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The Death of the Hired Man
Chapter 4

DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, and are
used without permission for entertainment purposes only.

Rating note: For the whole series, I'm going to say R/NC17, as I tend to wander into sexual situations. Don't expect a "sex story" though ... that's always a sideline for me, a compliment to the emotional balance of the story as necessary, rather than a primary attraction. Still, the majority will be in the PG range, and I'll make those questionable areas "skippable" and well mark them if you'd rather bypass them ... they won't be "necessary" to read the story.

When Scott found Kathleen, she was sweaty and her breathing was heaving. She was a splash of red sweats against the snowy backdrop. It reminded him of the bloodstained snow that had surrounded the orphanage after they had managed to clean up the mess.

She was wearing a yellow headset, and she had music blaring loud enough that he could hear the CD even without wearing them himself.

I don't know how much more I can take.

I'm not sure at which point I will break.

I can feel it coming on,

I can feel it coming on.

I'm so tired of planning my next fall.

I might lose my step and lose it all.

But, I can feel it coming on,

I can feel it coming on.

And, I'm so sorry I'm feeling so sorry for myself.

How can I stop this?

Life isn't fair. I don't deserve this.

How did this start, and when will it pass?

The words were clear despite the sound of their running footsteps, despite the wind that whipped around them, and despite the volume of their breathing. He wondered just how loud the music must be to her.

"Kate?" he repeated, touching her arm because she clearly couldn't hear him and still hadn't looked back at him.

Her face was wet with sweat and tears, red and chapped from the cold wind. She slowed her pace and smiled at him, although it appeared forced. "What's up?" she asked.

He pointed to his ears and was met with a sheepish grin as she removed the headset and pressed a button on the CD player to stop it. "Thanks," he replied. "You have any hearing left?" he joked.

"Just enough," she grinned, this time more genuinely. "The music didn't do it, so I thought the run might help."

"Getting to you?" he asked, already knowing the answer. The night before had been long and arduous. She'd treated the children that they evacuated to the school, working side-by-side with Jean to clean up everything from abrasions to gunshot wounds. She'd treated frostbite cases, minor and major, and she'd done her best to talk with Ororo once she was coherent enough to do so. It had been a full afternoon, evening, and even night.

Jean had been exhausted, so Kate had stayed to man the clinic. Some of the children had been placed with the students, but most were still in shock and required observation. Kate had taken care of that. She'd fielded the nightmares, held hands, and rocked babies through the night to give them comfort. She hadn't done it alone. Many of the students and even a few of the team had insisted on staying to help. But Kate had supervised it. By dawn, she had been more than willing to pass the duty over to Jean.

When Scott had walked down to the clinic only a few minutes after Jean had done so that morning, not able to sleep beyond the alarm she'd set, he'd been startled to see Kate exiting with her CD player clasped firmly in one hand. He'd even smiled, until he saw the worry on Jean's face.

"Her shields are up," she had said tightly.

"She'd need them after yesterday, wouldn't she?" he had asked.

"Not like this. She's walled-up. Something's wrong."

Jean was rarely wrong about such things. He'd taken a few moments to inventory what they would need to make it through the next few days as a makeshift nursery rather than a school, then he'd gone after Kate.

It had taken him awhile to find her. Finally, he'd noted a flash of motion against the snow while he'd been looking out a second story window. She was running. It didn't make sense to him, as he knew she must be exhausted after the previous day and night, so he'd gone to find out.

Her legs weren't all that long, so her stride was moderate. He'd had no trouble catching up with her. Getting her to talk, however, was proving difficult. She'd slowed her run to a jog, then to a walk.

"I'd be worried if yesterday hadn't gotten to you," Scott finally said. They'd been walking for several minutes, and she still hadn't addressed his first inquiry. "It got to all of us, and we only had our own feelings to deal with."

"I'm okay," she said carefully. "I just needed to tune out for a while."

"Did it help?"

"It helped to get out of the mansion," she said simply. "It's like being bombarded with a thousand different emotions. Even if I try, I can't block it all out. Hell, I can't even sort it all out."

"I can imagine," he said. "The children must be overwhelming."

"No," she corrected, startling him. "The children are simple. Pain and fear. Nothing complex there. The students are more difficult. Fear and anger, but still fairly straightforward. It's the teachers that are making me nuts."

"How so?"

"Fear, anger, resentment, vengeance. God, Logan's so furious that it radiates from him! Pity, concern ... everything. Ro's embarrassed, guilty, and holding so much fear inside that it's a marvel she's able to walk and talk. Every adult that walks into that infirmary is projecting so much emotion that it's almost visible. I even get flashes from you, and you *never* project. It's just a little overwhelming."

