Between the Darkness and Light

by Talya Firedancer

Part Twenty-four

Four days passed fast between the classes Logan didn't have to teach but Scott did, and reconditioning work for an hour in the morning and two in the early evening. Logan didn't pack his bags anymore. He was too busy to contemplate it, and for the first in a damned long time, he fell into a deep sleep when his head hit pillow in the evenings. Besides the sessions with Scott, Logan worked on a training regimen on his own and, over Alex Summers' protests, picked up a session in the Danger Room every day to help him get back into fighting trim so far as battle simulations were concerned. He did the last session of the day, the one with Storm and the older kids -- Pete, Kitty, Rogue, and Bobby.

It was easy in those sessions to see why Storm didn't want to give it up. She led them like a combat-savvy lieutenant and the kids trusted her.

By the fifth day, Logan decided that Scott was ready for the Danger Room after all, overriding the timetable he'd set.

Logan had expected the uncomplaining demeanor - which he got - but what surprised him was Slim's rapid progress during those four days. They only got three hours a day and he knew with the man's punishing schedule as nanny to an immense houseful of kids, teacher of three classes a day, head administrator for a school with a decent-sized enrollment for a private institution, and the closing out of various tasks related to Xavier's estate, Scott certainly didn't have time to sneak in any more workouts. Well, he supposed that supervising the swim class almost counted. Nevertheless he put on muscle weight rapidly.

Scott's movements were fluid and flexible, unhindered by pain. His reaction time was faster than Logan's own. By the second day he was benching his own weight; by the fourth, he was benching Logan's. Logan hadn't been surprised the kid -- man -- knew judo, but Scott's facility at it was cause for amazement, until he confessed on the third day he'd been a black belt since eighteen.

"All right, Slim," Logan said on the evening of the fifth day, lounging in the doorway to Scott's study. Slim didn't work in the old man's office anymore, and Logan considered that another kind of progress -- although some day they'd have to get rid of the furniture in Xavier's office and maybe remodel it, put it to use as another classroom or something.

He didn't have a say in those kinds of details, Logan reminded himself, and he turned his attention on Summers.

"Time for the post-dinner workout?" Scott asked, not looking up from his desk. His pen moved pendulum-steady over the topmost sheet of a stack of papers.

"Yeah, you've had enough time to digest," Logan told him with a slight grin.

Scott didn't answer for a long moment, his pen still scratching away at whatever task occupied him. "I suppose I have," he said at length, soft enough to miss but audible to Logan. His chair pushed out but he remained seated a moment longer, face tilted toward the paper.

"Grading?" Logan prompted, folding his arms. It was unlike Scott to put off a session, precise as his rhythms were. He was usually waiting for Logan rather than making Logan wait.

"Revising," came the somewhat distracted reply. The pen moved in one last burst of scrawl, then Scott leaned back and capped it, brows set in a concentrating scowl as he scanned the paper.

"Oh?" Logan challenged, a sentence's worth of impatience packed into the one word. "You on some kind of deadline?"

"In a manner of speaking," Scott replied, one shoulder dipping in a half-shrug. "It's my will."

Logan shifted from one foot to the other, scrubbing a hand against the rough of denim jeans as if to rid it of something unpleasant. He considered the weight of the expectation, the need for a will, wondering what it was to Scott or anyone who held enough to make it worth it: formalizing the process of leaving all you owned behind you. For Logan it was the matter of a duffel's worth and even that much was probably only fit for Goodwill. For Scott, he would have left it all to...

"Christ, Slim, it's just one fight," Logan growled to interrupt that line of thought, harsher than intended. Scott's face swung in his direction, startled. "You're not going to come out of it worse than a session or two with me."

"That's not it," Scott countered at once, the lines of his face relaxing. "I finished up with most of Xavier's business and my lawyer recommended it, seeing as how my assets have changed so significantly. Though I have to admit the fight did come into play a bit, seeing as if I'd actually passed away everything would've gone to Alex. If Storm would challenge me for leadership of the X-Men I'd hate to see what she'd do to Alex."

"Knife him on the way home from the will-reading, maybe," Logan suggested, mouth twitching.

