Erik Lensherr stood looking out the window of The Company's Westchester compound. Once the home of his late partner and lover, Charler Xavier, it housed not only the operations offices but also served as the command center, living quarters, laboratory and medical facilities. Charles and Erik had built The Company together, sharing grand dreams of what it could become for all mutantkind. Charles, of course, was more of an optimist and looked forward to a utopia that Erik knew in his heart would never materialize. After Erik recovered from the devastation of Charles' death, he'd dedicated himself to furthering his own cause; the complete domination of homo superior.
Marie D'Ancanto was the key to making his plans come to fruition. He turned from the glass and looked again at his computer screen. Normally, Marie would email or call after she'd had a chance to survey the target. In some cases, Marie was efficient enough to complete the job in a matter of one day. That was rare as she was a woman that liked to take her time to ensure the assignment went completely well. But not having heard from her was making him anxious and it wasn't because he was necessarily concerned for her safety.
Lately Erik had begun to suspect that Marie was not fully invested in her work. She'd begun to argue with him more, hesitate when he asked to meet with her, not answer her phone. They were little signs but ones that added up over the course of time. He'd begun to doubt that sending her to kill James Howlett without more preparation was the best course of action. She would obviously be able to access Logan's memories and would be confused when the job was over. But there was no way to prepare her for the encounter without divulging more information than he was willing to at this time. Marie was strong and he believed she was loyal to him, but she was still a young woman with ideas of her own. No, it was best to make sure she was kept at arm's length until it was the right time. Then she would be ready. Then everything would be perfect.
The door to Erik's office flew open and Victor Creed stormed in, looking more angry than usual.
"Where the hell is she Erik?"
The elder man let out a small 'tsk, tsk, tsk' and sat down in his plush chair. "Victor, one of these days that temper of yours is going to get you in real trouble."
Victor continued to the large desk and slammed his hands on the wooden surface.
"She should have contacted us by now and you know it."
Erik both heard and felt the growl emanating from the large man's body.
"You should have let me go with her."
"And what would you have done, Victor? You know Marie had to be the one to do it or else we would not have what we need to move forward."
Victor stepped back and began to pace the floor slowly.
"You mean you wouldn't have what you need. Marie wasn't ready for Howlett, Erik. She's good but she's not ready for him."
"Stop acting like a jealous boyfriend, Victor. Marie has been training for this for ten years. She's more than capable of handling herself in any situation."
Erik's eyes drifted to the framed picture of Charles on his desk.
"Besides, I'm finished waiting. Fate denied me my revenge for too long. It's time."
"You're a fucking bastard, Erik. If she dies, you know Raven is going to eat you alive. And I'll be there with a knife and fork, ready to dig in, old man."
The soft ringing of Erik's private phone line interrupted the argument. He looked up at Victor and smiled.
"See now, that must be Marie."
His long finger pressed the speaker button and both men heard the light hum of the phone line.
Silence. Victor and Erik caught each other's eyes and waited a moment.
"Marie? Is that you? We were worried, my child. Did everything go as planned?"
Victor's enhanced hearing picked up the faintest sound of her breathing. She was there alright.
"Fuck Marie, talk to us, girl."
One more beat passed and then her voice came over the phone line. Her tone was hushed and as much of a growl as Victor's had been earlier.
"You lied to me Erik."
He'd been expecting a severe reaction, time to spin the web a little tighter.
"No, my dear. I didn't lie to you. I knew that the information you would discover from Logan's memories would be disturbing and I didn't want you to feel confused about the assignment. Come home and I'll explain everything."
Marie's voice remained low but the anger was clear. "Explain what, Erik? Explain how you never told me that Howlett had worked with you in the past? That when he disagreed with what you were doing, he left but you tracked him down like an animal? Would you like to explain killing innocent people and murdering Logan's wife and unborn child?"
Erik summoned his most calm and authoritative voice. Marie responded well to firm direction and she'd never disobeyed him before.
"Marie. I know Logan's memories are intense. But the man has been through experimentation and other things that have altered his mind. You can't trust what you see in your head but you can trust me. Now that the job is finished, come back to the mansion."
"I'm not coming back."
Victor stopped pacing and stared at the phone.
Erik sat forward in his chair. In the ten years since Marie D'Ancanto had come to The Company, she had always been compliant and willing to do whatever Erik had asked of her. Yes, she was stubborn and, from time to time, Erik had been on the receiving end of Marie's anger. But she'd never displayed any indication that she would be disloyal. If she didn't return, it would be the end of his plans.
"Now, child, I understand you need to take a few days. This was a difficult assignment and you must be exhausted. But you have to return, Marie. We need to help you and there are other missions to be completed."
