himself that this was the happy ending he had been hoping for, Scott taken back to safety, with no lies awaiting him this time, when all the time he was aware of his warmth over there, aware of his heartbeat, aware of the way Scott kept craning his neck to see if Logan was okay. Trying to tell himself that this wasn’t wrong; that the world was never meant to be just him and Scott in a cabin somewhere, curled up in the same bed; that going back to the mansion was the best possible outcome.

Back in the mansion Logan had thought he was going to find himself, here, in this school for the gifted, but now days and days had passed with all the same bells ringing, everything as safe as it could be in a world that hated and feared mutants, order and routine abounding, which any doctor would surely have ordered, and it just felt like he’d lost himself again. In fact, it felt like he was the problem, had always been the problem, and they had brought him back with them.

A penitent Xavier was helping them every day to get their walled up memories back, the ones he had hidden away from them, the ones others had tried to bury. It was hard for him. He still couldn’t quite let go of wanting to protect and control Scott, but he was forcing himself to undo all the barriers he had put in, to open the locked boxes and let in the light. So, even though they were being given back the immutable truths of their own lives, there was now even more mental chaos and confusion because it was now a part of their history, to which they both clung, that the crazed computer had spilled into their minds how it felt to be the other, and neither one of them wanted to give that up, even if it meant that sometimes they woke up, sweat-drenched and gasping, from another man’s nightmares.

The churning mill-race of the AI had brought to the surface grim glimpses of a dark past. Sometimes when Xavier was trying to help Logan to remember, they would both gasp and flinch from the flammable film stock of his forgotten years. Exposed to the light, shadow scenes burnt hot and fast, leaving them with guncotton glimpses, distortions that twisted as they flamed.

“I killed people.” Logan put his head in his hands. “I was a weapon for the bad guys.”

“You were being controlled.” Xavier insisted as the birdsong sounded from outside the window. “That wasn’t you, Logan. That was your programming.”

“What if that programming is still in there?”

“It isn’t.” Xavier’s gaze was steady and kind. “You’re no one’s weapon now. You are your own man.”

Logan clenched his fists in case his fingers were shaking. “But what man is that?”

“Whatever man you want to be.” Xavier put his hand over Logan’s. “I was wrong to blame you for what was done to Scott. That wasn’t you. And neither was the man we saw in those confused glimpses of Weapon X.”

“I dunno, Chuck. Maybe when bad guys can keep programming you to hurt other people, it’s not just about them. Maybe it’s something about you, too.”

“You’re hard to kill – a useful attribute in a mind-controlled assassin. It was your healing factor that made you a useful target for those men.”

Logan held his gaze. “Let’s not pussy-foot around the truth just because you feel bad for blaming me about what happened to Scott. Trust me, I blame me too. I have a lot of anger and I don’t have great self-control. I’d rather stab a problem than waste an hour trying to solve it by other means. I have a lot of faults.”

“Everyone in this building has a lot of faults. Everyone in this building has made mistakes, some of them have cost people their lives, or come very close to doing so. What we are all trying to learn here is how to gain control of ourselves – our natures and our powers. So, you can leave, Logan, but don’t fool yourself that you will be protecting innocents by doing so, all you will be doing is taking your problems with you and in the process moving yourself out of reach of the people who are most likely to be able to help you to both recover your memories and gain better control of yourself….”

Jangled, Logan had found himself taking long, roaring drives on Scott’s motorcycle or wild, wind-torn runs around the grounds, needing obstacle courses difficult enough to engage the restless turmoil of his mind. Sometimes he would look up at the window as he tore over hurdles to see Scott watching him wistfully, as if he, too, would like to be too taken up with the adrenaline rush of running to be left any time to remember. Because even though Jean was doing her best to help him and Xavier was doing his best to help him, it didn’t seem to Logan that Scott was getting better. His beams hadn’t come back, although Henry had done some tests that seemed to suggest they would before a month or so. He wasn’t getting over the trauma of what that guy with Logan’s face had done to him – and for that maybe he never could get better as long as he was having to see Logan’s face every day – and he wasn’t getting over the dependency upon the guy who had tried to help him after the things that other guy had done to him.

Scott took himself off to the Danger Room every day, of course, because if Scott had been a homing pigeon, the Danger Room would have been his roost. Logan wasn’t sure what it said about Scott that a place that regularly beat the crap out of him was his comfort zone, or what it said about Logan that Logan could understand that comfort so well. Perhaps it was because the Danger Room was cruel to him in ways that Scott might in time be able to anticipate whereas the world beyond was always finding horrifying new ways to surprise him. Scott focused on how out of shape he had let himself get – by being beaten and starved and injected with a toxin that robbed him of all his strength – and built up the muscles stolen from him again, layer by careful layer. He worked on his flexibility and his reflexes and his gymnastics and his martial arts; worked on offense and defense and strength and speed and tactics and instincts and mental and physical discipline, determined to get back to the level he had been at when Sabretooth had walked through a wall and stolen him away. That was the easy part. That was the part Scott could do every day, eyes closed or eyes open. The hard part was when even he had to admit he couldn’t work out any longer and had to step back into the main body of the school. When he had to look at himself in a mirror and see someone who had been raped, or force himself not to flinch when the bad flashbacks hit him in a crowded corridor where the kids might see, or in bed with Jean, or in a room with Xavier, or Storm or Hank or Bobby, or anywhere, anywhere at all, where his trauma might possibly hurt Logan.

Logan watched him working out from the control room and Jean came and sat by him, watching Scott the way someone who had recovered their sight watched a sunrise.

She reached out and took Logan’s hand in hers. “Thank you.”

“Don’t fuckin’ thank me, Jeannie – I took advantage of him out there.”

There was less reproach in her eyes than he expected. “Falling in love with someone isn’t taking advantage of him. Your feelings for each other are annoying and inconvenient – that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they don’t matter.”

“He hates himself now. He loves you.” He kept offering those three little words to her like a bouquet, apologies for the unforgivable. Every time he spoke to her he felt sick with guilt and jealousy at once. He hated that he had done this to a woman he kind of loved. Hated even more – if he was honest – that she had a better right to Scott than he did.

“I’m sharing a bedroom with him Logan. He wakes up and he looks for you, and then he sighs because he thought for a moment he was back there in that cabin. With you.”

He swallowed, hurting to hear it and yet glad that Scott still thought of him, even here, even when he could have Jean.

“He checks to make sure I’m still asleep, and then sometimes he goes and sits by the window and looks out at the night and I know he’s pretending for a moment that he’s back in that place with you. He could walk down the hall and climb into bed with you and he wants to, he really does, but he doesn’t do it, because he’s not a cheater and he loves me. But I can feel how much he thinks of you. I can feel it through his skull and through his skin. I could feel it through fifty walls. I could feel it when you two were two thousand miles from here curled up in Sabretooth’s bed.”

“I’m sorry.”

Scott ducked under pulsing beams, back-flipped over a metal robot arm, found the blind spot, found the weakness, kept himself out of reach even without his optic blasts. He had settings for ten minute all out attacks where he had to keep himself untouched with agility and reflexes alone, forcing his body to remember all the old moves. Logan could hardly bear to watch it, especially when something made contact and sent him flying, but Scott sprang up, always, as if he had gotten a second wind, the need to do better driving him on. This time he managed what had to be close to a perfect score, although Scott would probably be able to find flaws in even that performance. A last forward somersault, as nimble as a gymnast, and the metal pinchers and fists retracted. He had survived a wild, flailing ten minutes, beam-less, more or less unscathed.

Jean put her fingers to her temples, eyes closed as she concentrated, and Scott looked up at the control room in surprise, unaware until that moment that he had been watched.

“What did you tell him?” Logan pressed.

“That I’m proud of him. That I’m always proud of him.” Jean switched on the intercom and said lightly, “Take a bow, Mr. Summers. We, the judges, are awarding you a perfect six.”

“You’re only getting five point nine from me, Slim,” Logan leaned across to say. “You were slow on that last turn.”

“Logan’s right,” Scott said.

“Take a bow anyway,” Jean told him, and to Logan’s surprise he did so with unexpected grace. He looked small and far away to him, in need of protection, but Jean switched off the intercom and turned to him to say, “You can’t think of him that way. Just because you’re stronger than he is, doesn’t make him weak. He’s stronger inside than your metal bones will ever be.”

“I just want to keep him safe.”

“He’s the leader of the X-Men, Logan. The best way to keep Scott safe is to follow his orders in the field.”

“I was thinking of stabbing anything that tries to hurt him.”

To his surprise, Jean didn’t argue. “Well – both plans have their merits. But – that guy you’ve fallen in love with? – you should maybe take a moment to notice how amazing he is.”

“You think I haven’t?”

“I think all you’re seeing is how damaged he is.”

“Because I saw how much damage was done to him, Jeannie.” A lot of it with this body.

She rose to her feet and he just knew she was going to go and join Scott in the showers, which would shock him and make him gasp out warnings about how the children might see them, before he – inevitably – bowed to her feminine will. Logan felt a fierce pang of envy and exclusion that cut deeper than a knife blade. The hand she rested on his shoulder was unexpectedly kind.

“Scott has always been damaged and he always keeps going. That how I know how strong he is. That’s one of the many reasons why I’m proud of him. I’m proud of you, too. And this thing between you and Scott…? This is not insoluble, Logan, in either sense, but every problem has a solution. We just have to find it.”

The solution is that I leave. He consoles himself with the woman he loves. He forgets about me. He gets over what that monster who looked like me did to him. Everyone wins. Except me. And I don’t deserve to win anyway.

She left him and he thought of her in the shower with Scott, both of them naked, the steam coiling around them and the water flowing over them, as she kissed Scott and kissed him, because he was hers and she had the right, as she tried to coax him back to a place where he might, one day, be able to have a sex life again. This time when his claws came out, he was glad of the pain and the blood that ran down his knuckles. It felt like no more than he deserved.

It wasn’t in vain, the neurotic return to old habits. There were victories. Scott was gaining strength every day, that perfect body healing from its hurts and reassembling its old, planed contours. Every day he looked more like himself, even moved more like himself – a reassurance to everyone who looked at him – but without the visor to hide behind sometimes his eyes looked so damned lost. Scott and Logan had been too alone in their lost white world for too many days. Now, whenever they were out of each other’s sight for too long, Logan could feel the stress building, like the thread between them was under too much tension. Like if he didn’t see for himself that Scott was okay in the next two minutes, his head was going to burst open like a beehive.

Jean cornered him in the corridor two days after their talk above the Danger Room, red hair alight with the sunset and said, “Why are you fighting it?”

A mirror behind her threw back an eerie red glow as the sun went down, making her look briefly bathed in flame. “It’s some crazy codependency, Jean. It’s some weird neurosis we’ve developed.”

He had thought her temper was unfrayable, despite the red hair, but apparently it was starting to wear thin because there was a flash of something in her green eyes that looked like fire. “Yes, Logan. Another word for that particular crazy codependency and weird neurosis that you two share would be ‘love’.”

It was both a declaration and an accusation. As the guilt ripped into him, Logan stepped back into the scent of leather bindings and wood polish. “Scott loves you, Jean. He has always loved you. He will always love you. I know that now. I’ve been in his head. I know what you mean to him.”

She pressed her fingers to his temples and said, “This is what he means to me.”

It roared in like an ocean wave to a low water cave. He gasped and staggered from it but she kept her mind pressed hard against his and it was overwhelming, her touching him, mind-to-mind, like this, like she had her fingers squeezing his crotch and his heart at the same time. There was a wild red flame in her center so powerful it took his breath away; a flame that she was keeping banked down by sheer force of will. She had touched his mind before Liberty Island and it hadn’t been like this. Her power was terrifying and beautiful, like a tiger in the night. No wonder Scott was crazy about her even in the midst of thinking himself mired in love with Logan. Not the kind of woman a guy just got over. Scott wasn’t the kind of a man a guy just got over either. Logan was so horribly, painfully, permanently screwed.

Her voice was cool as lakewater: “It still hurts – loving Scott. He’s not an easy person to fall in love with. But the reason I’m in so much less pain than you are right now is because I didn’t fight it once it became inevitable. Whereas you – you’re drowning in the North Atlantic and instead of getting on the boat that is right there waiting for you you’re still pretending that you’re back on dry land. Well, you’re not, Logan. You’re going under for the last time. So get in the boat and start learning how to steer.”

As she pulled her mind away from his – leaving him gasping and leaning against the wall like she’d just felt him up in public – and stalked off, she was angry with him for what seemed to him to be all the wrong reasons. Even though there were perfectly legitimate reasons for her to be angry with him that she wasn’t even touching with a ten-foot pole. Logan muttered rebelliously, “There’s already somebody in the boat, Jean. And she already knows how to steer. All me getting in there will do is sink it and drown all three of us.”

Over her shoulder, Jean said crisply, “Any day now, I’m going to ask Ororo to drown you for real.”

What is the point in being in love with a guy I can’t be with? What is the point in him thinking he’s in love with me when I’m the guy giving him nightmares?

Giving Scott back to Jean so much simpler. It made sense. It carried its own punishment for Logan, who had to give up something he wanted more than anything else in the world, and it put Scott – to extend her stupid metaphor to breaking point – into a safe harbor. Jean wouldn’t hurt him, mentally, emotionally, or physically. Jean was patient and even tempered and…

And had something inside her that was fire-bright and dangerous, and she had just made Logan look at it. If he’d really loved her, her mind had whispered, if she had really been his focus instead of Scott, then Logan would have known it was there before now. Because ever since Magneto’s machine had licked over them, leaving the rest of them untouched, something sleeping inside her had been awoken, and ever since not a night had gone by when she didn’t want to fuck Scott so hard it made him pass out. And so far her love for him was keeping her dark side from hurting him but it didn’t help that he wanted it. It didn’t help that he wouldn’t push her off or tell her to stop whatever she did. He tried to edge away from sex when they were dressed but once he was naked and in her bed, there was nothing he wouldn’t let her do to him, and her inner flame knew that. It made it want to burn so bright. She kept it banked down, like a peat fire on a winter’s night, but it never went out, and what it really wanted was to blaze out hot enough to eat a star.

He had only glimpsed a tangled confusion of what she was dealing with but it wasn’t safe and it wasn’t necessarily kind. It was magnificent and terrible and passionate and possessive, and Jean was fighting it like a champion fencer, but she could have fought it far more easily if she wasn’t permanently frustrated due to her boyfriend’s multiple traumas.

Logan told himself hastily that perhaps none of that was true; perhaps that was just something Jean was telling him because she wanted him to stick around. She had flashed an image at him of the three of them in a place where she and Logan had the scary fire-hot sex where she did all the cruel, wild things she was stopping herself from doing to Scott and his breakable body, and where he and Scott just learned how to be alone together all over again, with gentle, teasing kisses that never had to go anywhere either of them was uncomfortable with them going. She made it seem so enticing, a carousel ride that was wild and kind and dangerous and safe all at once.

I need you to help me heal him. Scott needs you to help him find himself again. But most of all Scott needs you because he needs you because you made him fall in love with you, Logan….

He flinched from her last thrown thought, that hint of accusation in it, as if he’d done it on purpose.

“He’ll get over it. I’ll get over it. He deserves better than me. He always did.”

He’d gotten some clarity in that snow-blinded cabin, just for a while there, realized how much he was always going to love Scott and why he could never be with him, and he’d been heartbroken about it but at least he’d known who he was; not a hero, not a villain, just a man with the capacity to be both, but back here…? He didn’t know what the fuck he was back here because everyone kept trying to confuse him. Bobby and Hank were still keeping their distance because to them Logan was the guy who had raped their friend. Rogue and Storm were smiling at him, because he had helped to keep a damaged Scott alive when the evil computer was trying to possess him. Xavier was torn up with guilt and anguish over what Scott had been through and his own part in making it worse because, news at eleven, when it came right down to it, being a parent was tough and sometimes fathers fucked up. Of course, they fucked up a lot harder and faster when they were arrogant telepaths with a god complex but… but Logan was trying not to be angry with Xavier just like Xavier was trying not to be angry with him and so far they were both doing a pretty good job.

The worst part was that as soon as he was with Scott, Logan knew who he was again. Scott gave him clarity – and a buzzing pain in his head from exasperation and frustration, and misery, and hunger, and self-loathing, and courage, and self-belief, and a purpose – but, yes, he knew who he was with more clarity somehow when it was just him and Scott. But that couldn’t happen now because Scott was complicating things by needing him. The same guy who had been all feline independence in the cabin, convinced that Jean Knew Best, once they were back in the mansion, kept looking around, not for Jean, but for Logan, and it turned out that Logan couldn’t deal with that flicker of panic washing over Scott’s model boy face when he was all about control and had to look composed in front of the children, but had been so brutally and recently fucked over by life that without Logan there to anchor him he was afraid of cracking up. It was hurting him too much to see Scott like this and know he was the person who done this to him.

I need to get the fuck away from him. I need to walk away.

Except somehow every night he resolved to do it and then, every morning, having sometimes dreamed Scott’s dreams instead of his own, he would be heading for the front door and he would catch a whiff of panic and wheel around and see Scott casting around for him, turning circles, rigid and elegant at once, everything locked down so no one else might know it, and Logan would find himself bounding over to reassure him. His hand on Scott’s elbow was enough to coax the panic into lessening, to make the chiseled jaw unclench. Twice now, Scott had leaned in and inhaled him, his hands light on Logan’s shoulders, needing that scent of cigar smoke and engine oil. Logan had stood there and let Scott breathe him in, seeing his eyes close in relief, seeing him strengthened by it. Because, irony of ironies, Logan, the person who had messed him up this badly, was also the guy who made Scott feel safe.

It was like Logan was hurting him in two different ways every day. He needed to walk away and not look back but when he thought about Scott looking for him and not being able to find him, his courage would fail him. He would reach inside himself to find the strength to be cruel enough to be kind and find that strength wasn’t there, not when it was Scott.

