Indomitable Will, Tender Heart - 5

Author: Taryn
Email: Write Me!
Rating: Strong R (language - this chapter)
Disclaimer: Don't own them, yadda yadda.  See Chapter 1...

The modest living room contained an overstuffed couch bordered by an end table with a lamp on top, an equally overstuffed armchair and an oval coffee table with a neat pile of books on it, all grouped around a fireplace with an oak mantel and a heart-shaped wreath with dried flowers hung above it.  On the opposite side of the room was a television set/entertainment center, a sturdy wood bookcase almost overflowing with books, a recliner chair with a free-standing lamp next to it, and a large picture window with a cushioned windowseat and another neat pile of books in one padded corner.

Wolverine watched as Marie flipped a low switch on the brick wall, next to the fireplace, and the logs arranged inside burst into flames in front of his eyes.  Turning back toward him, she couldn't help grinning at the expression on his face.

"Pretty neat, huh?  It's gas, of course.....all the benefits of a real fireplace, but without all the work and the mess."  She winked.  "Just the way I like it!"

He grunted appreciatively, almost positive he'd never seen anything quite like it before.  The only fireplaces he could recall - if those memories were even to be trusted - had been the real deal.  Still, this was just as good, if not better, the proof in the fact that he was definitely getting warmer by the minute.

Just as he'd done in the kitchen, Wolverine waited until Marie was seated at one end of the couch before slowly arranging himself at the end by the table, where he placed the wine bottle.  While he poured himself a glass, Marie tried not to think about there being only one cushion between them.  She casually curled her legs up under her, leaning slightly away from her guest, not wanting to have him feel as though his personal space was being threatened.

The silence was comfortable this time.  They both sat, deep in their own thoughts, watching the fire crackle and flicker.  Suddenly realizing he was exhausted, Wolverine leaned his head back, daring to relax for the first time in....well, since he couldn't remember when.  The heat from the fire felt wonderful and so did the warm tickle of the wine down his throat.  Normally the cold didn't bother him, so he was surprised to realize that a chill seemed to have settled in his bones. While it had been an unusually icy winter season so far, what didn't make sense was that his healing ability should've been protecting him from the elements.....not succumbing to them.  The bone-deep chill - along with the aches and stiffness that he shouldn't be feeling but somehow was - were sensations that he was unaccustomed to and he was finding them more than a little disturbing.

Out of the corner of her eye, Marie saw Winston come into the room on stealthy paws and realized the cat was heading straight for Wolverine.  He seemed to sense the animal's intentions as well, raising his head and moving his hands away from his lap to allow him access.  Winston wasted no time taking advantage of the cozy sleeping spot and was soon curled up, snoring lightly.  Marie shook her head, incredulous.  Damn lucky cat.

"I think he senses a kindred spirit," she said, voicing the thoughts she'd initially had in the kitchen.  "I've never seen him warm
up to anyone like that before."  She cocked her head in amusement.  "You must be a true animal lover.  They can tell, you know....."  She indicated the very-satisfied looking feline in his lap.

Wolverine was stroking the animal's glossy black fur, looking pretty contented himself.  He simply cocked an eyebrow and shrugged.  "We understand each other."

She smiled.  Yeah, somehow I can believe you really do.

They sat watching the fire in silence a little longer, Winston's snoring and the sputtering logs the only sounds to be heard.  Marie drained her coffee cup, glancing over at her companion.  She wasn't surprised to see that Wolverine's head was tipped back against the couch again, and now his eyes were closed.  Poor guy.  I don't know exactly what he's been through, but it's certainly done a number on him.  I wish he would talk to me about it.  Then, maybe, I'd know if there was anything else I could do?

Quietly, she got up and took her cup to the kitchen sink, stopping to use the bathroom before heading back out to the living room.  As she settled slowly back down into her seat on the couch, she realized he was watching her through heavily lidded eyes.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to wake you....."

He grunted softly.  "I wasn't asleep."

"Oh."  He was still watching her intently and she quelled the urge to fidget.  Glancing at the digital readout on the DVD-player - Hmm, it's only 9:37....still, we've both had a long day.... - she ventured to make a suggestion.  "Well, even though it's still kinda early, you're obviously pretty, uh, I could go ahead and get the bedroom ready for you, and then you can just turn in whenever you want...?"

