E-mail: notmanos at yahoo dot com
Disclaimer: The characters of Angel are owned by 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy; the character of Wolverine is also owned by 20th Century Fox and Marvel Comics. No copyright infringement is intended. I'm not making any money off of this, but if you'd like to be a patron of the arts, I won't object. ;-) Oh, and Bob and his bunch are all mine - keep your hands off!Summary: After the revelations of "Strip The Soul", Logan decides he needs to pick a new direction
for his life, even as he's planning a strike on an Organization base with Scott and a few friends. But Osiris launches a revenge tactic on Jean that may change everything for everyone - and not in a good way.
Notes: Takes place shortly after "X2" and immediately after "Strip The Soul". -------------------------------------------
At night, the halls of Xavier’s school seemed longer, wider, an odd optical illusion that would fade as soon as the morning sun broke through, or the lights started coming back on. That seemed to be true in all old buildings, or ones with high ceilings, even though Logan could see well enough in the dim light that the shadows had all but disappeared.
Maybe it was just a feeling, a sense of vacancy, even though he could still smell traces of everyone here, and if he opened up his senses enough, he could probably hear many of them breathing behind the doors.
That’s how he knew there was somebody in the sun room, even at this hour. They were quiet, but he could smell the reheated pizza they were eating, and beneath that their more usual scent. He wasn’t going to stop in, just go straight to Saddiq’s room, but … oh, damn it. He still felt mildly responsible for her, even though he knew he really wasn’t.
He poked his head in the room, and said in low tones that wouldn’t carry, “Scott is up, and if he finds you … well, I don’t know what the fuck he would do. Ground you and have a hissy fit or something.”
“Logan!” Rogue exclaimed, surprised, and quickly slapped a hand over her mouth as if she’d shouted. She hadn’t, but the mansion was so quiet that talking in conversational tones still seemed far too loud. She dropped the rest of her pizza slice on her plate, and tried again, lowering her voice to a whisper. “When did you get back?”
“Just now. I ain’t stayin’. But you might wanna clear -”
“Why aren’t you staying?”
“Got stuff to do. I was just warnin’ ya, ‘kay?”
He started to leave, but she stood up from the table, chair scraping against the floor. “You’re up to something, aren’t you? What’s going on?”
He sighed, mentally cursing himself for coming in here. He should have just let Scott catch her and delay them because he had to chew her out for sneaking out. (Clearly she had just gotten in not too long ago - not only was she remarkably awake, but she was dressed like she had been out. Glitter still sparkled in her hair, and she smelled like a perfume that was oddly redolent of peaches. Or maybe that was just lotion or something; either way, it was all he could do not to sneeze.) “Nothin’. Go to bed.”
“Bullshit.” She made a show of thinking about it, of cocking her head to the side, and then said, “Scott’s going with you, isn’t he? This is about them, isn’t it?”
Them? Giant ants? He wanted to say that, but didn’t, as the reference would probably be lost on her. He thought about lying to her, as she could very well tell Xavier, but there were things she could have told Xavier previously that she hadn’t. She might be a teenage girl, but she could keep secrets. “We have some things that need taking care of, but Xavier can’t know the truth, okay? He wouldn’t like it.”
“I want in.”
That made him chuckle. “Oh, hell no.”
“C’mon! I can get information for you.”
“And how would you do that?”
“Remember when I absorbed that guard at that place up in Canada, when we went back with Le - “ She paused suddenly, cutting herself off, and he knew why: Leonie. He did feel a sick, sad twinge in his stomach at the thought, but didn’t let it show on his face. “I got his memories, Logan, at least for a little while. If there’s anyone there who knows anything about you, we don’t have to ask - I can just take it from them.”
He stared at her, aware she was telling the truth, but still unsure about this. “You could pull some really bad shit...”
“Oh please, I absorbed you. Can it get much worse?”
Okay, point for her. “How’s your control?”
“Better. I’ve learned to regulate it a bit, so I can pull a little instead of everything at once.”
He nodded, figuring that was good for her, even if no one else. “What about your ability to fight?”
She grimaced, not quite rolling h-r eyes, but definitely looking away. “Well, okay, kinda piss-poor there. But I could just borrow some of you again, if you didn’t mind an’ all.”
“How would my mutation help you fight? Beyond healing up fast.”
She looked back at him, surprised. “They didn’t tell you?”
