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Claremont's Return

Stories by Latex

"Ain't Nothin' Like Regret"
Not long after the death of Colossus, Wolverine and Rogue run into a ghost from Logan's past.

After the trauma of Inferno, Rogue and Havok commiserate on the failures in their lives.

"The Morning After"
After breaking up with Rogue and sleeping with Marrow, Gambit must face both women's wrath when Marrow learns the truth about the Mutant Massacre.

"The Price of Coffee"
Beast, Iceman, Rogue and Mystique battle the Sentinels at Starbucks.


Disclaimer: the X-Men, Alpha Flight and most associated characters are the property of Marvel. No infringement of copyright is intended or should be inferred and no profit is being made from this story, so suing me would be a little pointless and mean-spirited. Alyssa and various supporting characters are not Marvel's, but neither could I truly claim them as my own, as I draw my inspiration from varied and eclectic sources. But I guess they're as much mine as they are anyone's ;-) My thanks to queenB for helpful observations and encouragement to persevere with the story, and to all those who gave up their time to answer my rather anal-retentive queries about fire extinguishers. The title comes from Sheryl Crow's song 'The Difficult Kind', and feedback would be much appreciated at Enjoy.

Ain't Nothin' Like Regret

'Sweet emotion'

The words issued from the speakers, the syllable of the first stretched almost as far as breath allowed, then blurring into the second word, the lyrics repeated as Alyssa watched the flames dance across the fingertips of her right hand, the joint smouldering, temporarily forgotten, in her left, as Aerosmith provided the soundtrack to her distraction.

She sat on the floor, slumped against her bed in the room provided for her by the branch of the Canadian Government known as Department H. Steven Tyler's voice washed over her, caressing her even as the rising smoke from the joint did the same, itself swirling in the light breeze blowing through the open windows, the fading light of the evening's sunset painting the room in shafts of bloody fire. She sang along, directing the trail of fire as it writhed and twisted along her hand and between her fingers, pausing to take in a lungfull of smoke.

There was a knock on the door.

"Fuck," she muttered in a disgusted tone, coughing, flicking the stub of the joint in a graceful arc in the direction of the open window, the flames vanishing from her fingertips. "It's open," she said louder, not so much an invitation to the person knocking to enter as an acknowledgement that she was about to be disturbed anyway, and really had no say in the matter.

"A body don't need my senses to smell what you've been doin'," commented Logan dryly as he stepped into the room, sniffing. "Thought they'd confiscated everythin' you got last time they let you out into the big wide world. Besides," he continued, reaching past her to the windowsill, "if you're gonna dispose of the evidence, darlin', don't do a half-assed job of it." He extended his hand to her, the still-smouldering joint between his thumb and index finger. Alyssa took it.

"Last thing I need is more shit from that Army asshole Chasin," she offered by way of an explanation. "Or your pal Hudson," she added, watching him for any reaction. He put a cigar in his mouth by way of a response, refusing to be provoked, avoiding taking sides, as she was daring him to do, against her.

"Got a light?" he asked, a half-smile turning up the corners of his mouth, defusing the tension, avoiding the fight she was trying to pick with him.

"Dick," she muttered with a smile of her own, shaking her head in exasperation. Deliberately, almost flirting, she placed her index finger to the tip of his cigar and lit it.

"You feelin' the need to get out of here?" he asked. She rolled her eyes.

"Oh yeah. In the worst possible way."

"Then get your jacket." She looked at him, eyes narrowed, trying to decide if he was serious.

"Don't you play with me, man," she warned.

"Get your jacket," he repeated. "You an' me're goin' out for a drink."

"Well gosh, Mr. Weapon X, Sir," Alyssa said, every syllable uttered with the utmost irony, directed not so much at him but at the institution that had provided her with what she clearly felt was her gilded cage, "I don't know. I mean, it is a school night and, besides, I'm still underage. Not to mention grounded," she added sourly.

"Well, if you'd rather stay here," Logan suggested, playing her game.

"The hell I will!"

"Then get your jacket, girl." She did, and they left her room, Alyssa slamming the door behind her with vigour.

"We gotta get outta this place, if it's the last thing we ever do," she sang under her breath as they walked down the corridor, empty at that hour save for the occasional official-looking person who passed them, absorbed in their own world and work.

"You really goin' stir-crazy, huh?" Logan asked.

"You have no idea."

"You'd be surprised, darlin'. Why else do you think we're doin' this?" Their conversation was halted, as they approached the door, by the presence of a guard.

"Sir, I'm sorry, but I'm not supposed to let Miss Porter leave without authorisation," he said stiffly, looking uncomfortably at Logan.

"I'm authorisin' it," Logan responded without missing a beat.

"Sir, I'm not sure...."

"You really think you can stop me?" Logan interrupted quietly, not even challenging him, just presenting in that simple question an absolute fact. The guard looked at him, clearly running possible scenarios through his head. He reached a decision.

"Have a good evening, sir," he said, stepping aside.

"You too, soldier," replied Logan with a smile as he and Alyssa walked past.

Alyssa's hair whipped around behind her as the dying glare of the setting sun, combined with the wind in her face, brought tears to her eyes. She hugged Logan more tightly, nestling her head against his shoulder as his Harley sped down the road, using him to shield herself from the chill of the air. Trees on one side, almost sheer drop on the other, blood-red sun smeared across the horizon directly in front. Alyssa hadn't been as relaxed, as happy, in days, leaning into Logan's back and allowing the wind to blow all her troubles away.

At length, they slowed, then turned off onto a road little more than a dirt track, eventually pulling up outside what could only be, from the sign in front and the noise emanating from within, a bar. A biker bar, and a particularly popular one to judge from the number and variety of motorcycles parked outside. Alyssa dismounted as Logan turned the key and the engine stuttered into silence. Side by side, they walked toward the entrance, the music loud enough to sing along to before they even opened the door.

Once inside, they managed to make their way to the bar using elbows and shoulders, and then secure the bartender's attention. Once their drinks arrived and they'd become accustomed to the ambience, Logan was pleased to observe Alyssa beginning to relax.

Some while and several drinks later, they found themselves at a pool table, Logan watching with satisfaction and something approaching pride as Alyssa demonstrated a hitherto unknown talent for the game, clearly on a winning streak, the untidy pile of money she'd won growing steadily. With one or two mildly disgruntled and slightly poorer exceptions, everyone was having a good time.

As Alyssa watched the last ball slide into the corner pocket, her opponent gave a rueful grin and draped an arm around her shoulders in a less-than-subtle fashion. She stiffened, but shrugged off the arm and turned away. The man, assuming that she was playing hard-to-get, wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled him back toward her, encircling her from behind with the other arm in a sloppy hug as he did, his alcoholic breath hot against her cheek.

Logan pushed away from the bar and was moving toward them, but not in time to stop Alyssa. She snapped her head back, feeling rather than hearing the man's nose break against the back of her head through her hair, her push as he released her in shock sending him sprawling against the table.