"I'm fine.  'Just gettin' my second wind."  He frowned.  "But, uh....I'll be hittin' the road again, as soon as my clothes are dry...."

She blinked, a little surprised until it dawned on her that he probably didn't realize she'd meant for him to stay the night.  "Um, well....actually, I kinda assumed you'd be spending the night here."  Realizing how that sounded, she hastened to add  "I mean....I have a guest room and you'd have complete privacy and everything --"   Uh-oh, he does not look on-board with that plan....not at all.

"Nah, you've done a lot for me already..."  He cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable and more than a little embarrassed.  "I can't pay ya back for any of it, but I can do ya a favor and get outta your hair before I wear out my welcome."

"Don't be silly, it would take a lot to wear out your welcome with me!"  She gave him a warm smile, but didn't try to disguise
the concern in her voice.  "Besides, it's dark, it's freezing, the roads are probably worse than they were earlier, and the nearest town is still almost thirty-five miles away.  Where are you going to go?"

He shrugged one shoulder, a stoic expression on his face.  "Dunno.  North, I guess."

She blinked, not expecting that answer.  "Why north?"   Ahh, I was wondering when the multi-purpose scowl would be making a reappearance?  Yep, there it is, right on schedule....

He mumbled "Why not?  I'm pretty sure I'm Canadian, and uh, I think I got a place up there, somewhere...." He broke off then, looking annoyed and more than a little flustered.   Dammit, why'd I go and say all that?  Fuck.  Now she's gonna know just how messed up my head really is....

Marie's eyes widened and she couldn't even try to keep the worry out of her voice.  "Pretty sure?  You think?  Wolverine, I know this is none of my business --"

"You're ain't."

She swallowed hard but ignored the glare he shot her way and pressed on.  "...but I really wish you'd reconsider and stay here....just for tonight!  You, um - something...bad...must've happened to make you lose part of your memory like that.  I just don't think you should be out there, by yourself, until you've had a chance to get your bearings and maybe figure a few things know?  So why don't you --"

He bristled.  "I never asked ya to help me."  Marie nodded quickly.

"I know you didn't.  In fact, I really kinda insisted!" She splayed her fingers, the look in her eyes pleading with him to understand.  "Look.....I - I know you think that you're just some pity-case to me, but that is not how I see you.  Not even close!  I'm helping you out because, be perfectly honest, because I was drawn to you for some reason.  Lord knows,
I don't do this for every stranger I meet, but when I saw you - I just had to stop and see."  She sighed heavily.  "I'm doing a pretty crappy job of explaining myself here, but I really want you to understand one thing:  I did not help you out of pity.  It was something else that made me stop and offer my assistance.  Maybe - I don't know.....maybe I just saw something in you that reminds me of myself, and I'd like to think, if the situation was reversed, that you'd stop and help me if I needed it?"  She drew in a deep breath. "Do you know what I mean?"

The vulnerable, haunted look that she hadn't seen in his eyes for hours had suddenly returned.  He glanced down at the sleeping cat in his lap.


Marie frowned, not sure she'd heard him right.  "No...?"

"I wouldn't have helped ya."

She blinked, slightly taken aback.  "Oh, come on.  I don't believe it.  Are you saying that, if you'd seen me out there, walking along that icy road, you wouldn't have stopped to offer me a ride or something?"

"I ain't a nice person."  He shifted again, still not looking at her.  "I ain't like you."

She smiled warmly.  "Sure you are."


 Wow.  He really means it - he doesn't think he's a nice person.  I wonder where that's coming from?  Okay, let's try a different approach....

"Prove it."

He gave her a startled glance.  "--What?"

"I said 'prove it'.  Do something bad to me."

The look on his face was incredulous. "What're ya….crazy?"  he sputtered.  "I - I can't do that."

"Why not?  If you weren't a nice person, you wouldn't even think twice about it."  She raised her eyebrows, her tone challenging.  "Well?  What're you waiting for?  Go mean to me or insult me or something.  Tell me my cooking sucks, or --"

He scowled, glaring past her at the fire.  "I'm - it ain't like that...."

