Third Time's The Charm
Chapter 2

DISCLAIMER: Second half of "Fairy Tale, X-Men Style". Same disclaimer applies.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: If you've read this far, I luff you! Please keep going and give me an informative (Read: constructive criticism and/or goddess worship) review!

When three months passed without a word, Rogue stopped giving the mailbox dirty looks.

When six months passed, people noticed that she smiled more often, and even flirted with some of her male friends.

When nine months passed, she let Bobby take her out on a date now and then, though they did nothing beyond holding hands.

Finally a year passed, and she had turned eighteen a few months ago, but she still woke up every few weeks from dreams of him. She'd thought no one noticed, but one night at a fancy French restaurant, Bobby had taken her hand and told her that they shouldn't see each other anymore. She had been surprised and asked him why, and he said, "I'm here with you, Rogue, but I'm on the outside, and he'll always be on the inside." And she had nodded, because it was the truth, and they were better friends for the extra time spent together.

Of course, she had more to do than flirt with Bobby and weep over Logan. She graduated that spring, but chose to stay and be a full member of the X-Men rather than go away to college. It had been a long, forcefully civil discussion with Xavier, but he had relented, and had her studying under some of the teachers at the Academy. So between schoolwork and various missions, she was kept quite busy.

Only once had anyone asked her about the night he left. Jean had come to her room while Rogue was recuperating from a mission, one in which she'd killed a woman and permanently absorbed her considerable strength and flying ability. The shock of it, the fact that she had taken someone's life from them, had her in a tight grip and she was grateful for the company of the older woman.


*"I found these in his room," Jean said, a chain dangling from her fingers. "Thought you might want them."

Rogue had to stop herself from snatching them away. "Oh?" she said, quite coolly. "Don't know what I'll do with them, but thanks." She held out her hand, and her fingers tightened convulsively around the cold, well-worn metal. She stroked the etched letters lightly, finally noticing that Jean was watching her.

Their eyes met, and the other woman smiled. "He left you the only remainder of his past."

Rogue shrugged, her gaze dropping. "Maybe they're not all that important."

"Do you want to talk about what happened that night?"


Jean sighed. "Alright."*


And no one had brought it up since. Rogue kept the tags in a drawer during the day and under her pillow when she slept.

It was her theory that everyone pitied her; the poor naíve little girl who'd lost her heart to an uncaring older man. But in truth, Rogue knew that she had driven him away. If she'd had any idea what would happen, she would have said nothing to him, and merely enjoyed his presence. It would hurt to not be able to have him, but no worse than to not have him near her at all . . . he was like a drug. The longer she was around him, the more she needed him; when she had given him up, the need lessened with time, but every now and then it would strike her with all the force it had a year ago.

She had not stopped loving him, but she had given up on ever having him in her life again.

The call came later that same month, just a year after he'd left.

Rogue was in the professor's office, waiting for him to get her some papers on the French Revolution. When the phone rang, she only tilted her chair back in the way that so annoyed Xavier and let the machine pick it up.

"Hey Professor X, pick up, please. Jean? Scott? Ororo? Somebody!"

The chair came crashing back down on all four legs. That voice . . . ragged and rough, but oh so familiar . . . she let the feeling wash over her as he talked, and was surprised to have such a vivid mental picture of him, as though she'd only seen him yesterday . . .

"Listen, I know I left without sayin' anything, but I'm in trouble here---"

*Should I pick up? Should I call for the professor?*

"--dammit, pick up the phone, Chuck!"

She picked it up and said, "Hello."

There was a pause at the other end. He recognized her voice. Of course he did. He'd never mistake it for any other.


"Yes, Logan," she said softly. "It's me. What's wrong?"

"I---there's been some people chasing me, for a few weeks now. I'd thought I lost them, but I think they're very close, and I can't---" He broke off.

"It's alright," she said, wondering at the utter calm of her voice. "Tell me where you are, Logan."

