Indomitable Will, Tender Heart - 4

Author: Taryn
Email: Write Me!
Rating: Strong R (language - this chapter)
Disclaimer: Don't own them, yadda yadda.  See Chapter 1...
Author's Notes:  The book referred to here, "1984" by George Orwell, is - in my humble opinion - one of the greatest novels
of all time.  If you've never read it, I urge you to purchase a copy or, at least, check it out at the library.  It remains as timeless and thought-provoking as ever....perhaps now even more-so than when it was first released, 60 years ago.  Oh, and thanks to Karen for letting her kitty, Katarina, play as "Winston."  :-)

Marie was just beginning to wonder if she should go check on Wolverine when she finally heard him coming toward the kitchen.  Glancing up from the salad she was tossing, her brown eyes locked with his hazel ones as he hesitated in the doorway and she could feel her face beginning to flush.

He was wearing a snug, dark blue t-shirt that clung to his powerful arms, accentuating his broad chest, and a pair of worn black jeans that hugged his muscular thighs like a second skin.  His feet were still bare and his hair was almost completely dry, curling slightly where it met his shoulders.   Oh My God....he looks good enough to eat.  Forget the stew...he could be the main course!   She could feel her heart pounding in her chest and fought desperately to keep her face impassive.  When he gave her a wry look she almost thought she'd been found out.  Instead he held out one of her bath towels.   The one he was covering his lap with....

"'s the other towel.  I didn't know where ya wanted it."

Marie flushed.  "Oh, thanks.  Just, um, drape it over that chair in the corner.  I'll add it to the laundry after we eat."

He nodded and did as she directed, deeply sniffing the air while watching her grate cheese into two bowls filled with lettuce and tomatoes.  "...'Smells good."

She pulled a face.  "Yeah, well....hopefully you'll think it tastes good too."  That was a joke.  To be honest, the crockpot had never failed her when it came to her grandmother's beef stew recipe, and she was confident that this time would be no exception.

"...'Need help?"

Surprised, she raised her eyebrows at him.  "You know your way around a kitchen?"   I would've figured him for a Soup Kitchen, maybe, but not a real one. Boy, this guy is just full of surprises.

He shrugged one shoulder.  "Maybe."

"Okay, Wolverine."  Marie couldn't help grinning.  "Why don't you set the table for us?  The plates and glasses are in that cabinet over there, and the silverware and napkins are in the drawer behind me."

Knowing it would only make him more self-conscious if she watched him, she grabbed a bottle out of the refrigerator and busied herself with the bread while he slowly but surely went about his task.  When she turned back around, the small table in the corner had been set with a clumsy efficiency.  She rewarded him with a grateful smile.  Without realizing it, his chest puffed out a little, a feeling settling there like he'd finally managed to help her out, to give something back, even if it didn't amount to a helluva lot.

"Great, now we can eat!  And I hope you've got a really big appetite, because I usually make enough to feed an army, so don't be afraid to dig in."

His stomach rumbled in response and he grimaced, not remembering when - or what - his last solid meal had been.  Marie was wondering the same thing as she handed him the bread basket and indicated for him to put it on the table.  He was a big man and, although he was obviously in good physical shape, she had a feeling his recent meals had probably been sporadic at best.

She set the filled salad bowls next to their plates, remembering at the last minute to retrieve the dressings from the refrigerator, and then brought the ceramic pot of beef stew to the table, centering it on the trivet she'd placed there earlier.  Wolverine was watching her in anticipation, and she nodded at him.

"Can you pour the wine --" she put the bottle down in front of him "-- while I dish this out for us?"

He gave a little grunt and obliged, pouring the red liquid into both of their glasses without spilling a drop while she spooned large portions of stew onto their plates.  Finally she motioned for him to sit, but something deep within him refused to do so until she had settled in first.   How unusual.  I never would've figured him for upholding old-fashioned manners.

When they were both seated, Marie gave him an apologetic look.  "I, uh - I'm really not much of one for alcohol."  She tipped her head toward their glasses.  "You're probably craving a beer - or several - about now, but all I've got is wine.  I hope that's okay?  Or there's coffee, milk, Pepsi, and orange juice if you'd rather have one of those?"

Wolverine shook his head.  "I think I usually drink beer, but wine is good."

He thinks?  "Okay."  She took a deep breath and reached for the bread basket, holding it out to him.  "Then what're we waiting for?  Let's eat!"

Wolverine didn't waste any time obeying the urge to 'dig in', polishing off two helpings of beef stew and two glasses of wine before she'd completely finished her first.  And while he was also enjoying the crusty bread with butter, Marie noticed he didn't seem to be as enamored with the salad, or the vegetables in the stew.   He's really quite the carnivore.   I'm not surprised, though......somehow, it fits him.

They ate in silence, and she was hesitant to ruin their relatively comfortable rapport simply for the sake of making conversation.  Besides, what on earth could she talk to him about?  She knew nothing about him, and he didn't seem too eager to enlighten her, so she figured the silence was for the best.  That, and he was so intent on eating, she didn't think he'd be much of a conversationalist with his mouth consistently full.