Scott nodded with some understanding. "I never project?" he asked with a smile.

"Not normally," she grinned. "I guess you get really good at those walls when you live with a Telepath. The same shields that keep your thoughts from her also keep your feelings from me. It's refreshing, actually."

"Well, Jean would be a mess if she had to think thoughts for two people all the time. With the rapport in place, we have to maintain some control of it."

"You control everything," Kate smiled, shivering slightly. "Have since I met you. You may not be able to control your power, but everything else is solid."

"Compensation," Scott agreed. "I must be a psych student's wet-dream for a doctoral thesis."

"You could fill a book," Kate laughed, finally wrapping her arms around herself in an attempt at warmth. They were almost to the front doors of the mansion, but she was really getting cold. It was a hazard of sweating when the temperature was low. Unfortunately, she hadn't considered that when she'd dressed for the run. "But you can't totally block what you feel around the babies," she told him.

"I've been there," he said simply. "I've lived in an orphanage, and it's bad enough without racists and their guns. It's hard enough to get close to the people who care for you when they aren't getting killed off for their trouble. No one should have to live through what those kids went through yesterday."

"Agreed," Kate said softly, nodding her thanks as Scott opened the door for her to precede him into the warmth of the mansion.

"You need sleep," he told her. "You've been up over twenty-four hours. If you and Jean are going to shift this until we get it organized, you need rest."

"I'll try," she replied, then appeared hesitant.


"My room is next to Logan," she said. "He seems like a nice guy, really, but..." She couldn't seem to find words to finish.

"He projects?" Scott asked.

"Definitely," she answered. "Every emotion is practically worn on the outside, and there's a hell of a lot that he feels. If I didn't know better, I'd think he could *really* project, like I do when I'm out of control. It makes sleeping a challenge."

"I'll keep him busy so he isn't in his room for now," Scott said. "We can look at getting you moved as soon as possible."

"Thanks," she said softly. "I didn't want to complain."

"You didn't," Scott smiled. "You stated a problem, and I solved it. That's what leaders do."

"My fearless leader," she giggled as they approached the door to her room.

He punched her lightly in the arm, even though he'd been the one to initiate the old joke. He was the fearless leader, and they were his faithful followers. It was so far from the truth, the real truth, that it had become an inside joke years before.

"So that's all?" he asked softly, seriously. "Just needed time away?"

"Mostly," she replied. "I guess I'm tired, too. I was tired when I got here, and I haven't really slept since. Maybe I'll finally rest some."

"If you're feeling better later, maybe you could come with me into town," he offered. "I need to pick up cribs, car seats, clothes, diapers, food. You get the drill. If we're going to be keeping the kids, we need supplies and the orphanage was wiped out."

"Can we do that?" she asked. "Just keep them? Won't someone notice?"

"If anyone cared," he said solemnly. "They wouldn't have been there in the first place."

She nodded. "Maybe this can be a real home to them," she offered. "Like it was for us."

He smiled softly. "Home is the place that, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

"Frost," she smiled. "Death of the Hired Man."

"You remembered."

"Some things you don't forget," she said with a sad smile. "Night, Scott."

"Morning, Kate."

* * *

Logan strode into the infirmary without bothering to knock. He quickly checked on the couple of kids that had him worried, and they seemed okay at the moment. He wasn't ready to take the kids to his room, of course, he didn't like them *that* much. But he felt a bit better knowing they were doing okay.

He spotted Jean feeding one of the smallest ones. She ... at least he thought it was a girl ... had skin that was nearly translucent. He could see the veins in her head and hands, see the milk going down her throat as she swallowed. It was kind of like watching a cartoon x-ray, only real. Still, there was nothing disturbing about her. She was just a baby, after all, maybe three or four months old. How someone, anyone, could have thrown her away was something he couldn't begin to understand.

"She's quite an eater," he commented as he approached.

"That she is," Jean smiled. "I just wish I could get some of the others to eat."

Logan nodded, knowing that the same thing had bothered Katie the night before. She'd tried everything to get the children to eat something, but they were either afraid, asleep, or just plain sick.

"What brings you down here?" Jean asked as she looked up from the infant in her arms. "I know it's not your love of medicine."

"Just checking on Storm," he answered, not bothering on pretense with Jean. With a Telepath, there wasn't much point. "How's she doing this morning?"

"Still sulking," Jean said with a frown.