"Then tell me....what is it like?  Because, as I recall, you've been pretty nice to me a few times already."


"You when you helped me pick up the books I dropped at the library, and then when you kept me from falling on the ice, out there on the road.  And just a little while ago, when you offered to help me in the kitchen!  You didn't have to do those things, but you did them anyway, just to be nice."  She crossed her arms over her chest, as if challenging him to argue with her.

"Yeah, but --"

"Oh!  I just thought of a few more things....when you helped me bring in the groceries, and when you told me that I deserve somebody good in my life, and you've even been nice to my cat --"

"Okay, okay!"  Wolverine held his hands up in mock defeat.  "Maybe I acted a little bit nice around ya....but that don't mean I'm a nice guy."  He struggled to keep his tone of voice hard, unfeeling, but the motivation suddenly wasn't there.  Aw, hell...I guess I ain't foolin' her one bit.

"No, you're right - it doesn't."  Marie fixed him with a smirk.  "But, you know what I think?  I think, deep-down, that you're a good person.  Maybe you're not a 'nice' guy, but I'm pretty sure you're a good guy."  She leaned toward him, conspiratorially.  "Don't worry, though....I won't tell anyone. Your badass reputation is secure and your secret is safe with me!"

He scowled at her, his eyebrows drawn together and his expression fierce, but Marie just giggled.   Shit, coupla hours with this girl and I'm already losin' my edge.  Still, don't underestimate me,  darlin'....there's a lot about me ya don't know.  I may not be a bad guy, but I ain't real sure that I qualify as a 'good' guy either.

Marie sobered then, her throat getting tight.  "So....will you please stay?  You said you can't pay me back and that's okay....I wasn't worried about that...I don't even want you to!  But it would really mean a lot to me if you'd stay, because then I won't have to worry about you out there in the dark and the cold, you know?"   God, I know I'm babbling, but if I can't convince him in the next thirty seconds, he'll be heading for the door and I'll never know what had happened to him!  I just don't know if I could deal with that?   She could feel her eyes getting hot again and sniffed the tears back.

"Okay, win."   Fuck.  I don't think I ever had anybody worry about me before.  What's that all about?  She don't even know me!  Still, if it'll keep her from cryin' over me again, then fine...I'll stay.   He shook his head gruffly, obviously relieved to have that settled.  "I'll, uh, just sleep out here, by the fire, then."

The smile that had begun to take shape on Marie's face turned into a frown.  "Oh.  Well, um, I usually don't leave the fireplace going all night.  It makes this room super-hot and the rest of the cottage ends up freezing, especially the bedrooms."

He still looked uncomfortable and she wondered why.  "S'okay.  You don't hafta leave it on.  I'll stay warm enough."

Still feeling like she was missing something important, Marie tried again to persuade him.  "Well, probably would, with a blanket or two.  But...since I have two bedrooms, I just kinda thought you'd like to sleep in a bed because - I get the feeling you haven't slept in one lately... - you know, this couch isn't very big and the bed would be much more comfortable and everything...."

He was looking decidedly fidgety - Okay, now something is definitely up with him and the sleeping arrangements.  What gives?  It's not like I just told him he's going to be sharing a bed with me.....or maybe he's disappointed that he won't be? - and she knew she had no choice but to get to the bottom of his anxiety.  "I mean, if you really want to sleep in here, on the couch, that's okay with me, but -- "  she paused, not sure how much to say.  " that what's truly bothering you?"

He shifted his position, drawing a disgruntled meow from Winston, who shifted as well but settled back down in slumber without missing more than a beat.  She could tell he was trying to decide how, or whether, to say what was on his mind.

"Look, whatever it is, you can tell me.  I won't be offended or anything...." she continued, striving to ease his discomfort.  "Are you a sleepwalker?  Maybe you're worried the mattress will be too soft, or too --"

"...It ain't that."  He cut her off, looking sheepish, his eyes avoiding hers.  "I - uh, I have bad nightmares, sometimes, and....I just figured if I sleep out here, then m-maybe I won't wake ya up."