"Get the fuck away from me!" she screamed, her face a mask of rage and fear, tears springing into her eyes. There were flames dancing and sliding across her hands, the look in her eyes murderous as she advanced on him. A hand clamped down on her shoulder and she turned to face this new opponent, only to find herself staring into Logan's eyes, his expression harsh and unforgiving. The flames guttered and died.

"We're leavin'," he said, not suggesting but stating a fact, his anger and disappointment clear. Taking her by the arm, he all-but dragged her unresisting form toward the door, the crowd parting before them, unsure of what they had seen but the mutterings already beginning.

Outside, Logan swung his leg over the bike and started it up, the very absence of any word from him an instruction to Alyssa to get on behind him. She did so and they rode away in a spray of dirt and dust, Alyssa able to feel the tension in Logan's muscles through his jacket as she held on tightly to him. Behind them, one or two people had emerged from the bar, afraid of what they thought they'd seen yet curious despite (or perhaps because of) that fear, but the man and young woman on the Harley had already disappeared from view.

Several miles away from the bar, Logan pulled up at the side of the road, parked and dismounted. Silently, he walked a few paces away from the bike and Alyssa, still sitting forlornly astride it. The heels of his cowboy boots echoed on the road's surface as he paced, lighting a cigar almost idly with the Zippo he dug out of his hip pocket. After what seemed to Alyssa like an eternity, he spoke.

"So, you want to tell me what that was about?" His level, even tone of voice was almost worse than if he had shouted at her.

"I didn't like him touching me," she responded quietly, knowing he'd hear her.

"An' so you thought you'd break his nose an' set fire to him?"

"My stepfather used to grab me from behind like that," she continued, still subdued. "Pin my arms to my sides. When he was drunk. When he couldn't find my mom, or when he'd beaten her unconscious. It just took me back, and I didn't think, I just reacted." Logan nodded.

"Thing is, darlin', when people like us just react, there're consequences. That's why you're bein' trained, why Mac's been pushin' you so hard."

" I know that," she said, head snapping up, a note of defiance in her voice, "but you don't know what it was like. Oh, you know all ABOUT it, but you don't understand, not really understand what it felt like for me, for all those years until my powers manifested and I killed that motherfucker, so don't you judge me. I know I lost it back there in the bar, I know that, I ... Ah, fuck it," she finished, eyes closed and all the energy suddenly drained from her. "Look, I just want to go back. You can chew me out tomorrow, get Chasin to give me twenty lashes or whatever, but I really can't deal with it right now. Just take me back."

Logan looked at her for an endless moment, his expression unreadable. Then he got back on the Harley and, without another word, drove them back to Department H, the pale moonlight not quite illuminating the tears on Alyssa's cheeks as she pressed her face against Logan's back, eyes shut tightly but no defence against the memories.

"Face it, Logan, she's out of control. If you hadn't been with her the other night, God alone knows what might have happened! Maybe she would've burned down the bar. Or maybe she would've settled for just incinerating that man. It wouldn't be the first time." Sarcasm dripped from every syllable that James MacDonald Hudson uttered.

Exhaling, Logan straightened his arms and with great deliberation placed the barbell back on its cradle. He sat up and looked directly at Hudson.

"In her place, Mac, you just saw your stepfather beat your mother to death an' knowin' you'd most likely be next, you tellin' me you wouldn't've done the same?"

"There is a world of difference between accidentally killing someone in self defence when your powers are catalysed into being by a traumatic event, between that and immolating a man over a drunken misunderstanding!" Hudson stepped back from the bench press and his friend, ran his fingers through his hair, letting all the air out of his lungs in a slow hiss. Logan swung his leg over the bench until he was sat facing Hudson. The gym, buried deep in the bowels of Department H, was empty save for the two men, yet filled with the tension between them. Hudson continued.

"And don't think I'm any happier with you, Logan. What were you thinking, taking her there in the first place? You knew she was confined to the building."

"She was goin' stir-crazy here, Mac. She needed some fresh air."

"And you thought that alcohol was the answer." Condemnation implicit in every word.

"Bein' cooped up in this place, bounced between trainin' session an' shrink's couch doesn't seem to have done her much fuckin' good," snapped Logan in reply.

"Look, I know you feel you've made some kind of connection with Alyssa," replied Hudson, tone wavering between exasperation and explanation, "but she's unstable."

"The same could be said of me, an' I'm the one you got picked out to lead this team you're buildin'."

"The same HAS been said of you," Hudson shot back. "Chasin's no fonder of you than you are of him, and if you pull crap like you did the other night, Logan, I'm not going to be able to defend you to him. Or the others."

"That's my point. I've got you an' Heather fightin' my corner. Who's Alyssa got? All I'm doin' is what you an' Heather have been doin' for me. The kid needs to know someone cares about her, Mac. Her childhood was bad enough, it's traumatic enough that her stepfather beat an' raped her mother, killed her in front of Alyssa. Bastard was workin' up to doin' the same to her. Ain't like he hadn't come close a few times. She's had a rough enough time as it is without addin' bein' a mutant into the mix, an' those abilities comin' out when an' how they did. She don't need this kind of rejection now.

"You're tryin' to build somethin' here, Canada's answer to the Avengers, an' it ain't always gonna run as smooth as you'd like. We proved that our first time out of the gate. St. Elmo died an' Groundhog resigned. That's why you're reorganisin' what we got into three teams an' why we're still lookin' for recruits, still trainin' the people we got. An' you want to talk about stability? Jeanne-Marie ain't exactly the poster child for mental health, an' her brother's got a lot of problems of his own that he ain't talkin' about. Even the people you got slated for Alpha Flight still need a lot of work, an' Beta an' Gamma are a mess! You'll take Kyle Gibney but you won't take Alyssa, is that it? You afraid we'll have another Bedlam on our hands?"

"The decision's already been made, Logan. I didn't make it, but I agree with it. Once Dean, Alyssa, Craig and Beth get back from this training exercise, she'll be told. It's done, Logan. She's gone."

"That's it, end of discussion?"

"That's it. I just thought I'd extend you the courtesy of letting you know first, before it became official."

"So you're just cuttin' her loose? 'Fuck you very much an' goodnight'?" Making no effort to hide his anger. Hudson was about to retort, rehash the same, tired old argument that they'd been having for weeks, maybe months, over Alyssa Porter, when the phone on the wall rang. Taking the opportunity for them both to cool off he indicated by gesture that he had to answer it, Logan's answering gesture dismissive, disgusted.

While Hudson crossed the room to pick up the phone, holding it to his ear, Logan turned his attention back to the weights, pouring the frustration he felt into lifting ever-heavier loads. The tendons on his neck stood out, his teeth bared in a grimace of determination and discomfort, feeling the strain more in his pectorals than his triceps and, as he grunted with the effort, Hudson's voice interrupted him.

"It seems our conversation's moot," he told Logan, his tone subdued, hands in pockets and head bowed, marshalling his thoughts, searching for the right words. Tone, body language and scent, all told Logan that something was very wrong. Replacing the weight, he turned his attention to his friend.

