"...you must not speak of this..."

Written by: Nathan Pico
Beta readers: Noelle Pico

“…and get Victor for me.”

Logan’s eyes sharpened and his clenched fists shook vigorously. “He’s as good as dead.”

With a last pound on the door, a cheer to keep his friend going, Logan spun around and with monstrous speed and feral expression chased after his prey, his former teammate, Victor Creed. “You’ll pay, Creed. You’ll pay.”

The base was on full alert and enough time had passed for it to be crawling with hostiles. They had stolen something important to the completion of the Soviet’s project and the entire facility would be locked down inside and out. Tanks, troops and choppers would be on the ready outside to shoot them down. The only place to go to was the extraction point on the roof of the east complex of the facility, where John and Fox were waiting for them in an evac chopper.

That’s where Creed was going.

Logan rushed through corridors, bounding over rubble and kicking his way through jammed doors. Any opposition he came against, no matter how many, was swiftly and systematically dispatched, without remorse. He didn’t have time to play games. He had a promise to fulfill.

Rushing up several flights of stairs, he found a steel door which had been forced open from the inside at the top. Creed’s handiwork.

He could smell him.

As he rushed out through the door, into the darkness of night, the cold blast of the evening wind pushed against him with great force A blizzard was building, the wind throwing the snow about, but the tracks at his feet were fresh.

With a renewed rage welling up within him, Logan drew his knife and raced through the gale which was unable to weaken his resolve in the slightest.

He jumped over the gaps between several buildings till the prepped evac chopper came into view through all the white.

Two people were fighting. One was a large, brusque figure and the other a smaller, lithe, dark figure that both blended in the darkness of night and yet contrasted with the white snow all around.

Creed had lost it. Something in him must’ve snapped. David was enough; he wouldn’t let him take any more of those dear to him.

But even as he thought this, it was already too late. Cold steel stabbed into soft flesh, left it quickly and stabbed in again, over and over again, with animalistic proficiency.

“FOX!!!” Logan roared and pounced on his now insane teammate. “I’ll kill you, Creed!” They rolled in the snow, releasing for a moment only to pounce back just as quickly and as savagely as their monikers: Wolverine and Sabretooth.

But as they fought, a maniacal roar came through the snowstorm. The madman had caught up with them.

Yet nothing else seemed to matter to him now than the death of this other monster, who he had once fought alongside with, had gone through life and death missions with, on countless occasions.

“How could you, Victor!?” He screamed and stabbed the knife into his opponent, who roared and threw him off. “They were our friends!”

The man called Victor Creed wrenched the knife out of his chest, and the wound slowly closed over itself. He offered no response, simply charging once again into the frenzy of their battle. Logan gladly joined the fray.

From through the snowy haze, a pale, blonde figure emerged, metal tentacles flailing all around him. “Don’t take all the fun away from me.” He cackled into the wind. “I want to squeeze the life out of all of you.”

But his intrusion was ignored, just like the voice that came from the radio hanging on Logan’s belt as he exchanged blows with his enemy. The voice came from the last member of their team, who was sitting in the chopper, preparing for their extraction when all the chaos began. He said three words.

“I’m sorry, Logan.”

Three words that were the last things Logan heard in that icy hell before the whole roof, the whole building exploded.

* * *

The nightmares were recurring. Night after night they came, more frequent than what was usual. Each evening the story of his past would continue from where it had left off the night before, reminding him one sad fragment at a time of horrible monsters he’d already tried to defeat in his mind. It was like re-living it all over again.

He knew he’d never forget them. He’d never let himself. It would be a sin against them all to even try. But he’d hoped that over time he could come to terms with it all, with himself.

Chuck had on so many occasions made time for him, to help him through these bouts of what he himself believed to be his own insanity. But he refrained from doing so this time. The Professor already had more than enough on his hands, what with three new students with peculiar mutant abilities stirring up a ruckus in the Mansion, and he didn’t want to add to the trouble. He’d deal with this himself, like he’d done so many times in the past.

It was a blessing to him that the Westchester grounds owned by the Professor were so vast, and that the Professor’s love for fresh air and the great outdoors had led him to keep a large amount of the grounds he owned as a sort of forest-grove.