Nothing good ever came after a statement like that. “Tell me what?”
“After I absorbed you the last time, I basically became you for a little bit. Except I didn’t get all that body hair, which was good … no offense …”
“Jean told me you were pissy, yeah.”
She gave him a strangely patronizing smile. “Pissy? You could say that. I could also beat the smack-ass out of everyone here. I had your ability to fight; I didn’t even have to think about it, I could just do it, it was pure reflex. Guess I got it with your memories.” She paused, her expression faltering. “I also seemed to get a taste for heavy metal and punk. I don’t know what that’s about, but I still have a Suicidal Tendencies CD.”
“Cool, can I have it?”
She shrugged. “Sure, yeah. Can I come?”
“Not for a CD, no.” He knew if he let her come along, he’d regret it. Sure, she could absorb some of him, and maybe she’d be okay, but still it wasn’t a good idea. And Scott would absolutely plotz if he let her come along - look at how upset he was over Saddiq being involved. On second thought, that pretty much clinched the deal for Rogue. “You'll follow all my damn orders and not give me any lip?”
She grinned broadly, showing perfect white teeth. “You’re the boss.”
“Remember that. Why don’t you head outside before Scott sees you? Marc’s parked beyond the front gate; just tell him you’re a last-minute addition.”
She made a small noise of delight, and when he raised an eyebrow at that, she quickly adopted an insincere poker face. “Are you that bored here?” He wondered.
“To fucking tears,” she admitted.
Somehow that didn’t
surprise him in the least.
Maybe it was part of his mutation, but Saddiq was almost completely awake the minute he got out of bed. It didn’t take long for him to get ready to go, and they were headed for the door within four minutes. He seemed a little disappointed Scott was coming along, and admitted to him, in Arabic (Logan was one of the few around here that could speak it, so it was almost a secret language between them), that he was afraid that Scott would hold them back. “We won’t let him,” Logan assured the teenager in his native tongue. That seemed to mollify him somewhat. He also seemed pleased that Rogue was coming along, making him wonder if Saddiq had a crush on her.
Scott met them by the front door, scowling in distaste. “Xavier won’t buy the note I left,” he muttered sourly.
“Of course he won’t. But hopefully he’ll give us a day before comin’ after us.”
They were halfway down the walk before Scott spoke again, this time to Saddiq. “Are you sure about this? This is dangerous.”
“I was designed for danger,” he replied, without irony.
“That doesn’t mean you have to throw yourself into it.”
“No. But if I can help out and don’t, I won’t be able to live with myself.”
That shut Scott up, and Logan had to look away so Scooter didn‘t catch his smirk. Saddiq was good.
The sun was coming up slowly somewhere far beyond the trees surrounding the grounds. The sky was a pale navy tinged with pink at the edges, and an oddly warm wind was kicking up from the southwest. They’d miss a thunderstorm, which was probably for the best.
Logan scented that they weren’t alone, then heard the crunch of footsteps on gravel, so he wasn’t at all surprised when Srina materialized just abreast of him and Scott. Scott made a noise of shock and jumped, reaching up to his visor, but Logan quickly grabbed his arm.
She raised an eyebrow at Scott, then said, “You guys were takin’ a while. I decided to make sure everything was okay.”
“Yeah, we’re good. Scott, Saddiq, this is Srina Adar, a friend of mine.”
The use of the word “friend” made Srina smirk, her magenta eyes sparkling with knowing humor. “Is that what I am?”
“So you’re another invisible person?” Scott asked, his shock quickly morphing into annoyance.
“No! I don’t turn
invisible … exactly … it's just that you just can’t see me.”
“And the difference is..?”
“It’s kind of a psychic power,” Logan clarified, mainly so Srina didn’t haul off and whap Scott on the back of his head. (Which would have been fine by him, but the Boy Scout's visor might fly off, and no one needed that.) “She’s still here, but your mind can’t see her or anything she touches. It extends to machines as well, only in the sense that people have to look at the tapes and the sensors, and they can’t find her either, even when the machine says differently.”
Scott grunted what could have been an agreement or expression of interest, and Srina added, “Oh, and you can call me Nightshade.”
That made Scooter look at her funny. “Nightshade?”
“What, you guys are the only one who can have swoopy nicknames?”
“I don’t have one,” Saddiq pointed out.
“We’ll have to think of one for you,” Logan said, as they reached the open front gate, and he braced himself for the hissy fit that was sure to follow.
