Enigmatic

BY : Wyzeguy
Category: X-Men: (All Movies) > Het - Male/Female > Logan/Ororo
Dragon prints: 2899
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the X-Men movies, or any of the characters from them. I make no money from from the writing of this story.

Title: Enigmatic
Writer: David Ellis
Summary: Storm and Logan grow closer, while figures from Logan's mysterious past resurface.
Rating: PG-13/R
Main Characters: Storm (POV), Wolverine, Cyclops, The Hand, Original Characters
Universe: Movieverse
Archive & Feedback: I crave feedback, and I don't mind if somebody wants to archive this. I can be reached at Wyzeguy79@yahoo.com.
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are owned by Marvel Comics, and are based on Bryan Singer's movie version. The rest are my creations. I'm not making money off of this. I'm just trying to establish myself as a moviefic writer.
Warnings: Lots of casual cussing, and plenty of violence, wait and see. Oh, and some adult situations here and there (especially later). I'm not gonna hold back much, kids.
Notes: This fic takes place almost a year after the events in "X-Men: The Movie". Wolverine is back at the mansion and is a full member of the X-Men, Rogue and some of the other students are about to graduate, and the X-Men's ranks have swelled slightly. Hank "Beast" McCoy is a character from the comics, and I'm writing him as if he were an X-Man from the beginning, but on leave during Logan's original visit to the mansion. Got all that? Good.


ENIGMATIC
Wyzeguy

Where I walk, the winds walk with me.
am Oam Ororo Monroe, and I am currently a long way from my homeland. In
my youth, I shaped the forces of nature to my whim in order to irrigate
and aid my starving Kenyan village. Currently, I am a teacher at Xavier's
School for Gifted Youngsters in America, where I use my inborn gifts
to help my students (and occasionally the rest of the world) in an entirely
different fashion.

An unusual progression to take, I will admit, but I find that the life
of a mutant - a genetically-gifted individual - is frequently unusual.
Which is just how I like it. Like the weather, I favor unpredictability.
And I doubt I could easily fit in with my dark skin and natural white
hair, in the first place.

I first laid eyes on these enormous mansion halls in my fifteenth year,
as a student who had lost her village to a freak storm which her temper
had accidentally created. Over time, I went from an awkward girl who
knew almost no English, to a confident adult who teaches world history
to young mutants who are very much like I once was.

At the moment, however, classes are the furthest thing from my mind,
as I sit on a blanket by the duck pond, and feed scraps of bread to the
local waterfowl. Chatting with me is the school's physical education
teacher, a rather gruff man named Logan.

I still have no idea whether that's his first or last name. Not even
he knows, as most of his past is a mystery to him. All he knows for
sure is that a cruel experiment by the Canadian government surgically
bonded an alloy called adamantium to his entire skeleton. Only his mutant
ability to rapidly heal his body's damaged tissue has allowed him to
survive this. All this has left him a sarcastic, angry man, which is
a shame because at his core, Logan has a heart of gold.

Thankfully, his time spent at this school has been a calming influence
on him, and our talks by the pond have become a regular activity. We
often converse on the state of the world, politics, school gossip, and
the stresses that accompany being a teacher.

However, our current conversation involves an altogether different kind
of frustration: "You growled at Bobby today," I mention to Logan as
I watch a duck snap up the scrap of wheat bread.

Logan glances at me and rolls his eyes. "Figures you'd hear about that.
Not that it's any big deal."

"Well," I reply gently, "it did upset him quite a bit. And Marie as
well."

He stiffens at the mention of Marie, a runaway girl he had befriended
shortly before we met. Marie is currently a student at this school,
as is Bobby Drake, who is...well, not quite her boyfriend. "They were makin'
out on the rec room couch while I was watching a movie."

I raise an eyebrow at this. "I heard they were holding hands. It is
quite difficult for her to kiss anyone, considering her gift." With
a touch, Marie can absorb the personality, memory, and physical strength
of anyone she touches with bare skin.

I hear an annoyed rumble in Logan's throat. "Well, they were flirting,
anyway."

"And that upsets you."

"Well yeah! How'm I supposed to watch a goddamn movie with them talkin'
in my ear?"