"I'm in Kingston. At some truck stop---listen, Rogue, I need help. Ask Xavier to get the team together and bring the jet."

She felt a flare of anger. "I'm part of the team, too, Logan. Of course I'll tell them."

"Are you, now?" His voice was hesitant. "Rogue---I just want to say I'm sorry. For what I put you through."

"I'm really quite fine, Logan," she said.

"No, you aren't," he said flatly. "Because if I'm not, you certainly aren't."

Rogue bit her lip. "I don't have time to argue with you now, Logan!"

"Then don't," he said placidly. "But you're right, we haven't got the time."

She craned her neck, listening to distinctive wheels outside the door. "There's the professor now, Logan. Do you want to talk to him?"

"Yes, put him on."

Xavier was surprised to see Rogue on his phone, but when she handed it to him wordlessly he understood. So this day had come at last. It was inevitable; their destinies were twined, poor souls. He only hoped these people Logan spoke of would hold off until his team got there.

As he was talking to Logan, he noticed Rogue nervously tapping her foot and twirling the white streak of hair around her finger.

"Perhaps it's best you don't come on this mission," he said when he had hung up.

She said bolt upright. "No! I mean, please, Professor Xavier---"

"Listen to me for a moment, Rogue," he said, and she fell silent at his tone. "I'm only concerned for the both of you. You haven't seen Logan in a year . . . do you really want that first meeting to take place in a possible combat situation?"

He had a point there. Rogues crossed her arms over her chest. "But you're not forbidding me to go?"

"No, I'm not. I only wish you to sit in here and think about it, while I go use Cerebro to locate Logan and his attackers."

She sighed. "Fair enough." He left her, and she threw her head back in the chair and closed her eyes.

To see him again . . . the thought made her quiver, but then she thought of the last time she'd seen him. How would it be any different? She was still a child to him, and he wouldn't want her now any more than he had then.

*Still*, she resolved, *I need to see him. To convince myself that I really **don't** need to see him.*

*But you do . . . you know you do . . .* whispered a small, traitorous voice in her head, and she silenced it quickly.

Of course, the last time she'd gone to help him, it had only led to his leaving . . .

Rogue pressed her hands to her temples. Would she be able to handle this? Or was she still that same girl who'd gone to his room in the middle of the night, wanting to be loved and being scorned instead?

Oh no, time had not healed the memory of those words. They could still hurt, and probably so could he.

And she was angry, and she grabbed onto that anger like a life preserve. How dare he think that he could enter her life again and expect to find her unchanged? She *had* changed; she was a woman now, and though she would be civil, she would not forgive him for what he'd done that night.

Because she had wanted no one else since him. Because she was his for life, and that was not something you just forgave.


After Logan hung up the payphone, he leaned against the wall and tried to collect his bearings. Hearing her voice after all this time . . . it had been a shock. And she'd sounded so grown-up. Full-fledged X-Man and all. He shook his head. *My girl doesn't do things halfway.*

He felt a chill chase down his spine. They were close, whoever the hell they were.

Sighing, Logan walked cautiously outside to his bike---Cyke's, really, but after a year he considered it his by default. He didn't know why he couldn't shake these people. It was usually just one man in a nice dark suit, trying his best to be sneaky. They never gave any clues as to what they wanted, and never came close enough for him to smell any trace of emotion or purpose. Logan had gone to Georgia a month ago, relieved when no one followed, but the heat soon drove him back up north. He was definitely a cold-weather animal. And he'd been here in Kingston for four days, moving from hotel to hotel; despite it all, his well-dressed friends had shown up again yesterday, three of them at once.

Breathing shallowly, he contemplated taking one---just one, just to calm his nerves. But no, there were only a few left, and Esmerelda would not be pleased if he came back so soon.

*They're only for sleeping,* he told himself fiercely.

He pressed down on the throttle and the engine thundered to life.