“What’s your power?” Srina asked.
“Impenetrable skin, and a certain degree of invulnerability.”
“Hmm … yeah, that is a toughie.”
“All right, now we can get this party started,” Marcus said as they came into view. He was leaning against the hood of his sleek black Corvette coupe, and sitting on the hood not three inches from him was Rogue.
Just like Logan had expected, Scott stopped short, and said, “Oh no. She’s not part of the deal.”
Rogue pouted instantly, crossing her arms over her chest. “I can help.”
“No, no, no -”
“Scott, listen,” Logan said, grabbing his arm and pulling him aside. Scott yanked his arm away violently, and Logan just knew he was giving him the stink-eye beneath his visor. He lowered his voice to a whisper, in hopes that Rogue wouldn’t hear. “She’s not gonna fight. She’s just going to absorb the memories of these sons of bitches and find out what they know. That’s all.”
“Oh really?” He replied sarcastically. “Does she know that?”
“Hell, no. You know what she’s like.”
“Come on, there’s no reason to insult her.”
Scott frowned, and Logan figured he’d beaten him to the punch there. “She’s a teenager, and, on top of that, one of the most rebellious ones we have. Do you know how hard it is to control her?”
“So don’t control her. Give her a chance to do something, just … limit her options without being obvious about it. Sometimes the more tightly you hold the reins, the more some things just wanna get loose. Believe me, I know.”
“I’ll keep an eye on her,” Srina offered, and from the way Scott jumped again, Logan figured he hadn’t seen her. Srina then winked at him, and he knew she had been deliberately startling the Boy Scout. See, how could you not love a woman like that? “I won't be fighting, just doing the stealthy stuff. She can come with me.”
Logan watched Scott grind his teeth, the muscles in his jaw twitching as he did so, and knew he was just dying to ask why he should trust her, especially since Scott didn’t know her, and she was a “friend” of Logan's. But he was too polite to sneer this at a woman (Marcus? He’d have had no problem, and Marc would have shot him down easily anyway), and maybe being pretty and British doubly helped her. “Fine. Remember she’s just a girl.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I used to be one myself.” Although she grinned cheerily, Logan caught the sarcasm in it, and it was all he could do not to laugh. He did love this woman.
“Saracen,” Saddiq said, apropos of nothing.
They all looked at him strangely, but Rogue asked first. “Huh?”
“As a nickname. Saracen. What do you think?”
“What does it mean?” Rogue wondered.
“He was a Muslim warrior who fought the Crusaders back in the day,” Logan said, and only after saying it aloud did he realize that was true. Now how in the hell did he know that?
“There’s some pretty ironic symbolism in there,” Marc noted.
Scott scratched his head, and just the way his shoulders set, it was clear he wasn’t thrilled about it. “Well,” he began tentatively.
Logan didn’t let him finish. “I like it.” Saddiq gave him a small, grateful smile, aware that he had just cut off a negative comment.
“Me too,” Rogue agreed, giving Saddiq a sly grin. Uh-oh, was the crush mutual? Did Bobby know about this? No offense to the ice-kid at all, but Saddiq was better looking, and had the whole “tall, dark, and handsome” thing going for him, as well as an accent - women loved accents. Maybe she was bored with more than just the school, and Logan suddenly wondered just how much of him had rubbed off on her. She had nearly absorbed him to death; it was quite possible that not all of his tendencies had disappeared.
Scott threw up his arms in surrender. “Fine with me if you want to call yourself that. Are we ready to go?”
“Yeah, but uno momento,” Marc said, straightening up. “I’m not sure I can take everyone. Didn’t count on one more body, and this is a ‘Vette, not an SUV.”
“Someone can ride with me,” Logan offered.
Rogue slid off the hood, and jumped down to the asphalt. “Whatcha got?”
Scott gave him a sidelong glance. “You have a car?”
“No, got my bike back.”
“Oooh!” Rogue exclaimed excitedly.
Scott flashed her a stern, hard look. “You are not riding on any motorcycle, and certainly not with him driving.”
Her pout came back again. “Oh come on! I can -”
“Sorry love, but the spot’s taken,” Srina said, putting her arm around Logan’s waist and snuggling up beside him. He draped an arm around her shoulders and gave her a small squeeze, grateful that she was cutting off an argument before it could get started. For some reason, a sour look flashed across Rogue’s face, and she turned away, clearly disappointed.