But Scott couldn’t deal with being here; there was just too much pressure. Hank and Bobby worrying and Xavier being twisted up inside over him was just making him feel like a victim, and, of course, as this was Scott, a victim who had screwed up; because Scott always blamed himself for every failure and if he had been better prepared or faster in his reactions or had just run that scenario one more time in the Danger Room then Sabretooth would never have taken him and none of it, including what had happened to Logan, would have happened.

When he’d first met Scott and been hit by the full force of his sickeningly good-looking shell, Logan had wondered why every other guy in the mansion didn’t want to punch Scott in his pretty face as well. Then, of course, he had got to know him and realized that Bobby and Hank didn’t even see the Versace model exterior any more, they were too painfully aware of the damaged person inside. In fact, they were too busy hoping Scott wasn’t going to have a breakdown or a traumatic flashback on a mission or get captured by some creepy bad guy and felt up again to even notice that their best friend was beautiful or to remember that they probably ought to take a few minutes out of their day to hate him for it every now and then. Lesson learned – Logan was now on that train with them. He, too, wanted Scott to stay sane, think straight, reason well, get his tactics in place, and never, ever, get hurt. Unfortunately for everyone, Scott was so brittle right now that that nervous breakdown was looking all too possible.

Logan decided again that he needed to just leave. Grab his stuff get the hell out, leave it to the people who had known Scott since he was sixteen to put him back together. Eventually Scott would heal, and not seeing the face of the guy who had raped him every day was bound to help with that. And today was that day. Today was the day when he finally found his courage.

The kids were in their classrooms so it was oddly quiet, reminding him of his first day here when the Professor had sent those echoes to bounce around in the inside of his head and everything here had felt strange and vaguely menacing. Now it felt like a place that he could have called home; somewhere where his life could have run in a way that gave it meaning. Every step towards the front door hurt. The only thing that tugged at him harder was the thought of hurting Scott. He was having to ruthlessly banish an image of Scott spinning around, looking for him, starting to panic when he couldn’t see him. He imagined Jean running to him, the Professor wheeling himself there hastily, both of them holding off on touching him, not wanting to crowd him, and Scott trying not to have a panic attack while anxious friends reminded him to breathe.

Closing his eyes, Logan blundered forward, not even knowing if it was the right thing to do, taking himself away from Scott, but feeling he had to do something to try to help him heal. Everything smelt of old oak and beeswax polish here, and the flowers someone had brought in fresh from the greenhouse, lilies and roses, a scent lie pretending it was summer, that it was always summer here.

Shouldering his pack, he reached for the front door blindly and a hand like a manacle closed on his wrist. Logan looked up in shock into the angry face of a blue-furred Beast, before his clothes were clutched in fingers that had no intention of letting go and he was dragged bodily into a quiet corridor. There Hank became very sane, very reasonable, very matter-of-fact – apart from the way he shoved Logan into a wall so hard that he dented it.

He grimaced. “Sorry. I…over-reached a little.”

“My body was recently used to rape your best friend half to death, McCoy,” Logan said flatly. “You get a free pass on the anger management issues for at least another month.”

“I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to tell you – in case you had somehow failed to notice – that Scott really needs you right now. In fact, I don’t think he can…”

“Reintegrate into society?”

“Without you. Yes. You are the only other person who knows what he went through. You are the only other person who understands his current state of…well…”

“Fucked up to hell and back?”

“Yes.” Hank met his gaze and there was no anger in his weary golden eyes. “All he is ever going to tell the rest of us is that he’s ‘fine’. There is an outside possibility that you might actually get him to admit that he’s not. Either way, he needs you. Don’t let him down. And most of all don’t run out on him.”

“Maybe what I need is to be a thousand miles away from the guy I remember raping.”

That won him a drag along the passageway and a less-than-gentle shove into McCoy’s office before the door was firmly shut. As something simmered in a triangular flask over a soft purple flame while behind them an array of glass-encased poisons eavesdropped avidly, Hank wheeled on him. “Maybe you don’t get to walk away from this particular problem. Maybe you have to see it through. And maybe the Professor can find you through Cerebro, so if you even think about running out on Scott right now, we will all hunt you down like wild dogs.”

“You have the best sweet talk, Hank, it’s making me tingly.”

McCoy sighed. “Logan, please don’t think that any of us are unsympathetic to what you went through. Your body was stolen from you and terrible things were done with it entirely against your will. That is rape by any definition of the word. We all know that. We know you are blameless in what happened to Scott and every bit as much of a victim as he is. But you were there when he woke up and it’s what you did then – what you did as you – that is what you need to take responsibility for.”

Because he was never going to understand these fucking people, ever, Logan just blinked. “What did I do?” He had been trying so hard not to be defensive, to be the opposite of defensive, to accept that he was guilty of crimes he had never intended, his body used as a weapon through the manipulation of others, because that was the pattern of his life and his mangled memories, but this…? What the fuck did I do?

“You taught Scott that when things were at their worst and he was at his most defenseless, that you were someone he could truly rely on. You can’t give him that one rock to build on when everything else in his life has turned to quicksand and then pull it from under his feet. He needs you.” McCoy walked over to the window past his bubbling experiments. “And I don’t like that you are the person he needs most. None of us like it. But we can’t help him and you, perhaps, can, so we need to suck it up and you need to step up – ”

Logan knew how hard this was for the people in Scott’s life who would have given anything to be able to save him from what had been done to him. Perhaps they hadn’t acted out as spectacularly as Xavier had with his frantic parental mindwipe, but they were having to live around not having been able to help him. Around still not being able to help him. And there was some understandable resentment there that the Logan Come Lately who had been on one mission with Scott before this had all gone to crap was the guy Scott was looking for now, and not the friends who had known him since high school.

Tentatively, Logan reached out and patted McCoy’s huge, furry arm. “I know how much this sucks for everyone. And I know you want to help Scott. So do I. But – however much he thinks he needs me – it can’t be good for him – seeing me every day. It must be triggering his PTSD every time he hears my voice.”

Sunlight curled in through the high windows and found the gold in Hank’s eyes. Unexpectedly, he said, “Did the other you speak to him?”

Logan usually tried to stay the hell away from those memories the evil computer had infodumped him with of how it felt to be Scott being the abused prisoner of that snarling beast-man, because however bad he thought they were, they always turned out to be worse, but now he flinchingly let a few memories rush in, like rancid water into a dirty bucket, and then, shuddering, switched them off.

“No. The son-of-a-bitch didn’t speak to him. He didn’t know his name to call him by it. He didn’t care that he had a name… He didn’t…hell if we go through all the halfway decent things he could have done to damage him less and didn’t we’ll be here until Christmas. All he did to Scott was drag him around, smack him around, snarl at him, pin him down, and…fuck him. Over and over and over again.” He stumbled back with the bile in his mouth, reliving that terrible moment in the spaceship when he had realized that the brute-beast who had abused Scott was him, and became aware of Hank’s hands on his arms, steadying him, guiding him to a chair. His voice, too, was steady as a tightrope.

“That doesn’t sound anything like you to me, Logan. Not only are you not a rapist but I understand from Jean that you did talk to him. And tend to him. And keep him warm and fed and hydrated, which couldn’t have been easy in that less than five star accommodation Sabretooth stranded you both in. I believe you were also considerate and tactful and gentle – all the things you pretend not to be in front of everyone but Rogue. Scott, as we both know, is no more articulate than you are, but he did tell me that no one could have been kinder to him than you when you woke up and realized what had been done to him. Has it occurred to you that what Scott may need in his recovery is the continuing assistance of the person who did the most to care for him after he was traumatized, and that he may need it a lot more than he needs not to see your questionably fetching face?”

Logan slumped into McCoy’s chair while the man fetched him what turned out to be a very good glass of Scotch. “I can’t be the thing that is hurting Scott anymore. Not after what happened to him on my watch.” He downed the whiskey and enjoyed the burn of it, all the way down.

McCoy sat on his desk. “I really don’t think you are – what is hurting Scott. I think Scott is hurting Scott in the way that people of his temperament do hurt themselves when terrible things happen to them that they were powerless to avert. He has always blamed himself for things he couldn’t have done anything to prevent. It’s exasperating but he is at least consistent about it and it definitely pre-dates your arrival here.”

Logan could hear birdsong out beyond the windows; it felt like the promise of spring after winter, the possibility of there coming a time when he didn’t wake up every day and hate himself for what his body had done.

“He has Jean. He has you. He has Xavier. What the hell does he need me for?”

Hank frowned, and it was very regal his frown, the way a lion might furrow its brow, or a grizzly bear contemplate a kill. “Logan, do you really not know that Scott is in love with you?”

He curled up as if from a blow. “How can he be!”

“Why wouldn’t he be?”

“It has to be Stockholm Syndrome. It’s because I was the only one there with him. It’s because I looked like the guy who hurt him so badly but I didn’t hurt him that way. He lowered the bar so far for a guy with my face that all I had to do was not rape him and he thought he was in love with me.”

“This is Scott we’re talking about. He has been horrifically abused many times before. At no point did he then fall in love with the next person he saw after the abuse was over. You may not find yourself very lovable right now, Logan, but please don’t insult Scott’s intelligence just because of your self-loathing issues. He is not a baby crocodile and he did not imprint on you because you were the first thing he saw after he broke out of the egg.”

Stung, he sat up straight as a stray breeze teased the gauzy drapes at the tall, thin windows. “Then…why…?”

Hank shook his head. “For the myriad, complicated, messy reasons why people fall in love. Are you somehow forgetting that you and he were on this flight path long before Sabretooth or any malevolent mainframes intervened? You were already acting like middle schoolers who couldn’t decide if you wanted to punch each other or kiss each other from your first day in the mansion. Scott pouted to the Professor that he didn’t like you, while you complained to everyone who would listen that he was an uptight dick and you didn’t like him. You were both about as subtle as falling bricks.”

“It wasn’t like that.”

“It was exactly like that. Under ‘unwilling attraction’ in the dictionary there is a picture of the two of you dancing around each other on poker nights trying not to gaze at the other one’s dreamy, dreamy face.”

Logan squirmed in embarrassment while simultaneously feeling a little less tragic, a little more hopeful, and a whole lot more silly. He remembered lunging at Mystique with his claws out because she had tried to stab Scott. He remembered Scott spinning around anxiously because he thought Logan had been hurt. He remembered that spasm of unwilling liking he had felt after giving Scott the middle claw when Scott had just grinned at him in genuine amusement and his grin had been so damn endearing. His anger and frustration when Magneto had slammed Scott into a wall. He remembered walking along the corridor to his bedroom and stopping when he heard Scott and Jean discussing him in their room, hugging the wall to listen, his heart jumping, trying to steel himself to hear that he wasn’t liked, wasn’t good enough, was ugly all the way through.

‘I know you like him, Jean.’

‘Are you telepathic now, too, Scott?’

‘He’s very handsome.’

‘Is he?’

‘I may see things in red but I can still see. I don’t like him, but he’s very charismatic and attractive and has that…animal magnetism. And he’s older than I am, as he keeps pointing out to anyone who will listen, so he probably knows things that…’

‘He’s probably older than Magneto, Scott. Who is also charismatic and attractive and…magnetic. Do you think I like him, too?’

Scott, turning to look at her in the bedroom while Logan hugged the half-open door and pretended he wasn’t listening breathlessly while something squirmed uncomfortably inside him and his heart hammered much too fast.

“I’m not…accusing you of anything, Jean. I’m just saying I understand why you’re…attracted to Logan. I’m saying that you don’t have to pretend otherwise because you’re worried about hurting my feelings.’

Jean going to him abruptly, surprising Logan with the force of it, taking Scott’s head in her hands and kissing him, hard. ‘There is no minute of the day or night when I don’t want you, Scott, but, if we’re being honest here, you don’t feel the same way about me.’

‘I love you!’

‘I know you do, Scott, darling. I know you love me. I can feel it along this thread how much you love me, but you don’t look at me as if you want me. You look at me as if you want to put me on a pedestal or in a glass case. And I don’t want to be worshipped. I don’t want to be considered too wise and fine and good a thing to get dirty. Sometimes, I want to get dirty. Do you understand?’

He had and he hadn’t, Logan had thought, pressed against the door jamb, gazing between the gap the hinges had left, like a Peeping Tom, still holding his breath because they were both of them so fragile and complicated and their relationship was a series of finely tuned webs, like the strings of a piano, when he had thought it was just habit and Scott’s cheekbones that had brought them to this point. He could feel how much Scott needed her. He could feel how much Jean wanted that uptight, prissy boy scout in his stupid sweater vest, and he felt for them both, somehow, so hard that it hurt.

Scott reached out and touched her hair, like it was made of fire, like it could burn him, like it was miraculous, and then he kissed her, but so gently, with such reverence. ‘You are the best thing that ever happened to me…’ he breathed, the words catching in his throat as he said them. ‘If I lost you, I think…’ Then he broke off at once, because he wasn’t going to emotionally blackmail her into staying with him. ‘I’m saying, Jean, that I wouldn’t like it, if you slept with Logan, but I would understand why you did. It wouldn’t be the end of everything. Not from my perspective. I understand if I’m not…not everything you need. If there may be things you need from him too. I don’t want to share you with him, but I would rather share you with him than lose you. Supposing he would even… he’d just take you from me. That’s who he is, isn’t it? Not the sort to share.’

Jean had surprised Logan by not getting angry, although he thought most woman would be angry as hell when their dumbass boyfriend first failed to get that they were asking for more sex and not getting it and then idiotically suggested that he would be willing to share her with another man. He guessed she was used to Scott’s crappy communication skills, however, because she just held his beautifully chiseled head in her hands and gazed into that eye-hiding visor of his.

‘Are we talking about me or are we talking about you? Because I’m not the one rhapsodizing about how handsome Logan is and I’m not the one saying they would be willing to share. Although I would – be willing to share, Scott. I never want to lose you. So, I would be willing to share.’

Logan had seen that look of confusion wash over Scott’s face and had wondered bitterly how he could be so fucking beautiful even when he was hitting quantum levels of clueless.

Scott said tentatively, ‘I don’t think I know what we’re talking about any more.’

Jean had looked at him searchingly and Logan was almost certain that she had slipped into Scott’s mind and had a look around in there, too, because she nodded and kissed him, quite gently, on the forehead. ‘No, Scott, I don’t think you do. Not yet. But if you get there, remember that we had this conversation and that it isn’t the end of the world. Relationships are like any other machinery, sometimes they need a tune-up, and sometimes they need a whole new part to work even better…’

Logan opened his eyes – he hadn’t even realized his eyes were closed as that memory came back to him. “I think Jean thought….”

McCoy raised a quizzical eyebrow. “What everyone else was thinking? That you and Scott were fighting over Jean to avoid admitting you wanted to make out with each other as much as you wanted to make out with her?”

“I think I’m half in love with her,” Logan admitted. “When Scott and I were telepathically linked up by that crazy computer, I sort of felt how it felt to be him, how he felt about her… He’s always going to love her the way his eyes are always going to be blue.”

“His eyes are red, Logan. Perhaps not right now, but according to my tests, in less than a month they will be red again. And able to punch through buildings, incidentally. Something to remember when you’re wanting to wrap him up in cotton wool because he’s so fragile and damaged and tragic. He has a black belt in Judo and Aikido, a tactical mind like the lovechild of Machiavelli and Alexander the Great, and eyes with the gigawattage of a nuclear reactor. He is far from defenseless.”

“They look red because of the power flowing through them. They’re still blue. The same way he looks like he doesn’t love her because he’s fallen in love with me, but underneath, she’s still there. She’ll always be there.”

“And this is a problem for you?”

“No. Yes. Sometimes. Either way, I think it’s one of the things I love about him.”

McCoy gave the sigh of a man driven to the very edge of total exasperation. “So, you are preparing to exile yourself, once again, in a world where your mutation dooms you to life as a lonely outcast who constantly has to hide who and what he truly is, at risk of capture and experimentation by one of the many mutant-hating groups out there, sleeping with one eye open, never sure who you can trust, scratching a living how and when you can in ways that, given your gifts, are probably not entirely legal?”

“Look, I managed – ”

Holding up a quelling blue hand, McCoy said, “I’m still talking, Logan. You are going to separate yourself from the first place in at least fifteen years where you finally feel at home? Where you feel able to work as part of a team, able to make a contribution to the mutant cause, able to be on the side of right? Able to get up in the morning and look yourself in the eye in the shaving mirror? All of this you are going to give up just so that you can abandon a man who loves you, whom you love, when he needs you most?”

“Scott – ”

McCoy was like a furry, blue steam locomotive today. He just rolled on over Logan’s attempts to talk, his beautiful diction overriding all interruptions with steely disregard:

“…Meanwhile Scott is torturing himself with guilt, not only about a crime perpetuated against him that he could have done absolutely nothing to prevent, but about being in love with two different people at the same time: both of whom would be quite happy to have sex with each other and with him, possibly simultaneously?”

Logan tugged uncomfortably at his collar. “Well, when you put it like that it just sounds dumb.”

“An inconceivable notion under the circumstances.”

Logan retaliated for being made to feel like a moron by saying, “I’m not saying I want to go back to what I knew before this. I’m not saying I don’t like it better here than anywhere else I remember. I’m not saying that I can’t see how I can be more useful here than anywhere else. But all I see in the shaving mirror when I look in it these days, Hank, is the way my face looked to a sick, starving Scott when I was the thing pinning him down on that filthy bed as I shoved my dick into his flinching body for the fifth time that day.”

He had thought McCoy would punch him, that the rage at having those scent memories stirred up so baldly would overwhelm him, but to Logan’s surprise, he reached out and squeezed Logan’s shoulder. “I’m very sorry for everything that computer did to you. It was a terrible ordeal for both of you and no one expects you to just shake it off. No one expects you not to be traumatized, but, if it helps at all, both of the very powerful telepaths currently residing in this house could assure you – as they have repeatedly assured me – that that is not what Scott sees when he looks at you. What Scott sees when he looks at you, Logan, is the face of the friend he loves.”