He didn't notice the black Lincoln which pulled out of the parking lot just before he did, or that it took the same road he did. It was around the corner before he saw it, and so he didn't see it make a U-turn on the narrow road, and he couldn't tell if the squealing of tires was his own or the Lincoln's . . .

And the next thing he knew was the cold of the snow against his cheek, and the warmth of his blood staining it scarlet.

*Déja vu,* Logan thought grimly. Panic had gripped him for a moment: he thought to look up, to see his old camper at the top of the hill, Rogue frightened and trapped inside . . .

But no, he'd crashed his bike into that damned car. And someone up there was probably hurt, or worse.

Groaning, Logan heaved himself up out of the snow-bank. Through the red haze, he waited patiently for the pain to subside and the blood to cease flowing.

He touched his forehead gingerly, feeling the ragged gash and fighting nausea.

Inexplicably, he was still bleeding, and the soreness of his muscles would not go away . . .

His claws popped out with a snikt that was deafening in the pastoral silence.

Two men---in those damnable suits!---appeared at the top of the hill.

As Logan dropped to the ground and out of consciousness, he reflected that this time there was no Cyclops and Storm to save him. But there was no stink of Sabretooth, either, so that was a plus . . .

And then everything was nothing at all.



For a moment he thought he was dead, that all those tales of people seeing a bright light after death were true. Should he go toward it, or turn and run? Which view of the afterlife was true; where would he go now?

Then the light receded, and he breathed a sigh of relief. *Breath. So I'm not dead. Okay.*

At the moment, though, Logan wasn't so sure that was a good thing. His body screamed with aches, and he was held down by leather and metal contraptions.

Extra care had been taken with his wrists, he discovered as his claws popped out. They were secured tightly, facing down, on the edges of the steel table.

"Ah yes," came a low, educated voice, "those magnificent blades."

"Come any closer, bub, and I'll show you just how magnificent they can be," Logan growled.

"I'm sure you would," said the voice calmly. "Fortunately for myself, I suspect you're not feeling quite up to the job."

Not a sentiment Logan was prepared to argue with. He couldn't remember ever feeling this bad, for this long.

A man stepped out of the shadows; dressed as well as the Suits, but not one Logan recognized. The man was fairly tall, pale, and thin. He looked about thirty-five, but his receding hairline made him appear older. He pushed a pair of wire-rimmed glasses up on his hawkish nose.

Logan had to suppress a snort. He'd been pursued and captured by this geek? *I must be losing my edge.*

The man spoke again, gazing dispassionately down at Logan. "You must be wondering what I want with you." Logan was silent, obstinate, but it didn't seem to faze the guy. "My name is Peter Riley, and I've captured you for a very simple reason. You see, I have desired something all my life, wanted it so badly that I would give countless years off my life to be able to attain it."

"A swift kick in the nuts?" Logan inquired.

Riley smiled. "No, my dear man, no. I want to be a mutant."

Logan blinked. That was a bit of a surprise. Most mutants he'd encountered would have given anything in their power to become normal, yet here was a normal---relatively, anyway---human who wanted to be a mutant. The world was a strange place.

"How am I supposed to help you with that?" he asked, genuinely curious despite the danger he could smell emanating off the man.

Riley drew a chair up and made himself comfortable, looking for all the world like a friend settling down for a bedside chat with an invalid. "I've been following Charles Xavier's operation for years, but I've not yet been able to come into contact with one of his mutants. They're a cliquey bunch, you know, and most of the students who left the nest were not suitable to my purposes, so they were useless to track. But you . . . you I believe we can work with." Turning to a tray Logan could only see out of the corner of his eye, Riley picked up a hypodermic needle containing a pinkish liquid. "And I'm sure you've figured out by now that we used the woman 'Esmerelda' as a connection, that the drugs she has been feeding you over the past year are ones I developed myself.

"They wear down your remarkable immune system, so that your healing factor is virtually useless and you're more susceptible to torture."