I shake my head, noting the rise on Logan's temper. "That's not what
I meant. The idea of Marie having a boyfriend upsets you."

"It's her life, I'm not her damn father, so why should it upset me?"

"Logan..."

He throws up his hands and sighs. "Okay, so it bugs the shit outta me.
And for no good reason, either, other than I don't want to see her get
hurt."

I place my hand gently on his. "But this is Bobby. He's the least likely
of anyone in this school to hurt her."

"I know, but...."

"But what?"

"She's too young to have a boyfriend."

"She's almost eighteen."

Logan looks at the scrap of bread in his hand. He tosses it at a goose
and stands up, pacing back and forth. "So you're saying I should just
keep my nose out of Marie's dating life."

I smile. "I am saying that it's admirable that you care so much for
her. You are more of a father to her than the man who gave her life.
But part of that is understanding that she will not need your protection
forever."

Logan clenches his jaw, and I see a helpless look in his eyes that only
a precious few people are privy to. "Dammit, 'Ro, I didn't want to be
anyone's father. I didn't ask for it. Hell, when I found her stowed
away in my camper, I wanted her to get lost. Having her tag along would
just complicate things."

"But," I venture with a shrug, "you let her tag along anyway. Logan,
sometimes, we choose our own family in life. And...if I may make an
observation..."

"Shit, here we go with the observations again."

I chuckle. I do tend to say that a lot. "If I may make an observation,
you have no memory of your life before the adamantium. And your healing
ability has gifted you with a long life. Is it not possible, then,"
and I pause for effect, "that you may have a family somewhere that you're
not aware of?"

He stops pacing and closes his eyes tightly, pondering this. It appears
I have touched a nerve, or presented him with a concept he isn't ready
to deal with. Finally, he answers, "I just don't know."

He clenches his fists, and six knifelike claws -- the other souvenirs
of the adamantium grafting -- emerge from between the knuckles of each
hand. He opens his eyes and sees the claws. He immediately sheathes
them, out of remorse.

I stand up, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Logan..."

He shrugs off my hand. "I've got things to do. I'll see you around."
He strides off toward the mansion, his posture that of someone who has
too many questions about himself, and next to no answers.

I wish I could help him find those answers.

_X_

I sit in a somewhat uncomfortable chair at a large round table while
my teammates and I are briefed on a situation by Professor Charles Xavier,
who has founded both the school and X-Men. "My sources have confirmed,"
he begins, "that a group of mercenaries has recently taken up the practice
of assassinating mutant citizens."

We look around at each other for a moment, then back at the professor,
waiting for him to continue.

This certainly gets our attention. "Any idea who they might be working
for?" asks Scott. His expression is somewhat curious, though the red-tinted lenses of his sunglasses hide his eyes. The lenses, made of ruby quartz, are
the only barrier between his energy-emitting eyes and the rest of the
world. "Or who they are, for that matter?"

Xavier shakes his head slightly. "Their identities are a mystery. However,
their victims are not. Here's the latest one, found dead in a parking
lot at three in the morning." The professor presses a button on the
table's console, and a large viewscreen in front of us displays a photo
and dossier of the victim. The photo shows a teenage girl who bears
a striking resemblance to a cat, complete with tan fur, whiskers, and
narrow slits for pupils. "Her name is Maria Calasantos, Los Angelos
gang member. Her death might have been ruled as a hit by a rival gang,
had it not been for the garage's surveillance footage."

He presses another button, and the screen changes to a grainy clip from
a video camera. I watch the footage in horror as Maria staggers into
camera range with a hand over her bleeding shoulder. She is struck three
more times with bullets, then falls to the pavement. Two uniformed mercenaries
warily approach her to check if she's still alive, and Maria answers
by springing to her feet, and slashing at them with her claws.

I have to look away as they unload their weapons into her body. However,
my gaze alights on Logan, who studies the footage with a rare fascination.
It's almost as if the recognizes something. "Pause the tape," he tells
Xavier.

The professor raises an eyebrow at him, then complies. "What is it,
Logan?"

"Son of a bitch...it's them."

"You know them?" Scott asks.

