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The Death of the Hired Man
Chapter 5

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.

Kathleen made her way down the corridor, stifling a yawn and allowing herself a stretch. She felt more rested than she had in weeks, and she didn't even mind having to spend her night in the infirmary.

Normally, Kathleen hated shift work. She'd done her share of it during residency, but she'd been more than content to settle into a day job with Psychiatry. Be that as it may, she felt pleased that she would be able to help out Jean by allowing her time with Scott. If that meant adjusting to shifts, then she'd just have to make due.

At the very least, she was no longer worried about Logan. Scott had done as promised and kept him away for the day, allowing Kathleen a rest period that wasn't tainted by Logan's projections of pain and fear. The nightmares that man had must have been horrible. She was so involved in her relief, as well as the music blaring in her ears, that she didn't feel the object of her contemplation approach.

The hand on her arm made her jump, and seeing the expression on his face made her laugh. She flipped off the Diskman and slid the yellow headset from her ears. "Good morning."

"It's almost time for bed," he grinned. "You ever go anywhere without that?"

She was confused for a moment, then realized he was staring at the neon yellow CD player that was clipped at her waist. "Not if I can help it," she answered honestly. When his expression seemed to be between a frown and confusion, she clarified. "Music helps me block out too much emotion," she explained. "It's one of the ways Professor Xavier taught me to strengthen my shields."

"Oh," he said, realization dawning in his expression. "I thought you were just rude."

She smiled at the blunt summation. "Just the opposite," she told him as they fell into step, walking down the corridor to the infirmary. "I think it's rude to intrude on other people's feelings unless they're offered. Music in general is very emotional, and it kind of overrides the feelings that people have. It's a natural dampener."

"What do you listen to?" he asked.

She knew he'd been tapping his foot along with some of her choices the night before, but she answered anyway. "Rock, mostly. The better the drums, the better I like it. Rush, Third Eye Blind, Goo Goo Dolls. I like some of the Christian contemporary as well, a bit of classical, and some of the less bubble-gummy pop stuff. I steer clear of country, though. It's way too depressing. Gangster and rap, too, because they make me really jittery. I've listened to some opera, but it isn't my favorite."

"Diverse," he commented.

"I can usually block pretty well without any help. The Professor set up some fairly strong shields for me. Still, when I'm tired or particularly moody, the music helps me focus and stay positive. You wouldn't like me in a bad mood."

"Why not? I'm almost always in a bad mood, and it doesn't bother me a bit."

"Maybe," she said with a smile. "But your bad mood is generally confined to you. I tend to share."


"Emotions, outlook, whatever," she said. "When I feel something, it sometimes slips to those around me. Kind of like when you 'think' something to the Professor and he can pick it up ... the same thing happens when I feel something strong, only everyone picks it up."

"Good think you're chipper most of the time," he commented as he opened the door to the infirmary and gestured for her to enter.

"I try," she told him. She looked around the room, at the fussy babies and a relieved looking Jean that was walking towards them. "Sometimes I have to try harder than others."

* * *

Marie tugged on the sleeve of her body suit, ensuring that it stayed tucked within her glove, then repositioned the baby in her arms. The little boy was around six months, and he was only happy when he was being held. She knew the feeling. He reached up, clutched onto her wrist strongly with his scaly hand, and held on for dear life.

This was one of the most difficult parts of being a mutant. One look, and she imagined that the average person would run screaming from the baby that desperately sought her contact. She cuddled him tighter, showing him that she would neither let go nor take away the precious bottle. After a moment, he settled down to eat.

He was not an attractive child. That wasn't unkind, it was simply the truth. His gray skin looked vaguely reptilian, scaly and rough like a lizard's. His eyes were yellow with a vertical black pupil. Still, with all this difference, his tongue was a delicate pink, and the palms of his hands were the softest shade of peach. Marie couldn't help but wonder, despite his appearance, what his gifts would be.

She startled slightly when she felt a hand on her shoulder, then began to rock and soothe the baby as he woke with her movement and began to fuss. She watched Logan move around her to take a seat opposite her, and she appreciated the apology on his face.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

"Came to check on Ro, but they already sent her back upstairs," he told her. "Figured I'd keep the trip from being wasted and check on you."