"Oh, that's okay - I usually sleep like the dead!" Marie sighed inwardly with relief.   Nightmares?  I'll bet that's the real reason he didn't want to spend the night. They must be pretty bad if he's worried about them disturbing me.  I wonder what kind of boogeymen haunt the dreams of a guy like him?   "Don't even worry about stuff like that.  You're my guest while you're here and I just really want you to feel at home, you know?"  Leaning forward, she grasped one of his hands in her own.  His larger, stronger hand felt good clasped in hers and she stroked it with her thumb, determined to put him at ease as much as she could.  She wasn't sure which one of them was more surprised - her, that she'd done it, or him, that he didn't pull away, but they remained like that for another long moment.   Thank God.  The war may not be won, but at least that battle seems to be over-with for now.

Finally, in an effort to save-face…if not change the subject altogether...he gently lifted Winston from his lap and started to get up.  At Marie's suddenly alarmed expression, he cleared his throat. "...Just, uh, gotta use the bathroom."  She nodded, her relief plainly visible, as he headed down the hallway.

Marie snuck a glance at the bottle of wine - There's still some in there....he's good to go - before getting up and busying herself in the kitchen.  She arranged the chocolate chip cookies she'd made two days earlier on a plate and poured another cup of coffee.  Grabbing some napkins, she headed back out to the living room.

He was standing by the bookcase, holding a book in one hand, when she entered the room, but his attention was clearly focused on the framed photo resting on the television set.  Marie sat the plate, cup and napkins down on the coffee table and made her way over to his side.

He held the book up so that she could see the title.  "Is this the story you were talkin' about earlier?"  She nodded, instantly recognizing her dog-eared copy of George Orwell's "1984".

"That's the one.  It was originally published in 1948, and Orwell simply transposed the numbers of the current year to reflect a time in the future when his totalitarian society would be in existence.  The man was a brilliant writer and a true visionary but, thankfully, we're not as bad off as all least, not yet."  She shrugged.  "Um, sorry....I guess I kinda got carried away there.  See, I told you I'm a literary geek!"

Heh.  She's got the 'literary' part right, but she's wrong about bein' a geek.  No chance in hell of that, with that pouty mouth and those curves.... "S'okay....ya make it sound like a good thing to be."  Wolverine shifted his weight, studying the book thoughtfully.  "I think I've read this before...but would ya mind if I gave it another shot?" Marie had to quell the urge to bounce on her toes, settling for a wide smile instead.

"Of course yourself."  He grunted, which she took to mean 'thanks, I will' and she started back over to the couch.  He hesitated a moment longer in front of the bookcase, amused to discover several romance novels...the kind that featured muscle-bound men in the process of ravishing scantily-clad but oh-so-willing women on the cover...scattered amidst the sci-fi thrillers and classic tomes.  So Marie liked the occasional 'bodice-ripper', eh?  You could tell a lot about someone's personality by their choice of reading material.  He tamped down a smirk as his gaze drifted involuntarily to the framed photograph again.

"That's me and some of my friends after our high school graduation."

He turned to face her.  "What?"

She finished chewing the bite of cookie and flicked her tongue over the corner of her mouth to catch a stray crumb.  Wolverine felt his groin responding instinctively - If she wasn't so young and I wasn't such a fucked up bastard, it'd be fun to show her other, more creative, uses for that mouth... - and he cursed himself for not having better control.

"The picture on top of the were looking at it."  She smiled, wiping her fingers on a napkin.  At the expression on his face, she quickly added "It's okay - I like to look at other people's pictures too."  Getting back up, she came over to stand next to him again, holding the frame in one hand - her shoulder pressed into his arm and the clean smell of her hair filling his nose - while she pointed out who the various people were.

"See, these are my two roommates; that's Kitty, and this is Jubilee.  Then there's me, of course, although my hair wasn't quite as long then, and the guys are St. John and Bobby."

He nodded gruffly as she replaced the picture on the television.  Hmph....she barely looks old enough to be outta high school, but I'm glad she is.  I sure as hell don't need the kinda trouble that messin' around with a minor would bring me....not that I'm plannin' on messin' around with her or anythin'...  "When did ya graduate?"

