traveling on empty
Traveling On Empty
"All right then. It is our emotions that are amiss. We are freaks, and the world is fine, and let us all go have lobotomies to restore us to a natural state. We can leave the library then, go back to the creek lobotomized, and live on its banks as untroubled as any muskrat or reed. You first." -- from 'Pilgrim At Tinker Creek', by Annie Dillard
When he saw her, she was leaning against a bar in Ontario, swaying slightly to some half-assed excuse for music and motioning to the bartender. Bare skin flashed everywhere, and a shock of red curls tumbled over her shoulders and fell back when she licked at her hand and tossed back a shot of tequila. Her eyes caught his as she pursed her lips around a sliver of lime, and she winked.
Her hotel room was arranged for a platonic two; they had to push the beds together and still, the crack kept widening. But she just laughed drunkenly and pressed her heel into the back of his thigh and he hoped she liked it this rough.
It wasn't going to get any gentler.
He woke up in the gray light of dawn with his leg between the beds and her palm curved across the back of his head. Her hair was a mess of misshapen curls and her makeup was smeared. He got dressed quickly and slipped out, knowing it was what she expected.
There were reasons why he stayed in Canada after finding no answers about his past. There were reasons why he wound up in Ontario, and reasons he slept with random women who didn't want anything more than sex from him.
There were reasons why he cursed when Xavier's voice popped into his head one day and mentioned the one thing that would bring him back.
"Yeah, well fuck you and your optimism," Logan bit out. "I say you're plain out of your mind."
"Good thing it isn't up to you." Scott folded his arms and looked like he wished he could just take his glasses off and be done with Logan, once and for all. Jean closed her eyes and sighed. "We're going, and she's going with us. You're not going to march back in here and tell us how to run our show."
"And it is a show, you know that. She's a goddamned kid!" Logan whirled and appealed to Jean. "Jean, what the hell are you thinking, letting this happen? She'll get killed."
And Jean watched him for a silent moment that seemed to stretch, her eyes shaded with worry. "It's a risk. It always is, for all of us. But Rogue knows that, and she's trained, and-- "
"Jesus fucking Christ, she's twenty years old! She doesn't know shit, and frankly, I'm convinced the rest of you know even less." Logan's upper lip drew back in a sneer of disgust and his fists clenched. "When are you going to admit the son-of-a-bitch is stronger than you, as long as you cling to your notions of good and proper and recruit fucking children? You don't see Magneto running around, gathering an army of brats. He's aiming to kill, and you let her go out there, she'll be first."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Rogue said softly, looking up from her chair in the corner, where she sat curled around herself in a defensive posture. "Nice to know you really bothered ever getting to know me."
"I know you, kid," Logan snapped. "I know you think first but you think stupid, and you act without realizing you're deluding yourself. You're strong, okay? But you need time. All of you do. It's a fucking invitation for disaster to let you up against Magneto."
"Logan." Scott's stance screamed that he was on the brink of breaking, and his voice quavered with tight anger. "The decision is made. Rogue has earned her way here, which is more than I can say for you right now. You both come, or only she does. Those are the only choices."
And Logan jerked his fury towards Xavier, hating the placid calm within the old man's eyes more than ever. "Why the hell did you bother bringing me back here, with that kind of choice?"
"We need your help on this one, Logan."
"So you used her to get to me. That's classy."
"Rogue is incidental to your role on this mission. We have nobody to spare, and your presence serves witness to the fact that we need more. I should hope you would be able to recognize that."
"I recognize that you're all reckless idiots."
Scott snorted. "You're one to talk."
Logan's upper lip pulled back in a snarling grimace, and Jean flicked nervous eyes to Xavier. "If it weren't for me, Cyke, she'd be dead already."
"If it weren't for you, Magneto probably wouldn't have ever gotten his hands on her in the first place."
"You little son of a-- "
Logan lunged, and even as Jean moved to intervene, Rogue bolted to her feet and stepped between the two. "Stop it," she hissed. "Logan, you had three years to come back here and act like this. You don't get to anymore. I'm not yours to protect. So help us, or leave and stay away like you always have anyway."
"Marie, you don't know what you're-- "
"Don't say it," she warned, her eyes flashing.