"She's probably still pissed," Logan said as he pulled up a chair to sit next to Jean.

"You did what you had to," Jean reminded him. "She gave the order, after all."

"She ordered *us* down into that basement," he corrected. "She never planned on going down there. I really didn't think she'd freak, though."

"Ororo's claustrophobia is legendary," Jean explained. "She was buried alive when she was a kid. She's never really gotten over that. Still, if you hadn't pulled her down into that basement with us they would have shredded her with ammunition before she could have flown clear. It's hard to get an updraft inside the building, and she never would have made it outside without getting herself killed."

"Yeah," Logan said softly. "But still..."

"You did what you had to," Jean said again. "She's been through enough simulations to realize that there will be times that she'll have to be enclosed. The professor keeps it to a minimum in the Danger Room because he knows it upsets her, but she knows it's a reality. She's still a little shocky, but she'll get over that. She has in the past."

"Should I talk to her?" he asked, his voice uncharacteristically soft.

"I would," Jean told him. "She's got enough guilt right now for the both of you. You should try to get over yours."

Logan stood and returned his chair to it's place, then turned back to Jean. "Did you know your other half went running with Katie this morning?" he asked. "Then walked her to her room?"

"Sounds like Scott," Jean said mildly. "Katie was pretty upset when she left this morning, and Scott is always worried about the team."

"She wasn't on the team," Logan said simply.

"Of course she was," Jean returned. "She watched the monitors, prepped the infirmary, and then stayed here all night after we'd put the kids back together. Sounds like she's on the team to me."

Logan wasn't sure what to say to that, but he'd missed his shot at seeing some jealousy from Jean. He just couldn't manage to shake those two, damn it. Not that he even wanted to split them anymore. Well, not really. Maybe on the principal that no relationship could be as perfect as theirs. But for some reason it bothered him that neither had the least bit of problem trusting the other. He'd expected *some* reaction from her.

Tired of thinking of one woman's irrational mind, he moved on to another. Storm. She was serene, beautiful, and had immeasurable power. Yesterday morning, she'd tried to take him apart. She hadn't had the power of the skies to help her, so she'd tried it with her body. If it hadn't been for his healing powers he'd still be feeling the scratches and bruises she'd inflicted as he'd dragged her down into that basement and trapped her in the corner until Iceman could seal them in.

He'd been the one that started the fighting in the first place. One of the terrorists had held up a little kid and held a gun to his head. The kid had cried, and Logan had snapped. He'd taken the soldier out before he'd realized what he was doing. It was the only death that could be attributed to the X-men. Unfortunately, that attack had lost them their element of surprise, and they'd had to go on the defensive to get the kids to a safe place. There was no getting them out, not without everyone being shot to hell and back, so Storm had sent them to the back. When Jean had called out that there was a basement, their leader had ordered them in.

It hadn't been until Logan was passing the last of the kids down the opening that he realized Storm wasn't with them. He'd thought she was looking for more of the kids, or checking the bodies of the workers for life, but for some reason he'd suddenly known what she had planned. He watched the soldiers pin her into the kitchen, saw her glance across the room to the nearest doorway, and realized she would never make it.

When he'd called to her she hadn't answered. She hadn't considered the basement as even an option. He'd reached up, grabbed her by the waist, and hauled her down through the hatchway. She'd fought him every inch of the way.

He hadn't minded the fighting. Truth was, he'd never minded a good wrestling match. What had bothered him, frightened him, was when she'd stopped fighting. She'd gone cold in his grip, and not from the room temperature. When Storm had stopped screaming and clawing, when she'd withdrawn into herself completely so that she didn't even respond to pain, then he knew he'd lost her.

He'd stopped restraining her then, and had just held her. He'd realized that the fear was real, that he'd dragged her into hell just as surely as if she had forced him into a tank and cut him to pieces. The enclosed place was her hell, just as hospitals were his. The only difference really, was that he had done it to save her life. That didn't matter though, not when she was coming apart.

So he'd done what he could ... he'd held her. He'd rocked her, talked to her, said stupid things to her. He'd even made a promise or two, something he'd never done except for anyone except Marie. If she'd wake up, he'd told her, he'd take her sailing. If she'd talk to him, he'd begged her, he'd take her for a ride on his motorcycle. He'd cajoled, he'd reasoned, and he'd begged. Nothing had worked. He'd pulled her down into hell, and he couldn't get her back out again.