It hit him like a gut-punch and he had to fight his emotions for a minute while McCoy kept his hand on his shoulder, sympathy unexpectedly strong. Gently, McCoy said, “We both know that could have been me who was used to hurt Scott like that. It was nothing in you, Logan. Your body was a tool wielded by a maniac entirely against your will. You are no more morally to blame for what was done to Scott than is the bullet that stole your memories morally to blame for having been fired into your brain.”

“But I always will be a potential weapon.”

“So am I. So is Storm. So is Jean. So – lest you forget it – is Scott, and a potentially far more destructive one than you or I. Even Cerebro, in the wrong hands, could be a weapon of destruction. But just because the world has serial killers in it, doesn’t mean we should shun all bread knives. There are few things more useful for slicing bread. And you are not only performing a useful function here, Logan, you are both wanted and needed, not only for what you can do, but for who you are, and you are wanted and needed most of all by Scott.”

He was grateful for the pep talk and the kindness. Grateful, too, that McCoy had managed to fight through his own anger as Scott’s friend and come out the other side of it.

“Bobby? Warren? Do they agree with you?”

“They are…working through their issues, but in theory, yes, they do agree with me. In practice – I probably wouldn’t let Warren fly you anywhere right now in case the urge to drop you onto something pointy becomes overwhelming. And check the temperature of your shower water if you see Bobby anywhere near your bathroom. But, essentially, like me, they feel that Scott’s need for you to stick around far outweighs our lingering irritation with the sight of your face.”

Logan strode around the room, grateful for the sun that poured through the windows in those narrow bars, warmth then shadow, heat then cold, that was life, after all, brief stretches of golden happiness, brief abysses of pain. Things didn’t have to be this way forever, not this screwed up, although if he left, perhaps they always would be. He saw for the first time that if he left now he would turn himself into the man whose only interaction with the X-Men had been to go on one mission with them before he raped their leader in a snowy cabin while mind-controlled. This place would be somewhere forever associated only with that. These people ones he flinched away from when their faces came to mind. As if there had never been and never could be anything between them but that. He saw himself so clearly in that instant as the Logan he would become: that miserable loner on a stolen motorbike, drinking his healing factor to its limits in some anonymous motel room as he tried not to remember what Scott Summers had looked like when he was the animal hurting him or the way he had smelt and tasted and yielded when they made love in an alien spaceship. That was a long, cold, dark path ahead of him if he went that way. He had been steeling himself to face that road for Scott’s sake but Hank had made it too vivid, not only what he would be heading into but what he would be giving up.

Gently, Hank said, “Logan, we already have Scott to deal with, we don’t need another mutant martyr in the mansion. Don’t punish yourself for something that wasn’t your fault, and don’t sentence yourself to exile when any reasonable court would pronounce you Not Guilty.”

He was so grateful for their forbearance that it hurt. It also carried more weight because Scott thought he was in love with him, and Scott did indeed have martyr DNA, but these were people with a reason to hate and blame him who had decided that he wasn’t, after all, deserving of their hate or blame.

Gruffly, he said, “I appreciate you…getting past it, McCoy.”

“I appreciate you trying to take care of my friend. Of course, it could be argued that you also overreached a little. Someone of a different temperament might have been able to look after him without doing it with such soul-shaking intensity that you made him fall in love with you…but I think most people would consider that a case of erring on the side of the angels.” McCoy poured him another drink and held it out. “And – before you start thinking it – no, you are not the cross Scott has decided to climb on. He just…likes you, Logan. He feels better when he sees you. He feels worse when he doesn’t. In the end it really is as simple as that.”

He savored this glass a little more, letting the burn roll over his tongue, the smoothness slip down his throat. “Nothing between Cyke and me has ever been or ever will be simple, Hank, and we are about as far from compatible as it gets. He’s an uptight, rule-following nerdboy who lives and breathes teamwork, and I’m a bad-tempered, brooding misfit who drinks too much and likes to work alone. You put the two of us into a dating agency and there would have to be a zombie apocalypse that wiped out everyone else before the computer ever even thought about calling us a match.”

“That’s why computers will never quite be able to comprehend the true complexity of the human condition and why they will probably go mad with the confusion of it long before they learn to write like Shelley or Keats. You can be as incompatible as you self-evidently are and still fall horribly in love with one another. Empirical evidence proves it.”

“And Jean…?”

Hank shrugged. “You’ll have to ask her. The fact remains that her boyfriend is in love with you. Her boyfriend has also recently undergone a shattering ordeal and you are the man whose friendship interested observers consider the most vital to his recovery. If the rest of us who are not telepathically linked to Scott can do that math, I suspect Jean has long since arrived at the sum.”

Grimacing, Logan took another sip of whiskey, grateful for the way it hit the back of his throat so hard. He felt his palate sing from it, his tongue tingle. It reminded him of kissing Scott. “I don’t know how to do this…relationship thing. I don’t remember doing this – not with anyone but Scott, and we fucked that up every chance we got. What if I mess him up? Not as that beast we’re all agreed I wasn’t but as the person I really am? It’s not like we’re not dicks to each other even when we think we’re in love.”

“That presupposes that it is possible to mess Scott up even more than life already has, which I frankly doubt. I love him like a brother, but Scott has always been Archytas’ dove. His blueprints got lost long ago and frankly no one really knows what it is that makes him work but work he undoubtedly does, however mystifying it may be to onlookers. The Professor, with his parentally heightened insight – or parentally heightened irrationality, take your pick – has always perceived Scott as the most fragile of all of us, and yet the reality is that he is the one who remains resolutely unbreakable. I know you think you broke him, Logan, but I’m not sure it’s even possible to do so. Even when he shatters on impact or cracks along his many, many fault-lines, he just reassembles himself with the broken parts somehow all glued back together again. He’s had more nervous breakdowns than anyone I know but he just shakes them off like head colds and goes back to being an X-Man. A bad guy can do things to him so unspeakable that they leave him curled up in a fetal position looking as if twenty years of therapy won’t get him back on his feet – but Scott will not just be back on his feet but already have a strategy to get us all free by the time the villain has finished twirling his moustache. I think he can function that way because he doesn’t remember being whole any better than you do. He lost his past when he lost his parents. Normal to him now is just that country other people have visited and occasionally send him postcards from, but it’s a place where he’s never really been. Tell me you don’t have that in common?”

Acknowledging that thrust with a grudging nod, Logan finished off his whiskey and handed back the glass. “Well, thanks for the pep talk – but if the bottom line was always ‘Summers is already so fucked up that probably even you can’t damage him any more than life already has’ you probably should have led with that.”

“I’ll be sure to have it put on a t-shirt for the next time one or the other of you is having an existential crisis over your right to a life where happiness is even potentially achievable.”

“Probably a good idea. But if my opinion counts for anything, Scott may need me – if you and Jean and the Professor all think that he does then, okay, I’ll try to stick around for as long as he does – but what he doesn’t need is to be here. Being here is bad for him right now. He needs to get his head straight someplace else. And he can’t do it when he feels like he has to be a teacher in front of the kids, and the guy Xavier trained in front of the professor, and the leader of the X-Men in front of you guys.”

To give McCoy credit he didn’t just dump the responsibility of being Scott-wrangler onto Logan then proceeded to ignore his input. He said, “What would be better for him?”

And, damn Scott for having got Logan thinking that he knew what he was talking about but he found himself grimacing and saying, “Jean will probably know.”

 

Jean had been firm with Xavier, insisting that she did, indeed, know, and that now Scott had got himself back to what even he had to admit was normal fitness, what Scott needed was Jean, and Logan, and to be far away from everyone else. Xavier had friends who owned nice places. He needed to find them a nice place to stay. Somewhere quiet, somewhere secluded, somewhere that Logan and Scott could go fishing.

They had both gaped at her over the last part but she had been adamant. Xavier had wheeled himself off to find them their recovery hideaway while Scott looked sideways at Logan as a flock of birds threw their flight shadows through the window to trail across the carpet.

“Do you like fishing?”

“Not really. You?”

“Not really.” Scott said, “But I expect Jean knows what she’s doing.”

Logan tried to banish thoughts of Jean tying them up with fishing line. “Your unquestioning faith in your super-powered girlfriend is very touching there, Summers, and only slightly terrifying.”

“You’re scared of Jean?”

“Well, if she’d done to you what I did to you, she wouldn’t be safe alone with me.”

“You didn’t do it and Jean doesn’t blame you. Also, she’s not going to lure you off to a secluded location and then murder you. It’s not her style. She likes you.” Scott muttered almost inaudibly, “We both do.”

If there had been some dirt around Logan would have been rubbing his toe in it. “Kinda like you, too, Slim.”

Then a bell sounded and kids spilled out and Scott was flinching from all of it, the noise, and the people, and the need to look like a teacher when he was still so far from being himself. Logan took him by the arm and towed him into a book-rich room the kids hadn’t invaded yet and then realized he was touching him and hastily stopped doing so, retreating to a reasonable distance so Scott didn’t feel crowded and his exit wasn’t blocked. Everyone had learned to do that, copying Logan, even the kids, who didn’t know why they were doing it but, as people used to living in a world where adults constantly made up apparently inexplicable rules for them to follow, just absorbed through observation, the way kids did, that this was now the right thing to do around Scott.

Tersely, he said, “You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

Even while looking upright and tidy and perfectly-in-control, Scott had his fists clenched and his jaw set, but he wasn’t admitting to being anything other than okay. There were so many things Logan wanted to say to him. He wanted to touch him, wanted to kiss him, wanted to tell him he was sorry, wanted to say that he remembered it, all of it, and some of it was a nightmare and some of it was a dreamscape, but none of it had been Scott’s fault, not even the adulterous sex on the spaceship that had felt consensual at the time. Scott was innocent of blame. But he found himself just hovering, thinking about patting him awkwardly on the shoulder but not quite having the courage to do it, while Scott leaned back against the wall, eyes closed as the tide of kids rose and fell outside, because after their white-muffled cabin everything here was unbearably loud.

“Talk to me,” Logan said gruffly. “Don’t give me that ‘fine’ bullshit. Use your words.”

“How do I tell Jean I didn’t want to come home? How do I tell her things felt simpler there. Even there. Even after…?”

“You don’t need to tell Jean anything. She already knows.” He did essay a brief, awkward pat. “That’s why you’re dating a telepath – so your shitty communication skills don’t matter.”

“I don’t know what I feel and I’m too tired to try to make sense of it.”

“I think that’s normal, Scott,” Logan said gently. “I think Hank would say that’s just the human condition at work.”

And then he realized his terrible tenderness where this man was concerned was getting too much for him and he needed to walk away from this conversation now, or else he would be touching him or kissing him, and he had no right to do either of those things. Scott was home now. He was safe now. He was Jean’s property again. Whatever McCoy might say, Logan had forfeited the right to love him, however obligated he might be to try to help him heal. He touched him briefly on the shoulder again, a manly pressure, no romance implied, and then he walked away.

***

The truce between Xavier and Magneto was so civilized that it was Magneto who had found Xavier the cabin where Jean could take her damaged menfolk to recuperate. That was how Storm had phrased it anyway, and Kitty and Rogue had nodded when she said it, as if Scott and Logan were Jean’s property, or perhaps just her burden to bear, which Logan had found irksome and Scott seemed to find perfectly normal. And it was typical of Magneto that he had been the first to tell Xavier how wrong he had been to mess with Scott’s mind, and the first to commiserate with him when Scott had run away when the mind-change was revealed to him.

“You shouldn’t have done it, Charles. I warned you where that kind of arrogance was going to lead you.”

“I know. You were right. For once.” Xavier hadn’t had hair in a while but sometimes when he was agitated he still put his hand up to run through the place where it had been. Erik had never really got the knack of not finding that touching. He knew him too well to lecture him further, even though he was angry at not being listened to again; his need to offer him comfort overwhelming even his need to have Charles recognize that he didn’t have all the answers and Erik was sometimes far from wrong.

“Scott will come back. Give him some time. He’ll forgive you.”

And of course Charles looked at him with that depth of pain in his eyes that had always managed to slice into him like a stiletto. “What if he doesn’t come back soon enough? What if harm comes to him because he felt the need to go alone?”

“You said he wasn’t alone. Our clawed Canadian friend was with him.”

“He’s the one who –!”

“Charles, you know better than anyone how mind control works. If I borrowed your wheelchair to commit a murder would that make you a murderer when you were sitting in it again? The man is blameless.”

“You don’t know what he did, Erik. You don’t have it in your head. I can see it every time I close my eyes. I’d like to see you get past if it was Pietro or Wanda who Logan had –”

“The fact that I might lash out irrationally because someone’s body was borrowed to misuse someone I love wouldn’t make my lashing out any less irrational, now, would it?”

“It’s difficult to believe that I actually forget from time to time how exasperating you truly are…”

They had argued bitterly and yet Xavier had gone back and once again it had been Magneto’s opinion that he sought. Magneto had played plastic chess with him while being maddeningly reasonable.

“You can’t only be Scott’s father when it suits you, Charles.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You like to assume the privileges. You like to have all that legal buttressing between Scott and Sinister and Scott and Winters; the proof that you have a claim to him that beats theirs. What you never remember is that you love him the way a father loves a child, and love is irrational and unreasonable.”

“I know that I love him, Erik.”

“You know it intellectually. You forget how it actually feels, how it affects the judgment, how it’s also a form of madness. Parental pride and parental over-protectiveness – not always a good combination. You want him to be what you trained him to be and nothing else. But he was damaged before you ever laid eyes on him and some parts of Scott just aren’t fixable. At least not by you.”

Xavier gaped at him. “You think Logan is the answer? You think he holds the magic formula to make Scott whole again? He’s the one who broke him!”

“I don’t think anything can make Scott other than damaged but I think he can once again learn how to function even while being broken. And who better to remind him of how to do that than a man as damaged as he is himself…?”

And then, unexpectedly and magnanimously, the address of the cabin by the lake where Magneto had promised peace and solitude for Scott to recover his equilibrium. Not just private property, but a private estate, the cabin and the lake set in its center so that no one could lawfully come within five miles of them, mutant haters included. Even now Jean didn’t know if the cabin was the property of a mutant ally or just someone Mystique or Magneto had murdered so they could claim his property. Either way it was quiet. She had been resigned to too much cedar and animal heads everywhere but luckily Magneto’s friend or victim wasn’t a hunter so the place hadn’t sprouted antlers and didn’t reek of formaldehyde death. It had generous windows, open to the light, and from the veranda one could watch the sun come up and from the master bedroom one could watch it sink redly into the west. There were hearths for crackling fires and a generator in case no one wanted to chop logs and solar panels on the roof to make the best use of the light that fell.

Everything hummed a welcome as she pushed open the door, the appliances eager, the table polished under a hanging square of white linen, the windows clean behind their waving drapes. Only in the living room did she find the smeared impression of wings where a bird had been beguiled by the glass. She thought of Warren flying high and far away. Once upon a time she had believed in true love and destiny and thought herself not only truly in love with Scott but destined to be his soulmate forever. Now she saw it more as choices with no right outcome, just a different turning taken. It wouldn’t have been wrong to love Warren as much as she had let herself love Scott; and it would certainly have been no more right or wrong a choice; it just wouldn’t have been this. As she traced the outline of the bird wings from the inside of the window, she realized that she would not have changed this for anything; even being here with a man so damaged she had sometimes felt him shatter, who loved another man so much she could feel it three rooms away, an enduring ache in his wounded heart; she would still have chosen Scott. She would still have chosen to have this telepathic thread stretched taut between herself and him. Even wanting Logan, which he did, even wanting Logan, which she did, there was no glimmer of doubt in her mind.

She reached out to him the way they had clasped hands in the past when they were shy teenagers unsure of the world and their place in it and even of each other.

I love you. I love you. I love you. To herself, as he threw that endearment back to her, no less fervently and no less truthfully, she added: I just wish you knew why.

She had driven Scott and Logan here through tree-dappled sunlight up a high, winding road, and known things were going to be tricky when neither one of them called shotgun. Watching them covertly in the rear view mirror, she wasn’t happy with what she was seeing on the back seat. Scott’s body language wasn’t even tense now, it was just…defeated. She didn’t like the way his head was down, his shoulders slumped, hands clasped in his lap, knees pressed together much too neatly. In the past, without his beams, he would have been all about drinking in the blueness of the sky, but now when he looked up it was as if he was seeing everything through ten layers of filtered misery. Every time she looked at Logan, he was casting surreptitious looks at Scott, that frown denting his forehead because Scott, who had kept fighting against kidnap and rape and mind-control, in the face of being an adulterer had just given up. Other people doing harm to him he could deal with, but him doing harm to other people just undid him. It had been a devastating blow when he had realized that Xavier had messed around with his mind but at least he’d been angry about it. His realization that he had not only cheated on Jean but still wanted to, after all they had been to one another, seemed to have taken him out at the knees.

She had been relying on Logan to grouch Scott out of his funk, but he had let her down, forgetting the gruff loner thing and talking to Scott as if he were spun from glass thread. In fact they were both being too polite to each other; as if they’d forgotten how to fight; and when they accidentally touched they shivered with yearning. It was horrible to watch. They were so wretchedly in love and so convinced that there was no way forward; Logan because he didn’t deserve Scott after raping him and Scott because he didn’t deserve to have Logan when he had cheated on Jean; both of them convinced that their lives were a tragedy swamp-stalled by trauma.

Some of it wasn’t even trauma. Some of it was just bullshit. Jean hated to be brutal, but that was the truth of it. These two intelligent people were continuing to be quietly and resignedly miserable not because of the mutant gene that had brought them so much extra grief but because of their stupid y chromosomes.