"I'm fine," she smiled. "Just trying to remember all the finer points of baby sittin'."

"You're good at it," he smiled. "They just squall at me."

Rogue laughed. She knew he was kidding. She'd watched him soothe more than one child on the previous day, not even aware he was doing so. His facade might be fierce, but he cared for those that were weaker than he was. She knew that first hand.

"I like being here for them," Marie finally offered. "I probably won't ever get to have kids of my own, so this is a nice substitute."

"You sound pretty certain," Logan said softly. "There are other ways to have babies besides ... you know."

She looked up and suppressed a grin at his blush. "I know," she answered. "But we don't know if my body would have the same reaction to a baby as it does another person. I might suck the life out of it before it even had one. Or, it might be like me, and I wouldn't want to put a child through that."

"You didn't have your power as a child," he reminded her.

"No, but the mutations seem to be startin' earlier and earlier. These babies are just the most obvious. Dr. Gray said they might even be children of mutant to mutant couples, but I don't think so."

Logan looked at her a moment. "Why would she think that?"

"Because they're so obvious," Marie told him, as though the answer was clear. "But I don't think so. I don't think a mutant could abandon a child for being another mutant. That doesn't make sense."

Logan leaned forward and trailed a finger down the cheek of the gray baby that had fallen asleep in Marie's arms. "They might if they were afraid of someone finding out what they were," Logan offered.

"That's what Dr. Gray said," Marie agreed. "It's awful. At least my parents didn't ever leave me. I left them."

"You ever think of goin' back?" he asked, still stroking the scaly cheek. The baby's face turned towards him as if seeking contact, so he didn't stop.

"I used to," she said softly. "But, my family's here, now. You and the Professor, Mr. Summers and Dr. Gray. You're my family. Remy, too, if he'd quit being a jerk and get to it."

"Did he do something I need to talk to him about?" Logan said, sitting back with a vicious expression on his face.

"Not hardly," she shook her head, once more soothing the baby that had startled awake when Logan had moved. He was the lightest sleeper she'd ever seen. "He barely even touches me."

Logan appeared to relax a bit. "Most of us avoid that," he grinned.

She shook her head. "Only my skin is dangerous," she reminded him. "I keep that covered. I don't wanna hurt anyone."

"I know that."

"But he doesn't even touch the covered-up parts," Marie said. "He'll punch me in the shoulder, or tackle me in the Danger Room, but he doesn't ... hug me or anything. He says things that are sweet, and he seems ... I don't know. I just wonder why he won't..." She shook her head. "I guess he figures if he can't go all the way, he might as well not start anything."

Logan was beginning to look uncomfortable. "Did you ask him?"

"What's the point?" she asked. "If there's nothing wrong, then I look stupid. If there is something wrong, I'd rather not know."

"But, if you're worried about it..."

"I'm not, really," she assured him. "I mean, it's not something I can do anything about, so there's not much point in worrying."

Another long pause, then, "How do you feel about him?"

"I care," she answered. "He makes me feel... I don't know. Like a grown up, I guess. I mean, he makes me feel important, and special. Like you do, only something more. I can't explain it."

Logan smiled softly. "I think you just did."

Marie grinned sheepishly as she thought over what she had said. She'd been right. She did care about Remy, and as more than the friend that Logan was. It wasn't that she cared for Logan any less, he had still been her first real friend and the only thing that had kept her going for a long time. She still had his dog tags tucked into her dresser, and she still looked for him around the mansion. His presence could still make a gloomy day brighter.

But her feelings for Remy were bigger. It wasn't the crush she'd had on Logan, but something indefinably more. It wasn't exactly love, or not the idea that she believed love to be, but it was far more than like. In retrospect, she could see that her feelings for Logan had been immature, unrealistic. Her feelings for Remy weren't the same. They were grounded in reality, in common interests, and in respect. She wasn't looking to Remy to save her from loneliness or give her purpose, but she did want him in her life. She wanted him to see her as more than a friend, a teammate. How to accomplish that was something she wasn't sure about.

"Logan?" she asked softly, transferring the baby to one shoulder at the same time that she set the empty bottle in the chair beside her.