"Oh, I've been out for three years now....I turned twenty-one last month."  Sitting back down on the couch, she lifted the cup to her lips.  In spite of himself, his eyes were drawn to the pale lines of her throat as she swallowed.  Again, his groin tightened in an involuntary response and he turned back to the photo, as if studying it again.  However, this time something else did catch his eye....a small shield with the name of the school in the lower left-hand corner.

A moment later, when his body was sufficiently under his control again - Christ, I really need to get a grip here - he resumed his place next to her on the couch.  Setting the borrowed novel on the table, he poured a little more wine in his glass.

"Xavier's School For The Gifted?"  He cocked an eyebrow at her.  "Does that mean you're gifted?"

Marie almost choked on her coffee.   Is he teasing me?  I think he's teasing me!   While she was thrilled that he was obviously beginning to feel relaxed and comfortable around her, having to explain about the school she'd attended just might blow all that out of the water.  I'm gonna have to tread lightly here....  She toyed with the rim of her cup as she thought
about how best to answer the question.

"Hah, I wish!  Actually, the school is more of, um, a private academy.  The founder is Professor Charles Xavier....maybe you've heard of him?"  She glanced at Wolverine but he simply shook his head.  "Oh, well, he's pretty well known in, um, certain circles, and he donates a lot of time and money to different charities and...."  She paused again, wondering how much more she should say.  Damn.  I really don't want to lie to him, so I may as well just come out with it.  If he runs away screaming, well --  "....and, uh, the school is named that because he's also the world's most powerful telepath and a champion for Mutant Rights.  He believes that mutations are gifts, to be used for good."   There, I said it....sort of.  He can draw his own conclusions.   She braced herself inwardly for his reaction.  The silence between them was almost tangible and she was suddenly, painfully aware of the truth about herself, fighting hard against the overwhelming urge to shrink away from him, to become as small and as invisible as she could.

"You're a mutant."  It was a statement, not a question.

"Yeah."  Marie nodded slowly, giving him a nervous, sideways glance.  "...Does that bother you?"

"Nah."   It didn't really matter to him, one way or the other.  He'd always made it a practice to shun most groups - mutant and humans, alike.   Keeping to his own company made things a helluva lot less complicated that way.  He did have a problem with telepaths, however;  he simply didn't trust anyone who had the power to mess with his mind - both for their sake, as well as his own.   No reason to tell her that, though.  And I know she ain't telepathic cuz, if she was, she' woulda picked up on all the perverted thoughts I've been havin' and thrown me out on my ass by now.   Instead, he lifted one shoulder in a casual shrug.  "....Should it?"

Marie quietly let out the breath she'd been holding.  "Well, no, but.... I mean, if you're upset with me, I completely understand.  I-I probably should've told you first-thing.   It's just that....some people get a little wigged-out by it, so I usually just know....keep it to myself until I get to know them."

He grunted, downing the last of the wine in his glass.  "...Makes sense."

"Yeah," she agreed softly.  They sat in silence for a few minutes, the cookies rapidly disappearing from the plate, and then Wolverine shifted his position, clearing his throat.

"So, what's your 'gift'?"  The emphasis he put on the word 'gift' indicated he didn't exactly share the Professor's viewpoint.  "Uh.....if ya don't mind me askin'?"

Smiling, she shook her head.   Mind?  I can't believe you're still here after I just laid that one on you.  Hell, no, I don't mind.  Ask me anything you want!   "No problem.  It's, uh, my skin.  I can absorb energy and thoughts and, well - life - whenever I touch something."   Wow, I just told him I have deadly skin...which he's come into contact with, no less...and he's not even raising an eyebrow at that?  Then again, he obviously likes to live life dangerously and, for someone like him, I'd probably be the ultimate challenge.  She hastened to add "You don't need to worry, though, because I can control it now - Professor Xavier helped me find the 'switch' to turn it on and off."

"I ain't worried."