She told them she would unpack and sent them out onto the water, Scott looking back at her over his shoulder like an Orpheus about to lose his Eurydice to the Underworld. The fire inside her heat hazed when he looked at her like that, and although there wasn’t a spark of prophecy in him, she wondered all the same if he was right and she was about to burn out. Of course she was afraid for herself but it blocked out the fear of tomorrow if she could concentrate on him instead. It came easily, because she had been gradually making Scott her priority since he was sixteen years old. She wanted to live. She wanted to see a better world for mutants. She wanted to be around to save every mutant out there whose mutation had just manifested because of trauma or danger or that shift in hormones that made their hidden gene blaze free. But she didn’t have time to be afraid of dying when, if she died now, Scott wasn’t going to make it. Scott was going to fissure and then go out looking for a warm, red death. Scott had spent too many years enduring the kind of loneliness she had only ever glimpsed in his and Logan’s minds to be able to survive her death as someone without love. If the worst should happen, if this wasn’t just a whim, this fear of hers that something dark was coming, then she needed to ensure that he had someone who loved him whom Scott was letting himself love. Otherwise it would just be guilt and self-loathing and all the wretched misery these two had already rolled in like dogs in fish manure. And death was always an option when one was an X-Man. It had almost laid hands on her more than once.

All the more reason to sort these two idiots out.

At night, Logan slept in the guest bedroom and she and Scott slept in the main bedroom. She and Scott lay in bed beside each other not quite touching – because she didn’t want to touch a man who had been raped in case it traumatized him and he didn’t want to touch a woman he no longer deserved because he’d cheated on her. Except Scott didn’t really sleep. He did what he had been doing back at the mansion – lay there, beating himself up for being in love with Logan and hating himself for feeling those feelings. She watched the moonlight paint patterns on the ceiling and waited for the man who could strategize his team out of almost any difficulty to find a way through this impasse or the man who cut his way directly through things that got in his way with claws and snarling to just lose patience and do something. After three long nights of Logan and Scott lying awake and aching for each other without doing a damn thing about it, she had decided that if anyone was going to get this show on the road it was going to have to be her.

They were at least obedient like this, guilt-racked as they were, so now they were out on the lake in an old green boat that was rocking them gently from side to side while the fish ignored their lures and the white clouds skimmed silently overhead. (It was distressingly obvious how far Logan was from being himself because he hadn’t once tried to claw stab any of the lake carp that kept swimming lazily to the surface to snap at the flies.) It was one of those bright, fall days that were kinder than summer, just as warm but with a cooling breeze that made her think of Storm. There was sunlight glinting down on them and Scott was wearing sunglasses because the day was too bright for him after so many years behind ruby quartz. It was much too bright for fishing, of course, too, but neither of them seemed to know that, so they cast their sad lures and left them to bob untouched upon the slow-rippling waters. As they failed to fish, they were wearing jeans and t-shirts with plaid shirts over them, looking as close to ordinary as men who looked like them could probably get.

The most obvious signifier to anyone who knew them that things were very, very wrong between them was how uncharacteristically nice they were still being to one another. Even though Logan was still guilt-racked and considered himself someone undeserving of Scott, and Scott was still wallowing in self-loathing and considered himself a cheating worthless weakling who had let them both get hurt, they didn’t take it out on the other one. Even when they passed each other beer – Scott mostly used his for illustrative purposes, taking the occasional sip while grimacing – and talked about the weather or had bullshit manversations about snow-tires, they kept sneaking each other little gifts of kindness like kids passing notes in class. Scott worried about Logan dehydrating, always handing him water bottles to dilute some of the beer, even though Logan had healing factor and probably wasn’t going to get kidney failure however much alcohol he drank; and Logan worried about Scott getting a headache from the sun beating down on him, adjusting the shade on the fishing boat they kept taking out at her insistence. They would sit out on the lake with their lines in the water and it did soothe them, the lapping ripples and the calls of the birds, and the blueness of everything, although it made Logan sad to think that when Scott’s beams came back he wouldn’t be able to see it, and it made Scott cast concerned looks at Logan in case anything about the water was reminding him of his past torture.

Because Logan kept getting mind-piercing flashbacks to waking up and finding Scott sick and starving, he kept pushing food at him, big, badly-cut sandwiches with too many fillings that he made them both in the mornings as they whispered their way around the kitchen trying not to wake her up because she had told them fishermen had to start early and they were so guilt-racked about their feelings for each other that they wanted to please her by doing anything she said. Logan would make too many sandwiches and bundle them badly into greaseproof paper and then feed them to Scott on the boat while Scott surreptitiously pulled out half the cheese and some of the meat and used it to bait his hook instead. While Scott kept giving Logan reassuring smiles and making the effort to think about his feelings and actually think about what he said to him as a consequence, and when they thought no one was looking they would cast yearning glances at the other man and sigh. And if the boat rocked at all when either one of them was upright, they would grab each other and pull each other away from the edge because there were snaking green weeds in the water, and possibly an undertow, and they might hit themselves on the boat or drown or be in some way distressed and it was unbearable, at the moment, to think of the other one being distressed.

All they wanted from the other one was tenderness. All they wanted to offer the other one was tenderness. They were full of compassion for each other, both feeling the other one had suffered worse and wanting to help him heal if he could. But all they said aloud was manly crap that was meaningless. She wanted to scream. In fact, one more day of this and she was probably going to scream and overturn their boat. It wasn’t that she found sharing Scott easy. She found sharing Scott as difficult as scaling a cliff-face in stilettos. It was that Scott being in love with someone else as well as her was hard enough to deal with without Scott being in love with someone else as well as her and screwing it up so horrendously badly. As well as having to deal with the restless flicker-flame of her own conflicted emotions she was also having to cope with a daily routine that involved spending hours at a time watching two fools completely fail to untie a knot.

Today she was rocking herself on the veranda while the sun flickered through the waving trees. Out on the lake, Scott and Logan were pretending to fish, and Jean decided to forget about ethics – because she had given them days to act without her interference and they had proven themselves to be seven different kinds of useless – and telepathically eavesdropped on Logan once again thinking about Scott. Then she boldly shared Logan’s thought with Scott.

And even though it was a day of breathtaking beauty and there was a large green dragonfly examining him with a nonchalant buzz, Logan was lost in his own regrets. Right now he was thinking wretchedly about how it should have been between him and Scott in a different world where he was a different, better man. Thinking about Scott lying on the couch in the mansion reading a book about military tactics, visor firmly in place, and how much Logan would have liked it if the memory of their first kiss had come from him doing something differently that day. If instead of just looking, sneering, and then striding past, he had gone into the room, sat on the arm of the couch and leaned down, very slowly, so Scott had all the time in the world to object, and then just brushed his lips across Scott’s forehead, nuzzling that lock of hair that always wanted to fall into his eyes. Then, if Scott hadn’t flinched, if he’d just lain there, surprised but with his sleeping attraction waking up, and perhaps opened his mouth a little, because even though his mind would have been mostly confusion, his body might have known that it had felt nice – those warm lips touching him lovingly – and he wanted more of it, then he would have kissed him again, on the cheekbone, and then perhaps the jaw, and only if Scott was breathing a little quicker, a rapid rise of his hairless chest signaling his arousal, and if his lips were parted in readiness, then Logan would have kissed him on the mouth. It would have been so gentle that later Scott could have wondered if he had just dreamed it. But it would have been their first kiss.

You could still kiss him like that.

She pushed that thought into Logan’s mind like a mailman with a mailbox but then she trailed that image across Scott’s psyche, like lace across a fountain, and felt him sigh after it, closing his eyes to try make that whisper of an image more substantial: Logan kissing him like that. It almost shocked her to feel what he was feeling. Xavier had walled up so much of his feelings for Logan before, but now all the walls were down and the strength of his love was exposed like a chalice in the rubble of a bombed out church. She had never known him love anyone as much as that before except herself. It hurt but it was the truth, so she let herself experience just how much he wanted it: wanted to be that Scott being touched by that Logan.

But you are that Scott. He is that Logan.

She kept feeding Logan’s thoughts to him, wanting him to know that Logan was thinking about cradling his head so gently and nuzzling his throat and only if Scott leaned into him and rubbed his face against Logan’s like a cat wanting to be stroked, would he kiss on down to his collarbone, and perhaps dare sweet, soft butterfly kisses across his chest…. Scott closed his eyes and let the thought in, all the sun-warmed images, with the sound of the children playing outside receding, and the light from the windows finding them, him and Logan on the couch as Logan took that first brave step away from his pigtail pulling and let his mouth brush against Scott’s taut, sweat-beaded skin. And on the boat Scott gave a little gasp he couldn’t help, and a little flex into the thought of that kiss, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back a little, while Logan swallowed hard as the next breath snagged in his throat, because he could imagine it so clearly, the scent of Scott and the way his skin would be so warm and smooth against his lips, and how he couldn’t bear to bruise him, not even a little, he just wanted to run his fingers so gently down his arms, and nuzzle into his throat again and kiss the side of his mouth just to see if Scott would turn his head towards him and open his mouth in a way that spoke of wanting –

On the boat the rod drifted from Logan’s fingers as the regret washed over him in a pain-wave and Scott turned his head towards him and breathed, “Why didn’t you…?”

“Because it wouldn’t have been like that. I didn’t know how to be like that with you. I didn’t even know I wanted to be.” Logan was on his knees in the boat, having slithered off the seat as if he could slide under their mutual misery.

“I didn’t know I wanted you to be like that either.” Scott slid off the seat too, defeated because he just had nothing left today; too many terrible nights and too many hours of beating himself up for perceived failures. He was too worn out and weary from hating himself for everything that had gone wrong. He said, the way he always said, “This is all my fault.”

“None of this is your fault.”

Logan’s voice was harsh and gentle at once, because he couldn’t bear it, not when he kept seeing Scott in his mind’s eye in that bathtub, so grateful for any kindness, for a word, for a touch, not angry at the world that had ill-used him so brutally, and not angry with Logan for letting his body be turned into a rack to torture him, just so glad that Logan was back and touched beyond bearing by his kindness. He slid awkwardly to his knees and took Scott by the upper arms, not roughly like any other version of Logan would have done, trying to shake some sense into him, but as if he were made of paper: a masterwork in origami made beautiful to catch the light but so fragile that he might still tear along the folds.

As Logan wiped his thumb along Scott’s cheekbone, catching the tears, Scott said, “I’m sorry. It just… Nothing will ever change. They’ll always hate us and nothing will ever get better and I love Jean and I don’t deserve her. She should have chosen Warren. He would never have cheated on her in that spaceship. He would never keep thinking about you kissing him. He would never want you like this.”

And finally they were kissing. Terrible, sad kisses from two men terrified of bruising the other, so light they were like the memory of a sunbeam, a remembered warmth, and Scott was touching Logan’s face, as if he could map it with his fingertips, the way the sideburns felt against his skin, and Logan was still stroking his thumb along the line of Scott’s cheekbone, feeling the place where the tears had trailed salt beneath the sleepless shadows. They curled into each other’s warmth, still wretched, still broken, but at least they were comforting each other, they had arms around each other, and their faces were touching; wrapping themselves in a big mental blanket of self-loathing because they were whorish cheating villains who didn’t deserve her or each other.

On the veranda, in the swing seat, Jean looked at the toenails she had spent half the morning painting crimson and gold and wished for a cigarette. “It’s sad that this counts as progress,” she said aloud.

Later they seemed a little better for it, their orgy of self-loathing. They came back to shore as the sun sank away from them, casting her sad-eyed looks, and she wanted to slap them and wanted to laugh at them and shake them and hug them because they were still being such…men.

And of course they couldn’t tippy-toe around each other forever, Logan had great deeps of tenderness but he was also an asshole, and Scott might be a great tactician but he had never really understood tact so sooner or later they were going to start getting on each other’s nerves and being crass or passive aggressive or sighing in a long suffering manner or chewing aggressively on a cigar and wafting the smoke where it would cause the most annoyance, because that was also who they really were. They were just really these damaged, weary men as well.

Jean realized that her inexhaustible patience must have exhausted itself, because as they walked through the door and stood their fishing rods up neatly, as if they were weapons they actually knew how to wield, she said, quite peremptorily, “Come to bed.”

They didn’t need sex. She would have liked some, but she wasn’t going to insist on claiming her conjugal rights from a rape victim and fate had only provided her with two of those. But she had to make Logan understand somehow what he was stubbornly choosing not to see.

Logan said, “I can’t.”

And she said with less than perfect patience, “You can and you will.”

It was possible she might have pushed them both – just a little – with her minds. Anyway, Scott stumbled as if someone had put a hand between his shoulder blades and given him a somewhat rough shove, and of course Logan grabbed him as if they had been teetering over an abyss, as if the floor was spiked with swords, and Scott likely to concuss himself upon the air. Holding Scott up, Logan darted a shocked look over his shoulder at Jean and – even though he had been planning to duck out – changed his mind and helped escort Scott into the bedroom, as warily as a bodyguard.

And perhaps she was not only out of patience but also a little angry with them for loving each other so much when Scott had been hers alone for so long, or a little angry with them for loving each other so much and failing so completely to do anything sensible about it, or it was a judgment call, or all those and five other emotions at once, either way, she picked them up with her minds on a warm embrace and dropped them on the king sized bed and floated in beside them so Scott was in the middle. She plucked those sunglasses from Scott’s face and she let the thought flow from her mind that she wanted them naked, and their shoes were pulled off and their socks scattered, their belts were unbuckled and pulled free, and their jeans dragged down from their narrow hips and Scott, whom she had undressed like this before, just went with it, letting her pull the clothes from his long lean body the way he had learned to, but Logan’s claws came out.

“Jean!”

For a man who was always selling himself to a girl on his inner beast he sounded as shocked as a churchwarden.

She shrugged. “What’s the point in knowing a telekinetic and undressing yourself, Logan?”

“You could ask.”

“Are you shy?”

Logan glanced sideways at Scott and must have seen the way Scott just relaxed into this – being stripped naked by the power of his girlfriend’s mind.

She laughed, “Scott doesn’t mind, Logan.”

Logan grimaced because if Scott hadn’t been in the room he would have been all about challenging her back and insisting he was unshockable – even though he clearly wasn’t – but anything sexual around Scott was a flapping red flag to him so he was in a quandary.

Jean let the steel into her voice, wanting him on edge, uncertain of who she was and what her boundaries were: “It’s not like you and Scott haven’t seen each other naked, now, is it? He and I really need to have a talk about that.”

She straddled Scott, pressing a hand down on his chest a little harder than necessary as the evening breeze coiled in through the window and flapped the too-thin cotton of her dress so everyone now knew she wasn’t wearing underwear. She kissed him, firmly, running her fingers through his hair and then tightening her grip and holding his head back on the pillow so his throat was bared and his back arched, the way he liked it, the way they never admitted they both liked it, when he was a little afraid of her and they hovered right on the brink of her biting his neck hard enough to draw blood. She never did it, of course; she wasn’t a woman who did things like that; but today she bent over him and opened her mouth and he gasped and arched and it was Logan who was shocked, saying:

“Jean, don’t hurt him –!”

As if hurting Scott was the most horrifying crime a person could contemplate; as if he had not himself, quite often, thought about how satisfying it would be to thump the Boy Scout quite hard.

She hid her smile behind the fall of her hair, because this couldn’t work when she was the perfect woman whom Logan was going to let keep Scott because she would nurture him and protect him and never turn into a monster who bruised him. She had shown Logan her own hidden monster and he had still decided that Scott would be safe with her and unsafe with him. Even though she was starting to wonder if the only way the three of them could truly be safe was if there was someone in the bed strong enough to stop her if that drowsing flame within her woke up and began to blaze. There were things she wanted to do that would leave Scott limping if she did them to him. They weren’t entirely new things but the urge to try them out was growing every day, even though Scott had never been less able to withstand her dark side or less suitable a bedmate for anyone at all. Just when he needed all the patience and understanding in the world she could feel her inner flame burning hotter and hotter. So she had to let Logan see the Jean she had always kept hidden, even from herself, to make him realize that Scott was always going to attract the kind of women who wanted to nail him to the mattress. And that if he didn’t exclusively want that to be Scott’s sex-life then he needed to step up to the plate – because a man would wait forever for Scott Summers to object to a woman doing bad things to him in bed. But he still hadn’t got it. He was still moping around their borrowed log cabin thinking how unworthy he was and how much safer poor, damaged Scott would be with the woman with the sleeping dragon uncoiling in her soul. He really needed to get it for all their sakes.

She tightened her grip on Scott’s hair, still breathing hotly on his bared throat while Scott stayed absolutely still, like a pinned animal, like a man who really wanted to be punished, and she said in a voice just a little deeper and harsher than hers usually was: “Scott likes it when I hurt him. Some nights, when he forgets to leave the shutters up, it’s all he thinks about. He thinks about the twisted ropes and how they would tighten when he fought them and how the pain would flare so bright and hot if I dug my fingernails into him, and how it would feel if I bit him and how it would feel if I pressed into him, just too deep and too hard – ”

Scott squirmed at the humiliation of her betraying him so completely, baring all his wants to the world, and yet he was excited by the realization that she had always known, after all, all those even deeper secret fantasies he hoped she might have glimpsed.

Still holding Scott down, she whispered loud enough for Logan to hear: “And I was wrong before, Scott, when I told you that I didn’t want to do those things to you – the dirty, nasty things. Now I want to do all of them. I want you to beg me to do them to you, and then when I do them so hard you can’t bear it any longer I want you to beg me to stop. Although I might not stop. I might just keep doing them anyway.”

Even though she loved them both and wanted them to find a way to love each other, she couldn’t help that spark of competitive fire within her that was flaring up every time she saw him turn his yearning gaze upon Logan, or when his body hungered for Logan’s touch. So, yes, this was strategy, but there was also a part of her that needed to remind both of them that she could turn him on every bit as much as Logan could. And even after what had been done to him, he was so crazily turned on right now; she pressed her teeth against his neck, not hard enough to break the skin yet, just hard enough to hurt him just right, her fingers digging into his unresisting wrists, feeling the taut arch of his spine, the lift of his hips so there was nowhere she couldn’t get inside him if she wanted to, bodily or mentally. And when she dipped into his mind he was more eager than ever, because he was bad, he had fallen in love with Logan and he had cheated on her, over and over in that alien spaceship, even though he had surely been himself at least some of the time, so he ought to be punished. He deserved to be punished. He closed his eyes and flexed into her dangerous power so willingly while his mind said: Punish me, punish me, Jean.