"How do you get a guy to notice that you're not a kid anymore?" She began to pat the baby's back gently.

Logan just stared at her. "You'll always be a kid to me," he offered. "Almost everyone is."

She crinkled her nose at him, and increased the tempo of her pats. "I'm not worried about you," she said. "How do I get Remy to see me as a woman?"

Logan stared at her for a moment more, then made an uncharacteristically clumsy exit. He knocked his chair over, bumped into hers, and tripped all over himself as he practically dove for the door.

Rogue watched him tangle himself in the privacy curtain before finally fumbling his way through the main infirmary and out the door to the hallway. She shook her head, laughed softly, and looked down at the baby that was once again wide awake and starting to fuss. "I guess the direct approach isn't the best option," she told the infant. "But at least I learned how to clear the room of a wolverine without even trying."

* * *

Jean looked up in time to see Logan tripping out of the infirmary with a slightly green tinge to his face. With his healing factor, she assumed he was not ill, and let him go for the moment. She could always check on him later. She had more pressing concerns at hand.

Little Amber, so named for the beautiful golden color of her eyes, was doing her best to chew out the sutures that Jean had so patiently administered the day before. Amber was one of the most normal-looking of the mutant children, with only a slightly out-of-balance skeletal structure and longer-than-normal arms and back. She was most likely between three and four, although she acted younger. She also appeared to have a slightly impaired mental ability, but that might just be the combination of shock and fear that was still evident in the children.

"Jubie, hold her a little tighter," Jean asked.

Jubilee did so, although her expression was more than a little uncertain. Legs flailed, arms jerked, and the child continued to scream. Jubilee started to say something, stopped, started, and finally gave up.

"This isn't working," Jean finally said in frustration when a small foot connected squarely with her chest. She glanced over at the papoose-board, a restraining device for children, and discarded the thought almost as quickly as it had formed. The child had been through enough without the added trauma of being restrained. Sedation, too, was an option that Jean quickly threw out. The signs of shock were still far too evident to want to add the risks of a tranquilizer. "Kate, are you busy?" she called.

Kathleen finished folding the towel that she had just removed from the dryer and set it on the table to be wrapped and autoclaved. She walked over to Jean and didn't bother to speak the question, feeling Jean already inside her mind. *What did you need?*

"I need some happy thoughts," she said with a frustrated smile. "This little one just won't settle down."

"Need some lovin', Sweetie," Kathleen cooed as she closed her eyes and placed a hand on the child. "You're okay, Honey. No one will hurt you here. You'll be fine. Hang in there."

Jean breathed a sigh of relief as Kate's short sentences and singsong voice caused her to relax. The "push" might have been intended for Amber, but it's effect wasn't specific. As the child calmed, Jean was able to check the sutures, stop the bleeding that the child's teeth had caused, and coat the wound in antibiotic ointment. That done, she bandaged the site and wrapped it firmly in beige Elastoplast to protect it from further assault.

Jubilee smiled and loosened her hold on Amber, but still kept her grip firm. "That's like magic," she said.

Jean mentally agreed, enjoying the respite from constant worry. Kate was indeed handy to have around. "Thanks," she finally said, interrupting Kate's continuing mantra of soft words. "You made that easier on all of us."

Kathleen smiled. "Glad to help," she answered. "But Jubie was doing a pretty good job of it."

"She was," Jean agreed, flashing the teen a smile. "One down, half a dozen more to go," she said. Her voice held more pep than it had, but there was still a trace of the fatigue she was feeling. She had been scheduled to go off duty at seven, when Kate had arrived, but there had been too much for one physician to handle. They were almost caught-up, now, but Jean was exhausted.

"If you'll go finish folding those towels, then get them wrapped and ready to sterilize, I'll help Jean get the rest of the kids settled down," Kathleen said to Jubilee.

"Glad to," Jubilee said with a smile, turning to follow the suggestion.

Kathleen watched her go, then turned a surprised smile to Jean. "That was too easy," she grinned.

"Jube's a good one," Jean smiled. "She's not much for arguing unless you ask for it. When there's work to be done, she's more than happy to do her share."