"What?" he asked simply, the bond of friendship between the two of them obviating the need for anything more.

"The plane bringing the trainees back from the exercise crashed," Hudson told him simply, no adornment, no attempt to soften the news, to sugar-coat it. Between the two men, it would have been an unnecessary condescension. "They're still searching through the wreckage, but even the bodies they recovered haven't been intact. No one survived, Logan.

"Alyssa's dead."

Logan lit up another cigar, the remains of the previous one still smouldering in the ashtray in front of him, unwilling to give up its tenuous hold on life. Tilting his head back, he blew a perfectly formed smoke ring in the direction of the ceiling, where it was swiftly dispersed by the fan turning in tireless circles above their heads. Rogue sighed, the sound lost in the humid air, amid the noisy cross-section of humanity in the crowded bar.

"You gotta do that?" she asked.

"Nope," he responded with a grin, "it's purely voluntary. Acquired taste."

"Well, Ah ain't acquired it. Ah don't like Remy's second-hand smoke, an' Ah got no plans to acquire a taste for yours, so just you watch where you're blowin' your smoke, sugar."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied, his smile all affectionate disrespect.

"Ah mean it, Logan."

"Point taken, darlin'. So," he continued, "how you doin' with everythin' that's been goin' on recently?"

"There has been a lot to deal with," she agreed with a sigh. "Seems everythin's unravellin', y'know? Ah've got my abilities goin' crazy, manifestin' your claws an' Scott's optic blasts, an' God knows what else. Irene's diaries are causin' all kinds of tension an' questions, some of us even doubtin' the Professor. An' on top of all that, Peter's death."

"Yeah, that's got a lot of people messed up. Hank feels guilty for maybe plantin' the idea in his head in the first place, Cecilia for not bein' able to stop him. Charlie, he was playin' basketball with McCoy, the Cajun an' me when it happened so, although he ain't talkin' about it, he's feelin' like it's another of his children he's lost, an' maybe he should've been payin' more attention, seen it comin'. There's a lot of guilt an' self-recrimination goin' around right now."

"What about you?" Rogue asked.

"Peter's death is a tragedy, no argument, an' I'm grievin' for him as much as anybody, but he was a grown man, an' he made his own choice, knowin' the consequences. As far as he was concerned, he died for a reason, to make a difference an, as much as I wish he'd chosen differently, I got to respect his choice, an' his reasons for makin' it. He never really got over Illyana's death, or his guilt, an' this was his way of balancin' those scales. I don't agree, but I do understand. We can't change what he did; all we can do is honour his sacrifice, an' his memory, an' carry on.

"What about you?" he asked in return.

"Do Ah feel guilty?"

"You an' Peter ever resolve what was goin' on between you?" He smiled at her expression. "Nothin' travels faster than gossip, darlin', an' people only talk 'cause they care."

"Truth to tell, Ah'm not sure," she admitted. "Much as Ah wish Ah didn't, Ah still love Remy, an' things there are as confusin' an' unclear as ever, which is pretty much par for the course. Ah'm not sure if he knows what he wants. Ain't even sure, half the time, what it is Ah want," she added with a rueful smile, "an' what happened between Peter an' me, that just complicates matters." She paused, taking a sip of her drink, collecting her thoughts, and Logan waited for her to carry on.

"Peter an' me," she continued, "we never really talked about it. Ah guess he backed off, givin' me time to figure out where Ah stood with Remy, an' what Ah wanted, assumin' there'd be time down the road to sort everythin' out. An' now he's gone, an' we're never gonna have that conversation. Just one more thing to add to my growin' list of regrets. But, like Nathan's so fond of sayin', 'what is, is'. Ah guess we just accept the stuff we can't change, an' get on with livin'." Changing tack, she asked

"Knowin' how close the two of you are, how you feelin' about Kitty? Ah mean, first she disappears without a word, then Viper gives you one of your old bone claws, apparently a message from Kitty sayin' 'Hi, I'm okay', an' then the Professor gets a letter sayin' she ain't comin' back."

"Kitty's not a girl any more," Logan responded quietly. "She's a young woman, an' she's got to walk her own path. She needs space to find out who she is. Not Sprite or Ariel or Shadowcat, but Kitty Pryde, who she is when she's not bein' an X-Man an' savin' the universe. We owe it to her to respect her wishes an' not try to find her. She's earned that. But I'd be lyin' if I said I won't miss her." His eyes focused on a point beyond Rogue.

"Son of a bitch," he said with soft vehemence.

"Ah'm assumin' that's not directed at me," Rogue responded with an arched eyebrow.

"Heh. Thought the old bastard'd be dead by now." He pointed over her shoulder and, turning to look, Rogue beheld an elderly man entering the men's bathroom. "Never figured on seein' him again, an' not here in New York."

"An' he is?"

"Man by the name of George Edwards. Back when I worked for the Canadian Government, ol' George there had a lot to do with the kinda things that didn't get talked about outside of darkened rooms. I was involved with Jimmy Hudson in puttin' together what became Alpha Flight at the time, so we didn't have much to do with each other, but I knew him well enough to know I didn't want to know him any better. Surprised to see him still drawin' breath, much less walkin' around here. I guess it's true: only the good die young."

"Don't like him much, huh?"

"Ain't much to like, darlin'. You remember Henry Gyrich?"

"How could Ah forget? The man responsible for takin' away Ororo's powers way back when, an' a full-time pain in the ass."

"That's him, all right. George, he's Canada's Gyrich, a little older but in all the important ways they're two of a kind." Rogue smiled.

"You really DON'T like the man," she said.

"An' that's a fact." He paused, sniffed.

"What is it?" Rogue asked, a frown creasing her forehead.

"Fire," he said shortly, rising to his feet. Even as he approached the men's room, Rogue could see smoke beginning to seep under the door. Snatching an extinguisher from the wall, Logan kicked the door open and stalked in, the flames visible past him, already high and licking at the interior of the bathroom.

Aiming the nozzle, Logan directed the stream that issued from it at the fire, fighting his way though to the centre of the room and the epicentre of the fire. As bar staff bearing extinguishers filed through the door behind him, tackling the remaining flames, Logan knelt by the charred, smoking thing that used to be a man, the odour of burnt flesh hanging thick and sickeningly heavy in the air. Even through the stench and burns, Logan could tell that the deceased was George Edwards.

He sniffed again, filtering out the smell of Edwards' scorched body and concentrating on the other scents. Sweat, the smell of fear, urine from a bladder relaxed in fear and death, the fluid spreading incongruously out from under the charred corpse. And apart from that, from all the smells that were and had been George Edwards, there was another scent, lingering in the air. Logan's eyes widened. His gaze travelled swiftly around the room, lighting on the window open above one of the stalls. Brushing past one of the bar staff extinguishing a small residual fire, he entered the stall, eyes fixed on the window and nostrils flaring and, placing a booted foot on the toilet, he pulled himself up to and through the window, dropping down into the oppressive heat of the alleyway outside. Stalking, following his nose, he walked, half-ran to the end of the alley, emerging into a stream of pedestrians and, beyond them, a river of cars, the trail he was following vanishing abruptly amidst the activity that was New York.