Once they were finally out of the basement, he'd felt sure that she'd come around. He'd been wrong. In fact, it had taken almost the entirety of the two hour drive back to the mansion before she'd seemed awake or alert. Still, she hadn't spoken to him. He knew she had to be angry. Okay, she had to be damn furious. Still, they'd been pretty close to friendship before this had started, and he *had* been following her orders.

She'd never spoken to him in the Hummer on the way back. Even when here eyes were focused and the skies began to growl, she wouldn't say a word. He'd thought about explaining, but she was angry and he was tired. He'd done it for her own damn good, he'd decided. If she didn't like it, she could be as pissed as she wanted.

He'd held that feeling while he helped her into the mansion, and down to the infirmary. He'd felt her body tense as the elevator doors closed, and he'd felt her breath of relief as she opened her eyes when those same doors opened back up. Even this, he realized, was a daily battle she fought.

In the infirmary, he'd settled her in an open bay, no curtains blocking her view. It was too little, too late, but it was all he had. He'd watched Katie check her blood pressure, start an IV, and cover her with a strange silver blanket. Survial blanket, Katie had explained, it would warm her without confining her with weight. She was still in shock, Katie had said. A few moments later, Katie and Jean had hooked Storm up to a heart monitor. Jean had murmured something about precautions, but Logan hadn't heard the rest.

He'd stayed in the infirmary most of the night. He'd told himself it was to listen for crying. Katie had put on a stupid CD player, and the thing was blaring so loud that he could hear her headphones across the room. Granted, his hearing was unusually acute, but it still seemed rude. He'd listened to Rush, Aerosmith, Matchbox 20, and several groups he'd never heard of. The doc loved her music, that much was certain.

He'd left just before dawn, hungry and angry that Storm still hadn't spoken to him. She'd spoken very little, actually, even to the docs. She'd given "yes" and "no" responses to what hurt and what she felt. She seemed better. Her color was normal, and the monitor had come off around midnight when Jean was sure that she wasn't having any cardiac complications from her irregular breathing down in the basement. She was fine, he'd told himself, and he didn't need to hang around for that.

He'd pushed his breakfast around on the plate before throwing it out. He'd chosen and discarded a dozen books to put himself to sleep. Finally, he'd curled up in a chair by the window in the TV room to smoke a forbidden cigar and watch the snow fall. Storm had been pissed, he smiled, and there was at least three inches of fresh snow to show for her anger. It was beautiful.

He might have dozed, or he might not. He wasn't even sure. He came around fully when he saw Cyclops walking with Katie along the driveway. He didn't know much about the new doc, other than that she was too damn much like a Telepath and liked her rock music loud. Well, that and she liked cucumbers. She always smelled like them for some reason.

It had been an opportunity too good to resist. If going into the infirmary to harass Jean also gave him the chance to check on Storm, then that was just the way life was. He really hadn't cared much about bugging Jean, though. He cared about the strong woman that looked so fragile because of something he'd done. He felt like he'd kicked a puppy, and he didn't like it. The only thing that he liked less was that he cared.

"You still hanging around?" he asked her, his voice more gruff than normal due to lack of sleep.

"It seems this is where they wish me to be," she replied. The serenity was back in her voice, the accent faint. She sounded almost normal.

Logan moved to her bed and sat on the edge, way down at the foot. He figured she was less likely to kick him there. The woman had a hell of a kick. "How you feeling?"

"Foolish," she said with a sigh. Her eyes closed, opened, closed again. "Thank you for taking care of the team," she finally said.

"I just followed your orders," Logan replied, wishing she would open her eyes and look at him. "You're a good leader. It was a good plan."

"It was sensible," she said softly. Her eyes finally opened and she pinned Logan with her glance. "I was not."

"You did the best you could," Logan assured her. "I didn't know how bad it would be for you. I might have tried to help you get out if I had."

"That would have presented unnecessary risk," she corrected. "Your decision was right. Sometimes even a leader has to follow, and I failed to do that."

"You may be our leader, but we're still a team. We take care of each other," Logan reminded her. "If I'd been trying to get myself killed, you'd have been the first one to blast me with a lightning bolt."

"Point taken," she said gently. "As a leader, it's my responsibility to set an example. Perhaps I'll follow yours."

"Don't go gettin' all high and mighty," Logan grinned. "I get enough of that from One-eye. The last thing I need is another tight-ass bossing me around. You lead just fine. We all have weak points. Mine was that I didn't know yours. I do, now."

"Yes, you do," Storm finally smiled. "And thank you."

"Anytime," he grinned, somewhat ferally.

"So?" she asked with a raised eyebrow. "I've spoken. When do I get to go sailing?"

Chapter 5

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