Whenever he felt lost, he would just run out of the Mansion and take a long jog, rain or snow, in shoes or without, wearing only his night clothes.

This was one of those times, and other than a pair of jeans, he wore nothing.

The cold stung his bare feet, sending chills up and down his skin, but he didn’t care. It was a feel his body had gotten used to over the years, years of running away, away from his demons, in the most god-forsaken places.

The sun was on its way down, he could see it from through the canopy above him, and the cold November air had begun to fog as the chilly, near-evening breeze sent a shiver down his spine.

The cold had always been harsh to him. As far back as he could remember, it had always been harsh to him. But it was comforting, if in a slightly masochistic kind of way. It reminded him of old friends, old promises, old lives that he had once lived, and because of these, it had become a constant companion in his sojourn to find peace. In the cold, he found a sort of solace.

The woods of the Westchester estate were deep and thick, but never had he felt them threatening. In fact, they were frighteningly welcoming, like he, or anyone for that matter, could go in and never want to leave.

The birds had grown accustomed to living near the quite populated school and their nests littered the natural-grown awning above, and every once in a while, if the visitor of the grove was lucky, a doe and her fawn could be stumbled upon.

But on this late afternoon, he was alone, in his thoughts, with only his inner wolverine to accompany him. The forest’s tranquility put him at ease, soothed his inner animal, as the ground and his feet led him to the grove’s heart.

The branches overhead thinned, the trees seeming to pull their arms back, until he finally found himself in an open space that the forest had kept clear, with a deep azure lake set in the middle. It was a piece of the sky on earth, its surface still and serene, with only the wind quietly kissing the water, sending ripples that broke the mirrored image of the heavens.

It was one of his favorite places in Westchester, along with the cliff edge at the back of the manor. And in moments of contemplation, he found himself drawn to it and its crystal clear waters.

Countless times he had looked upon his reflection for hours on end, staring into the depths of more than just the water. In the mirror-like surface that seemed a horizon into a different world, he stared into his soul, into his very being, and searched for answers to the never-ending questions that he had mistakenly believed he’d already found the answers to.

Yet today, this place had worked its magic on more than just him. By the lake’s edge, sitting on a large, flat rock lying submerged inches in the water, he saw the young man.

The boy in the water stared at him, eyes slightly glazed over, with a blank expression on his face. The late afternoon breeze blew by and rustled his hair and clothes a bit as little leaves fluttered down from above all around him.

One of the leaves fell into the water and a ripple distorted the boy’s image for a moment. When the surface stilled, the blank expression had changed into one of disappointment. “What do you think you’re doing?”

The boy sitting on the rock glanced away for a moment before replying. “I’m doing what I think is right.”

“You think this is right?” The boy in the water spat out with disgust.

The young man’s gaze whipped back at the water and the words snapped from his lips. “I’m learning to control my powers.”

“You’re learning to become dangerous.”

Silence fell and the breeze blew by again, but the two boys, the one on the rock and the one in the water, held each others stares.

The boy glanced down at his knees and whispered, “I’m going to use my gifts for good.”

“Are you trying to convince me,” The response was malicious, taunting the young man, “or yourself?”

“I don’t have to convince you of anything.” The boy’s eyes narrowed and his voice was rife with resentment.

“Oh but you do, you do, my friend.” The boy in the water chuckled smugly. “You know you have to because you know I’m right.”

“No you’re not.” The boy shook his head and looked away.

“I am and you know it so stop denying the truth.”

“I’m not denying anything.” The boy shouted at the other. “I know what I’m doing is right.”

The other didn’t even seem to take the words into consideration. “It’s bad enough that for the past so many years you’ve secretly used and manipulated people with your ‘gifts’,” the last word was thick with sarcasm, and disgust, “but now you even want to hurt people out in the open.”

“I’m not going to hurt anyone.” The boy said weakly, his voice falling.

“So what do you call near-killing that criminal from yesterday?” The boy in the water snapped, taking the aggressive in the conversation, making the other remember. “And what about the children? And the girl you put into a coma?” Making him remember the pain he’d caused.

“I didn’t mean to.” The youth pleaded.

The reply was decisive, and the fact beyond contestation. “But you did anyway.”

“I fixed it.” The strength in the boy’s voice returned. “I healed her with mom’s powers.”