"-- doing," Logan drove on. "Do you get what could happen?"
Rogue's jaw hardened and without the slightest warning, her arm swung out and she punched him.
And he fell like so many bricks, blinded by the searing pain spreading through his skull. "Jesus..."
"Do you get it, Logan?" she asked quietly, and everyone was just watching, and waiting, rubbernecking fools at the scene of a wreck. "I'm not new to this, and nothing that could happen now would be any worse than what I've already managed to get myself through. So get it through your head that I'm not your chore anymore and make up your fucking mind."
Climbing to his feet, he turned a final glare on her. "Fine. You're not my chore. And I'm not your hired muscle. Carry on your crusade without me."
And then there were reasons why he didn't go back. Canada stayed north instead of right under his feet, and west was the direction of the week. The month. The however-long-it-took to find something, anything, to get himself to stop seething.
There were reasons why he stopped even though he was still angry. Reasons he just couldn't keep going indefinitely.
The Midwest wasn't as wholesome as advertised. He had a girl, barely legal, pressed against the wall of a dark bar and was doing things, probably not legal at all, to her when a hand settled on his shoulder. "Buzz off, bub," he growled, barely lifting his mouth from the sweat-sticky mess of hair and neck in front of him.
"Don't think so," Rogue said, and he lifted the current girl's hand away from his groin as he twisted.
"What are you doing here?"
"Thought maybe you should see," she told him evenly, and he noticed she wasn't wearing gloves before he noticed much else. "Not a mark on me."
"Well bully for you. Now get lost."
"Don't think so," and she grabbed his arm and tugged him away with strength she shouldn't have. With a glance at the girl, she rolled her eyes. "He'll be back in five minutes. Go take advantage of the ID policy in this place."
Out on the street it was hot but dry, pleasant because it really was humidity that made the misery. "What do you think you're doing?" he snapped.
Rogue simply raised an eyebrow. "Got a thing for kids, Logan?"
"I got a thing for legal and willing," he tossed back. "Got a thing for inviting accidents?"
Pursing her lips, Rogue gazed at him evenly. "Heads up, okay? Friendly advice. We've got three students right now from this very county. Gloves in this heat would have marked me, and since I don't need them, I'm not taking that risk."
"You don't need them. Since when?"
"For over a year." Her voice was calm, slightly mocking. "For the sworn protector, you obviously never even bothered checking up on me."
"You said it, Marie. You're not my chore."
"Right, I'm not. But what kept you away before you knew about my strength?"
"If you don't need me, you don't need me. I've got no problem with that."
"Lousy liar, Logan. Aren't you even curious?"
He sneered at her. "About what?"
And she tilted her head and narrowed her eyes and he absently noted that she looked good with her hair pulled back. "About anything. The strength, the bare skin, the mission."
"Not really," he lied. "Can I get back to my evening now?"
"Jean got hurt, but she'll recover fully. Scott was burned a bit pulling Ororo out of a fire, and she's still critical. I learned to control my mutation because with each successive person I absorbed, I became a little clearer on how the relationship of mind over matter, so to speak, works. And I can beat even you down because last time I touched somebody I killed her. That temporary transference is permanent in her case. I got her powers, and I got six weeks locked in isolation down in the lower levels because I had a breakdown." Rogue spoke softly, her voice even and calm, and then she paused. "You don't know me, Logan, and you made everyone angry because they do. You weren't there, and your right to be protective ended then."
"Yeah. Got it," he snapped. "So return the favor and stay out of my life, too, huh?"
"No problem." She smiled slightly and took a step back. "Difference is, it won't be that hard for me."
There was a reason why he went back inside and fucked the girl in a bathroom stall.
Just like there was a reason why he bit her shoulder and called her Marie.
The funeral was small and he only went because he knew Xavier would be there. Xavier could always be counted upon to be there.
"Hey," Logan said, stepping between the beating sun and the wheelchair. "Things going okay?"
"As well as could be expected." Xavier squinted into the distance, at the few people standing in a clump, near the eastern edge of the cemetery. "I wasn't aware that you knew of this."
"I have my ways of getting notified. So who finally had the pleasure of ending it for him?"