Before Liberty Island she might have been shocked by how dark and confused his needs were, the result of all that past trauma that had left him wanting women to hurt him and men to be kind to him, and both of them to tell him before and during and after that they loved him and believed in him and trusted his leadership even though he had never learned to do any of those three things himself. Scott Summers, love of my life, perhaps you are too messed up for just one person to have to deal with. She loved him so much when he was perfect and poised; leading from the front, unflinchingly; so proud of the way his mind worked, utilizing their powers on a mission as if they were chess pieces on a board, everything as clear to him as a past battle witnessed, but when he was like this, when his broken workings were revealed to her, like the spirals and levers of some beautifully intricate clock that only a few specialists in the world could tease into life with strange, sharp tools…then she was lost completely. She sucked on his throat, gripping his perfect torso with her knees as she whispered passionately in his mind: especially the parts that don’t work right….

Scott moaned as her knees bruised his ribs and her fingers bruised his wrists and her teeth bruised his throat – not because she was hurting him but because her hurting him was turning him on so much. She could feel him panicking because someone was holding him down and it was too soon after he had been held down before, but every instinct he possessed was telling him to submit to her, and so his libido was writhing like a snake under a forked stick, wanting and fearing what she was threatening him with; wanting to be rescued from all the cruel things she might be about to do to him, yearning to stay and find out just what those cruel things were and if he would like them.

“Damnit, Jean, don’t –” Logan was visibly having to fight the impulse to push her off, barely swallowing a snarl. “He’s been through so much crap. Just be gentle with him.”

“He doesn’t want me to be gentle with him. He never did. He wants me to be rough with him. He really wants me to leave marks that he can look for later, secretively, in the bathroom.”

“Not any more.”

“Take it from the telepath in the room, Logan. He wants it more than ever now.”

“No!”

She moved back onto her side of the bed and gave Logan a careless shrug, feeling Scott’s relief and disappointment warring within him because she had relinquished him before following through on her threats. “Well, then, be my guest. You have him.”

“I can’t!”

“Because you don’t want him?”

“Of course I want him.”

“Then take him or I will and I won’t be gentle.”

Logan almost kissed him and Scott turned to him as the safer, kinder person in the room, lips already parting in relief because Logan didn’t confuse him or jangle all his hidden, buried needs the way that Jean was doing, but then Logan pulled back. “I can’t. I can’t! I hurt him so badly. I don’t deserve him and he deserves so much better.”

Jean just faced Logan down unblinkingly. “But he won’t get ‘better’, Logan. He gets you or he gets me and I’m out of patience. Do you know what this is like for me? I saw what the two of you did in that spaceship. All these years of me having to coax him into sex and he gives it up for you over and over again.”

“He was mind-controlled!”

“He didn’t sleep with you because he was mind-controlled. He slept with you because that computer turned off that voice in his head that lies to him about what wanting sex makes him. That guy who wanted you to fuck him over and over again – that was the real Scott.” She shrugged and she put just a pinch into that shrug of every Queen of the Hellfire Club who had ever cracked a whip. “So my boyfriend has been holding out on me. He’s been pretending he wants to have vanilla sex once a week for half an hour when there isn’t a nice nature documentary on the TV, when what he really wants is for me to tie him up and screw him with a strap-on until he screams. Isn’t that right, Scott?”

Logan said angrily, “For fuck’s sake, Jeannie – he was raped! You have to give him time – ”

In her head she said to Scott: For the first time in your life you have to make the first move. Not sexually. You don’t have to have sex with either one of us or anyone else ever again if you don’t want to, but we need to know that you need us. You can’t just leave it up to Logan to tell you what you mean to him because he can’t, not after the way his body was used to hurt you. If you want him to stay you have to ask him to stay and if you want to have a romance with him then you need to be the one to tell him that you want it –

Aloud, Jean said, “Logan can’t read your mind, Scott. You have to use your words.”

And she felt like a villain, of course she did, bullying someone she loved, who had every reason to have problems with intimacy, with touch, with people even getting between him and an exit, but she felt as if there wasn’t much time for her to put things in place for his protection. She wanted – so very much – to keep him, to learn how to share him, to explore whatever this was between him and Logan and her and Logan and the three of them together, but that rising fire inside her might one day take over, and if she was gone, or worse than gone, if she was here and dangerous, if that happened then Scott needed to be kept safe.

Logan said, “Jean, this isn’t you. I know what you’re trying to do here but don’t treat him like this.”

She tried for that brittle tinkle Emma Frost had perfected. The one that sounded like lead crystal breaking: “Your trouble, Logan, is that you’re not a telepath. If you were, you’d know that Scott has been wanting me to take our sex life out of his hands for years. I’ve spent a decade trying to tell him that what Sinister did to him doesn’t make him dirty and he’s deserving of kindness, and all he’s ever done is hold out on me while secretly wanting me to tie him to the bed without ever once admitting it out loud. So I’ve had enough of trying to fix the unfixable. From now on, Scott gets the kind of sex he thinks he’s fit for.”

And it was – she couldn’t deny it – oddly freeing to get to play the bad girl role for a while. She was starting to understand why Emma Frost enjoyed it so much. She should really have brought black leather boots and a whip for dramatic verisimilitude.

Luckily, Logan was in such an insanely over-protective place where Scott was concerned right now, that a shrug and a bit of rough handling had done it. He was stroking Scott’s hair back from his face, whispering things to him very gently about how Scott wasn’t damaged goods and no one should tell him that he was. But then his certainty faltered and he said, “That wasn’t the reason you were attracted to me, was it, Scott? Because you thought all you were fit for was someone like me? Did you only ever think you wanted me because you wanted someone who would hurt you…?”

“No! I never thought of you as someone who would hurt me. You never have hurt me. I don’t want to hurt you either. I don’t want to hurt anyone.” But he just shot that yearning look Jean’s way that begged her to keep it in reserve for him, when no one else would know, her frightening him a little, maybe, and leaving a few heated bruises in places that wouldn’t show. Then he bravely bent his head and kissed Logan on the chest, needing him to know that he wasn’t a brute and Scott didn’t crave any brutality from him.

He kissed down his chest, so gently, and then nuzzled at his hard abs, the same ones Jean had stroked, marveling at his furry animal vigor and how surprised she had been to find it excited her as much as Scott’s lean, sculpted strength. And of course Logan was still thinking he didn’t deserve this, didn’t deserve forgiveness or Scott’s mouth brushing his skin so gently, shyly uncertain but trying to let Logan know how much he wanted to do this, that it was exciting him, not a penance or some act of hair-shirted forgiveness. Scott’s breath hitched as he stroked the warm strength of Logan’s body and then kissed him again, more boldly, letting his lips press a little harder against the skin. Logan reached out and stroked Scott’s hair, so lightly that it barely ruffled it, and then – as Scott gave a soft sound of relief and turned his head to rub against his hand – stroked his hair with more confidence, remembering that the brute who had borrowed his body had never touched him like that; Scott’s hair just a handle to him, something to drag him by; those fingers had never caressed it carefully, never furrowed through it tenderly, a thumb stroking the place where the visor should be and would be again soon, loving even that because that, too, was part of Scott.

Scott risked a look up and Logan was gazing at him with such yearning that Scott gasped and moved towards him, forgetting the manly bullshit for the moment because Logan was so wounded and wanted so much to be worthy of being loved by him. Scott scrambled up the bed, his usual lithe grace stuttering, and kissed Logan’s mouth – tentatively and shyly because this was so rawly and vulnerably them, with nothing to guide them or shape them, no get out clause left to them of being used as sex-toys by a telepathic computer, having to own their own attraction, and want, and most terrifyingly of all, their own feelings. So it was a brave, frightening kiss, risking rejection, and Logan closed his eyes and tightened his fingers in Scott’s hair, wild waves of relief and love washing over him that Jean could feel right through their skulls, like standing on a beach as a flurry of wild white gulls encircled her. And Logan kissed him back so that Scott wasn’t alone out there with his feelings exposed, gently and tenderly but with all the reassurance he could muster that yes, he, too, felt like that, just like that.

“I don’t know what I want,” Scott breathed, still kissing. “I just know I love you and Jean and I trust you – both of you. And I will do anything – at all – that either of you wants me to do not to lose you.” In his mind he added shyly to Jean: And you can do anything you want to me.

Jean felt as if he’d slapped her. She had somehow assumed that he would know that it was strategy; that this was her plan to stop Logan leaving; but perhaps Scott had heard more truth in her words than she had ever meant him to. As the words eluded her, it was Logan who cupped Scott’s face in his hands, tilted it up and said urgently:

“This was never about you having to do anything you don’t want to do. You tell me what you want and I will try to give it to you – space or…intimacy.” Not a word she imagined the Wolverine used all that often, no wonder he had stumbled a little there but he forged on bravely: “You don’t have to have sex with anyone ever again if you don’t want it.” And he glowered at Jean in a way that suggested he was going to fight for Scott’s virtue. Then he must have seen the look on her face, touched by his white knighting of the man she loved, and still wounded by that fervent offer from Scott, because his softened. “Jean didn’t mean what she said, Scott. She just wants you to be happy.”

“No, she did mean it. She just didn’t know she did. But she does want me to be happy and she knows what you don’t – that I need you to stay.”

“Then I’ll stay.” Logan indicated the bed and Jean and Scott and even the lake beyond the drape-flapping window. “Although I still don’t see how the hell this mess between the three of us can work. Sounds like asking for trouble to me.”

“I thought you liked trouble.” Scott kissed him again and Logan furrowed his fingers through Scott’s hair and kissed him back, very lightly, coaxing his mouth to respond to his, coaxing Scott to invite him to do what Scott wanted. Not that Scott knew what he wanted, but Jean thought Logan might be the person to help him work it out. They had managed it on the spaceship and at least some of the time they had been themselves.

She was still afraid that if she left them alone they might revert to talking about sports or all weather tires or carburetor maintenance – so she stayed still and let them dab feather-light kisses onto each other’s skin, as careful as if they were in a cathedral, exploring each other as if they were at once the newest of strangers and the oldest of friends.

Jean said, “Let’s make a mutual decision, right here, that the past happened but we’re not going to let it shape who we are now.”

They broke off to look at her in confusion. She kept talking:

“Let’s say that this is a new beginning. The next kiss might as well be your first kiss. What we know – all we know right now – is that I love Scott, I really do, but I liked the look of Logan the day I first saw him, and it excites me to think about sharing Scott with him.”

Scott said, “Does it?”

She let him feel it through their pulse of connection, that though it made her jealous and possessive, it also aroused her like nothing else had ever done; let Scott feel the way it heated her skin and hastened her pulse, and she brought Logan in so they were all sharing her thoughts together. Scott gave a little jolt of sympathetic arousal as he felt her lust flowing into him. She even let him feel, as he had guessed anyway, how frustrated he made her, the way he repressed all those secret desires she could glimpse in his mind, all the rough, strange things he wanted her to do to him while on the surface remaining primly vanilla, never giving her an opening to explore her id. The way she always had to make the first move. The way he never seemed to need sex the way she did. The way the thoughts kept coming to her of how much simpler things might be between them if Logan was there to be gentle so that she could be a little rough and still know that when Scott woke up in the morning, even if he had a few new bruises, that he was still going to know that he was loved. The way she was so damn sorry for them both for all that they’d been through but there was still a secret part of her that would find it a turn on to watch Logan shove him up against a wall and claim his mouth like a monarch stealing back a kingdom.

Logan’s turn to give a little jolt of arousal. “You don’t mind sharing him?”

As the answer to that was at once a fierce and resounding ‘Yes!’ and a heated, anticipatory ‘No…’, Jean decided to go with an enigmatic smile instead.

Scott said, “Storm thinks I’m too much work for one woman to bear alone. She’s been telling Jean for a while that she needs some help with the heavy lifting.”

Logan cast him a sideways look. “You’re that annoying?”

“Apparently.”

“Not annoying,” Jean said. “Just…complicated.”

“Logan’s very complicated, too,” Scott said. “Sometimes he’s so complicated I want to optic blast him through a brick wall.”

Logan tilted his head in acknowledgement, not without some pride. Jean still had all their minds connected so they all felt the moment when Logan realized that he might find that kind of…hot. Jean privately had to acknowledge that the three of them, even without the other X-Men, could have kept a therapist in business for a very long time. She pushed that thought aside.

“So, I don’t mind that you two love each other,” she continued steadily. “I know you love me, too, Scott. I do mind when you pretend you don’t love each other because that’s annoying. Frankly, the guilt is getting old as well.”

“Guilt is the GTX that stops Cyke’s gears from grinding, Red,” Logan pointed out. “You take away his right to blame himself for everything that ever happened to any mutant anywhere since the dawn of time and he’ll probably have a seizure.”

“Oh then, please do – both of you – feel free to self-flagellate for every imaginary wrong that you think you’ve committed. That will in no way cause anyone telepathically connected to you to start thinking serious thoughts about defenestration.”

Logan, who was hazy as to what ‘defenestration’ was looked a question to Scott who said, “It’s okay. This cabin only has the one story so it wouldn’t hurt that much. We may need to watch ourselves in the mansion, though.” But the look he turned her way was full of love and he mouthed ‘Thank you’ to her.

She sighed. “How could you two not manage this yourselves? Neither one of you set out to harm the other one. All you have ever done from the first day you met is try to save each other. Well…and annoy each other. And endlessly bitch about each other to innocent third parties. But, let’s try to pretend those last two parts didn’t happen.”

Scott closed his eyes and she felt him feeling his way along the link that connected them. She didn’t try to hide anything from him, not her jealousy or her frustration or her confusion or her arousal or how damn much she loved him and always would, that skinny boy she had first met in the mansion, and the leader of the X-Men she had watched him grow up to be; she even let him feel the difference in the way she responded to them, all that tenderness and fierce protective love where he was concerned, wanting to keep him safe, keep him whole, keep him sane, and then with Logan, that animal heat he inspired in her. And how they were starting to bleed into each other, so she wanted to shove Scott down a little harder than usual and wanted to keep Logan safe.

Scott leaned across and kissed her, skillfully, deeply; the way she usually had to kiss him to get him to stop thinking about missions and get his blood flowing; his tongue hot in her mouth, his hands in her hair. He was still gentle but there was something behind his kiss that was less tentative, less reverent; that gave them both permission to get a little strange in bed.

Anything you want, Jean. I will give you anything you want.

I need you to want it, too.

He swallowed and then looked her in the eyes. I do. You know I do because you know me like no one else ever has or ever will. You know what I want better than I do.

Logan’s right, Scott. You have the right to take as long as you need to recover from what was done to you. No one is going to rush you into anything you’re not comfortable with.

He gave her a crooked smile, heartbreakingly boyish, and said aloud: “I thought you were going to be tough with me, Jean?”

She stroked his hair back from his eyes, unable to resist being tender with him, then dropped a kiss upon his mouth. “I think life has been tough enough to you. Logan and I would rather not have to play the bad guy here.”

She and Logan exchanged a look and Logan inclined his head. “You were pretty convincing there for a while, Red. Had me worried.”

“If you’d been paying attention you would have noticed that I also had Scott turned on.”

Logan grimaced at her. “He was like that before he met me.”

“Glad you finally noticed that you’re not to blame for everything that ever happened to him.”

Scott said, “Are you two going to talk over me as if I’m not here often? Just so I know…?”

She kissed him again and he opened his mouth to her at once but reached for Logan’s hand as he did so, interlocking fingers with him as if he thought Logan might move away if he didn’t anchor him to the bed.

Logan said, “So, how do we do this?”

Jean said, “As slowly as we like.”

Scott said tentatively, “And what do we do tonight?”

He was still holding Logan’s hand and Jean reached out and slid her hand into his free one so he was doubly anchored. “Tonight we watch the sun go down behind the lake. A few more days and Scott’s beams are going to come back so until then we need to enjoy all the sunsets that we can.”

She let Logan feel that little twinge of disappointment Scott had felt because he had steeled himself to take the plunge and now it was being deferred. She let him feel how much Scott trusted them both. And she plucked from Logan’s mind one of the things the computer had left there, in all the muddle and turmoil, that he had barely looked at until now: the thoughts that had been going through Scott’s mind in the very moment that he was being raped by a man with Logan’s face.

It occurred to him as the ache got sharper and his body stretched painfully, that he wouldn't have minded doing this with Logan. He thought Logan would have found a way to lessen the stretching ache, and would have known how to get him through the painful parts so that Scott barely noticed that it hurt. He missed Logan. The man's strong, muscular body was right on top of his, and his scent was everywhere, and his tongue was licking the back of Scott's neck, but this wasn't Logan, Logan would have said his name, he would have asked him if he was okay, if Scott needed him to stop. He realized, in confusion, that he missed Logan so much it was a physical ache far worse than the physical ache of being breached by a feral humanoid's over-sized cock. That was just discomfort. Logan being gone was truly painful.

Which is why leaving him would be the cruelest thing you could do, she breathed into Logan’s mind. And I will never forgive you if you do it. If something happens to me, in the moment that it is happening, I need to know that you are going to be there to keep Scott safe. I need to know that he has you to help him through it and keep him whole.

Logan nodded briefly and she leaned over Scott to kiss him, and when Logan kissed her back it was much more tender than she had expected, a little shy, oddly gentlemanly. She kissed Logan and then she teased his mouth to follow hers as she bent down to kiss Scott, so they both kissed him, one after the other, and he responded with his eyes closed and his fingers still clasping theirs, breathing them both in like they were life and death to him.

Jean said, “Now watch the sunset, Scott.”

***

It was strange to lie between them openly – the man and the woman that he loved. Scott found himself aware of the way that Logan put out so much heat; how he smelled of cigar smoke and how contradictory it was, when Scott had never liked cigars, that it was now a comforting scent to him. Jean had been telling him for days that she was different since Liberty Island but she still smelled of that almond shampoo he liked and tea tree oil and the citrus tang of her soap. Only in his dreams did she carry the scent of something burning and come to him sometimes wrapped in a red flame.