The boy in the water cackled. “Good thing mommy taught you how to fix the boo-boos,” he said mockingly, “but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re the one who hurt her in the first place.”

“I’m sorry, okay?” The boy buried his head in his knees, not wanting to see the other.

“Sorry doesn’t cut it.” The other boy continued. “You’re dangerous.”

All he could do was repeat his own words to himself, “I’m sorry…”

He heard the boy in the water cackle, laughing at his weakness, but as the breeze blew by again, sending a shiver down his spine, the voice was gone.

“You okay, kid?” A gruff query came from behind and the boy’s head shot up, his gaze meeting with that of an older man whose face expressed great concern.

* * *

“You were able to see him last night, Tessa?” Charles rolled his wheelchair toward his colleague, who was seated on one of the couches in his office. She had just gotten back from work and both were eager to speak about one of their new students.

“Yes, Charles.” She took a sip of her coffee, closing her eyes to enjoy the taste, and the pleasure of simply not having to think about anything. Between handling the activities of Xavier’s many investments and companies and her responsibilities as a part of the school’s faculty, she had little time to herself.

It was coming home to the Mansion that she always looked forward to. It was the only part of her day where she could actually enjoy the simple pleasures and relax herself. But as the sun went down slowly in the horizon, she knew that she still had one more bit of work to attend to, something that she had been dealing with since earlier that morning.

She put her cup down, breathed a deep sigh, and took off her red-tinted glasses, massaging the sides of her head slightly as she did so, before looking to the Professor. “I apologize that we were unable to speak of this sooner.”

“It’s alright, my dear.” Charles smiled and placed his hand over hers, giving it a soft rub before resting them again on his lap. “I heard from our contacts that you were busy closing a deal with Stark International.”

“Multi-million dollar deal,” Tessa sighed and rubbed her temple as she continued, “multi-million dollar headache.” She gave a soft chuckle. “You know, Tony can be such a pain sometimes.”

Charles laughed too at the thought of their friend. “As they say, business is business.”

“True, true. And no one does business like Anthony.” The raven-haired woman put on her glasses and brushed a stray strand out of the way before assuming a more serious sitting posture. “But now on to our business.”

Charles picked up the clipboard Tessa had brought with her. There were X-rays, DNA analyses, various body structure examinations and other pertinent information about the young man, who till this afternoon, they’d known only as Max.

Maximillian Castillo Tejada. 18. Male. Phd in Business. Phd in Economics. The list went on. Major stockholder… Stark International… Stark Solutions...

“Quite an interesting young fellow, isn’t he?” Tessa commented as she watched the Professor scrutinize the data with great interest. “He earned his Phds simultaneously when he was eighteen. However, he’s been active in Stark International since he was twelve and was major proponent in the emergence of the medically specialized branch Stark Solutions when he was fifteen. The boy’s a genius.”

“And from what you’ve found,” Charles flipped the page over and studied a cerebral analysis, “it apparently stems from another mutation.” He paused for a moment, remembering what the young man had done in the infirmary right after he regained consciousness. “That makes a third ability independent of the others.” The boy had somehow revitalized Clarice from her comatose.

“They aren’t as unconnected as they seem, Charles.” Tessa took another sip of her coffee before continuing. “But the other two abilities, his kinetic learning ability and his vitakinesis, are results of the full extent of the first.”

Charles lay the clipboard down and turned full attention to his companion. He’d read through the rest of it later. Right now her analysis was the most important information.

“As you know, the boy’s base mutant ability is to synchronize his genetic make-up with that of others.” Tessa picked up the clipboard and flipped through the pages. “In the case of individuals with unique genetic structures, his body seems to adapt to duplicate the genetic mutation, using the person he’s synching with as a template to copy, allowing him to mimic their abilities perfectly as long as they are within range of his power.”

“Yet I’ve surmised that with prolonged exposure to a template, especially those of mutants with active abilities, the genetic adaptations could become permanent. I believe that is the case with his two other abilities.” She stopped at a certain page and handed the clipboard back to the Professor. “I don’t have any data on his parents, but from their records and individual achievements, I can suspect that they’re mutants too.”

Charles read through the information: the father was a professor, well-versed in a staggering number of fields, at Empire State University, and the mother was a doctor with a reputation for being a life-saver. He paused and considered the alternatives. “Couldn’t the traits just have been passed on through heredity?”