He gazed at the pale serum contemplatively. "First, you're going to tell us everything you can remember about the process by which you acquired your adamantium skeleton. Then," Riley continued, leaning over Logan, who couldn't flinch away, "we're going to open you up and see for ourselves how it was done."

And as the needle pricked into his arm, Logan was afraid in a way he hadn't felt for a long, long time.


The X-Men arrived at Riley's lab in Kingston, Canada about an hour later.

"It looks respectable enough," Storm remarked, running a critical eye over the building's surface from their position some hundred yards off.

Rogue looked up at the impressively fortress-like building, and shivered. Something about this place touched her deep, and she didn't like the feeling. "It's not," she whispered.

The others looked at her sharply, but said nothing. "Jean, can you get a psychic connection with Logan?" Scott asked.

The woman pressed her fingertips to her temples. "I'll try."

*Logan, can you hear me? It's Jean; we're here, you'll soon be safe---*

Scott reached out a steadying hand as she cried out and swayed. "He's in terrible pain," Jean whispered, opening her eyes. "We have to hurry, they're inside his mind . . ."

Feeling her jaw clench, Rogue said firmly, "Well, what are we waiting for? There's only two guards outside; let's go!" She took to the air, hurrying to the place where Logan was being kept.

*Whatever has happened between us---**because** of what has happened between us, I couldn't stand to see him in pain,* she thought despairingly.


Pain hissed through Logan's head.

He bit back a yell as the hot poker was drawn back from his skin. His shirt was torn open, and several deep burns were etched onto the skin of his chest.

"What else can you tell me?"

Dammit, that voice! It wouldn't go away! Even the torture wouldn't be so bad, if Riley would just shut the hell up!

The drugs they had pumped into his system made his eyes difficult to focus, and they streamed as he blinked, trying to see the bespectacled figure hovering over him. Logan could taste Riley's frustration. *Maybe it's a good thing I don't know more about the butchers who did this to me,* he thought dully. *I wouldn't put such knowledge into the hands of a madman, torture or no.*

"Go . . . fuck . . . yourself," Logan managed to grit out between his teeth. One was broken, if he wasn't mistaken.

Riley began to laugh, the high-pitched sound continuing for several minutes. It was this, really, that terrified Logan beyond the physical pain, which was considerable. The man was truly insane, and desperate.

"Try this slice," Riley said, still giggling, "I made it special just for you."

He felt the needle enter his vein, distantly. The effect of this new medicine took effect almost immediately as it entered his bloodstream, and Logan couldn't even scream as his body was racked by uncontrollable shaking. He tasted blood in his mouth, and knew that he'd bit his tongue.

When the convulsions subsided a few moments later, he felt as though his brain had detached from his body, and fancied that he could see himself lying on the medical table: battered, bloodied, and about to be truly broken.

"Who took the x-rays of your skeleton, Logan?" Riley's voice was calm now.

"Jean." Logan's reply was flat, emotionless, dead.

"Jean who?"

"Jean Grey."

"Does she work for Charles Xavier?"

"Yes. Saw my memories."

Riley paused, surprised and pleased. He hadn't known that the truth serum would allow the patient to formulate its own comments, not just answer questions.

"Who else knows about you---about the process being unnatural, I mean?"

"The professor. The X-Men. Rogue . . ." And his heart rate suddenly leapt. Riley frowned, studying the brain-wave patterns.

"Who is this Rogue?" he asked.

"Mine," Logan said, and beyond the detached coolness of his voice was a touch of fierce protectiveness, the air of a hunter over his mate.

"It's alright, no one will take her from you," Riley soothed. "Tell me about her." Logan's reaction to the mere mention of her name was interesting, and he made a note of it on his legal pad.

"Beautiful. Deadly. Too young. Hurt me. I hurt her. Left."

"I see," Riley murmured.

"She . . . owns pieces of me, inside her head. Knows my soul."

The other man thought for a moment. This girl could be useful. Even under the truth serum, which was powerful enough to render a man senseless, Logan was resisting. Perhaps if he found this Rogue, it would be easier to persuade the mutant to give something away.