Logan looks at Scott for a moment, then returns his gaze to the screen,
as if trying to uncover a memory. "I...yeah. They're my old merc team.
The Talons."

We stare at him in silence. He stares back. "What? Surprised to find
out I'm a former mercenary? Hell, so am I." We knew he served in the
military to some degree - he used to wear dogtags with the word 'Wolverine' engraved on them- but this is a new development.

"It doesn't surprise me at all," Scott mentions, and his remark is answered
by a glare from Logan. The two have been rivals from the moment they
first met.

"Scott, please," soothes Scott's fiancee, Jean Grey. She serves as the
schools doctor, and until recently, an X-Men member, until she left active
membership to concentrate on medicine. To Logan, she asks, "does that
mean you used to hunt mutants? I mean, before the--"

"I don't know," Logan mutters. "At least, I don't think so. This doesn't
sound like something they'd do, but I'd know their M.O. anywhere. I
helped devise the tactics myself. That, and I recognize a few of them."
He walks to the screen, and points out two of the mercenaries. "That
one's Hauer, the leader. And there's Smartass Wilson." He looks at
us, and answers our glances. "What? That's what we called him."

"How can you recognize them when they have masks over their faces?" I
ask him.

"Body language, 'Ro. I served with these guys for years. They were
about like family."

The ready room door hisses open, and we turn to find Marie walking with Bobby
Drake, who looks nervously at Logan. The two are on the verge of becoming X-Men, but are still in training.

Our eyes are on the both of them, and predictably, Scott is the first
to point out: "You're late."

Bobby holds up his hands pleadingly, adopting the "I-can-explain" face we all swear he invented. Bobby was one of my first students, and is
still far and away the most passionate about becoming an X-Man. Xavier
wanted him to get an education (or at least be of legal driving age)
before joining the team. "Uh, sorry about that. We stopped by the vending machine on the way here. Want some peanuts?" He holds up a small bag of Planters. Marie nudges him with her elbow.

"Just have a seat," Scott tells them, "and remember that if you're going
to be X-Men, you'll have to be on time for little things like team meetings
and missions."

Marie and Bobby wait patiently for Scott to finish his reprimand in the
typical adolescent fashion (I can almost see the mental rolling of eyes),
then Marie asks, "what did we miss?" I notice Jean tilt her head a bit,
and almost immediately the two of them seem to understand. Jean's mental
powers have grown exponentially in the years she has been here, and she
seems to have little trouble telepathically bringing Marie and Bobby
up to date on the subject.

Marie gives Logan a quizzical gaze. "You used to be in a commando team?"

"Yeah, somethin' like that," Logan replies, shooting Bobby an unkind
look out of habit. I doubt he's aware he's doing it.

Marie looks down and clutches her necklace, wrapping her fingers around
the military dogtags Logan had given her the previous year before he
left for Canada. Upon his return, he didn't have the heart to take them
back. "So...is that where you got these?"

Logan's gaze also locks on the metal tags, and especially the word, 'Wolverine'.
"Maybe. I dunno. But I think they're made of the same kind of metal my bones
and claws are coated with. They're just as hard to damage."

Hank McCoy, our beloved scientist, hops out of his seat and moves closer to Logan to get a better look at the tags. "They are? Why didn't you tell me, Logan? I could have studied them, and figured out the alloy's properties more efficiently than by studying your claws."

"You didn't ask," Logan replies somewhat curtly. Logan rarely divulges
any information about his adamantium unless absolutely necessary. "Besides,
I'd like the tags to stay in one piece, which they won't be if you play
mad scientist on 'em."

Hank frowns, as he usually does when his scientific inspiration is shot
down, and he heads back to his chair in defeat. For a three-hundred
pound man who bears more than a passing resemblance to a blue gorilla,
Hank can be quite comical-looking when he pouts.

"Returning to the matter at hand," Xavier announces with an idle lift
of a finger, "it is imperative that we learn what the so-called Talons' primary objective is, since there is no doubt a specific reason they are targeting mutants. Your intimate knowledge of them, Logan, will be invaluable."

Logan looks rather skeptical. "Charles, it's a miracle I even recognized as much as I did about them. All the things I can remember about my life before I was operated on, wouldn't even fill a piss cup. I don't know how much more of a help I can be."