“They could have,” Tessa admitted taking back the clipboard, “but though you can’t see it in the data, the boy has several latent mutant abilities, too many and too varied for them to all have come from one single generation mutation. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m assuming he must’ve accumulated them through the years.”

Tessa’s ability to perceive the X-Factor in individuals was flawless, the logic behind her arguments solid, and most importantly, the trust the Professor had in her well-placed. “Do these pose any danger to him physiologically?”

“It’s actually a bit complicated.” She flipped through the pages again, this time toward the last few. “The latent mutations overlap one another now, but given time I believe his body will correct these eventually.” She paused a moment, as if considering. “Right now though, any attempt to jumpstart any of his abilities could lead to a violent chain reaction in his whole body structure.”

Rarely were there mutations that didn’t have complications. Almost always, there was a price to having their gifts. Charles breathed a sigh and thought of the young man who probably had no idea how complex his situation was.

“There’s more, sir.” She passed her data to him again, on a page with a neural analysis. Charles eyes grew wide with concern and turned to Tessa for an explanation. “The boy’s powers don’t seem to just end at synchronizing with genetic make-up.” She pointed out several key points that were depicted in the scan. “He also synchronizes with people’s brainwaves. It allows him to subconsciously tap into their skills and knowledge to a certain degree, as well as give him mild empathy and perfect coordination with the linked person, but most notably,” she paused and flipped the page over, “it leads to abnormal fluctuations of his own neural functions.”

Professor Xavier read through the new page. It listed records from the boy’s school counselors and his family’s personal psychiatrist.

“These lead to slight mental instability that has, in the past, apparently given the boy bouts of schizophrenia.” Tessa paused, and bit her lower lip. “So far it hasn’t led to anything serious, but he has personally admitted that in random, idle moments, he’s seen and heard things he believes aren’t real.” She knew she had no right to delve into information as private as this, but when she stumbled across it, her immediate (and perhaps only) conclusion was that it was vital that the Professor be informed about it.

As expected, Charles Xavier’s expression was a mix of disapproval, worry and concern. Tessa immediately felt the stab of guilt that didn’t need any words or reprimands save for the ones within herself. “I’m sorry, Professor, I—”

“It’s alright, Tessa.” Charles put the clipboard down on the table and, intertwining his fingers, rested his chin on his hands. Many things ran through his mind, the first of which were the safety and welfare of his new student. These children were more than just individuals he would teach. At the moment he offered them his help, they became his children. “I understand your reasons, but you must not speak of this with Max. It would make him lose confidence in us.”

“I am sorry, Charles.” The raven-haired woman bowed her head and sank back into her seat.

“Don’t be, Tessa.” Xavier gently squeezed her hand before moving his wheelchair to the window. He looked out at the sun as the lasts rays of light faded from sight. “This information will aid us greatly in helping our new ward.” He looked down, his window giving him an unobstructed view of the front grounds, and watched as young Maximillian Tejada, accompanied by Logan, walked in through the front doors. “And assist us in keeping any harm from coming to him.”

* * *

It had been a long, long day for Henry McCoy. One spent mostly in the Danger Room, repairing the severe damage inflicted upon the facility by the previous night’s events.

It had been tasking, and had eaten up most of his day, which he would have very much liked to have spent with his students going over the finer points of the beauty of basic biology, but there was a relaxing sensation that he reveled in when he tinkered with technology. It was something that he always loved.

The structural damage wasn’t that much of a pain, what with the Stark nanotech doing most of the self-repair, he just had to tweak with it a bit to quicken the process, make sure that everything was done right and add any improvement he might think of along the way. The power of science was just simply amazing. But it failed in comparison to the power of human potential, and this potential had made itself evident just the previous evening.

To keep minimal (if not avoid entirely) damage to the Danger Room, the computer had been programmed to put up a transparent, high-intensity hardlight shield if no training sequence had been engaged while while individuals utilized the space inside. Such was the case with the little skirmish between the Corsairs and Max.