"It's not about other missions, is it Erik? You want me back because of what I know. That isn't going to happen."
Victor had never heard Marie so forceful before. It would be a turn on if he wasn't so fucking pissed.
"Marie…girl…you get your ass back here. This is where you belong. You know it and I know it. Whatever bullshit Howlett shoved into your head, we can get it fixed."
"No, Victor. Tell Raven goodbye for me."
"Marie…please, child, let us…"
The click and subsequent dial tone reverberated through the room.
Erik clutched the armrests of his chair.
Victor roared. "This is all your goddamn fault, you son of a bitch!"
"Shut up, Victor."
"You knew this could happen and you didn't let me have her back!"
"Victor, you will find her. You will bring her back and everything will be fine. All will proceed according to plan."
"I'm gonna to find her but it's sure as hell not for you, Lensherr."
Erik watched as the large man marched out of the office, leaving him alone. He sat back in his chair and rubbed his hands over his face. This was simply a small bump in the road. She would return; either willingly or not, she would return.
Marie looked at the prepaid cell phone in her hand and sighed. She put it on the ground, picked up a rock and used it to smash the device into pieces. Gathering the shattered plastic into her hands, she deposited it into the bag it came in and threw it back into her car and shut the door. It was six in the morning and The Bar's parking lot was deserted. The fighters, hangers-on and wannabes had all cleared out in the early hours of the morning. Marie had watched as Jack locked up and left only an hour ago.
She leaned against her car and looked up the road where the warm glow emanating from the windows belied what lay inside. Standing for a moment before she began to walk up the road, Marie inhaled deeply and was rewarded with the rich scent of the pine trees mixed with the aroma of moist earth. Logan's enhanced senses were still in overdrive and she was reveling in being able to see motion in the woods that would have previously spooked her. The sounds of the animals and the rush of the wind in the leaves were as loud as if she were listening to them through headphones. It must take some adjustment to not be completely overwhelmed by one's own senses on a constant basis.
As she traveled the narrow path to Logan's cabin, Marie was also adjusting to the onslaught of Logan's memories. There had been so much she hadn't expected to learn about the person she'd been sent to assassinate.
Marie had been lead to believe that James Logan Howlett was a man of singular purpose; someone who loved a good fight and was solely out for himself in all matters. Erik had told her that their client had wanted Logan dead because of what Logan had done to his family and his business and that the information she would recover would be valuable to The Company.
But when Logan's memories began to flood her mind, she saw the opposite of what Erik had described. Logan was a man who had led a complicated life filled with more passion, pain and regret than she could ever imagine. While Logan had plenty of selfish tendencies, he was not a narcissistic individual. He'd had plenty of opportunities to profit materially in his life, but he'd chosen paths that allowed his friends and loved ones to benefit or to be protected. Logan's desire to safeguard the people he cared about was what set this entire chain of events into motion. Ironically, the only person Marie had ever protected was herself. That was about to change.
Marie approached the door to the small cabin and took a long breath, preparing to deal with the aftermath of what she'd done. She opened the door and, at the same time her mind was registering that Logan's body was gone, Marie felt the impact of Logan's larger frame slamming into her chest. The two of them flew backwards out the front door and landed on the ground with a resounding thump. Logan hovered over Marie with his claws extended and positioned only a fraction of an inch from her throat.
His voice was thick with rage.
"I should fucking kill you right now."
She didn't back down and met his dark eyes with no fear or hesitation.
"Yes, you should."
Marie could smell Logan's scent shifting from anger to confusion. His eyebrow raised slightly and his head cocked to the side.
"This ain't a game, girl. Lensherr sent you to kill me. Give me one reason why I shouldn't take your head off."
"You have to take my head off. Because if you don't, your friends won't be safe anymore."
Logan shifted slightly but kept the silver blades pointed at Marie's throat. He could smell that she was dead serious.
"Now you're threatening my friends? You should have killed me, lady, because I ain't in the mood for Lensherr's shit."
"Let me up."
"Logan, let me up and I'll tell you why you need to end me. I'm not going to fight you."
He stared at her again and sat back on his heels, keeping his claws extended and pointed in her direction.
Marie sighed and ran her hands through her hair.
"My mutation is that when I touch people – human or mutant – I can activate my skin so that I absorb their life force, if you will. I take their memories and, in the case of mutants, their powers. If I kill that person, the memories and abilities become permanent. If I only disable the person, whatever I absorb dissipates over time. The problem is, you…" She tapped the side of her head. "…aren't fading. Everything I took from you is still as vivid as the minute I touched you and that's just never happened. So now I'm stuck with your fucking nobility and hero complex. "
Logan was listening intently. "You've got my powers…and my memories?"