"Oh."  Marie swallowed, in awe at his uncanny ability to constantly throw her for a loop.  "Well, good.  Good, because, uh, I haven't really had to deal with any of that in quite awhile, since - well, since....."  she broke off, painful memories ghosting across her face.  Wolverine remained silent as she stared into the fire, her throat muscles clenching.  Finally, she gave him a tremulous smile and a little shrug of her shoulders.  "Sorry.  Sometimes it, um, still hurts when I think about it, about how people used to be around me."  She swiped at her eyes with a fist and forced a lighter tone into her voice.  "Not that I blame them or anything!  Hello?  Deadly skin!   I mean, yeah, I totally get why they weren't comfortable unless I was at least ten feet away from them and completely covered up.  But....feeling like a freak among freaks still tends to do a number on your self esteem, you know?"

Wolverine was staring into the depths of his empty glass, a scowl on his face.   Yeah, darlin'...I know.  "That guy....did he have a problem with it?"

Marie frowned, confused.  "...Th-that guy?"

"Yeah.  The one who hurt ya."

 Whoa, he picked up on that, huh?  Who would've thought the former grouchy guy was that insightful?

"Oh, you mean Bryan?  Um, he --" She swallowed hard, suddenly not able to meet that intense gaze.  "We'd only been dating a couple of months and I really didn't see any reason to tell him before that....I mean, it's not like there was any risk or anything!  So, when I thought we'd gotten to know each other well enough, I did finally mention it and...."  She risked a glance at him and quickly finished.  "...Um, let's just say that he didn't take the news very well."

"You deserve better than that little prick."  The scowl had deepened and his voice was gruff. "It's his loss....forget about him."

Marie's eyes felt hot again and she reached for the last cookie as a diversion.  "Th-thanks.  And, um, I have gotten over it...mostly.  It was a little more than a year ago.  It took me awhile, but I finally figured the same thing - if he couldn't accept all of me, then maybe it's his problem.....right?"

"Damn straight.  There ain't nothin' wrong with ya.  He's the one who fucked up."

Her throat was suddenly dry and the cookie felt like sawdust in her mouth.  Quickly taking a gulp of coffee, she managed to mumble "Well...thanks.  Thank you.  I mean, that's really sweet of you to say."

He grunted but looked past her toward the fire again.  It was a long moment before Marie could trust herself to speak again.   Okay, enough maudlin stuff about me for now....let's see if I can turn the tables a little bit....   "So, um....what about you?  Are you a --"


Marie blinked.   He's a mutant too?  Wow, so we've got that whole 'genetic defect' thing in common.  Oops....sorry Charles.  I meant 'genetic gift'.  Anyway, that's great!  At least, I think that's great? We should definitely be able to bond over that, right?  "Really?  Do you mind if I ask what --"

"...'Already told ya."

Another blink.  "You did?"  He nodded.  "...When?"

He sat his glass down next to the now-empty bottle on the table.  "...While you were helpin' me get dried off."

"Oh..." Marie frowned, trying to think back to their conversation - What conversation?  I babbled and he grunted! - in the bathroom, only several hours before.  Think, Marie, think! What did he say?  She shook her head, beginning to flush because she suddenly realized why it was all a blank.   Shit.....I can't recall anything he told me because I was too busy checking out his Greek God Bod....Oh, man, this is embarrassing....  "I, uh...I guess I don't  --"  It didn't help matters that Wolverine was watching her with a clearly amused glint in his eye.

"You were checkin' me over....for injuries -"  Marie nodded, blushing deeper.   He actually bought that lame excuse?   "...and I told ya that I heal fast."

The lightbulb went on, finally, and she almost heaved a sigh of relief.  "Oh!  That's right, you did say that.  So - your mutation is a healing factor, then?"   Hmm, that would certainly explain his being able to put away almost two bottles of wine and still stay sober....not to mention the fact that he's only made one trip to the bathroom so far!

Wolverine nodded.  "Yeah.  'Got enhanced senses too."

"You mean, vision...sense of smell...hearing...all that?"  Another nod and a grunt.  Marie smiled, suitably impressed.  "Wow, I'll bet those are some pretty handy abilities to have, huh?"

"Depends."  He shrugged.  "Sometimes they're just a pain in the ass."

"Really?"  While his mutations were definitely intriguing, she was even more thrilled that he was finally opening up and talking to her.  "Like when?"  She figured it would be wonderful to be able to heal from injuries quickly or see and hear extra well.  What could the downside possibly be?

