The glowing red letters of the clock boldly proclaimed 1:37 a.m. into the darkened bedroom. Lying flat on his back with his head lolled to one side, Logan watched the last digit roll over one more time, then sighed heavily for no particular reason and got up.
Less than a minute later, dressed in faded jeans and a half-buttoned flannel shirt, he was stalking silently down the hall… on his way to the kitchen.
Some people seemed to have the idea that he thought with his stomach. This was hardly the case. Back in his drifter years, there were times when he’d gone for days without food—okay, maybe not by choice, but it made him an expert at living on practically nothing. Food had been a matter of survival then. Now that he lived at a school, of all places, it was something to be enjoyed, like having a soft bed and a little space to call his own. He might get bored of it one day—but he was determined to appreciate it until then. And that included sating any odd cravings that might strike him in the middle of the night.
Besides, in point of fact, he could never be entirely sure when his next meal was coming. At any time, his association with the X-Men might hurl him into some protracted, life-and-death, fate-of-the-world struggle. It seemed prudent to remain tanked up for that eventuality. Even if he overindulged on occasion, he could just work it off in the danger room, or with some manual labor around the school.
Simple, solid physical effort, in exchange for a full belly and a decent night’s sleep—sometimes even free from the nightmares. When you got past the pedantic adults and chaotic kids, the mutant powers and the high-minded crusades… it was an equitable life.
Logan moved like a shadow down the hall toward the stairs. The mansion was silent tonight; a rare thing. Too often during these nocturnal prowls, his acute hearing would detect the small, disquieting noises that brought home the cold reality of the world outside: a child’s quiet sobs behind a closed door, missing a home and family they had lost—or been rejected from—just because they were different.
He had no problem admitting that made him angry. That he was mad at the world in general was hardly a secret. However, it made him feel something else that was a lot harder to own up to. Deep in his gut and as sharp as his claws, there were twinges of compassion for the lonely soul behind the door.
The silence now was a good thing.
Bedrooms aside, most of the common rooms in the mansion remained dimly lit through the night. Insomnia and wanderlust were not strangers to many of the residents. The kitchen always seemed to be a little more brightly illuminated than the rest, the light there reflecting off the sleek silver surfaces of the professional-grade appliances. Logan shambled in through a lesser-used door, opposite a doorway that opened onto the dining room. A light was on in there, too, which he couldn’t remember as being normal, but he heard no sound from that direction. With a mental shrug, he started rooting around in the cupboards.
Everyone at the school had a certain monthly "allowance" in the food budget for things they wanted—and staff and students alike had bizarre tastes. Animal crackers for Kitty… applesauce for Rogue… cream of asparagus soup for Jean… a tin of sardines for who-knew-who. The case of caviar tucked away in a bottom cabinet was Professor Xavier’s, saved for entertaining "special guests".
Which means people who have some political pull, Logan thought darkly, as he turned an interested eye on a shelf lined with bags of chips. Xavier may not have liked it, but he courted the political beast now and then, if there was a benefit to gain for his school.
Barbecue-flavored. Ranch-flavored. Pizza-flavored. Good grief, how can there not be any—? Ah. Logan snatched a king-sized bag of ordinary potato chips from the shelf, and turned to leave the kitchen.
"Oops… oh, crud."
Logan froze instantly. His time here had taught him that in a school—especially a school for young mutants whose control of their powers was often questionable at best—oops was the last word one could possibly want to hear. And a very intense oops had just come from the direction of the half-lit dining room in the middle of the night.
With the sort of morbid curiosity most often reserved for gawking at a train wreck (or a new student about to demonstrate some awesomely revolting or destructive "gift" for the first time), Logan moved toward the doorway. Still holding the forgotten bag of potato chips by the top edge, he clenched his fists—equivalent for him to cocking the hammer of a pistol. One of the earliest painful lessons he had learned about his claws was to keep his fingers out of their way.
Thus prepared for any sort of mayhem necessary, he peered out into the larger, table-filled room.
One table near the center of the room was fully taken up by a coffee mug, a laptop computer, and a mound of paperwork. Scott Summers was seated there, savagely digging an eraser into a page of said paperwork as he muttered words that, coming from Cyclops, surprised Logan—and amused him tremendously. He folded his arms and leaned a shoulder against the edge of the doorway, observing for a long, enlightening moment before he spoke.
"So who’s flunking class this time?"
Summers started upright, and there was a very loud, satisfying snap as his pencil broke in two. He looked up, his face coming pretty close to matching the color of his ruby-quartz glasses.
"Sorry," Logan replied cavalierly, and unfolding his arms, sauntered toward the table with his bag of chips. Summers stared at him for a moment, undoubtedly glaring behind the ubiquitous shades, then produced a new pencil from his shirt pocket and sank back into his chair.
Anal twerp just would have a spare, Logan thought with a mental snort, surveying the photocopied forms that were spread out all over the table. The logo of the Internal Revenue Service was prominent on several of them.
"Doing taxes, huh?"
Summers let out a long, slow, audibly simmering breath. "Yes."
It didn’t surprise Logan that Summers got that assignment. With a facial shrug, he stepped around the table and headed for the coffeemaker by the wall—one of those big industrial cafeteria jobs.
"I wouldn’t if I were you," he heard muttered darkly behind him. He turned, and Summers chucked a thumb toward the machine. "The coffee in there is ten hours old, and it wasn’t that good to begin with."
Wordlessly, Logan pointed at Summers’ half-full cup.
"Eight hours old," the younger man grumbled.
Logan’s eyebrows arched slightly. "Been here that long?"
The reply emerged as a groan. "Longer."
With a wry smile, Logan continued to the coffeemaker and poured a cup. No sugar, no creamer. He ambled back to the table, sat down across from Summers, took a swig of the stale brew and then raised the cup in a mock salute, wishing he could see Summers’ eyes bulge out.