Xavier gave him a sharp look that bordered on angry. "Nobody. Erik died of a heart attack on a flight to Colorado."
"So you never managed to stop him," Logan said dully.
"No," Xavier agreed, a blank look of empty regret on his face, "I suppose we, or I, didn't. But is that so important, so long as he has been stopped?"
"Yeah. Yeah, it is."
"You are entitled to believe that, Logan. Myself... I confess I would rather not be here, to tell the truth. I would prefer these details not be mine to wrap up."
"So why are you here?"
"A long time ago, Erik named me his next of kin. He never amended that decision, and it was a responsibility I once held to be very important." Xavier frowned, watching as the service wrapped up. "I suppose I believe it still is, despite everything."
"You're a strange guy, Professor," Logan said, with begrudging respect, then switched tracks. "Tell me about Rogue."
Xavier looked up at him, his expression cautiously analytical. "What is it you want to know?"
"What happened to her. She's not the kid I knew."
"That's true, she's not. But after three years, did you really expect her to be?"
"That's not what I meant," Logan snapped. "She's different. *She* is, not just her age."
"Logan... Rogue has had a long and difficult struggle to be who she is right now. If you discredit her because there are differences you find disconcerting, you devalue all the work she has done."
"How'd it go down? On a mission?"
"No, Rogue has only been on the team for six months. She had the grave misfortune to be caught in the middle of a Brotherhood action while in Washington to assist Jean with some matters."
"You're telling me it was just another accident?"
"Of a sort, yes." Xavier watched him with a critical gaze. "Would you prefer it otherwise? That she'd gone in knowledgeably and actually been prepared to have such a thing happen?"
"Maybe," Logan said tersely. "At least then it might not have been as hard on her."
"What would you have me tell you, Logan? You seem to miss the Rogue that wasn't ready, as you say, but you want her to be who she is because she was ready. You can't have it both ways."
Logan scowled. "Here's what's bugging me, Chuck. You're dragging her in when all you seem to do is fly by the seat of your pants. The Rogue I knew would have been kicking and screaming all the way. She's had enough be accident in her life."
He gestured angrily to the dispersing mourners. Fringe figures, sympathetic to the cause, and no doubt one of them was Mystique. "You never managed to get him. You haven't gotten *any* of them. You run around in your fancy jet and haul kids off to your precious school, but what are you teaching them, huh? That they can save the world for themselves? By themselves? It ain't happening, Xavier. You're setting them up, and sooner or later they'll all fall. And if Rogue does, you'll have hell to pay, I swear it. You damn well better watch her so long as you've got her wrapped up in this."
Xavier didn't say a word, just turned back to stare at the now abandoned grave plot. Logan glared at him for another minute, then walked away.
For good, he promised himself. For good.
He'd never given much thought to reason. It dictated life like so many other things: circumstance, coincidence, accident. But really, it all came down to cause and effect, and lacking control was never something he wanted to understand.
But ignoring something never had and never would make it go away, and so ignorance was bliss only so far as it withstood frustration.
There was a reason why he went back to the school.
Three more years and christ, but nobody would ever mistake Marie for a kid again. He walked in the front door and followed the faint sounds of her voice, carrying just barely through a closed classroom door and down the hall to his straining ears. And like six years before, he watched her through the glass, noted the peculiarly pleased expression on her face as she sat on a table at the front of the room and cheerfully pointed at a student with his hand raised. "She's saying that morality is what makes life difficult for us. That we make distinctions that only lead to us being bothered by the reality of the world."
"Okay," Marie said, nodding. "So if Dillard is right, and we're moral, but living in an amoral world, why don't we just give up on morality like she suggests? Make things easier on ourselves, just be reconciled?"
A girl with a shock of curly hair and too many piercings to count shrugged. "Well, she says it. 'You first'. We wouldn't want to, even if it were possible. We're moral, and that's it. We can't just give up the things that make life hard for us. They're also what make us, us."
