Moving slowly and silently on padded paws, the snowshoe hare foraged, its white fur rendering it invisible against the snows of the Canadian wilderness. In the shelter of a fallen tree, it paused with the stillness of a statue; its nose twitched as it scented the breeze for danger. At last confident of safety, it continued on, unaware of the predator that stalked it…
Nine inches of razor-sharp adamantium shot through Logan’s pillow as he jerked upright in bed. "Whazt?"
The unruffled and even slightly amused voice of Professor Xavier responded in his head. There’s to be a meeting in my office in an hour. I’d like you to be there.
Retracting his claws in a puff of downy white pillow-feathers, Logan blinked, scowled, stared at the clock. A seven-a.m. summons was more sleep than he usually got with this bunch of morning people. Fine, he thought blearily in Xavier’s direction—then added aloud, "But why don’t you just install an intercom or something?"
He was sure he heard the echo of a chuckle inside his metal-plated skull.
Taking it for granted that the exchange was ended, Logan stared down at his punctured pillow; yet another innocent victim of one of his rude awakenings. It happened often enough, but usually, he tried to keep his hands a bit farther from his head—something long and sometimes painful experience had taught him. At least this bad habit of his had been quietly provided for here, with the understanding of his fellow mutants. His mattress was made of some remarkable stuff that felt like foam padding and acted like putty, sealing up almost as well as he did when it was cut.
The pillow, however, wasn’t so lucky.
He glumly poked a finger at one of the holes. This is why you sleep alone, bub.
With a shake of his head, Logan got up, brushing a few stray feathers from his bare chest. The bits of white down floated softly to the hardwood floor, like snowflakes summoned by Storm. The thought of snow brought him back around to his dream, and he smiled crookedly. It was a good thing Xavier hadn’t tuned in on that one. The Prof could make all the rules he wanted about not teasing others at the school… but there would be absolutely no end to it, if anyone else ever found out that the mighty Wolverine dreamed about chasing rabbits.
Only because, in fact, he actually had chased rabbits… among other things. Winters in northern Canada were as lean for a mutant drifter as they were for any real wolverine, which made supplementing his diet with a little hunting the most worthwhile use for his claws and heightened senses.
At least, until the X-Men found him.
He left his room and shuffled down the hall in search of a hot shower, which he followed up by dressing indifferently in a worn pair of jeans, a T-shirt and a flannel shirt. Then turning to the sink, he wiped away the lingering steam on the mirror above it with his hand.
Sometimes, in the past, a passing glance at his reflection had shown him brief glimpses of someone else. A gentler face, softer eyes; a total stranger wearing his features, younger than the countless scars that only marked him from within. For a long time, he had tried to remember knowing that person—being that person. But even if he ever had been, he knew he never would be again. So he’d given up the effort, and that ghost image had faded into his memory.
For an instant as he swept the mist from the glass, Logan thought he saw it again.
He blinked, frowned, and looked more closely, but found only the Wolverine staring back at him. With a grim sigh, he regarded that reflection; regardless of others’ opinions, he had no particular complaints about what he saw there. Complaints about what was under that miraculous regenerative skin, or behind those brooding hazel eyes, certainly—but for the surface, nothing.
Rubbing his face, Logan reached for a razor to attend to his chin and upper lip. In rougher days of his life, he had occasionally resorted to using a single extended claw for the task of shaving, but he didn’t prefer it. The angle was a bit awkward.
Facial hair served a distinct purpose for Logan. In his cage-fighting days, the thick muttonchops along his jaws were a highly effective enhancement to the image of the Wolverine. Combined with lowered brows and lips drawn back in a feral snarl, they gave him a savage enough look to make some would-be troublemakers back down without even a glimpse of the hardware lurking behind his knuckles.
But that was a very different life. On the grounds of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, the Wolverine grudgingly restrained his mannerisms to something more like those of a half-stray tomcat. In fact, early on, feeling an odd and uncharacteristic impulse to make himself less scary to the kids… he had actually shaved off those trademark muttonchops.
He doubted he could have attracted more shocked stares if he were to unleash his claws in the middle of Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
The facial fur couldn’t have grown back fast enough, and while it did, he spent a lot of time pondering that reaction to his thoughtfully intended act. Familiarity, he finally concluded, was everything to these people, who had precious little control over the often tremendous changes their mutant gifts brought to their lives. They were as accustomed to his fierce appearance as they were to his claws and his quick temper; it was something they could expect, in a world of the unexpected.
In the simplest of terms, it was acceptance—and that certainly wasn’t a bad thing.
When he was honest with himself, he could even admit it was the reason he stayed around. Acceptance.
And the food.
His next objective for the morning lay in precisely that direction, and he headed downstairs to the dining room. It was still crowded with kids at this hour, reminding him again why he didn’t like to get up before they were tucked away in their classes. With a shrug he made the best of it, and ate breakfast while sitting between Peter Rasputin and some kid with fangs and blood-red eyes. He didn’t even want to know what kind of mutation was responsible for that.
After eating, he still had something under twenty minutes before Xavier’s meeting, so he went outside and indulged in a cigar. The Professor tolerated his smoking at the school with what seemed to be a sense of resignation—but Scott Summers objected openly, which just made it all the more enjoyable.
Finally, the cigar butt discreetly disposed of under a hedge, Logan sauntered back inside. He still smelled of smoke; Summers was probably going to have a fit. So much the better. Grinning to himself, he went off to join the meeting.
When he stepped into Xavier’s office, he ran squarely into a solid wall of silence.
