Indomitable Will, Tender Heart - 3
Rating: Strong R (language - this chapter)
Disclaimer: Don't own them, yadda yadda. See Chapter 1...
Marie turned her key in the lock and shouldered open the door, placing
the grocery bags and her purse inside, against the wall. Walking
confidently into the darkened living room, she flipped a switch on the
wall next to the overstuffed couch. A floor lamp came on and a
small Christmas tree, festively decorated in the opposite corner, lit
up at the same time, the lights
beginning to twinkle cheerfully. The man who'd given his name as
warily stepped over the threshold, a long moment behind her, also
a grocery bag alongside his duffel. His head, previously bent
the icy wind, came up swiftly and his eyes darted around the room,
in his surroundings. Marie removed her shoes, placing them on a
mat, and then hung her coat over one of the hooks on the wall beside
door. When she turned her attention back to her guest, she
that he was looking around warily and his nostrils were flared.
took an appreciative sniff and smiled, relieving him of the grocery bag
setting it down beside the other two.
"Mmm....smell the beef stew? I put it in the crockpot this
morning, so it would be ready to eat when I got home. Don't worry
- there's more than enough
for both of us."
He gave her a curt nod but remained silent. She also realized
that he was now shivering in the sudden warmth of the room and there
was a puddle forming on the wood floor, where the snow was rapidly
melting from his boots.
"First, let's get you out of those wet clothes. Then I'll put the
groceries away and we can eat." Wolverine looked down at his feet, as
seeing them for the first time, and noticed the puddle. He
at her, a sheepish look on his face.
Marie shrugged, wanting to put him at ease. "That's okay, it's
only a little water. It'll mop right up." She smiled at him
again, motioning for him to remove his jacket and boots.
"C'mon....take those off and follow me."
He shrugged out of the damp leather, which she promptly hung up next to
her coat, but when he bent over to take off his boots he nearly lost
balance. He struggled silently with them for another moment
Marie quickly knelt down in front of him, grasping a boot-heel in one
and pulling out and upward with the other. The boot slowly came
and she dropped it with a squelching sound onto the water already
"Wh-what the hell? I don't n-need your h-help!" he sputtered,
feeling more flustered than angry, but allowing only the anger to come
through. She's already wonderin' what my deal is.
No fuckin' way am I gonna let her know just how outta sorts I really am
"I-I'm sorry," she said softly, wincing as he glared at her. "It
just looked like you were...." breaking off, she watched him as he
began tugging at his second boot, trying to dislodge it without much
He looked up at her from under his eyebrows, his voice a low
".....having some trouble," she finished, meeting his eyes evenly.
Wolverine snorted, diverting his attention to his remaining boot
again. Having some trouble. Christ, that's an
understatement. He was sure he looked fucking
ridiculous; wet and cold, and nearly hopping on one leg like a demented
kangaroo. Meanwhile, Marie was still just standing there,
watching him struggle.
"Why dontcha just take a picture....it'll last longer," he snarled, not
looking at her. There was an odd look (sympathy?) on her face,
made him feel even more surly. I never shoulda agreed to come
I am to her is a fuckin' pity case. Then again, even he
admit - though never out loud - that he hadn't exactly given her much
to think otherwise. Yeah, well....screw it. I never
her help in the first place.
Marie bit back a comment of her own while trying not to notice the
continued struggles of her reluctant house guest. It's
my fault - I shouldn't have helped him without asking first.
Regardless of what his problems are now, he's
obviously the kind of guy who's used to taking care of himself.
when he was still struggling a long minute later, she knew he was going
need her assistance whether he wanted it or not. She guessed that
body temperature and, therefore, his coordination simply weren't quite
to par enough to get the job done. Damn, his teeth are
- I gotta get him dried off and warmed up! Squaring her
Marie turned back to face him.
"Look, uh, Wolverine....you're obviously still pretty cold, so um, let
me just give you a hand, okay? It's really no big deal or anything..."