"Did they line your stomach with adamantium, too?"
"I’ve tasted worse." The worse being, admittedly, his own coffee-brewing attempts. Logan set his cup on the one clear spot left on the table, and purely for show, extruded a claw to slice his bag of chips open. He would have propped his feet up for good measure, if the paperwork hadn’t been in the way. It was risky, but always tremendously entertaining, to provoke the look he was getting from Summers now—one of those patented you-are-such-an-animal glares. The kid’s face was certainly expressive, even from the nose down.
If Summers didn’t like being treated as Logan’s own personal zoo exhibit, however, his pride was not about to let him show it. Under his breath he uttered a feeble little growl that made Logan want to laugh, then with his pencil clutched in a death grip, he returned his attention to the tax forms on the table.
With a smirk Logan began to munch on his potato chips, idly attempting to read the forms which, from his perspective, were upside-down. He was untroubled by the fact that they made very little sense to him. If he had to, he could figure out just about anything—but until he had to, he saw no reason to take up space in his already problematic memory.
"So. Taxes," he murmured after several minutes.
Summers sighed and leaned back, staring down rather woefully at the papers in front of him. "Yeah."
A vague idea occurred to Logan. "But the school is, what—a non-profit deal, right? Doesn’t that help?"
"Oh, it helps financially. But it just makes the paperwork that much worse, because you have to account for every little thing."
"Uh." Logan’s lips quirked. "Yeah, I guess you must get a good tax break on world-saving stealth jets."
Summers’ jaw tensed. "Okay… so not everything. But you try explaining why we had to rebuild half of the second floor—twice—in the last year."
"Termites," Logan replied, perfectly deadpan. "Come on, brainiac. You gotta be right in your element with all this numbers stuff."
The younger man carefully slid his fingers under his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose. "One of the laws of the universe, Logan. Somehow this ‘numbers stuff’ is a lot harder when there are dollar signs involved." He sighed. "April Fools’ Day isn’t the first of April—it’s the fifteenth."
Logan uttered a growl that shook the coffee mugs on the table. "Don’t mention April Fools’ Day."
Summers responded with an almost sympathetic grunt, and for a moment, they sat silently commiserating over the previous day: April the first.
"So how’d they get you?" Summers asked at length.
Another growl. "You mean besides getting sent out to rent Edward Scissorhands?"
Summers let out a sharp, strangled snort of laughter. Logan had to admit there was a certain clever subtlety to that particular joke… but he had not appreciated it, all the same.
"Oh, yeah, it was real funny. Especially after I got back from Blockbuster, and found the note I’d had stuck to my back by a magnet the whole time." Glaring at Summers, who was now doubled over in his seat and shaking with mirth, Logan ground out, "So what about you?"
Gradually Summers’ laughter settled down, and he swallowed hard, shaking his head. "First of all, I woke up to find my glasses blacked out with shoe polish. Then there was the dead fish… and then there was the whole… ketchup thing." He abruptly reached across the table to snatch the bag of potato chips.
Chuckling, Logan watched Summers wolf down a handful of chips. "What about that scene you had in the hallway with Sally-Rose?"
Summers turned pale and nearly choked on chip crumbs. "Oh, please, not that."
Sally-Rose was one of the newer and more… interesting students at the school. A refugee from a broken home, the girl had suffered no shortage of trauma in her fifteen years—with the result that, on top of being a mutant, she was mentally disturbed and had a genuine split personality. Most of the time, she was just Sally: sullen, withdrawn and practically mute. However, at any moment she might suddenly become "Rose", whose outrageous behavior could put Jubilee’s hyperactivity to shame. And still more bizarre, those two personalities had completely opposing mutant abilities.
Put simply, it was like having Iceman and Pyro in one package.
She, at least when she was Rose, was a student Logan particularly dreaded. Rose had a crush on him, and she was more of a predator than he was. He had been burned—literally—each time she managed to corner him. Sally, on the other hand, was terrified of him, judging by her reaction once when her personalities suddenly switched while Rose was trying to seduce him. The frostbite hadn’t been any more fun than the flash burns.
Now, the look on Summers’ face and the tone of his voice were making Logan curious. "Come on, Cyclops, ’fess up. Rosie’s hitting on you now, isn’t she?"
"No," Summers grumbled, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
Understanding dawned, and Logan gaped. "You mean—the other one?" he asked incredulously.
Summers winced… and Logan burst out laughing.
"It’s not funny," Summers snapped. "That girl needs some serious help."
"If she’s after you, I’d agree!" Logan scoffed. With a wicked grin, he reached across the table to give the other man an affable thump on the shoulder. "Welcome to the ‘victims of Sally-Rose’ club."
Summers grumbled something and shoveled a handful of chips into his mouth.
"Sorry, I didn’t catch that," Logan remarked glibly. Summers waved a dismissive hand at him, and with a shrug, Logan took back the bag of chips.
Between them, the two men finished off the entire bag. Logan stepped into the kitchen to throw it away and to empty his coffee cup into the sink, then came back into the dining room and stood for a moment with his arms crossed, watching Summers for a few moments more.
"I’m gonna go back to bed," he said at last.
"Mmm," Summers acknowledged vaguely, engrossed in numbers once more.
Summers looked up. With a wolfish smile Logan stepped forward, leaned over the math teacher’s shoulder, and placed a finger on the tax form in front of him.
"You forgot to carry the two."
He wished he had a camera to capture that sublime moment when Summers realized he was right.
Chuckling, Logan left Summers to pass through the entire spectrum of shades of red, and breezed out of the room with one parting coup de grace:
© 2003 Jordanna Morgan - send feedback