The Professor sat behind his desk, elegant fingers resting on either side of a delicate teacup, his eyebrows arching halfway up his hairless head. Ororo Munroe, on one end of a black leather sofa against the wall, was hiding her mouth behind her fist. Summers and Jean occupied the loveseat; his lips were tightly pursed, and she was staring fixedly at a painting on the opposite wall. There was a very, very odd feeling in that room, and Logan didn’t like it one bit.
"What?" he asked bluntly, addressing the question to the Professor.
A strangled noise came from the sofa. Ororo suddenly shot to her feet and ran past him through the door, fleeing the room. And the sound that drifted back before a door slammed somewhere down the hall… She was sobbing?
No. She was laughing.
Logan’s right brow dropped as he leveled a stare on Xavier.
"I’m sorry, Logan," the Professor said, but his own lips had taken a decidedly upward curve. Jean made a hiccuping sound and pinched the bridge of her nose. Summers started tittering—a sound Logan would have found extremely disturbing coming from a grown man, if he weren’t faced with the apparent fact that he was the cause of it.
"Hey, Logan, you wanna go play fetch later?" Summers suddenly gasped out, and collapsed over the arm of the loveseat in peals of laughter.
Logan rounded on Xavier. "You didn’t."
The Professor’s lips were tight, and if Logan wasn’t mistaken, his eyes were actually starting to water. "Not intentionally," he said stiffly, his precise voice almost drowned out by the sound of Summers’ hilarity. "I… noticed. I wouldn’t have said anything. However, it seems that Jean picked up on it… and…" Stopping as if he didn’t trust himself to form words any longer, he simply nodded toward the prostrate and still-howling Summers.
Logan spun on his heel to glare toward the loveseat, his eyes sharper than his claws—which at the moment were itching to come out. The only effect, however, was that Jean abruptly let out a moan, as if suppressing so much mirth caused her physical pain, and dropped her forehead against Summers’ bowed back.
"Chasing. Rabbits," she breathed, and she too started laughing.
Embarrassment and anger raging through him, Logan folded his arms tightly—in part, to put his hands and consequently his claws someplace safe. "Listen, Red, it was either that or go hungry for a week!"
"I know," she panted, straightening slightly. "I know it’s not funny. But Scott… said…"
"I can imagine what Cyke said," Logan snapped. "Why don’t you let him stand up and say it to my face."
Summers just dug his heels into the rug and laughed harder, squirming as though he was trying to burrow into the back of the loveseat.
Disgusted, Logan turned to walk out.
"Logan," Xavier said, in an almost plaintive tone of protest. Logan turned around, mentally giving the man three seconds to say something worthwhile.
"I apologize, Logan," he said sincerely. "But you do dream rather loudly." At that, the dying chortles from the peanut gallery started to pick up again, but he continued. "You know that I never intend to expose anything that belongs in the privacy of someone else’s mind. Unfortunately, Jean took me by surprise while exercising her powers. She and Scott are the ones responsible for this… levity… and they will apologize to you. Immediately."
There was sudden silence from the loveseat. Jean went rigid. Summers sat up in slow motion, slipping his fingers under his red-lensed glasses to rub his eyes.
"Jean?" Xavier said ominously.
"I’m sorry, Logan," Jean blurted out abruptly. "It was awful of me to let Scott see… but sometimes I can’t help it with him. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. And Scott’s in big trouble."
That was more than enough to sober her lover.
"I’m sorry," Scott grumbled morosely. "I know you’ve had some hard times, and I shouldn’t have made fun of anything you had to do."
Logan stared at him stonily, folding his arms again. "And?"
"And you’re not a dog…"
The Wolverine’s stare didn’t waver.
"And my bike’s all yours for the weekend," Summers finished in a huff, earning a grimly approving smile from Jean—who just might have put the idea in his head, for all Logan knew.
For now, it was enough… until Logan could design a more suitable revenge, of course. He turned to Xavier, raising a warning finger. "If I hear one word out of the kids—"
"Absolutely not," Xavier assured him. "You know the rules about teasing. The adults—" and he cast a firm look toward Jean and Summers, who fidgeted in a very un-adult manner—"are to set a proper example. This incident stays in this room."
Nodding once, Logan crossed the room and dropped himself on one end of the sofa.
The door opened almost hesitantly, and Ororo stepped in. A focused breeze of her own creation pushed the door shut as she strode over to the sofa, and she sat down on the end opposite Logan, without looking at him. She was radiating all the innocence of a kid in church.
Xavier looked at her pointedly. She flinched. Probably from more than the eye contact, Logan noted.
"Now," the Professor said calmly, "we have matters to discuss."
From there, he launched into a number of issues, ranging from classes for the next week to their upcoming investigation of a medical clinic that claimed to specialize in mutants. It was all thoroughly boring to Logan, but at least it brought some seriousness back into the minds of the others.
When the discussions were over, Logan stood up to leave. As Ororo, Jean and Summers were doing the same, Xavier dropped a hand to the controls of his wheelchair and moved it around the desk, toward the latter two. Ororo made it out the door, but Logan was only halfway there when he caught the voice of the Professor.
"Jean. Scott. I apologize for the, ah… interruption… when I called you earlier."
Logan looked over his shoulder in time to see Jean turn white, and Summers turn as red as his glasses.
He thought about it for a moment. Jean. Summers. Interruption?
Then he realized what Xavier meant—and the mental image was too much. With a gagging noise, he turned on his heel and fled the room at the next best thing to a run, a tremendous grimace on his face.
Behind him, he could hear Jean and Summers starting to protest to Xavier in unison.
In the hallway, Logan’s steps slowed, then stopped. He stood remembering the looks of utter mortification on their faces, and suddenly understood why Xavier had done what he just did. One telepathic betrayal of privacy deserved another. Tit for tat. Not good in the real world, but just between friends…
Maybe the score was even now, after all.
© 2003 Jordanna Morgan - send feedback