However, Jonothon’s self-induced psionic explosion had not only breached the shield and ripped off several layers of the facility’s internal workings, but it had also shorted out the Danger Room’s defensive programming in the process of overloading the hardlight shield. All the data and pertinent information kept in the Danger Room computer was intact, but the hardlight generator had gone, quite simply put, haywire, unable to produce images, and the computer was unable to defragment and reboot the damaged program. Hank had to deal with it manually. And it had been a long, long day.

The man codenamed Beast, for obvious physical characteristics, breathed a long, long sigh. Well if it was that simple to understand Shi’ar technology, then the team would have had Morph fix it. He chuckled at the thought and brushed back a strand of his blue hair that had fallen on his face. Behind all the blue fur and animal like traits was the mind of a genius among great thinkers.

Sitting at the control room console, he keyed in new encoding at a staggering pace, the well-used keyboard tick-tacking as he typed, and corrected several errors in the previous programming, the most damaging of which was a stray connection, a loophole of sorts, between the security program and the hardlight defense system.

Hank stopped, shut his eyes and inwardly berated himself for the oversight. He cradled his head in the palm of his hands, too weak to even get angry. How could he have been so careless? Why hadn’t he seen it earlier? How could he have missed it?

The door to the control room opened behind him and the fall of familiar footsteps came in. “You know you don’t have to finish it all in one go, Hank.” The voice of Robert Drake entered the room, laced with supportive humor. “I brought you coffee. Want it hot or iced?”

“I’m sorry, Scott.” Hank whispered as his younger friend placed the thermos of coffee and two empty mugs by his side.

“Huh?” Bobby looked towards his friend, a little confused as to why ‘Big Blue’, as he sometimes referred to his older best friend, had supposedly mistaken him for ‘Four Eyes’. Afterall, they looked—and were—nothing alike. “Beast, what’s wrong?” Immediately sensing his friends trouble, Bobby instinctively placed an arm on his friend’s shoulder. Their monikers had long become endearments over the number of years that they’d known each other. Much like the colloquial ‘dude’ or ‘mate’, as in the case of their British students and peers, ‘Beast’ and ‘Iceman’ were very much the same. “Hank?”

The older man gave a slight jump and looked up at the worried face of who was quite possibly the closest of all his friends among the number of X-Men in this mansion or beyond it. “Oh, I’m sorry, Bobby.” He shook his head slightly and rubbed his temple, pulling his glasses off for a moment.

“You’ve been staying up watching those late-night reruns of ‘The Muppets’ again, haven’t you?” Bobby gave a sly smile and poured coffee into the mugs, icing the contents of his own. To this, Hank chuckled, the witty remark lightening his heart as he gladly accepted the other mug. “Actually,” he gave a sly grin of his own, “I have.”

Bobby laughed and tapped his much older buddy on the shoulder. “So tell me what’s eating you, big guy.” Concern was there behind the jibe, and blue eyes looked up at Beast with concern. “You don’t look too good.”

Good, depending on its usage, was more often than not a relative term. Hank paused, took a deep breath and gathered his thoughts. And as he opened his mouth to begin a long, technical explanation of the problem he found, Bobby’s voice resurfaced at the back of his head, an echo from his memories.

The voice spoke three words: “In English, Hank?”

He gave a chuckle and cleared his throat as his comrade lifted a brow curiously, and selected his words better, speaking in as layman as he could get: “You know the hardlight security program that’s permanently on in the Danger Room to minimize damage?”

“Yeah? You told me you put it up after that time Scott and Alex blew a hole through the wall a while back.” Bobby sipped his coffee and a small frown crossed his features. Damn thing needed more sugar.

“Yes, I did.” Hank sighed heavily, as though the thought was a weight around his neck. He reached into his trusty toolbox—the black and white one on the ledge by his right leg—and flipped open his glasses case to pull out the small swatch of cloth meant for his lenses. “But unfortunately it led to a dislikable side-effect.” He rubbed the lenses, and then exhaled warm breath over it twice before resuming to clear the glass again. “The program left open a loophole that allowed the next users of the Danger Room access to the programs the previous user had.”

Bobby peered at him, the expression on his face fairly neutral save for the flicker of wariness in his baby blues. “And you’re killing yourself over this because…?”

Hank set his glasses back over his nose, his jaw tightening just a bit as he clenched the teeth in his mouth. “Because two nights ago, we had an Armageddon level training session before we went to bed, do you remember?”