He turned, hearing Rogue approaching. She reached him, looked at him inquiringly.

"What's goin' on?" she asked, seeing his agitation. "What're you chasin'?" He looked at her.

"A ghost," he replied.

Alyssa coughed, the smoke bringing tears to her eyes as she opened them to find flames licking at the seat in front of her. Instinctively, she redirected them away from her and, as consciousness returned more fully, began to look around the plane. Off to her right, across the aisle, Dean's sightless eyes stared at her from a head hanging at an impossible angle from an obviously broken neck.

The fire spreading from the cockpit had already engulfed the pilot and Craig, who'd been sitting nearest. Alyssa hoped, fleetingly and in a rather vague and disconnected fashion, that he'd been unconscious or already dead when the flames had reached him. Pulling herself out of her seat, she began to make her way, limping and supporting herself on the mangled interior of the plane, toward the space where the door had been before it had been ripped off its hinges by the impact of the crash, the flames behind her held at bay only by the utmost concentration on her part. The pain in her ankle demanded her attention, but she knew she had to get away from the plane before her concentration wavered and the flames reached the fuel tanks. Stumbling, half-falling out of the door, she began to drag herself clear of the wreckage when she heard a voice crying out for help. It was Beth. Alyssa paused, frozen, torn between her own need to escape and the pitiful cries from within the plane. And in that moment, as her concentration faltered, the flames reached the fuel tanks.

The fireball exploded out from the plane, igniting the sparse vegetation and sending shrapnel hurtling through the air. Alyssa curled herself into a foetal ball, hoping desperately that the rock she lay behind would shield her from the lethal cloud of debris, as the flames flowed harmlessly over her, leaving her untouched while incinerating everything else in their path. For what seemed like an eternity, she lay there, arms over her head and knees pulled up to her chin, until the fire passed and she was left there, hunched behind a rock in the centre of a circle of scorched and blackened earth littered with the remains of the plane and its occupants.

It might have been hours or days later when she was found, wandering aimlessly, dragging her foot and limping from one rock to the next. Much of what followed was a blur, but some elements stood out very clearly in her memory. She alone had survived the crash and subsequent explosion of the plane, her rescuer told her. When she had returned, she would have been told that she was being dropped from Department H. She had been abandoned by them, but there were others, not within the Department, who cared what happened to her, could find a role for her.

His name, he said, was Robert Benjamin Graves. He offered her a place. A role. A future.

She accepted.

Rogue flipped idly through the latest in a series of magazines, no more noticing or caring about the contents of that particular article than she had about the ones that had preceded it. For what seemed the hundredth time in the past few minutes, her gaze flickered over to Logan standing at the row of pay phones against the wall as the unending crowds of the airport ebbed and flowed between them. He'd been there for some time now, feeding coin after coin into the phone, mostly making, occasionally receiving, calls, the expression on his face so intense that no-one had challenged him about tying up the phone.

She was therefore mildly surprised, although a little relieved, to see him heading toward her, not so much walking as stalking, his expression and body language hardly inviting interrogation. Nevertheless, Rogue decided to brave his potential displeasure and made the inquiry.

"Well?" she asked. "You gonna tell me what's goin' on, or do Ah have to drag it outta you?"

"I got to pay someone a visit," Logan said shortly, striding past her. She rose gracefully from her seat tossing the magazine onto the pile, and walked after him, her longer legs allowing her to catch up easily.

"You want backup or company?" she inquired, drawing abreast of him.

"Nope." Flat and final, inviting no debate.

"Tough," she replied, equally unequivocal.

"This is personal, darlin'," he said, stopping and turning to face her. "Doesn't concern you."

"Like you said to Alison way back when, sugar, you're part of the team. Everythin' you do concerns us. You got that look in your eye, means somethin' serious is goin' on, an' you ain't doin' this alone."

"Stubborn, smartass girl," he growled, amused despite himself by the fact that he was being hoist on his own petard.

"Ah learned from the best," she retorted, their gazes locking. They held each other's eyes for a long moment.

"Fine." He bit the word off. "I don't have time to argue, but don't get in my way, girl."

They walked across the parking lot in silence, the sun hazy in the sky above and the humidity causing clothing to stick to skin, heading toward their car, one of Xavier's many. Getting in, Rogue waited until the doors closed and then spoke.

"What's the story, then?" Logan didn't rely immediately and she waited for him to be ready, aware that he wouldn't be rushed into telling her. As the car pulled away from all the other parked automobiles, he dug a Zippo out of his pocket, flipped it open, lit a cigar and puffed on it for a moment. Grimacing in distaste, Rogue depressed the button and had the minor satisfaction of seeing the windows roll down with a gentle purr and the smoke from Logan's cigar stream toward the opening. Finally, he spoke.

" I just called in a favour. Man I phoned, he's one of the people from my rather complicated past with what's euphemistically referred to as the intelligence community. He gave me a name an' an address. The man we're goin' to see falls under a similar headin', although last time I saw him we weren't quite so friendly."

"An' all this is connected to what happened in the bar earlier?"

"Yup. From the scents I picked up, someone was in that place with Edwards, an' that someone officially died in a plane crash a lot of years ago."

"Any chance you're makin' a mistake?"

"Possible but not likely. Last time I had any doubts was over Jean's scent when we all thought she was dead, an' my senses were right then. No reason not to trust 'em now." He paused, marshalling his thoughts.

"Settin' up Canada's answer to the Avengers, what eventually became Alpha Flight, wasn't always easy, an' not everyone who got considered made the grade. Jimmy Hudson an' me, we went head to head more'n once over who was in an' who wasn't. One of our... differences of opinion" -he emphasised the phrase with a certain amount of irony- "was over a pyrokinetic, a girl by the name of Alyssa Porter. Mac an' most of the brass at Department H, they thought the kid was untrainable an' uncontrollable, an' I saw a lot of myself in her an' so I fought her corner. Ultimately, the decision was made to drop her but before that could actually happen a plane carryin' her an' some other recruits on a trainin' exercise crashed, apparently with no survivors. An' that was it. Until now.

"After what happened at the bar, I did some diggin', which is what those phone calls were about. There's all kinds of names from my past poppin' up, an' I intend to find out what's goin' on. Edwards was retired but the man we're goin' to see, he's still active an' like George, in this neck of the woods from what the guy I talked to tells me. I don't believe in coincidence, especially where these people are concerned, an' I'm hopin' this particular name from my past can give me some answers."

"It's a pretty convoluted thing, your past," observed Rogue, watching the scenery flow past through the open window.

"Darlin'," he said with a wry expression, "I have seen an' done an' known things an' people you wouldn't believe, an' that's takin' into account the fact that you grew up with Mystique an' Destiny, and their crew."

"Ah am curious, though," Rogue said. "If you needed to make a phone call, why not just use this cell phone?" She opened the glove compartment and produced the item in question.