He grunted but, admitting defeat, placed one palm on the end table next
to the couch while Marie tugged the stubborn boot off. She peeled
his socks off as well, placing them both in front of a nearby hot-air
register to dry. Leaving the floor cleanup for later, she
motioned again for him to follow her down a narrow hallway. A
brilliant light came on and
they were both standing in the middle of a small, neat bathroom,
decorated in subtle shades of blue and yellow.
In the confines of the room, Wolverine's larger frame completely
dwarfed hers. Wow, I stand corrected - he's definitely what I
would call a 'big
guy'. Marie reached into the linen cabinet and grabbed
yellow bathtowel, turning back around and handing it to him.
ahead and get yourself dried off. I'll be back in a couple
He dropped the duffel bag on the toilet seat and accepted the towel as
Marie left the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. She headed
down the hallway, past the guest room, to her own bedroom.
over the black cat curled up on her bed, she gave the animal's head an
scratch before grabbing a pair of dark green sweatpants and a
white t-shirt from her closet. Having left the bedroom door open,
stepped behind the 3-panel wicker screen in the corner - in
guest goes AWOL and starts looking for me! - stripping out of
damp clothes and throwing them in the hamper. Toweling the water
out of her hair, she quickly donned the dry clothing and emerged
marginally better. A hot shower would've been perfect,
will have to do. At least now I don't look like something the cat
in.....no offense, Winston!
Grabbing a pair of socks from her top dresser drawer, Marie shoved her
feet into them as she headed back down the hall toward the
bathroom. Rapping on the door with her knuckles, she called his
Unable to hear any noises coming from within, she called to him again
but still got no response. Her heart skipped a beat. Oh,
God.....I hope he didn't pass out in there, or try to off himself with
my bottle of Midol or something....
Taking a deep breath, she slowly turned the knob and peeked around the
door into the room. Wolverine was perched on the edge of the
wearing all of his clothes and shivering, the snowmelt from his hair
steadily onto his lap. The towel she'd given him was resting,
folded, on the edge of the sink. As she came into the room, he
up at her, his expression one of misery and.....disgust?
I think...he feels weak - or helpless - and he's obviously
not used to it... Marie had no idea what had happened to him,
what could've possibly reduced him to this, but she knew that the last
he would want from her was pity. She swallowed the lump in her
throat and gave him a warm smile.
"You know, that was silly of me," she said, casually unfolding the
towel. It was nearly as long as she was tall. "You're still
way too numb from the cold to do this yourself. Here, why don't
you just let me give you
He frowned at her, frustration suddenly evident in his hazel eyes - Goddammit.
It ain't like I got a lotta choice, here. Shit. My body
cooperatin' with me right now... - and she thought he was going to
snap at her again, but instead he just nodded jerkily. She slung
towel over her shoulder and leaned toward him, making short work of the
on his overshirt. As she was helping him work his arms out of the
flannel, a sudden glint caught her attention. Partially hidden
his t-shirt was a single piece of flat, rectangular metal dangling from
stainless-steel chain. Oblivious to the fact that her attention
momentarily diverted, Wolverine sluggishly lifted his arms so she could
the t-shirt over his head. Absently, Marie did so, while at the
same time cocking her
head as she strained to read the small markings stamped on the piece of
458 25 243
It almost looks like some kind of dog-tag, but not quite. Very
He made a low sound in the back of his throat and her attention was
abruptly snapped back to the man sitting in front of her
expectantly. In spite
of herself, Marie's pulse quickened at the sight of his bare upper
torso. Oh My God... He was in prime physical shape,
a perfect specimen
of manhood. It was her turn to shiver as her gaze traveled over
body, pausing to admire his broad shoulders, the swell of his biceps,
strong, furred chest and hard, flat stomach with its trail of dark hair
She shook herself out of her reverie, flushing. Clearing her
throat, she attempted to explain why she'd been staring at him.
Not the real reason, of course, but one she hoped he would
believe. "Well, uh, you look like you're in, umm, good
shape. Talk about your understatements....whew!
No injuries or anything. Which is good to know, cuz my first-aid
skills are, um, really kinda rusty."
"I heal fast," he mumbled.
"Oh." Does that mean he was injured, previously?
