Late Chances

Disclaimer: This story refers to characters who are trademarks of Marvel. This is an unauthorized work and no profit is being made.

It was November. It was cold. It was business as usual. Storm brushed her dusty hands against the rough denim of her dark blue jeans and rose from her haunches. The sharp pain in her joints shot her a warning about extending her body past its limits. She had spent the entire day unloading and unpacking furniture and supplies from Muir Island to occupy Xavier's barren mansion, and her muscles held the dull ache of hard labor because of it. She sighed. When she had called the team to assemble at dawn, she had been surrounded by a dozen eager faces ready for work, but her number of attendants had dwindled as the damp gray morning wore on. Though this new band of X-Men had adopted a family like camaraderie, the notion of teamwork was still alien to them. By afternoon, her fellow X-Men had retreated to their preferred segments of the grounds, and Ororo was completing her task alone.

In all honesty, she preferred it to be that way. The people she had come of age with, the people she had loved--Kurt, Kitty, and Peter--had long since left this revered place. Storm felt awkward around her current housemates, and was often pushed to the fringes of conversations and outings. She had never been a social butterfly. Storm cast a forlorn look around the empty den. Stark white rectangles on the den's walls gleamed in the faded winter light, leaving ghost images where photographs once hung. Not even the old snapshots that provided evidence of her happier days remained. Bastion hadn't even had the decency to spare her memories.

Storm swallowed her bitterness along with the warm flat seltzer that poured from the bottle she held to her lips. She grimaced slightly at the taste and set the water bottle atop the flattened boxes to be recycled. A deep sigh rushed past her clenched teeth as her shoulders slumped in exhaustion. Marrow had been assigned to take the recyclables down to the curb. Storm lowered her head and dug the soft pads of her fingers into the back of her neck, kneading the hot flesh she found there. She kicked at the cardboard stack with the steel toe of her motorcycle boot and watched the stiff sheets fall across the floor like gigantic cards. She wasn't going to deal with Marrow today. The boxes could wait until tomorrow morning.

Her white locks fluttered in the wind like clouds of silk as Storm threw open the sliding glass doors to the balcony. The laughter of her teammates rose from the damp ground below. She peered over the railing. Dried leaves were blown carelessly across the grass like wooden beads strewn across green velvet. Bobby, Psylocke, Angel, and Maggott were engrossed in a game of touch football. They bounded across the field of withered leaves, taunting each other like mythic gods at play. Judging from their appearance, the pain of the last few weeks instilled by Bastion had melted from their hearts like snow. Recuperation had not been nearly as easy for Storm. Rogue reclined off to the side, propped up against Joseph. He lazily traced a blade of grass against her cheek as he studied her features. Storm narrowed her eyes. Cannonball and Marrow were unaccounted for, as well as Cecilia. She bashed her fist against the balcony railing. She had already warned Reyes several times about experimenting with the equipment in Hank's lab without his permission. Storm knew she would not have to search too long to locate Cecilia. Sam and Sarah were another story.

Shards of pain shot across Storm's lower back and through her shoulder blades like jagged cracks in splintering bones. She gnashed her teeth together until she could feel dull tremors in her jaw. The pale gray clouds that blanketed the sky darkened. Psylocke cast a quizzical gaze up at Storm, who immediately frowned and veiled her thoughts. Leading this team was something she would handle alone.

A soft rumbling--a voice like gravel--shook Storm from her worries. The sky brightened slightly. Storm whirled around to find Wolverine staring at her, his patient gaze completely unlike the confused expression Psylocke flashed her just seconds before. Wolverine's sea-blue eyes probed the darkest hollows of Storm's soul. He knew her. He knew everything. And he stood there in the dim light of the winter afternoon to make sure she knew it too.

Storm pushed past Wolverine roughly. Instant regret for her actions pressed on her mind like a migraine, but she continued into the house. She could feel him watching her-and when his eyes finally left her frame and focused on the ground below-she felt cold.