"Ha," Scott said, shaking his head. "Don't joke about it, we both know how serious she is about the team." He came around from the desk to join Logan, casting a look behind him at the desk and the pile of papers that lay beneath a perfect circle of light.

"'Bout time," Logan muttered, greeting Scott with a raised brow and turning, not quite waiting for the man to draw even with him before setting himself in motion. "Started thinking you're getting afraid to get your ass handed to you."

"You wish!" Scott retorted hotly, then turned his face away, his lips thinning. "Mat work first?"

"Nah," Logan replied, giving the nod to a couple of passing kids. "You've earned a round in the Danger Room, I think."

Scott's head turned in his direction, slow as caution. "Really?"

"Yeah, I set up the sim myself twenty minutes ago," Logan said, leaving out the fact that "himself" had involved not so much setting up as verbally dictating what he wanted to Lorna and letting her handle the rest. He rubbed at his head, caught with a touch of pride over the simulation he'd envisioned. He wondered if Scott and Storm would let him set up the one they'd use for their match.

"Oh," Scott said, and there was something in the neutrality of his tone that made Logan look twice, but there was nothing.

"Anyhow, your brother could do it - lead the X-Men, I mean - but he's green," Logan said. "Used to working with that partner of his but the kids seem to look at him as one of them, most of the time." He glanced sidelong at Slim, thinking but not saying that the leader they all responded best to was right beside him. Even Logan himself, though he'd cut off his own arm rather than admit that. For all that he'd challenged Scott over taking his orders before that first mission he didn't have a problem carrying them out in the field. Either he was a better grunt soldier than he thought - not likely - or it was Summers' way with command. Galling as that was to admit.

"He'll be fine, he just needs more experience," Scott replied with a nod. "Plus I don't think he really sees the kids as 'his' command so he's making friends with them more than acting as their leader."

"Hunh," Logan grunted by way of response, thinking to himself it was the real commander that didn't make that distinction. Either you led or you didn't.

"Uniforms?" Scott prompted as they reached the locker room attached to the anteroom for the simulation chamber.

"Yeah," Logan replied. "You're gonna want the padding." He turned a wolfish grin on Summers and was a touch surprised to see it returned in Scott's widest grin.

Scott turned for his locker, already stripping his shirt off. Logan watched for a moment, appraising the smooth clean lines of the man, muscles working in rippling simplicity. He'd made some good fast progress, though it helped that the infrastructure he had to work with was sound from years' worth of work. Logan made for his own locker before Slim could take note of him watching.

"What've you got planned?" Scott asked him as they met at the door. He was flexing his forearms, shifting and twisting his torso to acclimatize once more to the sensation of the tough but supple uniform, which was more body armor than anything.

Logan shook his head. "No, you're gonna have to wait and see."

The muscles contracted around the edge of Scott's visor that meant he'd widened his eyes. "All right," was all he said, a surprising amount of trust.

Maybe it should've bothered him that he was getting better at reading Scott's facial expressions; once it definitely would have, but now Logan simply found it convenient. Facility at body language notwithstanding, he was still unsure of his standing with Scott in any other respect but as workout partners. The man's attitude had lightened over the past week and he was easy to work with, but he treated Logan with a courtesy that bordered on distant, not quite friendly. It conflicted with his scent, his body language, which told Logan he was uncomfortable, bothered over something until he threw himself into the full distraction of his workout.

Logan had chalked it up to the desire he smelled on Scott, a fleeting fragrance that came and went during the body-contact part of their workouts, usually followed up with Scott flinching or jerking away from him. That killed the scent as Scott threw himself back into whatever he was doing with renewed fury. Sure and why would the man want to be attracted? Logan thought with only a trace of bitterness. The night that hadn't happened, whether Scott claimed he'd liked it or not, was enough to show him it wouldn't work.

No sense puzzling on it, especially with today's workout coming up.

"After you," Logan told him, gesturing at the first of the two doors that led into the Danger Room.

There was another pause in which Logan felt sure Scott's eyes were on him beneath his opaque battle visor, then Scott gave a tiny shrug and hit the panel beside the anteroom door, depressing the switch that caused it to iris open. They stepped through into the airlock-type chamber between the inner and outer doors. There was a panel on the right-hand wall that provided auxiliary controls for the simulation chamber, allowing for some modifications of what had been set up in the control room on the observation deck, but mostly used to start programs if they wanted something up and running before going in. Logan reached for it, aware Scott's brows had quirked with interest.