'Couldn't be anything recent....there isn't a scratch or a bruise on
him anywhere. Marie stood directly in front of him as
she pulled the towel off her
shoulder and draped it around his. Slowly, with firm strokes, she
rubbing his back, arms, chest and shoulders through the towel, trying
not to dwell on how perfectly smooth his skin was or how incredible the
well-defined muscles felt beneath her hands. The silence felt
and - to take her mind off the nearly-naked man in front of her - she
for something to say, going with the first thing that popped into her
"Were you, uh, in the military?" She lightly brushed the piece of
metal now lying flush against his chest with a fingertip.
looks like a dog tag, but --"
"No." Fuck. Stupid tag. Forgot about
Nothin' gets by her, though. Now she's probably gonna wonder if
a 'Nam vet or got fucked up with Agent Orange or somethin'.
He was even more shocked to realize that he was actually concerned
what she thought of him. Since when did I start givin'
His hand closed around the tag. The brusk tone of his voice and
the way his lips snapped shut around the single word indicated that she
should've searched harder for a more generic topic. "Okay." She
down at him. "Sorry." Good one, Marie. Yep,
He just sat quietly, shivering now and then, but allowing her to dry
him without protest. As she leaned in to better reach around his
face came into contact with the soft skin of her midriff, through her
Unconsciously, he flared his nostrils, breathing her scent in - Damn,
she smells good - like the wind and soap and somethin' kinda lemony...
- and committing it to memory.
"Umm, Wolverine? Can you stand up so we can, uh, get these jeans
He silently cursed himself for not paying attention but slowly got to
his feet, swaying a little. Marie reached out to steady him, the
in one hand and the other resting firmly on his chest. She waited
patiently, eyes focused on a point somewhere over his shoulder, but his
efforts to disengage the metal button were in vain. My
coordination's shot all to hell. What the fuck is wrong with
me? Finally he gave up, growling in frustration.
"Shit. Uh,...I can't --"
Marie looked up at him, recognition suddenly dawning. "Oh!"
She flushed again. "That's okay. Um -- I'll just get it for
then....." Get a grip, girl. You can do this
yourself or making him feel worse.
She took a deep breath, deftly releasing the button and unzipping his
jeans. He leaned heavily on her, one strong hand gripping her
shoulder, while he withdrew his long legs from the soggy denim.
Marie looked away quickly as the fact that he wore no underwear became
apparent. Of course
he'd be the type to go commando. Jeez, could this get any more
Wolverine didn't seem to be embarrassed by his nudity. She
insisted on helpin' me out, so she's just gonna have to deal with all
of me. Wordlessly, he took the towel she offered him, her
eyes carefully averted, and used it to clumsily dry his lower body,
sitting back down on the edge of the tub to steady himself. Out
of deference to her, he kept the towel
in his lap after he was finished. Hmph....'guess I can
I ain't a total asshole... His shivering had almost
completely ceased, and he was looking up at her with a slightly less
guarded expression. When she felt it was safe to glance at him
again, her heart jumped in her chest a second time upon seeing his slim
hips, firmly muscled thighs and solid
calves, the latter lightly covered with soft, dark hair. Good
Is there any part of him that isn't absolute perfection?!
Giving herself a mental shake, Marie let out the breath she hadn't even
realized she'd been holding. Fixing him with a smile, she turned
grabbed a second, smaller towel from the linen cabinet.
"Your hair is still pretty wet. I-I can just dry it for you, if
An odd look ghosted across his face and he trembled slightly - I
dunno, maybe that ain't such a good idea... - but, as unaccustomed
as he was to having someone do *for* him, it was strangely soothing to
know that she wanted to, so he finally gave a half-shrug and a
Marie stood directly in front of him, between his knees, and again he
his face almost touching her midriff. His eyes closed and he
her scent in deeply, the tension in his body finally ebbing as she
dried his hair. He could hear her breathing and it comforted
the sound of her steady, even breath just as much of a balm to his
as the low thrumming of her heart. Christ, I could just
stay like this forever...