She shook her head. "Yes. I was going to hide, expecting everything to go away, but it's not. Erik said he was sending me here for two reasons. First, you're obviously a pain in the ass to kill. You heal and that indestructible skeleton doesn't exactly help matters. Second, he said you had some information from your past that could help The Company."
Marie could see the dots connect themselves in Logan's mind. "Fuck. He wants…"
"Jean Grey and Carol Danvers, yes."
"But, I don't get it. If he wants them, there are other people who know where they are. Not many, but he could have gone around me to get to them if he really wanted to."
Marie shrugged. Logan was repeating what she'd been rerunning in her head all night. She didn't quite understand why Erik would lie to her about killing Logan knowing she would get his memories and why he was so insistent Marie be the one to carry out the assignment. He even refused to let Victor or Raven come along as her back up.
"Your guess is as good as mine, Logan. All I know is what I'm getting from your memories. Jean was instrumental in some kind of psychic project so I get why he wants her back. But Carol was just your partner and teammate. With her abilities, it's highly unlikely that he'd be able to get her to return so why go through the trouble to get me to kill you for the information?"
Logan was sitting on the ground now, his claws retracted and his arms resting on his thighs. "He's up to something but I'll be damned if I know what it is."
"I wish I could have more time to find out."
Marie sat up straight and reached forward slowly, taking Logan's hand in hers. She closed his fist and brought it up to her chest.
"You need to kill me now."
"Look, Marie, I was really fucking angry. Lensherr used you, I don't want to…"
"Logan, this isn't an option. He couldn't send a telepath to get this information because telepathy doesn't work on you. But it does on me. If he gets ahold of me, and Victor Creed won't stop until he gets me back, he'll use a telepath to extract that knowledge and your friends will be found. I can't guarantee that your memories will fade at all and I don't want to take the chance. I haven't lived the noblest life the past ten years but it's time I get my head out of my ass and stand up for something other than myself. I guess I can thank your personality traits for that. I was pretty content being a selfish asshole my entire life."
He removed his hand and stood up, pacing back and forth, his scent shifting between anger and frustration. Less than twelve hours ago this woman tried to kill him and, yet, when he looked at her he knew she wasn't a heartless murderer. She was as much of a victim of her circumstances as he'd been.
"I'm not gonna kill you, Marie. We're not exactly best buddies here, but I'm not going to eliminate you because it's convenient. There's got to be another way."
"I was afraid you'd say that." She stood up and brushed the dirt off the back of her pants and sweater.
"It's going to be a bit tough since I have this healing factor now, but I'm sure I can find someone who can do it. Sorry to have caused you all this trouble, Logan. Take care."
Marie began the walk down to the parking area, going through the people in her head who she could pay to kill her. It would have to be a beheading to make sure she wouldn't heal. She only hoped that she wouldn't heal and end up some kind of bizarre headless and bodiless monster. That would not be a fun way to live life. She chuckled and heard Logan's footsteps coming up behind her.
"In case you hadn't noticed, I'm not a kid, Howlett."
His paced quickened and she felt his hand on her upper arm, urging her stop.
"I know you're not a kid, Marie. And call me Logan, for chrissakes. I appreciate you being willing to protect my friends but there's got to be another way for you to do it. You go with me, we'll hole up and try and figure this out."
"I tried to kill you."
"Yeah, well, I got better."
Marie laughed and shook her head. She saw Logan's mouth rise up in a gentle smile and that small kindness made her want to cry. Marie may have had a lifetime of training in being a cast iron bitch, but she knew that the man standing in front of her might be her only chance at redemption. She shook off her melancholy and smiled back.
"Great. Let's take a road trip."
"Yeah, gonna be one for the record books. Let me get some stuff and we'll get going."
"I can go back to my hotel and meet you back here in about thirty minutes."
Logan had begun to walk back up the road, but stopped in his tracks and turned around abruptly.
"The hell you are. From now on, Marie, you don't leave my sight, got it?"
His reaction made her hackles raise, it was too reminiscent of Victor and his possessiveness. She felt her anger rising.
"I'm not going to give up your friends, Logan. You don't have to keep me under guard 24/7 like a prisoner. I'm not going to bolt."
Logan took only a few steps and he was back standing right in front of her, his fists clenching at his side.
"It's not about you bolting, it's about being able to protect you." The aroma of his tension wafted to her nose. "If I'm going to help you, you've got to trust me."
"Right. Sorry. I guess I'm just not used to someone wanting to help me without expecting something in return."
"I ain't Lensherr, darlin'. And I sure as hell ain't Creed."
He stepped backward and motioned for her to follow.
Marie walked beside Logan in silence to the cabin, wondering if this is what it felt like to have a friend.