"The call I was makin' an' the man I talked to, I prefer a land line an' he'd pretty much insist on one." He caught her look, eyebrow raised and a questioning, affectionately mocking smile curving her lips. "Darlin', in that line of work, paranoia's not just a good idea, it's a necessary survival skill."

Logan didn't specify their destination and didn't inquire. He'd clearly said all he was about to, and the rest of the journey was completed in silence, both of them immersed in their own thoughts. After a time, they pulled up outside a hotel.

"So, what's the plan?" asked Rogue as they got out of the car. Facing her over the roof, Logan answered

"I'm gonna go in there, knock on the door an' ask some pointed questions."

"Ah," smiled Rogue. "The subtle approach."

"Works for me." He held the door for Rogue. They both walked through and right through the lobby. The man behind the desk didn't even trouble himself to look up from his paper as they passed him.

"Security conscious here, aren't they?" Rogue commented in a low voice, but one she was sure Logan would hear.

"From this guy's point of view, anonymity's the best security you can get. Not bein' noticed an' nobody askin' questions is most likely why he chose this place." Rather than taking the elevator, Logan chose the stairs, and Rogue followed wordlessly. This was his show; she was just along for the ride.

The door in front of which they finally stopped seemed no different to the many others they'd passed, save for the number, but the narrowing of Logan's eyes gave it a significance none of the other doors had attained. Raising a hand, he knocked firmly but not aggressively.

A few moments later, a carefully groomed man with steel grey hair and wire-rimmed glasses opened the door, half his body remaining behind what cover it offered and the hand not on the doorframe hidden by his leg. His eyes travelled over both Logan and Rogue, appraising, calculating.

"Well, well," he said. "Weapon X. Or is it Wolverine these days? This is an unexpected pleasure."

"I doubt that, since I know for a fact that you were told I was on my way over. An' Logan'll do fine. You gonna invite us in, or you want to do this standin' in the corridor?" Inclining his head, the man stepped back to allow the to enter. As the door closed behind them Logan, without even turning his head, continued "An' put the gun away. I was here to hurt you, you think it'd do you any good? All you'd manage to do would be piss me off." The man made no acknowledgement of Logan's instruction, but moments later his hand appeared, empty.

"I see the years haven't dulled that rapier-like wit or deprived you of your inimitable charm. Are you going to introduce me to your lovely companion?"

"Rogue, this is Robert Benjamin Graves," said Logan shortly, "an' as you've probably worked out, he's an asshole. Now, Bob, let's cut the crap. The sooner you tell me what I want to know, the sooner I'll be gone an' the happier we'll both be."

"In point of fact," responded Graves smoothly, gesturing toward the comfortable-looking chairs against the wall, inviting them to sit down, "you've saved me the trouble of finding you. The irony does not escape me, but I had intended on enlisting your help."

"Doin' what?" Logan sat back in one of the chairs, feet on the table and ankles crossed, his attitude and posture not so much one of relaxation as calculated provocation.

"Locating Alyssa Porter." As Graves replied, Rogue crossed the room and installed herself in a corner, curling up in a chair and watching the two men.

"That's why I'm here. A good few years ago, I was told she was dead, which kinda causes me to wonder why I caught her scent earlier on today. You of a mind to explain to me what's goin' on an' why I should help you?" Logan asked bluntly, not bothering to disguise his dislike of the man.

"She's here already? In New York?"

"Yup, an' I'm bettin' it's got somethin' to do with you an' George Edwards."

"What do you know about George Edwards and me?"

"I know he's a fuckin' corpse due to the fact that someone smellin' remarkably like a girl who's meant to be dead incinerated him earlier today!" snapped Logan, his irritation clearly showing. "Now are you gonna tell me what you know or are we gonna carry on dancin' around each other till I get pissed off an' hurt you? C'mon, Graves, fill in the blanks." Pursing his lips, Graves studied Logan. Finally, he spoke.

"By the time the decision was made to drop Alyssa Porter from the list of potential candidates for Alpha Flight," he said in a measured tone, "she'd already come to the attention of certain other parties, George Edwards principal among them. She displayed, shall we say, a certain aptitude for the kind of work that never gets official acknowledgement. Operations with which I believe you're not entirely unfamiliar." Logan ignored the barb, lighting up a cigar in a deliberate gesture of disrespect to their host. Ignoring the smoke being blown in his direction, Graves continued. "It was believed that the very traits that disqualified her from consideration for Alpha Flight might, with the appropriate training, prove assets if channelled in other directions.

"The crash was real enough, but it wasn't the impact that killed all the passengers, it was the subsequent explosion of the fuel tanks and the ensuing fire. Alyssa had climbed out of the wreckage by the time the explosion occurred and, being a pyrokinetic with a natural affinity for fire, she escaped relatively unscathed. She was the only one. The remains of the other passengers did not survive intact, so even determining the number of victims was next to impossible. It was easier for all concerned if she remained dead, and so the official presumption of her death went unchallenged.

"Once she'd been trained, Alyssa served very effectively for a good many years, her natural talents and ethical flexibility making her a valuable asset. Until recently. It seems that the work she had done for us affected her in unforeseen ways, and proclivities that had been advantageous began to be seen as potential liabilities. The decision was made to terminate her active status, and operatives were sent to bring her in. She took the news somewhat amiss, and our men suffered the results of her somewhat terminal displeasure. Since that time, she's dropped out of sight, and we are understandably eager to locate her."

"Basically, you used her an' when the monster you created went off the rails you tried to have her killed. You fucked up, an' now you're worried what she's gonna do." Logan's tone was all distaste.

"That would be a crude, subjective but essentially correct way of putting it."

"So you want me to track her down an' finish the job you started, do what you couldn't an' take her down, right? Fuck you."

"I realise that you're somewhat disinclined to do this as a personal favour, but consider this: before she showed up here and, if what you're telling me is accurate, terminated George Edwards shortly after I'd met with him this morning, ironically enough to warn him about that very possibility" -Logan nodded acknowledgement of this confirmation of what he's already suspected- "Alyssa had already dispatched three of the other people involved in her training and handling. Each one perished in a fire, her preferred method of elimination. The last one of them in his home, along with his wife and two young children. From what we can establish, it seems that Alyssa intends to exact revenge on those she holds responsible for -how did you put it?- turning her into a monster, and she doesn't appear terribly discriminate about the collateral damage."

"An' you hoped I'd feel in some way responsible for clearin' up the mess you've made?" Graves' only response was to meet Logan's condemning gaze unflinchingly. The silence between them stretched on, the tension escalating with each passing moment, until Logan spoke.

"Give me what you got," he said, his voice thick with contempt. "But you stay the fuck outta my way, an' don't ever think I'm doin' this for you, Bob." The emphasis was insulting, and clearly meant to be. Graves nodded, nothing more. He'd accomplished what he wanted, and had no need to rub Logan's nose in it. Rising, he waked over to a briefcase stood in the corner of the room and extracted a file from it. He handed it to Logan. Silently, giving Graves a level stare, Logan rose and accepted the file. Without another word, he turned on his heel and stalked out of the apartment, leaving the door open behind him. Rogue followed, leaving Graves to close the door after them. She and Logan walked side by side down the corridor to the stairs, ignoring the elevator which was just arriving at that floor, down the stairs and out of the building into the increasingly muggy air, neither of them speaking until the doors of the car closed behind them. At length, Rogue broke the silence.