The room had shifted from dim to dark in the few minutes that she had remained out on the balcony. Storm squinted her eyes and padded along the floor, only to find her feet scraping against the cardboard boxes she had so childishly knocked down before. She flicked on the light-switch and bent over to reorder the recyclables, embarrassed at her cruelty and coldness towards Marrow. The least she could do was allow Marrow to prove herself; she had done no less with Rogue and Wolver-

Her world went dark. Fragments of memories and nightmares closed in on her like falling structures in war ravaged ghettos; her body struggled against the fabricated hell that flamed inside her soul. Storm took a few faltering steps and stumbled underneath the pressure of illusory constraints. The talons of ghosts tore at her skin, screeching like banshees for their deaths to be avenged. Slick snot spilled from Storm's nose, tears leaked from her boiled eyes as she begged for freedom, her cries echoing in the chamber of her mind. She must be judged. They stared down at her from above, Xavier, N'dare, Achmed, blistering waves of disapproval from their acrid eyes scorched her skin. And all the while the talons came closer.

He had found her amid the cardboard boxes, curled up like a child in utero, shivering gently. An electric surge coursed through his body, a sensation he wasn't accustomed to. It was fear. Wolverine flung open the sliding door, barreling his way into the den like a battering ram. The door shattered as it slammed back into its housing. He encircled her twice, growling nervously, like a wolf that had come upon its wounded mate. She wouldn't breathe; she merely gaped at the blank wall, clutching a shiny object in her hands. He shook her roughly a couple of times, moved to force his breath into her body, and she fought him. Wolverine bit down on the inside of his cheek and backhanded her-hard. Three long red welts from his claws sprang to life on her perfectly formed cheekbones. He prayed she wouldn't bruise. He heard a long sharp intake of air and grunted with satisfaction. She was breathing again. So far, so good. Wolverine jerked Storm's head up and peered into her eyes. They were milky. Lifeless.

Distant murmurs swept through the adjacent living room. His hackles rose like warning flares; they couldn't see her like this. Storm had sacrificed too much to earn her title as leader, only to lose the respect of her team. To them, she had to be unflinching, without flaw. Wolverine gathered Storm into his arms and bounded downstairs into the kitchen. He felt awkward, unsure in the guidance role that came so naturally to Scott and Ororo. Gently, he placed Storm on the tile floor, propping her up against the kitchen wall. He fished a knife out of one of the kitchen's endless drawers and a hundred-dollar bill out of his pocket. He stabbed the knife through the faded paper, pinning it to the wall. With a lone claw, he scrawled `pizza' next to the shopworn hundred, and gathered Storm into his arms once more.

She felt warm against him as he carried her across the empty green and settled her into the passenger side of his jeep. Once inside, she leaned against the cool glass of the window. Large tears took deliberate journeys past her cheeks. Wolverine snarled anxiously and peeled out of the driveway. The tires squealed in protest. He wondered if the others would notice their absence.

In the kitchen, they argued about anchovies.


He wished Jean were there. He wondered how many times he had thought that in the past hour he and Storm made their way into the labyrinth of Manhattan, slowly edging out other cars as he forced his jeep into the Holland Tunnel. The engine snarled like a Minotaur. Jean knew how to reach Storm, how to reach anyone lost in the abyss of his or her own guilt and fear. Sabretooth had called it the glow, and it was an illumination that Logan didn't have. All he could do was wait for Storm at the end of the tunnel, and pray she returned to him unscathed. He felt helpless; it scared him. Images of Mariko and Silver Fox flashed through his mind as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. They sat in silence. Tears splashed on her hands like raindrops.