He nodded for Scott to precede him, again.

"You're not going to tell me what the objective is?" Scott couldn't stop himself from asking.

To answer him, Logan simply grinned his irritating best.

Scott shook his head and touched the inner door's switch, stepping inside with the air of a man gathering himself for a plunge - only to be brought up short by a wall not three feet from the door. It was a nondescript, matte-gray surface, non-reflective. Scott looked over his shoulder at Logan, frowning, then checked to the right of him, then the left, surely noticing the wall extended in both directions. "A maze?"



Logan joined him, stepping through the door which sealed shut and disappeared behind him. He slapped Scott's shoulder enough to make an impact but not hard enough to make him stagger. "You're 'it,'" he said blandly, putting on his best poker face, then he broke into a run down the right-hand part of the maze, adding over his shoulder, "Physical contact only to switch out, optic blasts don't count!" Then he made it round the corner, bared his teeth in triumph, tumble-rolled to avoid the band-saw that whirred out from mid-man height, and quickened his pace to put distance between the two of them, fast.

"You have got to be joking!" Scott exclaimed behind him, sounding equal parts amused and aggravated.

"Too manly to play a game of tag?" Logan threw the jeer over his shoulder, ducking around another corner and scanning briefly for traps.

There was a mutter from Scott's general direction that could have been a curse or some milder imprecation. That was followed by the distinct "Oh, it's on." Logan grinned again.

It wasn't just a maze, of course. The simulation was a seriously booby-trapped labyrinth of pitfalls and worse, meant to throw a number of obstacles in Cyclops' path. Most of them were potentially deadly, though when the X-Men would ever face a peril-riddled maze Logan didn't know. It was a simulation room so he liked to play around with the settings. The "surviving a maze" paradigm wasn't the real objective - the various traps were designed to test reflexes, agility, the repeated application of their powers to different types of threats, while solving the dual challenges of navigating unknown surroundings and tracking an adversary.

Plus, the Danger Room hadn't had a "maze" simulation. It was an oversight Logan knew he had come along to correct.

Of course, there was a twist to the game he hadn't shared with Slim yet. In addition to that, Logan already knew the contours of the maze - he'd based it off a two-dimensional printout.

The light source above was diffuse and directionless, providing no means of getting a location fix. Logan jogged along his current course, in between seven-foot tall walls that were spaced five feet across, just enough room to maneuver if the situation called for it. He dodged and twisted to avoid traps when he could, trying to avoid leaving a trail of destruction that would be a clue he'd passed by.

Not too far behind him an optic blast discharged, accompanied by the sound of shearing metal. Logan grinned fiercely; he knew Cyclops wouldn't turn down the challenge to come and catch him if he could. Today the man would surely get his fill of blowing things away by the time this session was over, hopefully enough to make up for a week's worth of leaving his battle visor in the locker.

Logan turned another corner and found a short stretch of wall ahead of him, the first he'd encountered. It curled around another wall, forming a bend but he didn't take that route. Instead, he stepped up to the wall and pushed hard with both hands. It swung open along the left seam and he slipped through, taking himself into another part of the maze completely.

With a quick glance to orient himself, Logan began to double back around. He was stalking Cyclops, now. If the man thought he was gonna be the prey, he had another thing coming.

He kept his tread light and his senses alert, aware that Cyclops was surely doing the same but Logan had more than one unfair advantage, besides the fact that so far as Cyclops was concerned Logan had essentially dropped off the grid and he was looking in the wrong place. Logan stopped for a moment, listening for boot soles over the floor, hearing them more or less where he'd expected -- nine o'clock, back where he'd left him. Logan resumed his quiet stalk, more careful than before with the placement of his feet, not just to avoid traps but because his footsteps were unavoidably heavier and it was harder for him to avoid making noise.

Doubling back around, Logan went through another hinged wall section to bring himself back to the front of the maze again. He paused. Either Cyclops was too far off for Logan to hear anything or he, too, had stopped for a moment. He heard a soft hiss-popping noise, likely from some broken electronics, and started forward again.