“Like yeah I do,” the younger laughed wryly, “getting smashed into the wall by Juggernaut, hardlight or not, is not something I’d like to go through before hitting the sack—” Bobby stopped short, realization dawning and leaving an ugly, yawning feeling in the pit of his stomach. “That was the same night the Hellions and Gen-X used the...”

“It was my fault, Bobby.” Five children, all bedridden for the better part of a number of hours. Cannonball—Sam to most, worried sick over his younger brother’s health; and it was all his fault. He had been careless, and the injury of Storm and Emma’s brood had been the result.

“From the security cameras, they were lucky Julian locked-down the sequence when he did, or else another stray command might’ve placed the sequence on Level-5.” His tone turned soft and heavy with the burden of having failed those he often joked would be the X-Men of years to come—if they learned to take their training programs as seriously as their more responsible peers. “And I don’t think they would have walked away from that.” Hank swallowed the lump in his throat. He would speak with Ororo and Emma and apologize as best as he could.

“It’s not your fault, Hank.” Bobby’s hand clamped down on his shoulder, and Hank could only reply: “Isn’t it? If I had seen this earlier, they wouldn’t have been able to access the sequence.”

Rare had been the times that that he found himself in the position to reassure his friend. More often than not, Beast, being older and undoubtedly far wiser than he, was the giver of the ‘It’s not your fault, Bobby,’ and not the recipient of it. But when time came for their temporary role-reversal, Bobby never enjoyed it. Let Hank be the worrywart. The world orbited the sun better that way.

The Iceman let out an exasperated sigh.

Here was his best friend, once again blaming himself for the lack of air in outer space. “So maybe it is.” The fact that fish lacked feet to walk on land to escape an oil spill. “But only up till that part.” The fact that sometimes stray cats got themselves run over by cars. “You made a mistake, we all do.” The morning’s lack of cereal in the pantry. “Just like the children did.”

Yes. Bobby Drake would prefer that Hank be the older brother, and not he. “If they had a little more sense, they would’ve set aside their differences for a refereed session with Ororo or Emma.” He gave his friend’s furry shoulder a squeeze. “Blue,” he said softly, “no point killing yourself over stuff that they did because they wanted to.”

A pause fell, the way they do in movies when the hero’s sidekick finally convinces the protagonist that all is well in the world. Beast took in what his young friend had told him, and found in himself the will to smile. “You’re right.” Though he still felt bad about it, knowing that later he’d have to apologize to the two women who’d been distraught over their charges ever since the incident, scolding or no. “It was a lesson in responsibility learned the hard way. And it will serve as fuel for me to re-program the system, flaw free this time.”

Bobby smiled then, “Good, but you’ll do that later. Right now let’s go upstairs and explain this to Scott and the others over dinner.”

“It’s dinner already?” The disapproving look on Bobby’s face almost made him grin. Almost, but not quite.

“You didn’t spend the whole day in here, did you?”

Hank looked away sheepishly. He hadn’t brought with him a watch and hadn’t bothered to go up for lunch, having instead brought several bags of chips.

“Okay, that’s it, you’re coming with me right now.”

“But I’m not finishe—”

“I don’t care.” Bobby threw him a look of reprimand that might have made their ‘fearless leader’ proud. “You’re blue enough as it is without having to coop yourself up in here going all emo as usual.”

There was really no point arguing. And Hank, glad that he had an excuse to take a break, didn’t plan to. Allowing his friend to drag him out of the control room with an arm around his neck, Henry McCoy, finally recalling that it was a Friday evening, looked forward to Jean’s cooking.

He turned and inputted a lock into the control room panel that sealed both this door and the entrance into the Danger Rom proper. No one but him would be able to get in until he finished his work.

While he did so, he smiled, happy as well about something else. Henry McCoy, the Beast, a man the world usually only paid attention to when in need of his technical and diplomatic skills, was glad that he had friends who thought of and cared for him not because of the practical reasons, but because he was something more: He was family.

Thank you, Bobby. And with that, he turned away from the door to follow the younger of them both up into the house.

* * *

His jeep hummed to a stop under the streetlamp’s light. The tune-up he gave her this morning had done wonders, and the new paint-job and waxing gave its deep, red color a glossy sheen. “That’s a good girl.” He rubbed the steering wheel affectionately before pulling out the keys and stepping out.