It was evening by the time they arrived in front of Wolverine's apartment. Dull amethyst clouds enveloped an indigo dome of sky. Storm stumbled out of the jeep and past the iron gates, her eyes vacant and oblivious to the drunkard on the front steps of the brownstone, or the vulgar teens across the street that eyed her shape with longing. Logan slipped behind her like a lion stalking a gazelle. As an afterthought, he grabbed her hand, afraid she might bolt into the heavens where he could not follow. She drifted listlessly up the steps, orbited by Wolverine, who carefully moved items or shoved people out of the way to make room for her. She took no notice.

Wolverine dug his thick fingers into the back pockets of his jeans and cursed heartily. He had forgotten his apartment keys in the jeep. He stole a wary glance at Storm. She paced the floor, her eyes locked upon the grimy windowpanes at each end of the hallway. She turned her expectant face towards Logan. She wanted the skies.

She got the pavement.

He dragged her unceremoniously down the stairs like a barbarian's concubine. Storm pulled from his grip like an unwilling slave. He squeezed her tighter. Wolverine's eyes scanned the sky cautiously as the two once again approached his jeep. He sniffed the air twice. Monitored the cool breeze against his back. It was cloudy. Quiet. He stared at Storm for several moments. No longer restless, she gazed at him serenely. Satisfied, he loosened his grip on her wrists to fish the keys from the ignition. She was in the sky in mere seconds.

Storm stood on the roof, poised in darkness like an ancient monument. Tears flowed from her eyes like lava; anger swirled in her cerulean irises. All the pain, all the indecision in her life, swam to the forefront of her mind. She screamed a demonic howl into the wilds of the concrete jungle--and the rain began to fall. Droplets of Storm's pain slipped from the heavens. The sky roared like a wounded animal. Clouds twisted and writhed in the air like coiling snakes; pressure fronts hissed like insects in the night. The sky snapped to life. Colors swept across the heavens like the ruffling plumage of wild birds. Hail rapped pounding rhythms against the earth. Lightning bolts crackled and spat like searing flesh in the air.

Wolverine yanked the keys from the ignition and slammed the front door of his jeep, furious at being so easily conned by Storm. He leapt from the vehicle, his legs pushing him forward like coiled springs. The tissue around his incisors swelled, shining canines peeked out from behind his fleshy lips. His quill like mane rustled in the lion's roar of wind; lightning cast striking patterns across his chiseled face. Wolverine raced up the several flights of stairs leading up to the roof; his leather coat gleamed underneath the shallow artificial light from the hallway. He shivered; convinced he could hear the wind howling Storm's name.

Storm jerked violently, white locks whipping through the air like seagull's wings, her body quivering like lapping flames. She opened her mouth to wail. Her curses launched poison tipped arrows across the sky. Storm tore the clothes from her body, leaving red marks where she inadvertently dug into her skin. She wanted to feel the weather against her, punishing her, beating her. Shimmering pearls of sweat beaded upon her skin. Storm moved like a panther, slick cinnabar limbs slicing through the air, savage weather leaping from her fingertips. She spoke in tongues; foreign languages long since forgotten by man spilled across her lips like a rushing current over a ravaged dam.

She called for them and they came, crowding the festering sky like swarming flies. Restless spirits danced in the air like twisters; their united dirge pressed Storm back against the soot-covered rooftop. She clutched her ears in agony.

What do you want from us, Weather Witch?

Storm raised her arms in supplication. Tears and raindrops streaked her face like scars. "I want peace."

The spirits squealed in delight at her answer. They pranced like wild beasts in the night air, Morlocks moving as one to form a polluted sea of death in the sky. Never! You are at fault for the destruction of our people! Murderess!

She shook her fists at the heavens. "How long must I suffer? I defended you with my family! My life! Did I not fight as you did to keep the Marauders from butchering your people?"

You failed us! That is all you have ever done! Abandoned us! Blinded us to your evil ways with your brightness! Cavorted with our murderers! Do you dare say that we do not speak the truth?

Storm opened her mouth to speak, then ceased. Her eyes closed in surrender.

The spirits moved closer.