This time around the path was littered with destroyed traps and Logan grinned. Good as breadcrumbs. When he reached another twist in the maze he stopped. There had been a particularly long, loud blast five minutes back that had probably been used in defense on a pair of collapsing walls -- the maze had three of them -- but after that, total silence. Logan wasn't worried for Cyclops. That would have been an insult. He definitely wasn't dumb enough to open his mouth and betray his location asking after the man's health, either. He was, however, concerned that Cyclops might have stopped to puzzle something out or even doubled back himself. Logan closed his eyes and listened for a heartbeat beyond his own.

Still nothing.

He resumed his careful tread, skirting the smoking debris that Cyclops had left in his wake. At least he didn't have to worry about disabling any holdover traps, betraying his location that way. The man had been pretty damned thorough.

Logan stopped again, caught up in a growing prickle of unease. Still no noise from Cyclops and it was making him nervous. He'd either stopped moving or doubled back; dodging or taking out traps would've cost him his stealth by now.

He waited, stilled in one place for so frigging long it made him grit his teeth. Again, nothing. With a sub-vocal growl he set off again. He would not be bested in the maze, at Tag, by Cyclops. That included psyching himself out and setting up the other man for a win. He was sure Lorna would never let him hear the end of it.

Logan eased around another corner pitted with blasted-out panels, scorch marks on stressed metal marking the places where Slim had sussed out potential sudden death. His pace quickened as he thought, still on the right track, then.

He wasn't thinking beyond the chase now and it was liberating. He broke into a soft-footed run.

The blast from behind caught him dead center, shocking him off his feet with thoughts tumbling around the notion of a trap that had been missed, maybe. As he fell he spun, and jabbed out at the nearest wall with a fistful of claws to stop his momentum.

"How the hell--!?" Logan half-shouted, bringing himself to a staggered halt.

"Thought so," Cyclops said with satisfaction, hand still at his battle visor. "You're not the only one that can go through walls."

Logan didn't hesitate to launch himself at the man, prepared to dive if Cyclops' finger so much as twitched. It did, of course, and then Logan tucked himself into a roll, crashing into Scott's legs as another blast soared over him and zapped the wall. They grappled, Logan wrenching Scott's hand away from the visor, Scott fighting to keep Logan's wrists at an angle that would prevent him from punching his claws.

Scott's head snapped forward in a powerful head butt that clanked, hard, against Logan's metallic skull. He slumped, groaning.

"Idiot," Logan grunted through his clenched teeth, trying for a wrestling hold that would turn Scott around, preventing the deadly gaze from being turned on him.

After a violent tussle Slim shook off the hold, hand going up to his temple again.

"I don't think so," Logan uttered, closing in for a throw.

The session had transformed from a game of tag and unspoken they'd both rolled with the change. Close-quarters, they spilled their channeled aggression to hand-to-hand combat, claws in, visor shuttered. Scott's footwork was solid, his kicks and sweeps perfect, textbook, giving Logan the urge to fight dirty. Kicking out the back of Scott's knee, while tempting, was not the way to go -- though he suspected Storm might try if she got that kind of opening. It wasn't so much Scott's condition as it was the prospect of their furry physician's wrath and Storm's, at a doubly postponed match, that kept him from dirty tricks today.

As they closed for another attempted throw they went chest to chest more by accident than design. Scott's face was going red. Logan could practically taste his sweat without turning his head that fractional gap that would bring him into skin contact. Scott heaved and his fingers flew to his visor.

Logan had time for "Oh, shi--" before the sweeping red concussive jet hit him chest-high.

Tossed into an ungraceful trajectory on the flight of another blast, Logan crashed into the wall that had been a good fifteen feet behind him. He sat up from a crumpled heap and cracked his neck one way, then the other, shooting a glare at Cyclops, whose mouth curved in the hint of a smile.

"You're 'it,'" was all he said, then he turned on his heel and was off and running.

"Oh, no you don't," Logan vowed, pushing himself up and into fast pursuit. Scott was faster, though, with a sprinter's wind and muscle and a significant weight advantage. By the time Logan rounded the corner, his opponent was gone.