They weren’t touching because when people weren’t play-acting to make a point, people were careful not to touch him these days. Everyone stepped around him, giving him a clear through-line to an exit, giving him his personal space; even the kids were careful with him, making him feel like some wild animal that might bolt at any moment and whom no one wanted to spook. Which was probably why he had been craving touch so much for days now and trying not to feel shunned. When he closed his eyes, he could remember the rise and fall of Logan’s furred chest beneath his head as they lay together on that foul old bed. Not exactly the honeymoon suite, Sabretooth’s cabin, but it had still been the place where Cyclops, leader of the X-Men, had fallen in love with the Wolverine and his adamantium skeleton too. To Logan it had clearly reeked of pain and sex in there but to Scott, by the time they left, it had felt as if Logan had managed to make it a place of peace. Even now Logan wasn’t ready to hear that no one had ever made Scott feel safer. Quite apart from the whole guilt wallow thing that Logan had going on, it would probably ruin his image of himself as a cigar-chomping hardass.

He was conscious not only of their body heat but of how naked Jean was under her slip. He was all too aware of the taut strength of her long legs, the planes of her pelvis, the curve of her breasts. In the past sometimes her arousal had felt like a challenge he was going to fail to meet. Tonight it felt like a compliment and he realized it always had been, if he could just let go of his own insecurities and performance issues for long enough to notice.

Well, better late than never, he thought ruefully.

She smirked beside him and he realized he had sent that thought down their telepathic link. Sometimes he thought of it as a vein pulsing between them; one that would bleed forever if it were severed; sometimes it felt more like one of those machines the oldest shop in Anchorage had kept going for the amusement of the tourists, where the cashier could put the note in a metal canister and send it rattling overhead along a wire pulley system, the change coming back the same way.

You never were going to be tested later, you know… she sent that back to him with some mockery wrapped around it to go with the tenderness.

He wanted so much to lean across and kiss her stomach and then drop a line of kisses all the way up to her mouth but she held up a hand as he craned his neck to kiss her and said: “Tonight is still No Touching Night, remember?”

“Remind me why?”

“Because two of the people in this bed are recovering rape victims.”

Scott sighed and pulsed back to her daringly: Details, details.

When they had first had this link it had seemed so sacred that they hadn’t used it for any of the things they should have done – mocking people who were being mean to them, making fun of bad guys without getting tortured for it, probably because he always wanted to keep their minds open to whatever orders Xavier might possibly be sending them, good, dull little lieutenant that he had been. He remembered watching Storm and Jean throwing back the wine one day in the dining room and giggling immoderately at something he had found frivolous and inexplicable.

Why did you fall in love with me, Jean? Because looking back, I was about as much fun as a yeast infection.

She tossed it back to him telepathically, airy and still mocking: Someone had to, and, besides, I never could resist a pretty face.

“What’s the real reason?”

She turned onto her side and reached out to tease the lock of hair out of his eyes. It was the same way Logan did it, the same tender look on her face as her fingers brushed it back and then smiled when it flopped back again. Her eyes danced with mockery.

“Remember when I tried to go away to work or attend college and all you did behind my back was get snatched by bad guys who tied you up and tortured you?”

“No,” he lied stolidly, because he had always rejected everyone else’s version of that reality even if Jean, Hank, and Warren – and, later, Storm – had all clung to it as if it were gospel.

“Well, when that amnesia sorts itself out perhaps you might recall that someone was always going to be locked up in that supervillain’s lair of evil with you while you lay there with your uniform in tatters blinded by some horrible contraption to hold back your beams, and I thought it had better be me. Not that I don’t have faith in Hank and Warren but they never did seem to bring you back in proper working order.”

Scott cast his mind back over that era and rubbed his nose. “Okay, there may have been a few occasions where you had to rescue me.”

“Exactly. And it was just so much more convenient for me to rescue you if we were dating. At least then I’d know where you were meant to be when someone snatched you from a street corner because they wanted to keep you as a sex slave.”

“Once! That happened once! And I still think Callisto meant to grab Warren.”

She kept teasing him about all his past captures until he was honestly indignant and then incredibly relieved, because this was Jean Grey talking to Scott Summers, boy she had known since he was an awkward teenager, not wronged woman talking to cheating partner or caring girlfriend managing damaged boyfriend’s PTSD.

“Are you allowed to be this mean to me?”

“When the kids aren’t here to protect you? Absolutely. Besides, look at the calendar, it’s open season on orphans from Alaska right now.”

They had to stifle their immature giggling because of Logan sleeping on the bed beside Scott. Casting a glance over his shoulder to check he hadn’t disturbed the man, Scott got distracted by his profile. He had never found sideburns sexy before; or beards; or the smell of beer; but when he looked at Logan he wondered why everyone didn’t have to catch their breath a moment at the sight of his face. It wasn’t just that he was handsome – although Scott thought he was very handsome – it was that he looked so familiar. Like someone Scott had always been meant to know. His absence seemed not just unbearable but impossible; like someone reaching into his body and wrenching out one of his ribs.

You’ve got it badly, Summers. Jean dropped that into his head as she turned over further and he could see the full swell of her breasts, the slip just covering her nipples. Pleasurable heat prickled up his spine and he realized that there was nothing for stoking up a sluggish libido, even one as sluggish as his, like enforced celibacy.

Deliberately being as childish as possible, he said, “You liked him first.”

“But I just want to have dirty sex with him. You want to write his name in the back of your math book and fill in the vowels with little hearts.”

“Do not.”

“Do too.”

She shoved him and he shoved her back and then they had to stifle their laughter in each other’s necks, inhaling each other’s scent surreptitiously. It was like being teenagers again; only much naughtier than they had ever been; having a sleepover and not obeying the rules. They shushed each other, fingers caressing the other one’s lips, as if they were tipsy on spiked punch.

“Will you two shut the fuck up?” Logan growled.

They couldn’t help giggling again before Scott found a deep, sensible voice in which to reassure Logan that they were going to be quiet now and he should go back to sleep. Stifling her laughter, Jean chimed in with a sensible voice of her own, saying that he really should go to sleep and they would be as quiet as mice. He growled and grumbled some more then turned his back on them pointedly and settled back down to sleep. Scott gazed at the strength of his shoulders and the line of his spine and thought about the metal coating his bones, thought about kissing his skin and feeling its warmth against his mouth…

Jean’s telekinesis caught him mid movement, hand outstretched to touch, and his guilt spiked so high it would have outstripped a pylon. Her sigh in his mind was both kind and resigned: No touching before tomorrow. Tonight we probably ought to talk.

She opened the window with her mind, even though the air was cold, but as a pilot he could understand the desire to be closer to the sky. The breeze gusted in over them, a low lick of wind, carrying the resin of the pine forest, the sound of small forest dwellers crunching upon dead leaves, and the distant call of nightbirds. It seemed to carry his guilt in with it, the memory that he was an adulterer; that he had cheated on the woman who loved him even though she, too, had been tempted by Logan, but, unlike him, had resisted the pull of his animal magnetism….

Perhaps, Scott dear, because unlike you I wasn’t being controlled by a psychotic alien AI. Or perhaps because I didn’t soul-bond with him in a filthy cabin in Alaska after his body was used to rape me. Or perhaps because no one mind-wiped me for my own good. Or perhaps because I haven’t fallen in love with him yet, whereas you have.

I never meant to fall in love with him. I’m so sorry, Jean.

Scott, I love you, I truly – probably eternally – do, but if you keep apologizing to me for things that aren’t your fault I am going to telepathically mind-meld with Emma Frost and ask her to tell me her top ten inappropriate things to do to a naked man with a riding crop.

That spasm of unexpected desire unfortunately sped straight down their psychic link and she raised an elegant eyebrow. “Really, Scott? Maybe the best thing I could do for you is psychically embed a safeword into your subconscious because somehow I don’t think Sinister ever did.”

He put a finger to his lips to remind her that she was speaking out loud and Logan might be able to hear.

She licked her lips tantalizingly. What will you give me not to tell Logan about your disturbing inner fantasy life?

Anything.

Even if it involves me tying you up?

He tried for his primmest expression, the one who didn’t hold with those shenanigans because they were the X-Men and the world was a serious place and don’t light that cigar in front of the children, Logan, we’re supposed to be setting a good example. But he couldn’t fake it here. Their minds were too well melded.

He thought back a little sheepishly: Especially if it involves you tying me up. He cast her an apologetic glance. “And I really am sorry about falling in love with Logan. I truly did try not to. And I’m sorry I slept with him all those times.”

“Are you?”

“I don’t regret being with him. I do regret cheating on you. I really, truly do regret that, Jean.”

Jean proceeded to tell him in words so simple that – as she put it – even he could not fail to understand it, that she did not consider what he had done with Logan on the spaceship adultery. They had been forced into a position where neither one of them had been fully in control of what they were doing, the only real thing about their interaction had been the way they felt about each other. Consequently, she wasn’t minded to be the person to stop those feelings from developing, however mixed her own feelings might be about sharing him. What the computer had done was release those locks and bars he put on himself and so – thank goodness, Jean said – his true feelings had made themselves known. So he loved her and he loved Logan and she was okay with that, except for the times when she wasn’t, when she would probably yell at one or both of them, but on the whole – more okay with it than not – and her life would be so much simpler and nicer if he and Logan could get the hell okay with that too.

“I don’t know how to make it any clearer to you, Scott. I am giving you leave to cheat on me with Logan. I am encouraging you to cheat on me with Logan. I will give you a permission slip if you really want one. Do you want it notarized?”

Scott whispered, “It’s mean to mock the afflicted.”

“The only thing you are afflicted with at the moment, Scott, is a bad case of…manbrain.”

After a long pause when he was once again painfully aware of both their body heat each side of him, her breasts rising and falling under her slip and Logan’s bare chest lightly furred beside him, he whispered, “Are you going to cheat on me with Logan?”

“Yes.” She was crisp and unapologetic. “Repeatedly. And I intend to enjoy every minute of it.”

He chewed at his lip. “I guess that’s only fair.”

“I think so.”

After another pause, he said in some embarrassment, “I don’t know how to do a…threesome. I mean I don’t understand the logistics of where the body parts go.”

Jean frowned. “I don’t think I do either. I presume it’s a…trial and error thing.”

“Thanks to the adamantium, Logan is pretty heavy. If we get it wrong won’t someone get squashed?”

“I’m going to let you run the scenarios on that one. I’m sure you can come up with a plan.”

Another long silence, not an awkward one this time, just companionable. He moved an inch closer to her, still feeling a little as if they were kids in a dormitory, daringly breaking rules after lights out. “Are there things you don’t want to do in front of him?”

“Maybe.”

“Are there things you don’t want to do in front of me?”

She turned to look at him, smile apologetic. “Maybe. What about you?”

“I don’t know.”

After a moment she rolled onto her back again. “Just as well I had the sense to bring us all to this cabin so we can work those things out without witnesses. Now, go to sleep. We have a busy day planned tomorrow.”

“Do we have something planned that isn’t fishing? Because, Jean, I know you mean well, but Logan and I really suck at fishing.”

“I noticed.”

“It’s been five days and not a single fish.”

“Yes, you’re both truly terrible. You’re even worse at fishing than you are at ice-skating and I didn’t even think that was possible. Lucky that the point wasn’t for you to catch fish but to be put into enforced solitude together where no one else was within earshot so the two of you gumdrops could talk.”

“Oh.” He grimaced at the way his tactical brain had entirely failed to grasp that and got an amused raised eyebrow in return. “I did tell Logan you probably knew what you were doing.”

Her mouth twitched as she tried not to laugh. “Never question my genius again.”

Logan made a snuffling under-the-surface-of-sleep sound and rolled onto his back. Scott turned to look at him, his heart doing that weak-kneed thing it had no business doing. His naked body was so close and Scott knew how it tasted, how it felt, how the metal was impossible to feel beneath the skin. The skin felt normal to the touch, nothing about it to betray that healing factor which a month and a lifetime ago he had lied about to Duncan.

“What happened to Duncan and the others?”

“And I thought you were thinking about Logan.”

“I was.”

Jean said, “Does he snore when he sleeps on his back?”

“Yes.”

“Do you find it sexy?”

“Yes.”

“Damn, you do have it badly.” She flicked her hand and turned Logan back onto his side. “Duncan and the others were arrested for assault and kidnapping but the DA dropped the charges – said he couldn’t make them stick. Not when the six o’clock news was full of pictures of dead scientists ripped apart by mutant claws.”

“So, that was what the news decided to go with – that Sabretooth killed a bunch of scientists? Not the part about those scientists being just the latest in a long line of humans who were experimenting on mutants? That place was a museum of historic and current mutant experimentation.”

“Turns out – no one cares about dead mutants, not when there are dead humans to be shocked about. And, you know, Duncan’s from a good family and he won all those trophies in High School….” Was it his imagination or had her eyes just flamed. Certainly the window had rattled a little before she shoved it closed. Jean said, “I’m starting to wonder if the Professor is wrong to want us to hide who we are. It just leaves the mutants who don’t have the luxury of hiding what they are more exposed. If the humans knew just how many of us there really are – ”

“Perhaps they’d want to exterminate us like cockroaches.”

It was instinctive to slide his fingers into hers, the way they had done for years whenever some new atrocity against their kind found its way onto the news. With his other hand, he reached out and gently touched Logan’s ribs. He had done that to the beast in his body and even it had stilled briefly, shown him a little mercy.

“His name is James Howlett. Sabretooth told me.” He had tried but failed to see Logan as ‘James’ but he couldn’t make it stick. He thought of people called James looking so much tidier than that. And Sabretooth had called him ‘Jimmy’ which was just…wrong. Logan was so not a Jimmy. He didn’t care where the name ‘Logan’ had come from, it just suited the man he thought of as Logan better than ‘James’ or ‘Jimmy’. ‘Wolverine’ worked for him, too. It faced up to the man’s temper unflinchingly; owned up to the ferocity, the solitary temperament, the occasional outbreaks of savagery, but also took pride in the courage, the way he was undaunted by any foe, even one ten times his size.

Jean said, “The next time I see Sabretooth I’m going to set him on fire.” She sounded perfectly matter-of-fact about it, but there was an edge to her voice like broken shells. “It’s part of a disincentive program I’m beginning to persuade villainous mutants that they don’t want to abduct you.”

“I still say I don’t get abducted any more than the rest of you.”

She scoffed – there was no other word for that sound she had just made. “If the five of us were the Scooby Gang, you were definitely Daphne.”

“I was never Daphne!” Scott protested. “I was Fred.”

“Nonsense. I was Fred. You were always Daphne.”

He was affronted, and perfectly confident that she was wrong, but on the other hand… “Wait – does that mean Hank was Velma?”

Jean rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe you even have to ask. Of course Hank was Velma.”

From beside Scott a low voice growled, “If you think I’m Scooby fuckin’ Doo, think again.”

Jean cocked an eye at Scott. “Is he always this grumpy in bed?”

“Only when I keep getting woken up by people who can’t keep it down. Are you two twelve?”

Primly, Scott said, “We’re going to sleep now. You’re the one being loud. And just so everyone knows, tomorrow I get to have sex.”

Logan blinked. “Why?”

“Because I’ve decided my trauma parole is up and I’m allowed to do what I like.” He threw it out defiantly, looking between both of the nearly naked people whom he loved but was apparently not allowed to touch or be touched by. “You wanted me to make the first move. So, I’m making the first move. Tomorrow I’m having sex. If one or both of you want to be involved in me doing that, take a number, otherwise I’m driving to the nearest bar and buying the first hairy biker I see a drink.”

Logan looked straight over him to Jean. “You can stop him doing that, right?”

“Child’s play,” she reassured him.

Scott sighed. He was starting to feel like an exotic pet in luxurious captivity. He was also naked and cold and he wanted to reach out and touch someone like the old commercials said.

Jean must have been broadcasting his thoughts to the room because Logan said, “Damn you’re whiny, Summers.” But his “C’mere” was tender. Still lying on his left side, he gathered Scott in to his chest, letting Scott curl into the furry warmth of his body, while Jean wrapped herself around Scott’s back, her breath warm against his neck. His sigh of contentment made Logan grumble at him, telling him it tickled, but then Logan was bravely touching his body, steeling himself to do it as if it wasn’t an ordeal, an arm around his back, gathering him in so their limp cocks could nestle together, the front of their thighs pressed close. It was caring and comforting and just a little possessive, challenging Jean’s right to him, and Jean’s arm crossed over eloquently to wrap itself around Scott’s waist as her pelvis pressed against his buttocks and held him still. He could feel them throwing looks at each other over his body, striking eye sparks that were going to take very little to ignite into flame. In theory they were all for sharing. In practice there was obviously going to be a little shoving and hair pulling. As a spoil he was perfectly happy to be handed to either victor although he would particularly appreciate it if the victor chose to share their winnings, but not tonight, for although he felt wonderfully warm and safe in between them, he was also suddenly sleep drunk on the pine-rich night air.

“Save the antler clashing for tomorrow, will you?” Scott murmured. “Some of us are trying to sleep.” And he drifted off into a warm haze of tea tree oil and cigar smoke and almonds and beer.

***

Scott woke just before the sun came up in a bed he was sharing with Jean and Logan and realized that many of his secret wishes had just been granted. He missed his beams, and he disliked feeling defenseless, but he didn’t miss only seeing the world in red. He was going to miss seeing Jean’s hair being a curling cloud of copper against a crisp white pillow, and he was going to miss seeing the way the shifting light could change the color of Logan’s eyes. (Not to yellow, though. He never wanted to see Logan’s eyes turn that color again.) He was still dreaming about the cabin for some of the night, just as he was still dreaming about being in the Weapon X program, but he could feel his mind was more his mind again, that tangled, mangled principality in which his repressions might one day again hold sway. Perhaps no one else would consider that a victory but he did. Repression, in his experience, was sometimes the only way to get through the day.