Kathleen shook her head again, laughing this time. "She was the most obnoxious kid I'd ever worked with," she said finally. "She didn't have a kind word for anyone. She was totally exhausting. If I'd asked her for a piece of lint, she'd have whined that I had my own sweaters to pick it from."

"That doesn't sound like her," Jean said in surprise.

"Not now," Kathleen corrected. "I tried everything with her, even pushing, but nothing worked. I could sense so much anger and depression that I was worried she'd kill herself or somebody else. That's why I called the Professor," she explained. "I was out of options."

"No," Jean said with a weary smile. "You just exercised one that you hold in reserve." She picked up the child that was now quiet, if not entirely happy, and cradled her for a moment. "Isn't that better?" she asked softly. "No more nasty blood on that arm. Your mouth has bad germs, and we don't want them on your nice, clean stitches."

The child still didn't want anything to do with the doctor that had inflicted such pain the day before. Her mind might be impaired, but her memory was able to connect a face and pain. She pulled back, not fighting but close, and Jean finally surrendered her to Kathleen.

Jean smiled again, but it didn't reach her eyes. She understood, really. The child had been scared, shot, grabbed and thrown in a basement, frozen, and then held down while her arm was repaired with a minimum of anesthesia. There was no way to explain to a child the dangers of anesthetic in relation to hypothermia, or the lingering effects of shock that would make sedation inadvisable. To this child, Jean would always be the "bad guy", and there was no way to change that.

"Sorry," Kathleen said softly as she cuddled the girl in her arms. "Where do you want her?"

"Her bed's down at the end," Jean replied. "We didn't have enough cribs to give her one."

"Scott said that the shop would deliver four more tomorrow," Kathleen offered. "They didn't carry all of them in their local supply house."

"I know," Jean managed. "They had to order them from Syracuse," she added.

"There isn't a lot of call for hospital cribs on short notice," Kathleen reasoned.

"We would have ordered ahead if we'd known that we were opening an orphanage," Jean said sarcastically. "Heaven forbid terrorists should upset their stock levels."

Kathleen stopped, turned back to face Jean, and looked closely at her friend. "Are you okay?" she asked.

Jean sighed heavily, knowing that Kate meant it in more than a surface manner. She knew her emotions were boiling over, and she assumed Kate was picking up on that. "I'm tired," she said honestly. "Tired, angry, and sick to death of being the bad-guy just because I know what to do." She looked up and met the other woman's eyes before adding, "And, I hate pediatrics. The patients are too young to understand why you're hurting them."

Kathleen nodded her understanding and then turned once more to take the child to her bed.

Jean closed her eyes and counted backwards from one hundred. She hated this. She was too tired for rational thinking, and she knew it. She was worn out, first by the strain of the rescue, then the marathon treatment sessions, and finally a fitful night's sleep. Today hadn't been any better, a continuing trial of screaming children, uncomfortable adults, and the uncertain future before them all.

The Professor seemed determined that he would make a home for these children, and while Jean agreed in theory, she wasn't quite sure how they would put it into practice. She didn't specialize in pediatrics, so most of what she was doing was a flashback to her residency. Still, she and Kate were doing the best that they could, and so far they had been managing as well as could be expected.

She didn't like being uncomfortable about her profession. Making that more complicated was the varying anatomy of each of their little charges. She was used to mutant physiology in general, but each mutant had specifics that were unique to his or her mutation. It was a challenge she was used to, given a reasonable period of time to study and document normal body function prior to treatment. She hadn't had that luxury the day before, and she was living in fear that she might have done something wrong.

First, do no harm. It was part of her oath. She didn't even know if she'd managed that much with her haphazard medical care. She prayed that she had. Gun shots and shrapnel were tricky enough in seasoned soldiers, but when you mixed in a bunch of children you got a recipe for disaster. She only hoped that they had picked up the pieces in the right order.

Jean jumped when she felt hands on her shoulders. She didn't bother to turn around or open her eyes. She knew those hands. She knew that mind. "Hi, Honey," she said softly.

*Hi, yourself,* he thought back. *Come to bed.*

*I'm not finished here,* she told him. *I still have...*

*Kate said you were done,* he interrupted *She said to get you out of here before you fall down and she has to admit you.*

Jean finally turned to face Scott. His eyes were hidden by the glasses, but she could read the concern on his face. He was really worried about her. "I'm okay," she told him firmly, echoing the sentiment mentally.