Logan hustled after him, listening for the trajectory Cyclops had taken in becoming his prey once more. He grinned and headed for the nearest short wall. Cyclops had figured he could blast through walls, obviously, and guessed maybe Logan had scaled or broken through one, but he didn't know about the hidden doors.

Waiting near one, he cocked his head for the sound of Scott's footsteps. Sure enough, he was coming round, sure strides unchecked.

Slow and deliberate to keep it quiet, Logan palmed the wall aside and grinned at Scott's unsuspecting backside. The triumph turned into a brief appreciation, then he was moving forward in a tackle.

Animal instinct or some other alert had Cyclops turning before Logan completed his charge, and they collided, tumbling in a pile as the other man took the full brunt of the Wolverine's weight. He could benchpress blocks that stacked up to Logan's mass but caught unawares he had no defense for it.

"You cheated," Scott said, breathless, throwing a punch that Logan blocked easily.

"Ain't no crying in baseball, Slim," Logan replied as he swung a punch of his own, one that would've taken out that handsome face if it landed. Scott twisted to the side smooth as a dance, putting him in a leg-lock that would've made anyone else writhe in pain.

Logan took the pain, sure, but damned if he would show it; he was too busy trying to fold Scott into an immobile hold. They were too close for anything more refined than wrestling moves. Scott caught him an elbow to the throat and Logan wheezed. As he got his breath back, Scott writhed supple as an eel, twisting out of his grip and scrambling to his knees.

"I don't think so," Logan rasped, seizing Scott by the hips and dragging him back, getting him into a good headlock.

Caught up in the blood rush of the fight, their first all-out brawl since they'd begun the training sessions, Logan just about missed it. Scott tensed, then went limp beneath him and Logan bore down harder at first, mistaking it for excitement or a ploy to escape. He shifted his grip, grabbed Scott's wrist to get him into an immobilizing hold instead and the pulse fluttered wild under his fingers. With an alarmed cry, Logan sprang off him, turning Scott upright and giving his cheeks a few slaps. He was dead white, all the blood drained from his face when he should've been flush with exertion.

"Open your eyes, damn it," Logan hissed, and was rewarded with a thready crimson glow concentrated over two spots -- Scott's eyes -- that warmed quickly through the whole visor.

"How do you always know?" Scott's voice was feeble, and resentful.

They lay for a moment prone like that, legs overlapping, and Logan gave in to the urge to lean over and check Scott's pulse. It welled up reassuring and even against his fingers. The man's neck was slick and fragrant under his touch. He kept his eyes on Scott as he did it, shaken by the odd conviction that Scott's eyes were meeting his even through the visor. He knew where Scott's eyes were, knew their shape and the press of his gaze, but that was impossible.

Logan snorted and yanked his hand back faster than electric shock. "Next time, tap out before you're ready to faint, you masochist," he growled.

Scott opened his mouth to reply, closed it, and turned his head away. "Get off me," was all he said, and now there was color rising high in his cheeks and the bite-scent of desire accompanied the change.

Logan raised a brow. "Happy to oblige," he retorted, disentangling himself and getting to his feet, not bothering to offer the other man a hand. Even if Scott wasn't too proud, Logan was too pissed. He lifted his voice to the ceiling. "End program." The room around them dissolved into a black and white grid as if a giant hand had wiped the maze away from all around them. Logan shook his head, still overwhelmed by the completeness of the simulation technology. Lorna had tried to explain it to him a few days back, how the simulation chamber projected the semblance of matter that was, for all intents and purposes, real for the duration of the program but for Logan it might as well have been magic.

He headed for the Danger Room's only door, hearing Scott scramble to his feet behind him and follow in silence. Angry at himself and Scott too for letting it get to near-disaster or at least serious injury, doubly pissed over the awkward coda, Logan barely heard the muttered thanks but still uttered a grunt in response as they entered the antechamber.

At that point, he turned, brows creasing. "How did you know I'd changed up the rules on you?" Logan questioned, hand going to the zipper at his throat and easing it down to give him enough room to breathe.

Scott cocked his head and regarded him, unsmiling. "You're the hunter, Logan," was all he said before slipping past him without touching, going through the outer door to the locker room without a backward glance.