Marcus clapped his gloved hands together loudly, and said, “Okay, we’re set. Rendezvous in the parking lot behind the Quik-Mart on Reinhold Street?” Logan nodded an affirmative. He’d dropped by Marc’s place first, and they had used a combination of GPS locations and internet mapping places to get a breakdown of the Mirror Lake area. Technically, there wasn’t an area at all; Mirror Lake wasn’t a town or a village, just a lake, in an extremely remote part of the Killdeer Mountains, where the access road was still “under construction” after being wiped out by a mudslide. From the records Marc found, it had been under construction for the past five and a half years. There was a small town at the base of the Killdeers, a place called Harmon, which was where the Quik-Mart they'd chosen as a rendezvous point was.
“Have you staked this place out?” It was hard to tell if Scott was annoyed or impressed. Possibly both.
“Just did our homework,” Marc told him, going around to the passenger side of the Corvette, and opening the door for Rogue with a comically dramatic flourish. At least it made her smile.
Scott gave him a wary look - clearly, he still didn’t like this and absolutely couldn’t wait to bitch about at great length. “Does this mean the Sisters aren’t coming after all?”
“No, they are, it’s just that Helga’s getting’ ‘em and she's gonna meet us there. Transport’s gotta be instantaneous, you know, ‘cause there’s that problem with daylight occurring every twelve hours or so, kind of makes long distance travel difficult without a little supernatural help.”
That really pissed him off; clearly he had gotten his hopes up about that. After Scott had turned away in a huff, Srina whispered in his ear, “The Sisters?”
“Coupla identical twin vampires. They’re good - well, kinda - but vicious as all hell. They’re our trump cards in case it all goes to shit.”
Srina looked dubious about working with vampires. “’Cause they’re undead?”
“That, and they're not affected by telepathy.”
“Telepathy’s a possibility?”
“Anything’s a possibility. You remember Chimera; these guys will do whatever they have to do to save their own skins and promote their agenda. And for that reason, we have to be willing to do anything to stop them, even if it means getting in bed with some slightly psycho vampires.”
The mention of Chimera made her shudder in revulsion, and she hugged him more tightly as they walked over to his motorcycle, parked just behind a slightly overgrown lilac bush. He’d called Srina before he left L.A. two days ago, asked her to come in, and she'd flown to Baltimore, so he could meet up with her and Marcus at the same time. She and Marc got on well, like he'd expected; Marc usually got on well with anyone who gave him a chance. Although Srina told him that she and Marc had talked about him a lot of the time, a consequence he hadn’t fully considered, and now he was wondering what the hell Marc had said to her about him. There were so many possibilities that he decided he couldn’t think about it or it would drive him nuts.
He was glad Srina had come to help. Thinking about how he had killed Celia and ended up in the Organization made him feel even more sorry for himself, along with the usual intense hatred of himself and his stupid weaknesses. What that guy Malloy had said so long ago - “It's melodramatic to say that some people are doomed from the start…” - applied not just to Celia, but himself; he knew that now, and wondered if Malloy knew it back then when he'd said it. The worst part was that Logan was sure he'd doomed himself, with his bad choices and his fucked up feelings. He had to fix it, he had to stop doing this before he dug himself a deeper grave (and while on the surface that didn’t seem possible, he knew from hard experience there was no such thing as the “lowest point” - there was always something lower), but he wasn’t honestly sure how to go about making things right.
He had to find a way out, a way to change who he was. He didn’t know how long it would take, or where or how to start, but there was no denying he had to before more people died around him. He had what he felt were three options after this: go back to England with Srina, and try to have a “normal” life for a little while, just “settle down” and stay out of trouble (that did have a certain temptation to it, even though he couldn’t even imagine having a normal life); return to the mansion and try to be a self-defense teacher or whatever (not so tempting - he still wasn’t sure he could deal with a bunch of kids on a regular basis); or return to Los Angeles and pick up where Angel left off, keeping the human and inhuman bad guys down (that one should have had no appeal at all, especially since he wasn’t crazy about L.A. and didn’t want the Powers to think he liked the gig … but there was something strangely liberating about working alone, and not ever holding back in a fight).
He wasn’t even close to
making up his mind, but he felt that maybe Mirror Lake would make it up
him. If not a sign, exactly, at least he could use it as an excuse to
go one way
or another, and that would have to be good enough. He hoped.