Stretching his arms out backward and arching his back, a few bones clicked into place as Logan closed his eyes and breathed in the fresh, evening air. Tonight was just one of those nights. One of those nights that he just wanted to be alone.

Turning around to look at his jeep, he pulled out a cigar from his jacket pocket and set it between his teeth. Sometimes I wonder if you’re just worth all the trouble. He thought to himself as he lit his cigar with a matchstick, flicking it away as he pocketed the matchbox.

On more than one occasion, the open-air design of his jeep left it vulnerable to the proverbial theft, and on worse instances, car-napping. But however annoying these cross-city car chases were, he knew, guiltily, that he looked forward to them, if not for the fact that he liked busting scumbag criminal low-lifes, because he just loved the excitement.

“Be good, baby girl,” he spoke to it as he leaned and reached for his fedora sitting on the passenger seat, “Daddy’s not in the mood for action tonight.” After checking the locks were set in his vehicle, Logan stuffed his hands into his pockets and slowly made his way around the corner, to the pool hall that he often frequented.

Usually he looked forward to Friday nights, what with Jean cooking dinner, most of the X-Men coming home, and a large number of the younger students going home for a weekend with their respective folks; but what with so many things happening, he didn’t feel like sharing the company. Anyway, Jeannie promised to save him a share she’d have prepared in the microwave for when he got back. That was good enough for him.

The cold evening breeze blew by, rustling the hems of his clothes as he went. Pieces of paper were buffeted around in the air as tin cans were rolled here and there. The lights blinked and flashed, increasing in number, intensity and different hues further down the street, but he slowed his pace as he neared a dim, blue signboard that read “Nowhere” above a short flight of stairs that led into the basement of a small building. This end of the gimmick lane was not nearly as lively as the rest of it, but it was a lot less noisy, and much more comfortable.

Beside Nowhere were several other bars, mostly sporting jazzy feels or mellow alternative bands, and right across it was a small, homey looking bookstore that didn’t seem to have anyone in it other than a young dark-haired teen, scrunched up in between one of the aisles, reading an old comic book issue of The Avengers, and Old Man George, who ran the store, sitting behind the counter.

The old man waved at Logan, and he nodded back, smiling, with a tip of his hat, before he turned and walked down the stairs into the basement where the pool hall was in.

Inside, the bar was quiet except for the sound of billiard ball’s clicking against one another, the faint sound of the jukebox playing “What a Wonderful World”, and the television overhead showing tonight’s news: “And tonight, some footage of the X-Men Colossus and Shadowcat saving several bystanders from an out-of-control vehicle.

The large blonde man sitting near the TV seemed to scoff at the word “X-Men” as Jimmy, the barman, stood behind the counter, polishing a mug that didn’t seem to need the attention anymore.

The door of the bar opened and a breeze blew in, ushering in a short figure in a familiar brown fedora. “Hey, Logan,” Jimmy called with a smile, placing the mug down and walking toward the end of the counter near the entrance, “The usual?”

“Hey, Jimmy,” Logan smiled back, killing his cigar on an ashtray on one of the empty tables by the door before taking off his hat and hanging it on one of the stands, “Yep, the usual.”

The blonde man who’d been quietly leaning over his dinner plate seemed to tense, and Jimmy noticed that he seemed to be sniffing at the air. The man’s hands quivered and without effort bent the knife and fork in his hands out of shape.

“You okay, sir?” Jimmy asked from the other side as he wrote on a piece of paper Logan’s regular order, which he’d pass onto the cook in the kitchen at the back.

The man slammed his utensils down on the table and slowly stood up from his seat, his fingers digging into the soft maple of the bar counter. “I knew I smelled something I didn’t like…”

Logan’s hearing picked up the grumbled whispers and his memory recognized the voice just as his nose noted the familiar scent.

“Sir, are you okay?” Jimmy went up to his customer, noting the damage done to his counter, and intending to charge for it adequately. But before he could even utter another word, the blonde man stood up to his full, daunting height, ripping the stool he’d been sitting on off the floor, growling like an animal as he did. He roared one word as he bared his fang-like teeth: “MURDERER!

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