She wondered, though, if the silence was making him uncomfortable?  While that didn't appear to be the case, he wore the same unreadable expression most of the time, so it was a bit difficult to tell.  Still, perhaps she should break the ice and tell him something about her.....maybe then he'd feel more at ease talking about himself?  Marie considered that it was at least worth a shot, and his eating seemed to be slowing down a little as well.   I guess it's now or never...  She took a deep breath --

-- and let it out in surprise as Wolverine jumped in his seat as if stung, his eyes immediately darting warily to the floor.  Just as quickly, she began laughing, somewhat apologetically.

"I think Winston likes you."  At the raised eyebrow her guest gave her, she laughed harder.  "Hey, you should consider it an honor.  He doesn't usually like the men I bring home."

As soon as the words left her mouth, she flushed.   God, that sounded bad.   "Uh, I mean - not that I bring men home all that often.  Actually, I don't really bring them here at all.  In fact, you're the first guy who's been here since, um, Bryan, and that was over a year ago....."  She trailed off, reaching for another piece of bread and avoiding his eyes.


She saw that he was leaning down, stroking the large black cat who was now aggressively rubbing against his legs.   Wow.  I've never seen Winston take to anyone like that before.  Maybe he senses a wild, kindred spirit....?


"Yeah.  I found him out in the woods, not far from here, a little over a year ago.  I'm a big George Orwell fan, and I guess he just looked like a 'Winston' to me."

Wolverine quirked an eyebrow again.  "Who's George Orwell?"  He was still stroking the cat, who was purring loudly now.  I wonder if Winston knows that Wolverine purrs too?

"George Orwell was a writer. Winston Smith is the main character in a novel that he wrote, called '1984'.  It's one of my favorites."  Marie finished the bread and reached for her wine glass, taking a sip.  "Sorry about that.  I guess I just assumed that anyone who hangs out in a library the week after Christmas is a literary geek with no life, like me!"  She paused, suddenly embarrassed.  "Uh, no offense or anything....I mean --"

"I was only in there gettin' warm."  He frowned, a thoughtful look on his face, as if trying to pin-down an elusive memory.  "That book sounds familiar, though....."

Marie felt her heart turn over in her chest and she swallowed hard.   He was only in the library trying to warm up?  Just how long has he been on the road anyway?

"Wolverine....."  She hated the possibly of alienating her new friend, but her natural curiosity - to say nothing of her ever-growing concern for him - were rapidly winning out over the nagging feeling that she should just keep her mouth shut.  "I don't mean to pry but.....are you, uh, having some trouble remembering things about yourself?  About your past?"

He'd been rubbing Winston behind the ears and his hand suddenly stilled, his eyes averted from her questioning gaze.  For a moment, she thought she'd ruined everything and my big mouth!  - but then he cleared his throat.

"Yeah."  He glanced at her, the haunted look briefly in his eyes again, before looking away with a frown.  "...'Ain't no big deal, though.  I'm fine."

Marie looked chagrined. "Oh, of course!  I didn't mean --"

Wolverine directed his attention back to the cat at his feet, scratching it under the chin.  "Can I give him some?" he asked, indicating the pot of beef stew. he apparently has some kind of amnesia.  That certainly explains a few things.  And I'd probably be grouchy too, if I couldn't remember anything about myself.  She smiled at him and gave the cat a disapproving look, although she was secretly glad for the diversion.  Winston to the rescue!

"Winston is shameless.  He'd like nothing better than for you to think I starve him!"  She got up from the table and grabbed a small plate from one of the cabinets, handing it to her guest.  "Oh, and while you're at it, make sure you get some more for yourself.  I know you're probably still hungry."

Wolverine smiled briefly back at her and she relaxed.   Good.  If I can just keep making him feel  comfortable, maybe he'll open up more a little bit later?

While he fed the cat and served himself another helping of stew, Marie poured the last of the wine in his glass and then began clearing the table.  She had most of the dishes scraped and rinsed by the time both he and Winston had finished.

"Uh....I could do those --"  he wiped his mouth on a napkin.  "I mean, since you cooked and everythin' --"

Her heart did another little flip - He sets a great table and does dishes?  Be still my heart! - but Marie simply smiled over her shoulder, shaking her head.  "Oh, no, that's okay.  Really!  I'm not even gonna give them another thought until later."  He started to object, but she asked, "So, are you sure you got enough to eat then?"

Wolverine nodded, a sheepish look on his face.  "Yeah.  I - there ain't much left...."

She wiped her hands on a dishtowel and turned to face him.  "That's good.  I usually make too much and then I wind up eating it every day for a week!"

He favored her with a grateful smile and she felt her throat constrict.   There's just something so...vulnerable about him.  I don't know how, or by who, but he's been hurt....badly.  I don't think he's used to people doing for him, helping him out.  It seems like he's not sure what to make of it, doesn't know if he can trust it.

"That was...real good.  Th-thanks."