She alternated between using the towel to blot the water and her
fingers to air-fluff the thick, dark strands. Wolverine didn't
think he'd ever felt anything more relaxing in his entire life...or at
least as far as he knew. Unconsciously, he leaned into her soft,
sweet-smelling warmth, slowly burying his face in her stomach.
Unbidden, his arms crept up, enveloping her lower body in a loose
Marie slowed her ministrations, suddenly aware of his warm breath on
her midsection and his arms around her hips. What--? An
almost inaudible sound caught her attention before she could
react. It was low and rhythmic, and it seemed to be emanating
from Wolverine's chest. She could feel it, as well as hear it,
rumbling against her body, gradually getting stronger. Oh My
God. He's....that sounds like -- is he purring?!
He wasn't trying to grope her or take advantage of her in any way, so
she forced herself to ignore his nearly overwhelming proximity and
concentrate on what she was doing. His hair was only slightly
damp now, so she draped
the towel over the tub and continued running her fingers through the
strands, air-fluffing it as she went. The purring sound
his face and hands on her remained still. In spite of herself, she
started to relax as well, the rumbling proving to be quite soothing to
both of them.
They remained that way for another few minutes, before Wolverine
abruptly snapped out of his trance-like state and pulled away from her
like he'd been stung. Shit. What the fuck am I
doin'? The towel shifted in his lap and Marie flushed and
took a step back, attempting to save face - and, hopefully, make him
comfortable again - by introducing a new topic. Getting
him covered up would be a really good start, probably more for my sake
than for his!
"Well, um, you seem to be pretty dry now. Do you have any clean
clothes in your bag?" He gave her a curt nod, so she reached down
and grabbed the duffel, holding it out to him. He took it from
her, the scowl firmly in place again, eyes riveted to a spot on the
floor. She took a deep breath and kept going. "So - you
can, uh, go ahead and get dressed, and... " She paused. "....that
is, unless you think you might need me
He cut her off with a glare. "I'm fine."
Marie nodded briskly. "Okay. Good." Clearing her
throat, she busied herself scooping up his wet clothes and the towel
she'd used on his hair, casually avoiding the one he was still holding
in front of his groin.
With a casual shrug, she started for the door. "I'm just going to
these in the dryer." She jerked a thumb over her shoulder, in the
of the hallway. "Anyway, come on out whenever you're done, and
the towel with you. I'll be in the kitchen, putting groceries
and getting our dinner ready."
He grunted, reverting back to staring at the floor again. She
sighed to herself. It feels like I messed up, or
overstepped a boundary
or something....but I have no idea what I did wrong! As
to go, leaving him to his privacy, a low sound that might've been a
halted her. "Marie....?" Shit. I hate
but I gotta....I just gotta know where she's comin' from. It
first time he'd said her name since she'd introduced herself. The
word was spoken so quietly, she'd almost convinced herself she imagined
Pivoting slowly on one heel, she looked at him questioningly. He
his intense gaze on her and she fought down a shiver.
She knew what he was trying to ask. It was only one word, but it
spoke volumes. If he's not a pity-case to me, then why am I
helping him? Good question.
I've been wondering that myself, ever since I stopped the car in the
of a snowstorm and offered dinner and a place to sleep to a
who's been nothing but grouchy to me. Shrugging, she
to go with her gut answer. "Because everyone needs a friend
once-in-awhile." Well, if I had to be completely honest,
there's a lot more to it than
that, but I don't think his masculine pride would find the other
as easy to swallow. ~
There was a heavy silence, followed by mumbling that sounded something
like "Yeah." He wasn't looking at her again, but she knew that he
was thanking her, in
his own way. Acceptance of her help hadn't come easy for him and
one-word admission was truly heartfelt. Knowing that he did not
to be perceived as a charity-case, she opted for a casual tone as she
to leave the room once again.
"Hey, no problem. That's what friends are for, right?" Her
lips curled into a smile. "Now hurry up and get dressed, or I'm
gonna start eating without you!" She couldn't be sure, but she
thought she heard a low chuckle poorly disguised as a cough as she shut
the door. It was
like music to her ears.
Posted April 2002