"You need to come to bed," he told her softly.

"I will," she answered. "Just let me get the autoclave set, and then I'll check the med orders and come right up."

"No," he said, his voice still firm, almost in command-mode. "Now."

"Scott..." she began.

*I need you to come to bed,* he sent her. *Now.*

She looked at him a moment longer, noting the tense shoulders, the strain in his arms and on his face. Scott wasn't bullying her, he was asking her desperately. He needed her.

Jean let him take her hand, aware that he normally didn't do so in view of the students. She let him walk her through the infirmary and to the door. She managed a glance at Kate, and received only a smile and a wave, so she knew that the change of shift had just been made, report given and taken or not.

Jean let him lead her through the corridors, into and out of the elevator, and then down the hallway to the door to their room. Only when he released her hand to fumble for his key did she place a hand on his shoulder and take inventory of him.

Scott knew himself better than anyone, and yet she could tell that he was as confused by his actions as she was. There was a tension in him that went beyond a rare night of sex forfeited in favor of sleep, or a day spent arguing with bureaucrats to achieve what they didn't care about in the first place.


He shook his head, guided her inside, and closed and locked the door behind them. He didn't say a word as he tugged off his clothes, and then hers, and walked her to the bed. He didn't kiss her, didn't really look at her, he just sat next to her and held her hand.

Jean only had her instincts to guide her, only her love for him and a few miscellaneous memories of what he had been like when she'd first met him. She used every memory. She kept the door to her mind open, although his was closed tight. She didn't even think he realized it.

She loved him gently, thoroughly. Because he hadn't taken the effort to change into his more secure nighttime goggles, she remained on top, as he had insisted when they'd been new at making love. He'd told her then that he felt safer, that she was out of his direct line of vision, and he could relax more. She managed to forget that she was exhausted, forget that his was the stronger sex drive, forget that this was because he needed it.

She touched, kissed, and finally rode him to shattering completion, finding her own release somewhere along the way. It was so gentle, so easy, that she barely noticed when it happened. That was a change. Normally she managed a fairly explosive climax, but this orgasm built gradually, crested, and relaxed in such a slow manner that she felt only the relaxation and afterglow. She felt Scott's release much more acutely, but even that was muted against the emotion that seemed to wash over them both.

As they cuddled together afterwards, warm and safe in one another's arms, the floodgate to Scott's mind opened. A wash of fear, abandonment, insecurity, and anger came to her mind. She wasn't the best at picking up emotions, so she imagined that what she was getting was Scott's interpretation of his own feelings. The strength of them was surprising.

"I guess that answers my question, but I'll ask it anyway," she said softly, lifting onto one elbow to look at him. "Are you okay?"

He took a deep breath. "I thought I was over it," he told her. "The whole orphan package. But, I look at those kids, and I swear I feel like I'm one of them."

"You have a home here," she reassured him. "With me, with the Professor. You aren't an orphan anymore. You belong to us."

He nodded, took another couple of deep breaths. "I thought I was okay. Bobby and I drove over to pick up the cribs, the ones that the hospital supply place kept in the warehouse, and when we started to unload them I just felt..." He shook his head, unable to complete the sentence.

"It's not the same," she reassured him. "We wanted hospital style for it's durability and ease in cleaning. Safety, too. It has nothing to do with restraining the kids."

Scott nodded. "I know that. My head knows that."

She leaned her forehead against his. *Head and heart, they're always at odds.*

*Exactly. The cribs looked institutional, so I felt like was in one. My heart wasn't hearing anything that my head had to say about it.*

*I think you should talk to Kate,* Jean advised.

*I don't want to bother her. She came here to get away from unstable minds.*

*You aren't unstable,* she reminded him. *But there's a lot in there that you need to sort out. She's great at listening.*


*It's either her or the Professor,* she reminded him. *But, I'm not qualified for this. Even if I was, I'm too close. I love you too much to be objective.*

*I love you, too,* he told her, his lips forming a smile.

She reached forward and kissed him, and then neither of them thought for a while.

Chapter 6

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