"You want to tell me what all that was about?" she asked.

"Bob just pisses me off is all."

"What, it pisses you off that he thinks he knows you well enough to manipulate you into doin' this job for him? Or it pisses you off that he's right about it?" Logan looked at her with an emotionless, unreadable expression.

"Both," he said after a moment, the shadow of a reluctant smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "But sometimes this whole fightin' the good fight gig, protectin' the world from various threats, foreign an' domestic," he continued with an ironic twist of the lips, "means doin' the right thing, even when it's a prick like Bob doin' the askin'. Kinda leaves a bitter taste in the mouth."

"Ah kinda got the impression, readin' between the lines, that there's a certain amount of enlightened self-interest in this equation, at least as far as Graves is concerned. Seems to me he's concerned that his neck's on the line, too."

"If Alyssa is takin' revenge on everyone connected to that life, could be he's right."

"Weren't you connected to that life?"

"Well, I didn't have too much to do with Alyssa after she was 'dead', but if she's as fucked up as Graves seems to think then yeah, I could be on her shit list. An' I imagine that's what he was tryin' to imply."

"An' we're back to 'enlightened self-interest', so why not just come right out an' say it?"

"Man enjoys head games. Don't like his attempts at manipulation to be TOO overt, an' I guess he thought that appealin' to my heroic nature," he emphasised the words with irony and distaste, "was a better bet than my sense of self-preservation. He was probably right, too."

"So what now?"

"We find Alyssa," Logan said simply. He paused, collecting his thoughts. "A long time ago, I made a mistake. I thought I was helpin' Alyssa, protectin' her, fightin' her corner against the powers that be, bein' her friend at a time when she needed one an' didn't seem to have too many. Lookin' back, I might just've been stoppin' her gettin' the help she needed." As he spoke he thrust a hand into his hip pocket, extracting his Zippo. Taking a cigar out of the packet, he lit it and continued.

"We came across Alyssa, Mac an' me, when she killed her stepfather. The man had been beatin' an' sexually abusin' Alyssa an' her mother for years an' one day he'd drunk more'n normal, went further than he'd gone before, lost control an' beat Alyssa's mother to death. In front of the girl." Rogue's eyes widened.

"Turns out Alyssa was a mutant, a pyrokinetic, an' seein' her mother killed in front of her caused her powers to manifest. There an' then, out of a combination of fear, grief, hatred an' years of abuse, she fried the bastard. Department H found out, stepped in an' took her off the hands of the local cops, lookin' to recruit her for this team they were buildin', what eventually became Alpha Flight, an' that's where I met her." He blew out a stream of smoke and carried on speaking.

"In those days, hard though it may be to believe," he continued with a small, self-deprecating smile, counterpoint to the horror of the scene he'd just related, "I wasn't the well-balanced model of restraint I am today. I didn't have much time for the psychiatrists an' psychologists an' all the other people tryin' to straighten Alyssa's head out, probably because they'd been tryin' to do the same to me an' gettin' nowhere.

"Anyway, back then I had this real problem with authority," he smiled, an ironic twinkle in his eye, "which is kinda funny since they'd always intended for me to lead this team. With me feelin' like Alyssa maybe needed protectin' from the powers that be an' that their plans for her weren't necessarily about what was in her best interest, we had this 'us against the world' thing goin' on. At the time I felt I was gettin' through to her, helpin' her when all the doctors weren't. Mac disagreed, but I didn't want to see it an' even when Alyssa started actin' crazy I made excuses for her, covered for her an' fought her corner, thinkin' I was helpin' her. We were still havin' that argument when the plane went down an' Alyssa, as far as we knew, died, which pretty much settled that debate.

"What I'm sayin' is that, in a way, maybe I do feel responsible. I know it don't make sense," he said, putting up a hand to forestall the objection that was on Rogue's lips, "but this ain't about logic, it's about emotion. However you look at it, darlin', it falls to me to find an' stop Alyssa an' try to make right my mistake."

"Oh, you have GOT to be kiddin' me!" Rogue exclaimed, incredulous and outraged. "You actually buy that bullshit Graves was feedin' you? All you're guilty of is tryin' to help a girl the best way you knew how, an' what Graves, Edwards an' people like them did to Alyssa afterwards ain't your fault any more than it's your responsibility to take care of the situation they created."

"So I should just say 'Fuck you, pal, this ain't my fight'?"

"Not what Ah'm sayin'. Like you said, this is about doin' the right thing, but doin' it because that's who we are an' what we do, sugar, not because of some bullshit guilt trip. The X-Men, we do this kinda thing because it's... Ah don't know, our job, for want of a better word, part an' parcel of the whole mutant superhero thing, but don't you go believin' that any of this is your fault."

"Not my fault, but my responsibility. Giri. Duty. Obligation. Ogun, Mariko an' most of all the X-Men taught me that. Anyway, since when did you become the wise old mentor?" he asked with an affectionate half-smile.

"Ah guess it comes with the job," she responded with a self-conscious smile of her own. "But you mind me, Logan: this ain't your fault." Changing the subject, she continued "So, what did Graves give you?"

"Looks like details of Alyssa's work for them over the past few years until recently, with a fair amount censored," he responded, leafing through the file, "an' some other stuff, psych reports an' the like. Used to be, I thought I knew Alyssa pretty well, but there's been a lot of water under the bridge since those days an' I guess Graves thought this might help me to get a handle on who she is these days, who they made her." He was about to continue when a distracted look crossed his face and he sniffed the air, concentrating, listening.

"What is it?" Rogue asked.

"Fire," he responded shortly. "Smoke, glass crackin', alarms." He was already climbing out of the car, the file lying forgotten on the seat. "An' it's comin' from the place we just left." Looking up, Rogue noticed thick black smoke beginning to curl out of the window several stories up, rising to join the thickening clouds above.

"Isn't that...?"

"Graves' floor," Logan finished for her, "an' I don't believe the fire's an accident or a coincidence. Findin' Alyssa might be easier that I thought." Together, they started for the entrance to the building, only to find people beginning to flood out in response to the fire alarms.

"Direct approach?" Rogue suggested.

"Yup." Taking Logan under the arms, Rogue rose from the ground and flew upward toward the source of the smoke, drawing level with a window a few apartments down from the dense cloud of smoke issuing from the building. Unnoticed by the crowd milling around on the street below, Logan drew his legs up beneath him and tucked in his arms as Rogue flew toward the window at speed, her momentum carrying both herself and Logan through and into the building in a shower of broken glass and splinters from the shattered window frame.

Running through the apartment they'd just entered, empty since its occupants had heeded the alarm and exited the building, they opened the door and turned toward Graves' apartment, where thick smoke was escaping from under the door. Ignoring the heat they could feel radiating from inside the room and out into the corridor, Rogue raised her foot and kicked the door off its hinges, immediately spinning to the side to avoid the fireball that burst out of the ruined doorway.