The professor reclines slightly in his wheelchair, and brings up a very logical point: "You would recognize their scents, wouldn't you?"

Logan pauses, and considers this. "Yeah...I guess." Xavier has a point. When we first met Logan, he had no recollection of his past, but since then, we have helped him recall small details. Some he has remembered thanks to telepathic probes, but a large portion of his recovered memories have involved his remarkable sense of smell. According to Xavier, sensory sensations are often the most potent memory triggers. "So, what you're saying is, you want me to play bloodhound at the crime scene, and see if I recognize their scents?"

Xavier nods. "It could prove an enlightening experience, don't you think?"

_X_

Whenever Xavier predicts that a mission will be 'an enlightening experience', we experience an acute sense of dread. 'Enlightening' means out of the ordinary, difficult, and that we'll invariably uncover information we will wish we hadn't.

Our suspicions have not been proven wrong yet.

Scott, Jean, Logan, and myself have arrived in Los Angeles, posing as New York police officers complete with disguises and doctored credentials. We explain to the authorities at the crime scene that we have reason to believe the suspects were from New York, and that we have vested interest in this case.

As one might expect, the LAPD is not exactly thrilled to work with NYPD, and they let us know about it at every opportunity. Still, they share the information they have uncovered with us, but it does not turn out to be much, as they have little interest in pursuing as case where the victim is both a gang member, and noticeably mutant.

Nonetheless, Logan is given the opportunity to put his nose to work at the crime scene, but he garners strange looks from the surrounding officers, who wonder why he's so preoccupied in sniffing the air.

One rather cynical detective jokes that Logan is the NYPD's idea of a canine officer, and I fight the urge to deck the man.

Instead, I simply look annoyed in my itchy black wig, and continue to pretend that I know what I'm doing while Logan silences him with a glare. Scott talks to another detective, and Jean has her work cut out for her, telepathically influencing the officers' minds, so that they do not get suspicious of us.

Finally, we head back to our car, and Jean remarks that for someone who is no longer a field member, she ends up spending a lot of time in the field.

Scott removes the fake moustache he was wearing as he starts the car. "What can we say; your telepathy comes in handy at times. Besides, at least we're not asking you to suit up and duke it out with people, which I recall you don't exactly enjoy." He drops the subject by asking Logan, "any luck catching the scents?"

"It's the Talons, all right," Logan replies as he sits in the back seat, running his fingers for the thousandth time through his stiff, gel-tamed hair. "Turns out I do know their scents anywhere."

"Did you find out anything else?" I ask hopefully as I remove my infernal wig.

Logan thought for a moment. "Well, there was one weird smell that got my attention. A chemical smell that clings." He pauses once again, trying to decide how to describe the scent while Scott fights traffic. "Y'know how when a skunk sprays somethin', it smells are real strong, and it just clings for a long time and you can't get it out easily?"

Scott grins and casts a meaningful look to me, then to Logan. "All too well. One time, Ororo met a skunk in the woods behind the mansion, and she was almost traumatized by the experience."

I glare murderously at Scott. 'Thank you for bringing that up yet again, to yet another person."

Logan raises his hands defensively. "Hey, I already know about it, 'Ro. Your first meeting with a skunk is legendary at the school."

I sink even lower into my seat, and try not to sound too indignant when I ask, "What exactly does a skunk's stench have to do with what you found at the crime scene, Logan?"

"I'm just sayin', the smell clinged to the Talons like that. It was faint, but it was a strong kind of faint."

Jean chuckles. "Houston, we have an oxymoron."

"What I mean is, it was a strong smell they had on 'em at the scene, but they got it from someplace else they'd been."

"Can you describe the smell?" Scott asks, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, and glaring unhappily at the car in front of him. "You said it was unusual."

"Yeah, I remember smellin' it somewhere before, but I can't figure out where. But I do know it's trouble."

"And you think that odor is a lead toward finding the Talons?" Jean asks.

"It's some kinda lead," Logan agrees. "If we're gonna be detectives, we're gonna need leads."

"It's also a scent," Scott mentions, honking the horn. "You need that in order to be a bloodhound, too."