Wolverine blasted through the roof's door, flecks of saliva exploding from his mouth like shrapnel as he snarled at the air. He didn't have to see the specters to know when a soul's demons had come to haunt it. His soul had had enough of its own demons to know. He scanned the roof with blood-hazed eyes until he spotted Storm huddled by the apartment's ledge. She clawed at the sky like an abandoned child after its mother. He ran towards her, his sinewy limbs and clothes soaked with the pungent salty odor of rain. As he pulled her close, held her to him, traced kisses of comfort down the tracks of her tears, he could hear her wail the same line over and over again into the unforgiving night.

I did the best that I could.

He carried her--naked, howling, and smeared with filth--back down to his apartment. The doors in the complex stayed shut as her screams echoed throughout the barren hallways. Wolverine knew he wouldn't have to concern himself with making statements to the police, the neighborhood had developed years of experience in overlooking the pain of others.

Her hoarse cries pounded against his ears as he dragged her into the bathroom. She thrashed against him like a cornered animal. Wolverine reacted in kind by tossing her into the tub. She fell against the cool porcelain with a loud smack. She was beginning to try his patience.

The high pitched gurgle of swirling water bounced off of the clammy tiles as he jerked the silver faucet knob to the right. Storm's high-pitched sobs intermingled with the steam rising into the air. Wolverine sat on the edge of the tub and watched the rain slap against the window as he lathered a washcloth in his hands. He washed the roof's grit from Storm's back and arms, taking care with the soft bruises that marked her skin. Her body trembled from shock. Wolverine hummed old drinking songs to comfort her as she rocked back and forth in the water. Storm closed her eyes in the darkness. A power outage had left them with only the snap of lightning to illuminate the room.

She stiffened suddenly; a lock of her hair had fallen into her face. Enraged, Storm scraped her fingers against her scalp to remove the offensive ringlet. Seconds later, it fell against her cheek once more. She screeched wildly, dodging for the razor in the soap dish, only to have it snatched from her hands by Wolverine. A cut appeared; two drops of crimson blood plunged into the tub, and vanished along with the wound. Wolverine stormed from the room.

He came back with a long thin hairpin clenched between his teeth. Storm fell silent. Mariko had worn it on her wedding day. Storm's tears subsided out of reverence to his lost love. A disgraceful display would only mar the memories that came with such a treasured item. She dropped her head in shame. Wolverine pulled a comb from the medicine cabinet and carefully removed the kinks from Storm's hair. His brow furrowed in concentration. He didn't want to hurt her. As he arranged her locks, he thought of all the women he had lost to the guilt that resided in their hearts. Mariko's obligations to the Clan Yashida, Phoenix's debt to the souls of the solar system she had destroyed.both were worth more to these women than his undying love--or even their own lives. He stopped and listened to the rainfall. The thunderstorm had passed. Satisfied with his work, Wolverine slipped the hairpin into Storm's tresses, as he had done for Mariko countless times before. Tears welled at the corners of his eyes. He cleared his throat and stood up, waiting for Storm to meet his gaze. Wolverine held her eyes in his own for several moments, then turned and left the room.

Storm pulled the hairpin from her locks and studied it carefully. She thought of the choices that she had made in the short number of years since she had left her homeland. She thought about what those choices had brought her. Storm rolled a small silver cylinder in her palm. Gambit had presented it to her during his first days as an X-Man. She had agreed to destroy it for him, but she never had. A good thief gives up nothing; something Storm supposed Gambit had never learned. He willingly gave Sinister his own worth as a man. She had found the trinket in her attic the first night she had returned from Bastion's camp. She had found it again beneath the cardboard recyclables that afternoon. Storm fingered the cylinder gingerly. Marrow had carved the word traitor underneath the etched LeBeau alongside the curve of the vessel. It was a shining reminder of yet another one of Storm's failures--her failure to recognize Gambit for what he really was, and her failure to hold him responsible for his crimes against her adopted people. She sat alone in the bathroom for over an hour and let the clouded water from the tub lap against her skin.