He left Logan and Jean asleep, climbing carefully over Logan so as not to awaken him, the man snuffling after his scent in his sleep before settling back down. Scott looked back from the doorway at Jean and Logan drifting into the warm hollow he had left between them and felt a pang of simultaneous love and exclusion. There were going to be times when he was far from the forefront of their minds, when they were wrapped up in their own little lust-cloud: Jean letting her fiery side out like a dog that could only be walked after dark, Logan all about the scent and taste of her. And he would be forgotten and it would hurt, and he would be jealous, angry at Logan for sleeping with his girlfriend, angry with Jean for wanting to sleep with Logan as if Scott wasn’t enough for her. Even though he hadn’t been enough for her since Liberty Island. If he had an inner animal, he had never been able to find it, whereas Jean and Logan seemed to have ones that came to a whistle. Apparently, in the place where they kept their secret firebirds and their inner wolves he had an auditor who wanted him to write things down in neat columns and turn his tax returns in on time. But perhaps a man had to avoid having an inner animal when his eyes could level mountains if he ever relaxed his self-control.

Showered and dressed and with a cup of coffee clasped in his hand so that he could inhale it slowly as well as enjoy its bitter kick against his tongue, Scott stood out on the decking where Jean had her swing-seat and gazed across the lake as the day began to wake up. He felt strange – light and warm inside – and it took him a moment to remember that this was what happiness felt like.

He had thought he was going to have to choose, to give up his best friend and the woman he had loved since he was fifteen years old or the man he had fallen for so hard that his heart was still skinned from the impact. Jean giving him leave to be in love with Logan had lifted that sick weight that had been sitting on his heart and he felt giddy with exhilaration, the relief so overwhelming that he felt almost…frivolous. He knew he didn’t deserve her forbearance or the emotional compromises that she and Logan were being forced to make, but he was so grateful to them both for being willing to make them.

Even as he was enjoying being able to see in color and feeling the absence of that pressure behind his eyes, Scott was missing his optic blasts. He still felt unlike himself without them, and perhaps he had needed ten years of thinking he hated them to realize how much they were now an integral part of who he was.

Still, the sunrise was beautiful. He had watched it grow from the faintest lightening of the sky in the east through every shade of pink to this golden flush of morning light. He had drunk it in, every moment, a scene to remember, later, when he was once more seeing everything through ruby quartz.

“You okay?”

He turned to find Logan, barefoot and wearing sweats. He had evidently showered because his hair was still damp and he was leaving wet footprints on the decking. He was keeping his distance, being sure to stand on a lower level, and being careful not to block Scott’s escape route back to the cabin. Which was at once considerate and annoying, because there was a point where Scott just needed everyone to stop treating him as if he were a victim and remember how to treat him as if he was Scott. If they could get around to treating him as if he was the leader of the X-Men again, that would be even better. He knew that his vulnerability was still a resonating shock for Logan, but everyone else had known for years that he was climbing naked under the covers with a woman who could move things – including him – just with the power of her mind. They would get over what had been done to him in Sabretooth’s cabin, the way they had got over things done to him and to themselves in the past, but Logan was sentimental where he was concerned, and – while it was sweet – Logan needed to get over that so they could go on missions together and have their focus on the end game. And have sex. He was afraid that he was going to be ready to have sex with Logan again long before Logan was ready to have sex with him.

Waving a hand to encompass the light shining on the breeze-kissed waters and the gentle waving of the leaf-shedding trees, Scott said, “Not an easily defensible position. Too low down. Better on a hilltop, really.”

Logan blinked, clearly wishing he had thought to fortify himself with caffeine. “I was just thinking it was pretty.”

Scott sighed inwardly, because Logan still wasn’t being Logan with him and quite apart from being upset by what that represented – Logan the guilt-racked guy who was still seeing Scott as a victim – he actually liked the real Logan, the one with limited patience who was kind of a dick, as much as he liked the gentle, considerate one. He found the one who kept trying to strike a light from him at once annoying and hot. He really needed Logan to find himself again.

Scott began to sketch out for Logan all the ways they could be attacked in this cabin and the first three plans that came to mind as their best method of defense for each attack, utilizing their individual powers and making allowances for the temporary malfunction of Scott’s optic blasts, with the possible drawbacks each scenario contained and the ways their defenses might be overcome. He made sure to be as anal and tedious about it as possible, which, as it came naturally to him when he started talking about tactics, was no real hardship. At least not for him.

On another day he just knew Logan wouldn’t have indulged his inner tactician like this, he would have been rolling his eyes or asking how come that billionaire bird-boy he knew couldn’t buy him a life, like Bobby had asked him to, but today Logan let him run eight different surprise attack scenarios and their possible defenses before finally saying,

“For fuck’s sake, Cyke, for five frickin’ minutes will you just enjoy the scenery?”

“I wondered where the real Wolverine was. I was starting to think we left you behind in Alaska. I was about to suggest Storm sent out a search party.”

Glowering at him, Logan said, “You were winding me up on purpose?”

“No, I was reminding you of who we both really are. And I was winding you up on purpose.”

Logan pulled out one of his horrible cigars – Scott probably didn’t want to know where he’d been keeping it – and lit it up pointedly. Scott, just as pointedly, coughed and waved away the blue cloud of pungent smoke.

“Don’t think I’m kissing you after you’ve had that in your mouth.”

Logan moved in and for a second Scott was a spike of anticipation and micro-fear flashes because Logan was moving fast and he was powerful and dangerous and so much stronger than Scott was now Scott didn’t have his beams, but when Logan took him by the shoulders, of course it was gentle, and of course he made sure to hold the burning tip of the cigar far away from his skin, and when he slid his hand up the back of his neck to cradle Scott’s head for a kiss, there was never an instant when Scott couldn’t have pulled free.

He had caught a glimpse of himself in Jean’s mind as damaged clockwork and fully appreciated the metaphor. He tried not to think about his own sex drive very often because the waters down there were murky, but realistically he suspected his id had long since been calibrated by Sinister’s manipulations to respond to external stimuli in strange ways. So, as a response to all the horrible things he tried not to remember, his libido had ended up a whirring of gears and levers, and there were some slots where a woman twisting his key might best open him up and others where it would take a male lover to get that particular movement to chime. They each had their own dials. They each struck their own notes. The big hand and the little hand swept past each other all the time but they only met twice a day.

So he was sinking into this kiss with Logan, eyes closed, feeling safe and loved and experiencing little nagging tugs of want that could very easily become blood-flushed desire, but he didn’t need Logan to tie him up, and he’d rather that he didn’t pin him down, although the occasional grab and slam against a wall would probably, even as it made his heart jump, make his cock harden too. He didn’t necessarily need from Logan that secret, shameful thrill he felt when Jean thought about hurting him and let that thought lick its way down their telepathic connection from her mind to his. That shivering response he had to Jean’s inner flame was a thing of fear and want combined that was all about subjecting himself utterly to her control. But he didn’t need Logan to run every bedroom mission. He could meet Logan halfway. What he needed from Logan was this steady, rough dependability. He didn’t mind his anger. Logan could let Wolverine off the leash to throw things and yell and stab his claws into walls and furniture and the occasional bad guy if he wanted to. Scott wouldn’t flinch although he would definitely duck if the debris got too dangerous, and almost certainly bitch, but it wouldn’t bother him and a part of him that never let his own control slip might quite enjoy the spectacle. He needed Logan to be the growling, irritable essence of himself, because, whatever Logan thought to the contrary, Scott knew that guy. They had mind-melded in adversity, and he had looked right into his angry, animal depths. He had seen the samurai sword-blade of Logan’s temper and the dark deeds done and still to come, and he had seen nothing there at all he didn’t trust and couldn’t love.

He remembered suddenly that he had never got to do what he wanted to do when they were on the spaceship. He gave himself a moment as Logan kept kissing him, that hand cradling his head so gently, that tongue skillful and coaxing at once, to see if he had any hang ups with doing that, if the theory really wanted to become practice – and discovered that it wanted to become practice so much that he found himself shoving Logan against the wall of the cabin hard enough to jolt his eyes open in surprise. Scott kissed down his face. He nipped tiny cat-bites along Logan’s bearded jaw, then nibbled his way through bristle to the skin of his throat.

“Just as a matter of interest, do you ever shave, Logan?”

He didn’t wait for an answer because there was Logan’s chest and he wanted to lick it, wanted to taste it, wanted to suck at his nipples.

Logan was making gulping sounds but staying still, keeping his arms away from Scott, not just the one with the cigar in it but the free one as well. Scott sucked on one nipple and then the other and felt Logan jolt and squirm underneath him but still he kept his arms pressed against the cabin as if someone had bound him there.

“Does my tongue carry paralytic qualities no one has told me about?” Scott enquired conversationally.

“What…?”

“Or are you just leaning back and thinking of Canada? Because I don’t think he’s thinking of you.”

“I’m trying not to push you into doing anything you don’t want to do!”

“Do you think Jean’s mind-controlling me?”

Logan looked confused. “Is she?”

Scott rolled his eyes. “Will you put out that stupid cigar and touch me or do you have some inbuilt objection to being blown by a guy? If you do, then now would be a good time to tell me.”

“What?” Logan automatically stubbed out the cigar on his palm and stuffed it back wherever he had been keeping it. “You can’t….”

“You don’t want me to?” Scott felt the disappointment course through him and moved his mouth away from where it was so eager to hover. “Is that just some kind of hang-up we can work through or did someone bite it off once and now you have a phobia? I don’t want to trigger a bad flashback.”

“No, I…” Logan took Scott’s hair in his fingers and eased back his head so they could make eye contact. “I don’t mean I don’t like having my dick sucked. Of course I like having my dick sucked. I just don’t think you should be…doing that.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s…” Logan seemed to be reaching for words that wouldn’t come. “Okay, now all I can think about is you blowing me. Damnit, Summers, no one can fuck with my head like you can. I just don’t think you should be doing…NC-17 stuff yet.”

“Well, I got bored with being a victim, Logan. I thought I might try being me for a while. How about you try being you, too, and let’s see where that takes us? Shall I get you a beer? Or do you want to stab something?”

“You’re such a pissy bitch sometimes. How come no one but me has even noticed that about you?”

“Well, perhaps no one else is quantum level annoying enough to even awaken my inner bitch. Have you ever considered that as a possibility?” Scott dropped gracefully to his knees and enjoyed the way him doing that made Logan gulp then swallow hard. Sweetly, Scott said, “Now do you want me to blow your…mind or not?”

He liked the power differential of being dressed while he was tugging Logan’s sweatpants down around his ankles, just like he knew Logan liked the power differential of being the one standing up while Scott was on his knees. He also liked the way Logan shivered as a breeze coiled in off the lake and teased the dripping tip of his erection. The man looked so vulnerable, naked and slightly humiliated, the way a man could hardly fail to be when he had his cock out in full view of an indifferent world, hard-on exposed to the glance of passing lake birds. The fish were jumping behind them after early morning insects and probably mocking their continuing inability to get a bite.

“I don’t want to get arrested for…indecent exposure,” Logan said.

“Well, for a start – this is private property so the only way anyone can get exposed to our indecency is by trespassing, and for another thing – like this is the first time you’ve had sex outdoors, Logan.”

Logan acknowledged the unlikelihood of that with a grimace. “Still – it’s probably the first time you’ve had sex outdoors.”

“No.”

Logan blinked. “No?”

“Jean and I used to get trapped in places…sometimes outdoor places…on missions. In the old days my beams used to need more time to replenish after a battle and back then Jean’s telekinesis wasn’t as strong as it is now. Sometimes we were perfectly safe but were going to need Warren to fly us down from there or Hank to push down a wall for us and we had some time to kill before they could get to us. Sometimes Jean thought that was a good way to pass the time.” Scott licked up Logan’s hard, muscular thighs, feeling the soft hair against his tongue, then felt drawn to bend down and lick his knees which, for some reason, made Logan give a strangled gulp. “That’s not an erogenous zone,” Scott pointed out.

“You’re just the first person to ever lick me there.”

“What about your ankles?”

Scott tested Logan’s reaction to being tongued in unexpected places and was amused and aroused by the way it made him jolt and clutch at the roughhewn surface of the cabin. He had usually responded to Jean’s promptings in bed while she played him like a xylophone without needing any direction from him, but he felt empowered by this experimentation, finding the places that made Logan squirm and gasp when they were licked. Logan liked having his balls sucked way more than Scott did, and Scott found he enjoyed the supple weight of them in his mouth far more than anticipated. When he dabbed just behind them with his tongue, Logan gave a hitched gasp that was weirdly girlish for a Wolverine.

“I’m not sure you should be doing this…” Logan managed.

“If we call it therapy will you shut up and at least try to enjoy it?”

Scott was examining Logan’s foreskin with interest. He assumed that being uncircumcised made Logan a lot more sensitive, so eased back the foreskin very gently and then breathed on the weeping tip, while gazing up into Logan’s face. So he could see the guilt spasm into pleasure and then jolt back to panicked guilt. Logan looked tense with arousal and a breath away from bolting. Letting the foreskin slide back over the head, Scott reached up and massaged Logan’s thighs in steady, soothing flexes of his fingers, thumbs stroking the skin without ever breaking eye contact.

“Okay, let’s talk about the elephant in the room because right now I don’t know if I’m just trampling all over your trauma or you’re overreacting to mine.”

Logan said, “Scott, I know you’re good at repressing but – ”

Still massaging Logan’s thighs and making unblinking eye contact, just because he could, Scott said, “I spent days being a powerless victim where I didn’t have the strength to stop things I didn’t want being done to my body. That’s where my issue is. It’s where it always was, because that was my life before as well: Sinister did what he liked to me, so did Winters. They both wanted to use me as a weapon and I didn’t have any control over my life when they were running it. That’s why I didn’t take what Charles did to me well. What is it about me choosing to give you a blow job that you think renders me powerless or a victim?”

He tried moving the foreskin back with his mouth, very carefully, pushing with his lips, the skin so fragile; everything about this hardening piece of Logan so vulnerable, exposed to the air, to arousal, to Scott’s gently exploring tongue.

Logan put his head back, words jolting out of him as he struggled not to get any harder and failed: “I don’t think I deserve to be rewarded after what my body did to you.”

“Well, could you try to get over it? Because you’re not going to be much fun in the bedroom while you’re wallowing in self-loathing, are you? I have things I need to do here, Logan, for…therapy.”

Logan shot an eye-bulging glance his way. “That is such a low fucking blow, Slim.”

“So did someone bite it off once or not?”

Through gritted teeth, Logan managed, “Not that I remember.”

“So, is this setting off your trauma or do you just think it should be impacting on mine?”

“You do know that the frickin’ factory who assembled you didn’t get the wiring right, Summers?”

“I’ll be sure to pass that on to my robot overlords, now can I suck you off or not?”

Logan clutched at the rough wood of the cabin wall as his cock flushed harder. “Don’t say things like that!”

“I had sex with you in a spaceship when I was myself and you were being mind controlled, which has left me with Issues. I need to hear you consent.” So much easier to wrap this up as if he were joking even though it was nothing but the truth.

“You can do any damn thing you want to me! I just don’t think you should be doing…sex stuff with men right now.”

“This isn’t with ‘men’, Logan. This is with you.” Scott straightened up so fast that Logan flinched back against the cabin wall as Scott put his hands to his face and made him look at him. “This is with you. Remember that guy? I do – he’s the one I fell in love with. He’s the one I had really good sex with. I like that guy. I’d like to get back to where we were before a bad guy tried to derail us. I’d like the bad guys not to win, just this once.”

Logan was weakening now as a heron flew over the lake, trailing its long-legged shadow on the still, blue waters, all the clouds that followed it pearl gray and with stormclouds coming behind.

“Can you feel it?” Scott breathed it on Logan’s mouth – and the way Logan leaned forward to meet him was all unconscious yearning. He leaned back, making Logan miss the closeness of his mouth, and then leaned in to breathe on his earlobe as he whispered: “I think the weather’s changing. By this evening it will be so cold we’ll need to light a fire. By mid-morning tomorrow it’s going to rain too heavily for us to want to go outside. This may be our last chance for outdoor sex for seven days. What does your metal skeleton say, Logan? Does it say I’m right?”

“It’s not a piece of shrapnel and I’m not a frickin’ barometer, Slim.” But he was hunching up his shoulder helplessly because Scott was breathing on his neck now as Scott realized he had never once set out to seduce anyone before. It had never been something he knew how to do or needed to do. Now he wanted to turn Logan weak-kneed and wanting. He kissed Logan’s neck and felt him shiver.

“That adamantium has to be good for something, right? Even if it’s just a weather gauge.” He breathed on the pulse point, then sucked at the soft fur of his throat, then kissed back up to his mouth, just keeping his lips away from Logan’s so all they were exchanging were quick, hot breaths. “A few weeks and a lifetime ago, I gave you mouth to mouth. Do you have that memory now? Did Charles find it for you? I’m not trying to brag here but I think if you’d been conscious you probably would have enjoyed it….”

Groaning, Logan abruptly grabbed his face and pulled him in for an aching, tender kiss, tongue hungry in his mouth, eyes squeezed closed. “I ought to walk away.”

Scott kissed him back, hard, deep kisses, then light, teasing ones that made Logan yearn after his mouth. He breathed the words onto his lips: “What makes you think that I wouldn’t follow you? In fact what makes you think I wouldn’t ask one of the telepaths in the house to tell me where you were going and get there ahead of you? I do have a trisonic jet at my disposal. The best you’re going to have for a getaway vehicle is some car you stole from me.”

“You’re going to stalk me now?”

Scott sucked on his tongue tantalizingly then kissed him back harder than he had ever kissed anyone. “I’d consider it my duty. We both know you wouldn’t last five minutes without me.”

A breeze gusted past with the promise of rain misting on its breath. Logan held him by the shoulders and pushed him back, indignation warring with want. “I managed for fifteen years just fine without you!”

Reaching out to stroke what he really wanted to be sucking, fingers delicate as they teased back that tender foreskin and then slid it back over the head, Scott shrugged. “Didn’t look that way to me when I first met you and Sabretooth was kicking your ass. Or was that part of some subtle plan to lure him into a false sense of security – you know – being unconscious on the hood of your burning jeep? Didn’t he kick your ass on Liberty Island, too? Without my beams you would have been toast.”