"Up yours, Summers."


I
It's late at night by the time we return to the mansion, with a few more items than when we left. We were unable to uncover any more information during our stay in Los Angeles, so I convinced Scott to allow me to do some shopping before we had to endure another long flight back to New York. He agreed, on the condition that I drag Logan along with me. Logan did not like the idea as much as Scott and I did, especially when he was coerced into accompanying me into a lingerie store. The embarrased look on his face made my time in Los Angeles more than worth it.

"Why the hell do you need all this stuff?" he asks me presently, as we enter my room, and he sets a bag full of my lingerie on my bed.

"'Need' and 'want' are two different things, Logan," I reply. "And sit down somewhere. You make me nervous by standing up."

He complies, and clears a spot on my bed to sit. "Yeah, but do you even have opportunities to wear all this lastufstuff? You don't date much, and I don't recall you havin' any flings."

"I have been on plenty of dates," I inform him, "and I have had my share of 'flings', as you put it."

He looks at me with a sarcastic expression. "Uh huh. When was the last time you had either one?"

"That is none of your business."

"Before you met me, right?"

I fold my arms, losing patience. "Yes, if it's any of your concern."

"That's been almost a year."

?" ?"

"So, you still buy unmentionables like they're either goin' outta style, or you've got a hot weekend fling to look forward to."

"Are you saying the only time I should be allowed to wear anything like that is when I am trying to impress some man?" My patience is indeed wearing thin with him.

"No, but was there a reason you dragged me to that store, other than to embarrass me?"

I look at the floor for a moment. "I apologize, Logan."

"Nah, don't worry about it. It was fun."

"It . . . it was?"

"A little bit, but bein' in an underwear store with you ain't bad. Bein' in there with Summers, now that's askin' for trouble."

I can't help but laugh. Logan can be charming at times. "Well, in that case, we should go shopping more often."

"Yeah, next time we're goin' to the Harley shop, whether you like it or not."

"Especially if I don't like it?" I guess.

"Bingo."

"Fair enough." I pause, studying his features for a moment. "So tell me, was there a reason you asked how long it had been since I had dated?"

He returned my gaze with an annoyed eyebrow. "I told you, I wanted to know you ever used the stuff you bought."

"Was that the only reason?"

"How many reasons do I need?"

I grin at him. Typical Logan. "It merely seemed as if you had . . . an ulterior motive."

This surprises him. "What do you mean, 'ulterior'? You accusing me of something?"

Ouch. That sounded defensive. All right, I won't press further. t att at all." What was I expecting him to say?

He looks at me for a moment, and shrugs. "Okay, whatever. Listen, 'Ro, I'm going out for a ride. I'll be back later on tonight."

"At, say, two in the morning, when the bar closes?"

"There a problem with that?"

"No...not really. Enjoy your ride."

He nods, and heads for the door. After he leaves, I clear the rest of the items off of the bed, and lie down on it, looking at the ceiling and listening to the retreating rumble of his Harley-Davidson, like a distant thunderstorm.

I get the feeling that I am not going to get much sleep tonight.

_X_

As it turns out, I don't get much sleep for the rest of the week, and I find myself becoming more and more preoccupied. First while I teach my classes, then during X-Men meetings, and now as I sit on the sofa in the rec room, talking with students.

I watch Logan play pool with Rogue, who is becoming more than a match for him in skill, and I realize Jubilation Lee is saying something to me.

"I said, 'you think he's hot, don't you?'," Jubilee replies. This takes me completely by surprise. "I knew it, you do."

"Child, what could have possibly given you that idea?"

She munches a pretzel thoughfully. "Well, for starters, you're barely even listening to me. Instead, you're concentrating on a very specific area of the known universe that scientists refer to as Mister Logan's Butt. You've been zoning out a lot, even when he's not in the room, and finally..." she pauses for effect, taking another bite out of the pretzel, "Bobby here's completely iced up your glass, you haven't even noticed."

I look at the glass in my hand, realizing for the first time that the tea contained inside has frozen solid. My hand is almost as cold. I look up at Bobby, who grins, waves goodbye, and bolts out of the rec room. "Bobby!"