The intercom buzzed, interrupted his musings. "Sir, there are four beings approaching from the southeast."

Logan stirred. "Rogue," he breathed. Slowly the drug was wearing off, and even in this dark sterile place, he knew what home felt like.

Riley looked down at him, and smiled slowly. "Put up a fight," he instructed the guard over the 'com. "Keep three detained, but---" He broke off and turned to Logan. "What does your Rogue look like, Logan?"

"Brown hair. Green eyes---bright. White streak in her hair."

"---let the green-eyed girl with the white streak in her hair make her way to us," Riley finished. He grinned down at his victim. "Your friends are coming, Logan."

"Yes," said Logan, and by this time the truth drug had worn off enough so that he kept his voice purposefully unconcerned. Wouldn't do for Riley-boy here to give him anymore of that stuff; let him believe it was still working.

Of course, he didn't think that ruse would last long, but he also knew the abilities of the people he was proud to call friends, and hopefully they wouldn't take long in finding him.

'Hopefully' being the key word.


Rogue fought without thinking much about it. Her acquired strength still sent a thrill through her bones, but she hardly noticed it; she didn't even blink when a bullet grazed her elbow. All she could think about was getting to Logan, and so she didn't even realize that the guards were practically ignoring her, compared to the attention they gave her companions. And the other three were so busy staying alive that they didn't notice, either.

It wasn't until Rogue stopped outside the door, the door she knew led to him, that she saw she had reached it alone.

But the others weren't dead, of that she was certain, so it was alright. They'd catch up.

She pushed open the door.


"Get out!" Logan shouted the second he detected her scent, like silk against his senses. "It's a trap!" But no sooner had the words left his lips than he was clubbed on the head by Riley.

When he came to, he saw Rogue and Riley locked in a struggle. He smelled blood, her blood, but his panic subsided as he watched the short tussle. The man didn't have a chance against her strength, though he had no idea where it came from. Riley was thrown against the wall like a child's doll, and crumpled to the ground much as a doll would have.

Rogue darted to Logan's side, and he smiled woozily up at her, still dazed. "Hey baby."

She pursed her lips in a most adorable way, looking at his bonds. "Hold still," she ordered, as if he could do something other than obey, and began slicing at the tough leather. Using a knife that, she was horrified to see, was already wet with Logan's blood, Rogue got his arms free and he put his claws to work at demolishing the rest of the straps. He tried to stand up, but here his strength failed, and he fell heavily to the ground.

Rogue felt her heart twist within her breast. "Oh, Logan, Logan," she whispered, running her gloved hands over his trembling arms, his sliced chest, his bruised face.

*So gentle*, he thought, *so sweet . . .* "My girl, my Rogue, I'm so sorry I hurt you."

He didn't realize he had spoken the words aloud until she held a finger to his lips. "Hush, we'll talk about that later, we have to get you out of here . . ." Grunting with the effort, for he wasn't much more than dead weight at this point, she hefted Logan to his feet.

Neither of them saw Riley rise behind them, neither of them saw the insane fire in his eyes, neither of them saw him pull the hand grenade from his jacket pocket. But Logan heard the metal pin hit the ground, and he turned his heavy head to watch Riley lift an arm, seemingly very slow, and suddenly all the agony and tiredness flowed out of his body in time for one fearful burst of adrenaline, and he hurled Rogue out the door, and threw himself atop her prone body.


Scott was nearly shaken off his feet from the explosion, and Jean gasped. Their attackers hesitated, wondering what had gone wrong in this flawless plan. Perhaps they instinctively knew of the death of the one who had held dominion over their minds for years.

In any case, the X-Men were able to strike blows to each head---non-killing, as they preferred whenever possible, and exchanging a look, ran down the hall toward the sound.

Storm called down a light rain, which filtered in through the hole the blast had torn through the roof. The fire hissed and sizzled, but slowly died down. And it was amidst the bulk of the debris that they saw them.