Her demons lapped at her soul.


He watched her from the couch as she paced back and forth in his bedroom, wrapped in the faded lumberjack shirt Jeannie and Scott bought him for Christmas. He wanted to share his bed with her, hold her for whatever time they had left--but it was too soon. She wasn't ready, and Logan had done enough pushing in his life to realize that it only made things worse. He thought for a moment about calling the mansion, then decided against it. Whatever went on here was none of their damn business, and he didn't like calling people when he had nothing to say. He listened to Storm cry out into the night.


Storm moved to the doorway. Her white hair gleamed in the darkness.

Wolverine turned away from her gaze. For the first time in many years, he was nervous. "I, I ain't forsakin' my happiness on account o' yer responsibilities. Whatever ya got goin' on, you settle it." He closed his eyes and settled back into the couch. "I've lost too much in too long a life, girl. I don't need to lose again."

Storm nodded solemnly and closed the bedroom door. Wolverine pulled a worn blanket over his body. It was a long time before either of them slept.


Storm rose to the awful and familiar sound of beer can against claw. She groaned, pulling the covers around her shoulders and shuffling into the kitchen. She smiled at Wolverine, who stood behind the stove, surrounded by dirty pans and plates piled high with greasy food. He had actually cooked for her. Storm looked down at the flattened cardboard boxes stacked against the cabinets. He had bought the pots and dishes that morning. She hugged him, sharing the morning warmth that she had dragged from his bed.

Wolverine shrugged. "Thought ya might be hungry after all that carryin' on." He grunted and slapped her rump roughly, then nodded his head towards the phone bolted to the kitchen wall. "I think ya got another set o' boxes to be concerned 'bout."

Storm narrowed her eyes as her thoughts moved to Marrow. She picked up the phone from its receiver and dialed the mansion. Logan helped himself to a heaping pile of bacon and a mug full of black coffee. He watched her with concern.


"Rogue? This is Storm. I am with Logan at his apartment in Manhattan."

"What? All right, spill it. What's goin' on? As if Ah already didn't know."

Storm flashed a genuine smile as she cradled the phone. "It is refreshing to see that with all that has changed about you, Rogue, your nosiness is still in tact. May I speak with Marrow please?"

"Ugh, why would ya want to? Hold on a sec."

Storm could hear Rogue put down the phone and call for Marrow. She glanced over at Logan who gave her an encouraging nod. So far, so good.

A scraping sound blasted through the phone as Marrow grabbed for it. "Did you call to thank me for the little present I left by the boxes? I know how you like pretty things, Bright One--like your pretty traitor, for instance."

Storm bristled at Marrow's curt greeting. "Logan and I will be returning this afternoon, Sarah. I want the recyclables bound and set by the curb by the time we return."

Marrow's rough snort spurt into the phone. "Or else?"

"Or else I suggest you consider growing an additional heart."

The blaring dial tone in Marrow's ear said the rest.


Wolverine showered her with proud applause. "Knew ya could do it. My girls always have it in 'em."

Storm offered him an arched eyebrow and a wry smile. "Your girls?" She stared at Wolverine as he left the room, then followed behind him like an angel curious of human ways. She studied him with childlike eyes; a small pout provided evidence of her uncertainty.

As he eased into bed, she snaked her slender fingers through his wiry chest hair. He grabbed her silver tresses and pulled her lips down against his. He could feel her whispers through the kiss.

I did the best that I could.

It wasn't an explanation anymore. It was a fact. An affirmation. A warning to the demons that haunted her soul.

He smiled and kissed her again. He pressed his body against hers. Storm gasped in pleasant surprise. Logan laughed and flipped her over so that the brilliant morning sunlight washed across her face.

"Darlin', your best is damn sure good enough."

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