I put the glass down on the coffee table, and warm my hand under my arm. I tell Jubilee, "I have been distracted of late, Jubilee, but it does not have anything to do with Logan, and it is certainly none of your business." Unfortunately, I have never been good at lying.

"Okay, sorry," Jubilee acquiesces. "But are you sure it doesn't have anything to do with Wolverine? I mean, I saw you two comin' in from L.A. the other night, carryin' bags from Victoria's Secret."

We hear a ripping sound, and turn to the pool table. Not only has Logan completely missed the shot he was lining up, but he has also managed to tear the green felt table-top with the tip of his cue stick. Apparently he's been listening to us. "Would you people mind?" he grouses. "I'm trying to play pool here."

I quickly stand up from the sofa, and retreat from the room to escape the laughing teenagers. On my way out, I hear Jubilee's friend Kitty Pryde ask her for results. Jubilee replies, "They got a thing going, just like I said! Didn't I tell ya? Fork over the five bucks, Pryde. You too, Sharra."

I swear I am going to bludgeon that girl one of these days.

_X_

"Cyclops to Beast," Scott says into a commlink to Hank, using his codename. "Report." Scott, Hank, Logan, and myself are on a mission in Brooklyn, following a tip-off from the professor's sources that the Talons had arrived in New York. We are currently scouting a possible hideout. I am with Cyclops on a rooftop, Logan is in an alley on street level, and Beast is investigating the hideout, a run-down tenement building.

"I am currently making my way inside the building," Hank's voice whispers. "I'm in an empty stairwell, with no one in sight. So far, so splendid."

I watch Cyclops' face in profile as he talks. In the field, he wears a specially-made visor which allows him to regulate the amount of energy that pours from his eyes. However, his peripheral vision is somewhat limited as a result, but that is compensated by Scott's natural perception of physical space and the visual spectrum, both of which are far superior to that a normal human. "Keep me informed," Cyclops orders, then communicates with Logan. "Wolverine, are you in position?"

"Yeah," Logan's voice replies, "and luckily I'm upwind of 'em. I can smell 'em, and I can hear 'em shooting the breeze in there."

"You can thank Storm for the wind direction," Cyclops informs Logan, briefly smiling in my direction. "So the targets are in there."

"Roger that."

"Can you hear what they're saying?"

"Not too much," Logan reports after a moment. "Bits and pieces here and there, but not enough to figure out what they're talkin' about." Another pause. "Wait, they just said somethin' strange."

Scott cocks his head to the side. "Specifically?"

"Specifly? ly? They specifically said the word te. It's Japanese for 'hand.' I seem to recall that it's all kinds of bad news."

"How is that unusual?" I ask Logan, wary of his tone of voice.

"Remember that weird chemical scent I picked up in L.A.? The one I couldn't identify? It's here, and I think I know what it is. Tell Beast to haul ass out of that building."

I watch Cyclops' face, as he seems tempted to ask why, but thinks better of it. "Cyclops to Beast: Evacuate now."

"Acknowledged," Hank replies.

"Cyclops to Wolverine," Scott continues. "You want to explain why you just ordered--?"

His words are drowned out in a sudden explosion that levels the building Beast had entered. The entire block echoes, and windows shatter.

"Storm, put out the fire," Cyclops orders, and I comply, convincing the massive storm cloud to unleash a torrent of rain on a specific area. Meanwhile, Cyclops attempts to contact Hank. "Beast! Beast, come in!"

No response, save for static on the line.

"Dammit," Scott curses. "Wolverine, report! That smell wouldn't happen to be C4, would it?"

"Not even close," Logan replies. " The explosives that just went off don't have a smell. You'll have to speak up, Summers; that blast just about deafened me."

"Get Beast out of there." Gunfire commences inside the building.

"We got bigger worries. Seems like the people the Talons were tryin' to get rid of weren't all taken out by the blast. I'll keep in touch. Wolverine out."

Both Scott and I want to question Logan's cryptic statement, but we both know there isn't time. He turns to stare at me with his visor-concealed eyes, which visibly glow. "Storm, get to Beast. I'll see if I can find out what Wolverine's talking about." We both step off of the rooftop ledge, and drop five stories to the street. I summon a gust of wind under us to slow our descent, and we part ways upon landing.