Immediately the flames had receded, they both entered the apartment, fighting their way through the smoke and dodging the flames, until they came to the cremated form of the late Robert Benjamin Graves, flames still licking at the blackened corpse.

"Son of a bitch," muttered Logan with an ambiguous, unreadable expression on his face, both denunciation and valediction. He sniffed, turning slowly to regard the doorway to the bedroom. Rogue followed his gaze to see a woman standing there, flames dancing around the doorway and over her, but leaving her completely unscathed.

"Alyssa," said Logan evenly, the three syllables greeting and condemnation in equal measure.

"Logan." Alyssa's wide, red-rimmed eyes met Logan's narrowed ones. "I never thought you'd be the one they sent to kill me. I thought you were my friend, I thought I could trust you. But you're just like the rest of them. Do you know what I've done for them? The things they trained me to do, made me do? The services I've performed for my country?" Every word was etched with revulsion and loathing, the fatigue and nervous, manic energy in her tone echoed in her movements and body language. "Do you have any idea what I've become because of them?"

"This has to stop," Logan said, both statement and threat.

"Oh, fuck off," Alyssa sneered, bitterness and betrayal mingling with contempt in her tone. She pointed her finger accusingly at Logan, whose dive and roll to the side was all that saved him from the fireball that issued from Alyssa's hand and was assimilated into the flames already climbing the walls of the room.

"This really how you want to play this?" Logan shouted through the increasingly dense smoke, extending his claws as Rogue approached Alyssa from the other side, one arm shielding her eyes from the heat of the flames spreading throughout the apartment. Alyssa's response was to sweep her arm across her body, flame spewing from her hand in an arc, catching both Rogue and Logan. As both beat at the flames, struggling to put them out, Alyssa crossed the apartment toward the window, parting the flames before her as Moses had the Red Sea. Climbing through, she began to ascend the fire escape toward the roof.

"Fire escape!" coughed a smouldering Rogue from her position kneeling in the floor, beating out the flames on what remained of her clothes and pointing in the direction Alyssa had gone.

"Ain't the fire she's tryin' to escape, darlin'," responded Logan, his observation of the irony of the situation an acknowledgement that his friend was unhurt. Rising, he followed Alyssa through the window and up the outside of the building. Rogue made to fly out of the window after him but, as her feet left the burning carpet, she heard cries of distress through the shattered doorway. Cursing in between coughing fits, she turned back and followed the voices until she came to the apartment next door. The doorway was blocked by a flickering wall of flame and through it she could see that the heat of the fire in Graves' apartment had been conducted through the steel support beam in the ceiling and had ignited a fire in the neighbouring apartment. It had trapped a mother and three small children between the fire in front of their doorway and a similar conflagration between them and the fire escape outside their window.

Moving quickly, before the fire could spread further or the thickening smoke suffocate the terrified quartet, Rogue shouted

"Stand back!" and, hurrying to a point along the wall the flames had not yet reached, punched her fist through it, withdrawing and punching again until a sufficiently large hole had been made to allow the four to escape. Rogue stood there, helping them through, but mindful of both the spreading flames and the large areas of her own skin that were uncovered.

The children, and especially their mother, looked at Rogue with mixed expressions of awe, gratitude and fear on their grime - and tear-streaked faces.

"C'mon," Rogue said urgently, hurrying them toward the fire door at the end of the corridor, herding them away from the spreading flames, but also giving them no time to stop and question how she'd managed to rescue them.

Logan ran, breathing deeply and sifting through the various odours and smells in the air, searching for Alyssa's distinctive scent, following her trail. Tracking her.


He pursued her across the rooftops, tracking her by smell, until he caught a glimpse of her, several roofs away, moving quickly. He speeded up, drawing closer, making no attempt at stealth or concealment, sacrificing guile for velocity. Alyssa heard him approaching and cast a stream of flame behind her, more as a deterrent than in any real hope of stopping, or even hitting, her pursuer. Logan dodged the wild flare, ducking under it as it seared the air above his head, not even breaking stride, closing inexorably on his quarry.

Behind them, the sounds of sirens permeated the air as the emergency services arrived in response to the fire Alyssa had left in the wake of her execution of Graves, the thick black smoke curling from the building's windows to dissipate into the darkening clouds above.

As the sounds receded in the distance, the buildings changed, and as Alyssa navigated from one roof to the next by any available means, washing lines and television aerials included, the fatigue Logan had sensed in her in Graves' apartment became ever more apparent. She was clearly tiring, all grace gone from her movements, occasionally stumbling, Logan gaining ground all the while.

Reaching the edge of the roof, she launched herself into space, arms outstretched and fingers questing, and only just made the next roof, scrabbling desperately at the edge before finding purchase and hauling herself up, over and staggering onward as the first drops of rain, large and heavy, began to fall.

And then there were no more roofs.

Ahead of them, cluttered with workers and debris, was a demolition site, the buildings in various states of destruction. Alyssa looked around desperately, all the while continuing to run, never faltering as, in the distance but rapidly getting closer, thunder rumbled.

She ran to the edge of the building and beyond, hurling herself with all her strength and momentum at the crane with the wrecking ball standing nearby, somehow managing to make contact and find a handhold, control her descent, stop herself falling. Laboriously, hand over hand, she made her way down toward the ground, the men on the site just seeing her, beginning to take notice.

Logan followed her lead without hesitation, using much the same method but with no fear that the fall might kill him, his bones and healing factor assuring that, should he miss, the fall would undoubtedly be painful, but not fatal. Like Alyssa before him, though, he found a handhold and began to follow her down.

He had only descended part of the way to the ground when Alyssa, making for the half-demolished building, was intercepted by the foreman, his instruction, laced as it was with colourful metaphors, that she desist from entering the building clearly audible to Logan. He was, however, not close enough to intervene and could only watch with a clenched jaw as the man burst into flame, his screams cutting through the air.

No-one else attempted to stop Alyssa as she ran toward the building, the increasingly heavy rain dappling the dusty ground, although a couple had just enough presence of mind to try to smother the flames engulfing their colleague, while not realising that efforts to save him might not be a mercy. Their wariness and shock ensured that Logan was unimpeded as he followed Alyssa into the building.

Inside, dust coated everything, blocks of rubble and shattered masonry littering the floor, what light there was coming in only through holes in the walls. Picking his way over the debris, working through the ruin and destruction, Logan was alert for Alyssa's scent, for any sound that might betray her position. Tired as she was, though, he knew she was still a professional and he could not rely on any mistake or clumsiness on her part to give her away.

"Alyssa!" he called, although with no real hope of a response. "Don't make me do this!"

"What?" asked a contemptuous voice from behind him. "Make you their puppet? Make you do their dirty work for them?" He turned, catching her scent and aware that she needn't have spoken at all, that she could just have attacked without warning.

"I'm not workin' for them," he said simply.