The minute the words left her mouth, he stiffened and his expression became guarded.  "Ya know - I really am kinda tired....'long day and everythin'.  Maybe I'll just go ahead and turn in now."

 Dammit!  I pushed him too far and obviously hit a sore spot.  Problem is, he seems to have quite a few and trying to avoid them is worse than picking my way through a minefield.  Good going, Marie!

She sat her coffee cup down and brushed some crumbs off her lap as she got up.  "Sure....okay.  That's fine.  I'll, uh, just go get the guest room ready for you."  She almost held out her hand, as if to a child, but covered the reflex quickly by tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.  "Um, why don't you just come with me now?  I can show you where everything is...."

With a grunt, he stood up, scooping up both the book from the table and his duffel bag from beside the front door, and followed her down the hallway into the second bedroom.

Marie flipped on the ceiling light, chasing shadows back into their corners and illuminating the small room with the full-size bed covered with a simple blue and white quilt and an oak nightstand and matching chest of drawers.  She went over to the bed, pulling the covers back and plumping the pillows, before heading to the closet and - after disappearing briefly inside - emerging with a thick, folded blanket.  Placing it across the foot-end of the bed and closing the window blinds, she turned to face Wolverine, her fingers entwined nervously.

"There you go.  Uh, the sheets are clean....I just changed them a few days ago and this room doesn't really get used all that much.  And you'll probably be warm enough with just the quilt, but feel free to use the extra blanket if you need it."  She looked around to see if there was anything she was forgetting.  "Oh, yeah....the nightlight comes on automatically when the room is dark, but if it bothers you, this little switch here turns it off."  She smiled then.  "One more thing....unless you don't mind  sharing the bed with Winston, you might want to keep the door shut while you're sleeping!"

Was that a smile?  I think it was....or, at least, it wanted to be.  Good, he's relaxing again.  That's good.  Now, hurry
up and direct him to the bathroom so you can get out of his face, before he changes his mind about staying already!

", follow me."

Marie led him across and down the hall to the bathroom.  "I just, uh, wanted to point out where the towels were again - "  After all, he was pretty out of it the first time he was in here  " - and if you wanna take a shower or anything, just help yourself to my soaps and shampoos and stuff.  And you know what?  I think I even have an extra toothbrush here that you can use..."  She opened the cabinet below the sink and rummaged around, standing back up triumphantly with a packaged toothbrush in her hand.  "I bought this for myself a little while ago - you know, because I was needing a new one - and haven't gotten around to throwing my old one out yet, so you're in luck."  She laid it on the toilet tank and indicated the medicine cabinet above the sink.  "The toothpaste is in here....just feel free to help yourself to that, too."  Turning back around, she clasped her hands lightly and shrugged.  "Well, that's about it, I think.  Did I miss anything?  No, I guess not."

Wolverine was watching her, an unreadable expression on his face.   He's a big boy, he can probably figure the rest of it out from here.  Time to say goodnight now, Marie...   She drew a deep breath.

"Well, then....I'll, um, just leave you alone now.  If you need me for anything, my bedroom is just down the hallway, there.  Oh, and if you wanna sleep in tomorrow morning, that's fine....take as long as you like.  I won't disturb you.  Okay?"

He still hadn't said anything and it was starting to feel a little unnerving.   What the hell....he said he'd stay, so I'm gonna have to take him at his word.  If he's gone in the morning, there's nothing I can do about it.  But, dammit, I'm gonna take one more risk here and tell him what I'm feeling.....besides, what've I got to lose?

"Wolverine?  Uh...I'm really glad you decided to stay.  I, uh...I just wanted you to know how much it means to me."  She swallowed, glancing up at him.  "I know this isn't exactly the Ritz, but I hope you'll be comfortable here and - well.....sleep good."

As she turned to go, his hand reached out and snagged her arm.  Startled brown eyes locked with intense hazel ones before he looked away.

"The Ritz ain't my style anyway."  He released her arm abruptly.  "This is fine."

Marie smiled, but not too broadly so as not to embarrass him.  "Good.  I'm glad."  She turned to leave again.  "Well....goodnight, then."

He gave her a gruff nod.  "...'Night."

Posted April 2002