As soon as Cyclops is out of sight, presumably at Logan's location, I see flashes of red light, and sounds of energy discharge. Apparently, Logan was not exaggerating the severity of the situation.

Heading toward the devastated building, I intensify the downpour of rain until the last flame is extinguished, but I temper the rain just enough that it does not flood the structure. I spot a figure bursting through the front door, tumbling down the steps. It's Beast. He's bleeding, and appears on the verge of passing out. Another figure exits the building behind him, this one armed. A Talon. He seems wounded as well, but not above firing upon intruding X-Men.

I feel my eyes glow white as I begin to summon a powerful gust of wind to send him back into the building, but it might not be enough before he pulls the trigger.

Suddenly, Beast springs to his feet, and leaps at the mercenary with the last of his strength. He grabs the awning over the soldier with his hands, and snatches the rifle out of his opponent's hands with his apelike feet. Beast thrusts the gun forward into the Talon's jaw, and sends him flying backward into the building. The awning rips, and Beast falls to the steps in an exhausted heap, gun and all.

"Hank, are you all right?" I ask, rushing to him.

"Ororo," he whispers. "Get . . . get away from here."

"Not without you," I say firmly. "I will get you to safety."

"I'll slow you down."

Before I can reply, a hail of gunfire pelts the street, barely missing us. I look up to locate the source of gunfire, when it stops abruptly. A mercenary drops briefly toward us from an open window, then dangles from it. I can make out a chain wrapped around its neck.

What is going on here?

I hear something strike Hank, and I turn to find an arrow buried deeply in his shoulder. I glimpse something or someone moving into the shadows, but at this time of night, shadows are everywhere. I decide to rectify that, creating flashe lig lighting from the storm cloud to illuminate our surroundings.

The lightning reveals no less than three figures, clothed head-to-toe in dark red garb, converging on us. Realizing they have been spotted, they quickly move in for the kill.

Out of nowhere, Logan leaps into our midst, and slashes at the assassins with his claws. Cyclops appears as well, firing beams of optic energy from his visor. Judging by the rips and tears in their uniforms, Scott and Logan have not had an easy battle so far.

One assassin is blasted backward by Cyclops' beam, but the other two skillfully dodge and sidestep Logan's claw slashes. They take turns battering him with punches and kicks. One of them buries a metal blade into Logan's gut, doubling him over. The other assassin raises his sword, and brings it downward onto Logan's neck to behead him.

"Logan!" I hear a voice shout, and realize it is my own.

The blade stops on Logan's neck with a loud clank. Apparently, the assassins are unaware of Logan's metal skeleton. Admittedly, I had forgotten about it as well. Logan knocks the sword away, and impales his attacker with his claws.

That leaves only one, who has retreated behind a car to escape both Wolverine's claws and Cyclops' beams.

He cannot escape me.

I draw upon my remaining energy, and beseech the storm cloud to bring forth a final, massive blade of lightning, which electrifies the car. The assassin had made the mistake of touching the car when ducked behind it, and he becomes electrified as well. He flies backward into the front window of an electronics store, smashing glass and television sets as he lands.

Cyclops and Wolverine walk toward me to check on Beast and myself. "Is he all right?" Scott asks me.

"He is unconscious," I tell him. "He was weak when I found him . . . ."

"That, and it smells like the arrow was tipped with a poison," Logan informs me while pulling out the dagger in his abdomen, and running his hand across the back of his wounded neck. "Blue Boy's not gonna live long."

I look down at the two fallen assassins near us. Oddly, they appear to be little more than clothing, with thick smoke rising from the openings in their garb. The air reeks of burning flesh. "What is happening?" I ask Logan. "Who are they?"

"The Hand," Logan replies, idly studying the metal, three-pronged weapon in his hand as his wounds visibly heal. "They're ninja."

The word is unfamiliar to me, and I start to ask for clarification, when Cyclops and Logan both lock their gazes on something behind me, Cyclops' finger ready to press the firing button on his visor.

I turn around, and catch a fleeting glimpse of another red-garbed figure, before I feel something strike my temple. Then blackness.

TO BE CONTINUED


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