"But you're here to stop me," she countered pointedly. "By any means necessary, right?"

"You just incinerated a man out there," Logan said evenly, his calm tone counterpoint to the tension suffusing both their bodies and the approaching storm. "He'd done nothin' to you, 'cept be in the wrong place at the wrong time. How many more innocent bystanders are gonna get chopped in the crossfire before your little war is over?"

"YOU'RE lecturing ME?" she asked incredulously. "You? Weapon X, created to be Canada's one-man killing machine? Fuck you." Her tone was flat disbelief, tired and full of her sense of betrayal. "How much blood do you have on your hands?"

"Too much," he said, an acknowledgement and admission, but not an apology, "an' I got no desire to spill any more, but I also don't go around killin' people indiscriminately, torchin' construction workers an' children just because they get in my way."

"I thought you'd understand, you of all people," Alyssa said quietly, a note of pleading in her voice. "Look what they did to me, Logan," she said, desperately, beseechingly; "look what I've become because of them. I have to take pills to sleep at night, to drown out the memories. Then I need more pills to get me going again in the morning. All the people I've killed in the name of ... whatever the fuck justification they were using that week. Don't you see? I'm making them pay."

"An' that justifies all the victims you're gonna notch up along the way? What're they? 'Acceptable losses'?" Alyssa stared at him for a long moment and Logan was unsure form her expression if there were too many thoughts and impulses, all conflicting, whirling around in her head, or none at all.

"Can't make an omelette without breaking eggs," she responded in a bright, brittle tone and, looking into her eyes, Logan saw hurt, betrayal, desperation, bitterness, achingly profound sadness and utter, psychotic, clarity of purpose.

It was more instinct than conscious thought that overrode his focus on her eyes and caused him to dive to the side, narrowly avoiding being hit by the stream of fire that issued from the hand she pointed at him. Rolling to his feet, he immediately moved again, this time ducking under the arc of flame emitted from the outstretched arm she swung across her body and launching himself at her.

She brought her arm down, the stream of fire tracking toward him, as he extended his claws, hitting him at the same time he reached her. They went down together clumsily, immediately rolling clear of one another, Logan trying to smother the flames in the dust and crumbling ruin of the building, Alyssa hugging herself tightly, but not enough to staunch the flow of blood from the grievous wound he'd inflicted.

Pushing himself painfully upright on a block of masonry, clothes dusty and smouldering, skin burnt in places but healing already, Logan looked again into Alyssa's eyes, now filled with tears of shock and agony, the blood draining from her face as it seeped between her fingers. She tried to rise but stumbled, fell, her clothes and the ground beneath her darkening with her blood. Logan dragged himself over to her.

She tried once again, feebly, to push herself up on one elbow, flames already forming and flowing around her fingers. Logan fell heavily to his knees beside her, locking gazes with her once more, his eyes communicating to her his feelings before he even spoke.

"I'm sorry, darlin'," he rasped, every syllable laced with regret, as he brought his claws down in one final, terminal arc. Even as the fire faded from her eyes it exploded from her hand, engulfing her arm and quickly thereafter the rest of her body. Logan threw himself backward, kicking himself clear of the conflagration as the flames consumed Alyssa's body.

For a brief eternity Logan sprawled in the dust, numb and unmoving, watching Alyssa's body burn, ignoring the heat from the fire on his already seared flesh. The sound of approaching voices stirred him from his reverie. Forcing his abused body to move, he clambered awkwardly to his feet and staggered away in the opposite direction, slipping and stumbling in the dark and wreckage, toward another opening in the rear of the building. He emerged to see the dark skies alive with lightning, tendrils of electricity coruscating across the dark clouds, caressing and illuminating the heavens as the thunder rolled and the rain pounded into the ground. Slowly, ponderously, painfully, Logan headed out into the storm.

He was crouched on a fire escape, watching the fire engines and ambulances congregated outside the demolition site, when Rogue found him. His wounds had healed and only his sodden clothes had suffered any lasting damage, but the very lack of expression on his face, the emptiness in his eyes, caused Rogue to wonder, briefly, if the liquid coursing down Logan's face and dripping off his chin and the tip of his nose was only rain. She landed beside him, knowing he was aware of her presence although he made no obvious move to acknowledge it.

"What happened?" she asked at length.

"She's gone," he answered, laconic and uninflected.

"You mean she got away?" Rogue asked, alarmed, head snapping around to look straight at him, eyes widening, droplets of rain flying from her hair.


"Oh. Don't guess you had much choice, huh?" She realised that it was facile and inadequate, but Rogue felt she should say something vaguely supportive, and nothing else suggested itself.


"Don't seem like she found much peace in life," Rogue offered. "At least you gave her that."

"All I did was stop her," Logan said with quiet bluntness. "As for helpin' her find peace? I'd just be lyin' to myself if I thought that, an' the least I owe her is the truth. I couldn't help her, darlin', then or now. All I could do was put her out of her misery, an' that's a pretty piss-poor substitute."

"None of this is your fault, Logan."

"Don't really matter where the blame lies, does it? The dead are still dead an' assignin' blame ain't gonna change any mistakes that were made any more than it'll bring 'em back. I was tryin' to help Alyssa, an' all I ended up doin' was what Graves an' the others wanted me to."

"You're gonna blame yourself for this anyway, aren't you?" Rogue asked softly, sadly, watching the rain drip from the fire escape to the ground.

"Most likely," he agreed, no expression on his face or emotion in his voice. "Prerogative of bein' the last man standin'."

"An' nothin' Ah say or do is gonna change that, is it?"

"Probably not."

"You want a lift back to the car?" she asked after a pause.

"Don't much feel like bein' inside anythin' right now."

"Well, Ah'm not leavin' you here on your own to brood. C'mon, Ah'll fly us back, pick up the car tomorrow." For the first time since she'd found him, he moved, turned to look at her.

"Yeah?" he asked at length, the syllable communicating vulnerability, fatigue, acceptance and gratitude, all unspoken, all tinged with a redemptive element of hope inspired by her offer, her act of friendship.

"Yeah." She gave him a small, tentative smile, her gloved hand reaching out, squeezing his, offering understanding and support.

"Okay." He nodded his assent, his acquiescence. They stood, Rogue taking hold of him under the arms, supporting him securely as she rose gently into the air, taking Logan with her. They flew out into the rain toward Westchester and Xavier's, the skies behind them dark and heavy with rain, lighter in front of them, Logan hanging with absolute trust from Rogue's arms, both immersed in their own thoughts.

Neither spoke, and Rogue knew that the matter was far from resolved in Logan's mind, far from okay. He would, of course, work this out in his own way, his own time, and she would respect that. But the fact that her was with her rather than brooding alone on a fire escape gave her hope, let her know that he was aware that help and support were available, his for the asking, that he did not have to stand alone.

So they flew together, in silent camaraderie, through the rain toward 1407, Graymalkin Lane, and home, lingering regret mixing with the slackening precipitation in their wake, the restless ghosts of Logan's past far from forgotten, and transgressions unforgiven.


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