"You're very welcome."  Marie glanced down at the dishtowel in her hands, deciding to go for broke.  "Actually, I wanted to thank you, too."  At his quizzical expression, she continued.  "Um, it's just that - most of the time it's only me and Winston, you know?  So I'm really glad you decided to come home with me, 'cause it was pretty nice to, have some human company for a change."  She glanced over at the large black cat, currently bathing his face with a paw.  "No offense, Winston."  The feline glanced up at the sound of his name before going back to his ministrations, nonplussed.

A skeptical look passed over Wolverine's face.  "Dontcha have family....or friends?"

Marie put the leftover food in storage containers and the last of the dishes in the sink.  "Oh, sure.  Well, friends anyway.  I invite them over once-in-awhile, of course, but they've all got jobs, spouses, know."  She shrugged  "They have their own lives and I don't like to intrude on that."

He fixed her with an odd look.  Marie could almost hear the gears turning as he carefully mulled over what he wanted to say.  "Your friends think you're intrudin'?"

She was taken aback at his introspection.  "Uh,, I'm sure they don't.  I mean...."   She paused, momentarily unsure how to explain.  "I guess I just don't want to get in the way of, umm - their time spent together as a family."

He grunted, again thinking over what she'd told him.  "Hmmph.  You wouldn't be in the way.  You're nice, and you're good at helpin' people.  They probably like havin' ya around."

Marie blinked.  That was the longest - and most complete - sentence he'd spoken since she'd met him.  "Um, well.....yeah.  They probably do.  I hope they do!  It's just that I, uh, don't want to make them feel responsible for me, I guess.  You know, because I'm single and live alone.  I mean, that's my choice.  I just don't want them feeling obligated to visit me, or include me or anything like that.  Does that make sense?"

Wolverine fixed her with his intense gaze.  "Why?"

She cocked her head.  "Why what?"

"Why's it your choice?"

How did this conversation end up so far out-in-left-field?   " mean, why do I live alone?"  At his affirmative nod, she shrugged.  "Well, I really don't mind being by myself, most of the time.  To be honest, I even kinda prefer it that way.  But, I suppose it's also because I haven't found the 'right' guy to spend my life - such as it is - with yet.....if he even exists."

She turned around then, face flushing, and began spooning coffee into a filter, pouring cold water into the coffee maker and turning it on.  She heard Wolverine shift his position behind her and braced herself for another probing question.  Instead, he murmured gruffly, "I - I hope ya find him.  You deserve somebody good."

Fighting back the tears that were building behind her eyelids, she fought for a casual tone.  "Well, thanks.  I-I haven't exactly been looking for anyone lately, though.  I mean...."  God, I can't believe I'm telling him this!   " last relationship ended badly and, well -- I just kinda figured that dating could take a backseat for awhile, you know?"

As she put the can of coffee away and got out the cream and sugar, she noticed he was clenching his fists. "Did he hurt ya?"

Marie quickly shook her head.   He's feeling protective of me? That is so sweet!   "Oh, no.....I mean, yeah he did, but not like that - not physically."  She sighed and tapped her chest with a finger.  "He only hurt me here."

"Guys can be real bastards."  The harsh tone was in contrast with the softer look in his eyes.

Again the tears threatened.   Damn, I really need to get control of myself.  He's gonna think I'm a complete basketcase!   "Yes, they can be," she agreed, swallowing hard to force them back down, striving for a playful tone.  "But don't worry - I won't hold it against you."

Wolverine bit back the slightly risque comment on the tip of his tongue   Heh, I really wish you would, darlin'.   and simply chuckled instead.   Down, bub....she's gonna think you're some damned pervert.    Marie smiled back.  The kitchen was suddenly filled with the rich, aromatic smell of coffee.  "Would you like some?" she asked him.  He shook his head.

"Nah.  I usually only drink coffee in the morning."  Shifting his position again, he scratched his jaw, looking suddenly apprehensive.  She raised her eyebrows at him.


"Do ya, uh, got any more wine?"

Marie quirked a grin, but opened the refrigerator and reached into the door for another bottle.  "It's not the same kind as before, but will this do?"

He took the bottle from her, not bothering to read the label, and nodded.  A sheepish look crossed his face.   "I-I hope ya don't.....I mean, uh, this must look --"   Dammit, there I go again, carin' about what she thinks.  What the hell's gotten into me?

She waved away his attempt to explain, spooning cream and sugar into her coffee and stirring it briskly.  "If you're wondering - do I think you have a drinking problem? - no, I don't.  But I gotta warn you:  there's only one more bottle in there, 'cause I really only keep it around for company.  After that's gone, you're stuck with the kid-stuff!"

Wolverine quirked a grin at her then, showing a row of perfectly straight, white teeth.  She felt her heart do another little flip in her chest.   Wow, what a great smile....he really ought to dust it off and use it more often.

Carefully holding her steaming coffee mug, Marie turned the lights out in the kitchen - all except the small one over the sink - and gestured for him to follow her into the living room.  Grasping the second bottle of wine and the clean glass she offered him, he wordlessly complied.
Posted April 2002