“I was – I would have – God, Slim, I can’t think when you’re doing that –”

Scott kissed down his furred chest again, flicking his nipples with his tongue, kissed down his navel, pressed hard, needy kisses into his pelvis, then licked at his thighs as he sank gracefully back onto his knees. “Let’s just say I won this argument and what we’ve agreed is that: you’re not safe out without a keeper and I can do anything I like to your body….”

Logan was making noises that were possibly argumentative in nature, but no one could have called them fully formed words. Scott licked around the foreskin to make sure it slid back slickly and then began to slide it up and down very gently as he sucked and licked the tip of his cock. It was as big as he remembered, long and thick, heavy in the hand, but he’d never had it in his mouth before, never been able to breathe on the head like this, to tongue-tease the tender base of the swollen tip, then caress the slit lovingly, flicking his tongue into it, before he warmed it with his breath. He’d never before got to suck it as his spit-slicked fingers pumped the shaft, then suck it harder, shallowly at first, then deeper and deeper, so turned on his body was a taut flex of need as he swallowed it until he could feel the tip touching the back of his throat. And Logan was a panting, sweating mess up there, and it was a glorious headrush, intoxicating as moonshine, to hear him moaning brokenly.

He tried everything that Jean had ever done to him and things he had always wondered about, wanting to know what they might feel like, sucked and licked and stroked, pulled back just to breathe on it, teased the base of the head with little tongue flicks that made Logan writhe, then let his tongue draw a heated line down the underside, mouthed his balls again, stroked a finger across his perineum, sucked at the very base of the weeping, swollen shaft, then mouthed his way back to the head to start all over again, fist sliding up and down rhythmically as he licked and blew and then took it in, took it deeper than ever, throat opening to it like this was where it was always meant to fit. Logan was writhing and moaning, pleasure heightened by that sense of wrongness he was carrying around with him like a cannonball. Scott could taste his guilt in his mouth, sharp and salt and sweet and slick. And it was like flying the Blackbird, having something so powerful and so willing obeying his every whim.

“Scott – I’m going to – Scott – ”

A hot salt gush in his throat and he closed his eyes ecstatically as he looked up at a shocked, shuddering Logan, clawing at the walls as he came down, softening cock slipping out of Scott’s mouth. He moved in to lick it with a newly fierce pride of possession while Logan made growled incoherent apologies and complaints about how he would never have come in Scott’s mouth if Scott had just damn well listened to him and damnit that had been so good and so wrong.

Scott said, “Are you always this whiny in bed, Logan?” and deliberately licked his lips in a way that made Logan shudder all over again.

“We’re not in bed. We’re doing it alfresco! And I’m not ‘whining’. There’s an…etiquette – ”

“Well, you can spit when it’s your turn. I prefer to swallow.” He had his hands on Logan’s thighs so felt that shiver go through him of arousal and longing at once because Scott was talking as if there was going to be a next time. “Because there is going to be a next time.” Scott gave Logan’s now quiescent cock a last gentle lick, feeling nothing but fondness for it now it lay under his control. “Unless you really did hate ever minute of that….” And just for a moment his confidence dipped and he wondered if he had done something wrong; harmed Logan in some way when he was still damaged by what that computer had done to him.

Logan reached down abruptly, seized him by the shirtfront and hauled him up into a breath-stealing kiss, spinning them around so Scott was pressed against the wall of the cabin. He came up for air, panting, while Scott also tried to suck some oxygen back into his lungs, Logan saying roughly, “No, I did not ‘hate’ any moment of that, Scott, you jerk.”

The relief was immense but he tried not to show it, aiming for a casual shrug. “I did notice the lack of screaming for Jean to save you.”

“Well, it’s just bad policy to make any sudden moves when a crazy guy has your dick in his mouth.” Logan followed that up with another kiss, his hands in Scott’s hair, pulling his face in so he could kiss him deeper and harder then softer and gentler, like he could never get enough of the taste of himself in Scott’s mouth or Scott’s taste in his.

“I’m as sane as the next guy around here,” Scott retorted indistinctly.

“Low fucking bar, Summers.”

Logan was really messing up his hair, all that running his fingers through it, and stroking his cheekbones with his thumbs. Then he was kissing down his face, kissing his throat, holding his shoulders so he could angle his body to kiss him just right, as Scott realized how much he wanted this, wanted Logan to find a way to also take control from time to time, so it wasn’t always him having to make the first move. For the first time he got how exhausting Jean must have found it to always be the seducer, never the seduced. He was aware of her, keeping her distance, but could just feel through their connection how conflicted she was: relieved and jealous and turned on at once.

You’re the one who got us here, Jean. Without you, Logan is heading back to Canada and I’m playing sad break up music in the Blackbird.

I want you to be happy, Scott. I want you and Logan to both be happy.

He could feel that, too. She wanted them to be lost in the moment, forgetting the past, even forgetting her, but she still felt the chill of that exclusion, even as she was triumphant that they were getting past what the bad guys had done to them. She wanted to give them space to make this work, and she wanted to be tasting them both, wanted to be kissing him just as fiercely as Logan was doing right now.

Logan gave another jolt; still not used to being talked to by telepaths. “Damnit, Jeannie, don’t do that…”

“What did she say?”

“That she hopes I appreciate all the work she put in teaching you how to do that and that I owe her one.”

Grinning wryly, Scott was about to point out that she was right on both counts when he was distracted by Logan licking along his collarbone, tongue hot in the hollow of his throat. Kissing had seemed fine but there was something in the intimacy of it, the unlooked for tenderness in the way Logan was caressing his skin with his tongue that left him feeling shy and far too moved by being touched. He closed his eyes as Logan steadied him by shoulders and licked down his chest. When Logan licked his nipples, he found himself tensing, wanting it to stop and to never stop at once, and when he brushed the hard pads of his thumbs across them, he couldn’t stop shivering. It was too much, suddenly, all too much, and then Logan’s arms were around him, pulling him in, and he realized he didn’t need space in which to bolt as he’d been thinking, he just needed to be held by someone who understood that his responses were unpredictable right now and perhaps always would be. Logan held him close, and licked his ear, licked behind it, licked his neck and Scott squirmed into him, feeling the hard muscle padding of Logan’s metal-plated body hot against his torso. He breathed him in, letting himself remember, making himself remember how acutely he had longed for this – for green eyes and the pungent scent of one of his horrible cigars, and breath that smelt and tasted of smoke and beer instead of blood. He wanted to study Logan’s body so it became as familiar to him as his own, so he would know it if he was blindfolded, so he would know its scent and taste and feel in the dark of any dungeon and know who was there. He traced the line of his muscular back, the curve of his ribs, and found himself nestling into him, oddly at peace.

Logan pressed a brief, kind kiss to his temple, keeping his tone gruff: “Can we go back inside now? I’m naked and it’s getting cold.”

“Okay, but only because I need to brush my teeth,” Scott said, and the way Logan rolled his eyes was somehow annoying and comforting at once.

 

Inside, he brushed his teeth with his usual care and then, having rinsed and spat, turned around to find Jean waiting for him in the doorway in the kind of high heels that had always made his groin hurt, wearing a black silk slip…thing. At once his heartbeat shot up because he was aroused and afraid of her at once at the moment, and the fear he had of her was entirely pleasurable because he knew it was only going to lead to his body being made to do things he really wanted it to do. He could see the swell of her breasts through the lace and even now he felt that he should avert his eyes from her nipples, the way he had done in the old days when they had sometimes met each other in the corridors as teenagers draped in towels and blushed with embarrassment.

You’re allowed to look at things you’ve licked, Scott. It’s a house rule.

He grinned at her wryly and she smiled back, still a little scary but very recognizably Jean as she kicked off her heels and came towards him.

“I need a shower,” she said, slipping the lacy strap from off one shoulder. “Do you need a shower, Scott?”

He liked to think he had gained a little grace since the days when he was that teenager enjoying friendship for the first time while heartaching over her, but apparently it took very little for him to revert to being that clumsy boy who tripped over things, because the way he scrambled out of his clothes in double quick time was not exactly…smooth. Shooting a glance at Jean to see if she was changing her mind about dating a guy this awkward, he found she was peeling off her slip in a way that did not suggest a lack of enthusiasm. She held open the shower door for him and he stumbled again as his aching erection robbed half of the blood from his brain, and more or less fell into the shower cubicle. Catching him, Jean held him up and pushed him back against the wall under the head, deliberately triggering his flight reflex by blocking his exit and then holding him still.

“This is what the world is going to do to you every chance it gets,” she breathed, one hand pressed to his pounding heart. “It’s going to back you into corners and make your PTSD flare up like a fever. It’s going to do it to you on missions most of all. Can you get through it?”

It was such a luxury to be able to look into her eyes. He laid his hand over hers, both of them feeling the clatter of his jumping heart.

“In a shower with a naked woman whom I love? Yes, Jean, I can get through it. Ask me again when it’s Sabretooth shoving me against a wall.”

“Sabretooth!”

That was a fire in her eyes; not just a metaphorical glare, but an actual tawny flame. He stared in fascination and not a little fear.

“Jean, are we sure I’m the one we need to worry about reacting badly on the next mission?”

She pushed him harder against the back of the cubicle, leaning in so that her mouth was close to his. “It’s possible that some of us may not take it well if you’re in danger. It’s possible that if people threaten you that some of us might want to rip those people apart with our minds then set them on fire.”

“But we’ll resist the urge to do that, right…?”

“Let me get back to you on that…” And then she was kissing him like she could never kiss him enough, her tongue delving into his to taste all the Logan in his mouth, hungering for Logan and for him, jealous and possessive and with nipples so hard he could feel them pressing into his skin. She pulled back, panting hard, leaving him gasping and aching with want, and then she came in tenderly and just brushed his mouth with hers, coaxing him, stroking him, looking into his eyes and smiling in that way she only smiled for him.

I love you, Scott Summers.

“I love you too, Jean.” There was another half to that sentence but he didn’t know how to say it without making it sound as if he loved her less now.

She stroked her fingers through his hair. “It’s okay to say it.”

“But I love Logan too. I love Logan and some days I don’t even know why, but I love him so damn much.”

“For an annoying alpha male asshole he is surprisingly easy to love.” Playing with the lock of his hair that was always getting in his eyes, she added, “But I never knew you had a thing for bad boys, Scott. I thought that was going to be me.” They exchanged a smile like the ones they had behind the Professor’s back when they were contemplating some mild act of disobedience. “Perhaps all we goody goodies have to break out sometimes.”

“He thinks I’m his teenage rebellion.”

She kissed him coaxingly. “Well, like you said last night, better late than never, I suppose.”

He breathed her in and the scent of her was amazing, he inhaled her skin and trailed tender, gentle kisses down her throat while her fingers curled in his hair. She said, “I need you to smell like me again. I need you to smell like you’re mine.”

“I am yours.”

“It’s not an intellectual need, Scott.” And she was smiling as she said it, because he didn’t really get primal. “Logan brings out my inner cavewoman – in the good ways and the bad ways.”

“But you said he could have me.”

“And when you were a kid didn’t you ever lend someone a toy and still want to snatch it back for a while so you could play with it all by yourself?”

He made to protest that he hadn’t really done that with Alex and that he wasn’t a toy and then found his words were foundering on the heat in her eyes.

“What do you want to do? Please tell me it doesn’t involve knocking me out with a mammoth bone?”

“And dragging you back to my cave? Tempting, but, no, I thought I’d keep you right here.” She kissed him, still tenderly and coaxingly, but with her fingers sliding down his body in a way that was making it very difficult for him to do anything but gape soundlessly like a goldfish.

In her best teacher voice, as she kissed and licked down his body, Jean said, “Think of yourself as Machias Seal Island, Scott. Both the United States and Canada claim sovereignty. A treaty from 1783 declared it the property of the US but Canada still mans a lighthouse on it. There may be occasional cross words but on the whole both countries manage to think of it as theirs without fighting about it.”

Gasping as she switched on the shower and then began to rub the slick gel first between her hands and then over his body, Scott managed, “Jean, isn’t the area around Machias Seal Island known as ‘the Grey Zone’?”

Soaping and kissing him, Jean murmured mischievously, “You know, I think it might be….”

And then her mouth and fingers were doing wonderful and terrible things to him and he lost all ability for reasoned debate.

 

Scott had to admit that when he was impassioned to prove to Jean that he loved her as much as Logan and she was all on fire to prove that anything Logan could do she could do better, the sex was pretty damn good. He had always been the handbrake on their love-life, he knew that, but knowing he could take that brake off for Logan had finally propelled him into letting go with Jean, too. He was still a little afraid of seeming predatory or demanding, of becoming like that beast who had pinned him down on the bed, but as she kissed him in the shower she slid into his mind and told him that not only was that beast not in Logan, it was not and never had been in his brain either.

The thing that made it wasn’t even male, remember? It had no gender and no history. It was just something born of madness. You, my dear, just need to learn how to let go….

In the past she had been so wary of invading his privacy, of using her telepathy to influence him in any way, but now she seemed more at home in his head. He liked the feel of her there but should have told her more often how much it mattered to him – their telepathic link; a tangible trust he could feel all the time, like a comforting fire in a cold room. Since he had cheated on her with someone else, and gone on cheating on her by still being in love with Logan, minor transgressions didn’t seem to matter as much. So she felt free to wander around in his head and whisper heated murmurs straight into his brain and he loved every shameful, blood-warming moment of it.

Sex between them had always felt so sacred to him before and she had been so aware of him as that poor, damaged boy she had first met in Xavier’s mansion, her tenderness for him making her so gentle and careful long past the point where she had wanted to admit that gentle and careful wasn’t all she was. Without Logan they would never have broken through that, he didn’t think; she would have grown bored with him and been too kind to tell him because Scott didn’t know about things like that. Scott would be shocked. Except Scott had let a hairy bad boy mutant fuck him up the ass in a sleep-pod in an alien spaceship and enjoyed every sweaty, breathless moment of it, so suddenly it was possible for Jean to admit that she had fantasized about slamming him down and tying him up and biting him hard enough to break the skin, and it was possible for Scott to admit that he was so turned on by the thought of her doing all those things that when she played those images through his mind he got a hard-on so fast it made his brain hiss with blood loss.

It was as if they had been dancing around who the other one really was for months now, not wanting to hurt or disturb that sweet, shy, teenage boy and girl they had first met, but had finally both agreed to step boldly into the light as the people they had become. Today, in the shower, she took hold of his wrist when his foreplay wasn’t forceful enough and showed him in his head how she wanted him to move his fingers, just like that, wanted his tongue there, too, harder and deeper than he usually did it, while he shamefacedly let her glimpse in his head that while he wanted Logan to cradle his skull tenderly while he was doing this, he wanted her to grab his hair just a little too tightly, twist it in her fingers, and force his face in roughly between her legs like she was a cruel tyrant empress and he was a captured slave.

She left him in the shower to put himself back together again, he kneeling on the tiles in a cloud of steam, the soapy water still sliding down his skin, while she walked out naked, long limbed and effortlessly graceful. Jean flicked a towel from the rack and wrapped it around herself with her mind while he tried to remember how to breathe. She glanced back at him over her shoulder, fond and enigmatic at once, and he thought that he had never known anyone as well as he knew her, and yet he still didn’t know her and probably never would and that was okay, because they had never been so open with one another or so willing to admit they both still had their secrets.

Jean said, “If you’d like to continue our conversation about disputed territories, I’ll be in the bedroom.”

Snatching a breath, Scott said, “Negotiating a new treaty with Canada?”

“That depends on Canada. Alaska, however, is definitely invited to the table.”

“Alaska will be there as soon as he remembers how to walk.”

She swept gracefully from the room, opening the door and moving the steam aside for her with a lazy flick of her telekinesis. Being a little afraid of how powerful she was becoming in no way stopped him being proud of the fact she could do that.

Jean called back over her shoulder: “And don’t you dare brush your teeth again.”

 

All he’d done today was have sex with people he loved whereas if he had been back in the mansion, he would definitely have been thinking about the Danger Room round about now and how it was well past time he got higher than Level 8, whatever Hank said about all the levels over 6 being intended for team use only. He also realized that he had let himself become far too dependent upon his force beams. If his team was captured and he needed to rescue them single-handed then he needed to be able to deal with those scenarios alone and he needed a lot more practice without his beams. He wondered if Psylocke would teach him sword-fighting…and then remembered hastily that Jean didn’t like him spending too much time alone with Betsy. Gambit, then. Remy could teach him sword-fighting…although it was possible Logan might not like him spending too much time alone with Gambit…. Anyway, one way or another, he definitely needed to make it all the way to Level 10 before too long.

Today, however, he realized he had finally grasped what the point was of a vacation. In the past it had just felt like something people made him do when he would much rather be back in the mansion training. It usually involved a lot more interacting with the public than he was comfortable with and people forcing him to wear clothing that wasn’t battle-ready while making him not-train in exposed, difficult-to-defend places where he didn’t have access to a jet while the many ways their position was vulnerable fretted at his back-brain. Storm and Jean liked vacations. They liked sitting on beaches and going on cruises, and wouldn’t let him book holiday time on newborn atolls in the middle of nowhere or islands where there had been strange sightings where he could have combined pretending-to-have-a-holiday with actually-being-on-a-mission. They booked places with blue skies and white sands and told him he was going there and for how long for and who with and then they stood over him while he packed his suitcase and mocked how neatly he folded everything. He realized as he staggered, weak-legged, to his feet and hung onto the shower while tasting Jean on his tongue, that going away from all the usual signposts that told you who you thought you were allowed you to notice that perhaps you weren’t just that version of yourself; perhaps you were this other guy as well. He also realized that the next time someone made him go and sit on a boring beach somewhere, he would have Logan as an ally in wanting to go on the mysterious mist-wreathed island break instead. Those were two things he had learned through having sex that he would never have worked out in the Danger Room.

As he wrapped a towel around his waist his fingers accidentally brushed against his own skin and it felt silky and warm from the soap Jean had lathered into it. He smelled like her now. He realized he was bait again, she had scent marked him to lure Logan in, the way Sabretooth had done