"Good, okay." And Marie glanced over and stilled, seeing him through the small panes of glass, and she hesitated. "All right. Finish the book for tomorrow, and on Monday I want essays. Pick a chapter and tell me about it. Themes, concepts, Dillard's views, and most important, your reactions. You think it, I want to know about it, even if it's how the water bug is the grossest thing you've ever heard of. Just haul me aside if you come up with any questions. Now go. Have a fun afternoon."
He waited outside the room until the throng of students had poured out, and when he peered back in, she was still there, sitting on the table as she had been. "Get your ass in here, Logan," she called mildly.
He ducked inside and stared at her for long seconds that stretched out as he took her in-- the lithe form that he knew weighed more than it appeared because so much of it was muscle; the hair that had grown and now curled more than it used to; the bare arms, rippling with tone, sliding comfortably out of a sleeveless top. "Hi," she said, smiling at him. "Been a long time."
"Yeah. Hey." He leaned uncomfortably against the wall. "So you're teaching now."
"Well, sort of. Yes. I mean... " She laughed slightly and shrugged. "By the plan, Scott is supposed to sit in for the rest of this semester, since I just started. But then the Professor got sick, and he had to take over the physics classes, and everything went fine here, so I'm on my own."
"Yeah, he had the flu for awhile."
"Oh," Logan muttered. "Look, uh-- "
"Gonna tell me what you're doing here?" Marie smirked.
"No reason in particular. Felt like popping back in."
"You just felt like it? Really?"
"Really. That's so hard to believe? I didn't just forget you, Marie."
"I know," she told him quietly. "Professor Xavier told me what you said that last time."
"Oh... he did, huh?"
"Yeah," and she smiled at him again. Teasing but gentle, light-hearted but perfectly serious. "They've watched me, Logan."
"Good," he said firmly, scowling. "So-- how are things going? You like... this? Teaching and whatnot?"
Marie just started laughing, and Logan frowned, staring at her uncertainly. "What the hell?"
"Sorry," she gasped. "Just-- Never mind. It's not important. Just um... I owe Jubilee some money."
"That's pretty fucking hilarious, Marie. Debt cracks me up every time."
"Sorry," she said again, sobering. "Yeah, I like it. It's fun... How long are you gonna stick around?"
Logan shook his head. "Not long. Not even sure why I'm here."
"Yeah, figures," but she said it gently. "At least through dinner?"
"Twist my arm, kid," he joked awkwardly, and was pleased to see her grin in response. "You know-- "
A sudden flurry of movement at the door made him twist around. "Rogue! Are you ever planning on getting your ass-- " Jubilee caught sight of Logan and her eyes widened. "Oh. Shit... Hey, how long has he been here?"
And Logan watched silently as Marie turned bright red. "Five minutes," she mumbled.
"*And*?" Jubilee demanded.
"You'll get your money!"
"Ha! Now hurry up and finish yapping and get your butt downstairs. He'll stick around... or do you want to bet on that, too?"
Jubilee winked and smirked wickedly at Logan. "Just hurry or we'll lose the time slot."
She disappeared, and Logan glared at the empty doorway before turning a dangerous look on Marie. "Why do you owe her money?" he asked, slowly and deadly soft.
"Five minutes, you'd want to make sure I was happy," Marie muttered. "Old bet. Years old. Listen, I really do have to go. We're supposed to train, and-- "
"Go. I'll find Jean or something."
"Yeah... don't flirt too hard, huh? She's married now."
Rolling his eyes, Logan frowned. "I know, I heard."
"Depending on the exact wording of that bet, you may have owed Jubilee a long time ago. You think I didn't keep track of shit around here?"
"Logan, you're such a compulsive freak," she laughed, hopping off the table. She gathered her folders and books and started for the door, but he stepped in front of her. "What is it?"
"Is it-- " He gestured to her arms. " -- safe?"
"Yeah." She frowned uncertainly. "Logan?"
He made a decision, knew he was making it. Chose the harder fight in the end, and he knew he'd be sticking around for awhile. And he pulled her to him, hands on her arms, and just hugged her, letting his chin press into her forehead. Finally releasing her, he shrugged. "Nice to finally do that without getting my brain sucked dry, you know?"
She just shook her head at him, a strange expression on her face. "Of course I know, Logan... I'll see you at dinner."
There was a reason why he stayed, whether he knew precisely what it was or not.