Logan was blackened, burned, scarcely breathing . . . but alive just the same; his healing factor had kicked in just in time, though the wounds had not yet begun to close and might even leave considerable scars. He was mostly naked, clad only in a pair of white shorts, and Scott was alarmed to see him spread across Rogue. Her clothing had been damaged in the explosion, leaving bare skin along her stomach and arms to connect with Logan's, and her cheek rested just beneath his shoulder.

Scott rushed forward to pull them apart, seeing Logan's skin take a frightening cast, but Jean placed a hand on his shoulder, and shook her head. The three of them watched, aghast, as Rogue's power began to suck what little life was left in Logan . . . and then stopped. His breath had been short, but now it came easier, and seemed to rise and fall in sync with hers.

Somehow, some way, they were touching. He didn't understand how, but Scott understood the magnitude of what he was seeing.

It was a shame to separate them to be carried back to the jet, but seeing as how they were both quite unconscious, neither complained.


Logan fought a moment of panic at the feel of the medical room he was in as he woke up.

But then he opened his eyes, and met Jean's concerned gaze, and relaxed with a sigh.

She smiled. "I can't believe I had to patch you up again. I think Scott's jealous of the intimate time we've spent together."

Yawning enormously, he replied, "Considering that I'm usually asleep, he don't have much to be jealous of, darlin'."

Carefully sitting up, he found that it was possible, and even fairly simple. There were scars on his chest, but they had the faded look of ones that had been there for many years. Nothing was bleeding, so that was good, anyway.

"Here," Jean said, tossing him some sweatpants and a shirt.

"Getting modest on me?" Logan asked with a grin.

She shook her head wryly. "You know, I think you're better company when you're knocked out."

"But then I couldn't do this," he said good-naturedly, leaning over to give her a kiss on the cheek. Jean pushed him gently away, laughing.

She turned sober quickly. "You know what they wanted with you, those people in Canada?"

"Yes. They were controlled by a dork who wanted to be a mutant, so he tried to cut me open and see how my metal insides work."

Frowning, Jean cocked her head. "But the operation only worked on you because of your healing abilities. A normal human wouldn't survive the process."

"Yeah, well, if I'da told him that, I doubt I'd be here having this conversation," Logan replied.

"Good point," Jean admitted, then fell silent. She looked down at her lap. "Do you remember what happened when the bomb went off?"

"A grenade," he corrected. "I saw him get ready to throw it, and my only thought was to protect her, so I threw myself over her."

"You saved her life, you know. She would have died otherwise."

"I know I did. That was kind of the point."

She nodded. "Okay. And do you know what happened when you passed out?"

Logan hesitated, running a hand through his hair. "I---I had this stupid dream."

"What was it?" Jean prompted.

"I dreamt that as I was protecting her, Rogue woke up, and touched my face, without her gloves on. And I didn't die from it."

"You were partially right; she did touch you, and you did survive."

Logan could do nothing but stare. "But . . . what---how?"

Jean sighed. "I've talked it over with the professor, and we think that perhaps your healing ability sort of allowed you to . . . adapt to her mutation. It doesn't seem to affect you anymore, though the tests we ran showed that her touch is still harmful to everyone else. And the samples of the drugs Riley was using were destroyed in the blast, so we don't know if they might have had some permanent effect on your bloodstream, or your immune system . . ." She trailed off as she saw that he was grinning at her.

"Don't know, do you?"

"No," she admitted sheepishly. "We really haven't a clue."

And Logan said, "I'll be damned," and began to laugh. For an instant she thought that maybe he had been hit in the head by that crazy man one too many times.

"Logan . . ."

He wiped tears of mirth from his eyes. "It's true what they say, Jeannie---third time's the charm!"

Then he made her direct him to Rogue's room. Logan sat by her side until her eyelids began to flutter in waking, and he kissed her, and she tasted better than any fairy tale princess.

CHAPTERS:   1   2

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