Doctor Xavier was waiting for me when I came down the long stairs into Emma's parlor.
"Jean, I must talk to you," he said urgently.
He caned himself awkwardly forward and sat down heavily in a chair. Charles dislikes standing for long periods. It's painful for him, I think. And, of course, he's always very conscious of his dignity. He settled himself nervously in the oaken chair's scant comfort. That surprised me, I must admit. Charles is always so self processed that it's quite startling to see him on edge and at sixes and sevens like any other man. As flattering as it would have been to think otherwise, I somehow didn't think that I was the cause of his unease. His hands fluttered about like small, quick birds and finally settled in his lap. After a moment he blotted sweat from his forehead with a linen kerchief and looked at me. His eyes were distant; as if his thoughts were somewhere else. With someone else, perhaps? I remembered the swiftness of his disappearance on the day of Magnus' arrival.
Since then he had been most notable by his absence. Was he hiding? From whom? Magnus? Why? Charles didn't even know Magnus. Or did he? A memory stirred and I saw again the glint of recognition in his eye when Magnus stepped off the stage into the bright sunlight. Yes, it seemed plain now that he did know Magnus. Just how he might know Magnus was less plain. A brief ugly suspicion blossomed in my mind, but I dismissed it. Charles wouldn't be the first New Englander to own slaves, but it seemed unlikely in the extreme. Despite his disability he was a Union surgeon during the War. Had they met then? Again, I dismissed the idea. Magnus would never have fought for the Confederacy and he wasn't free until the end of the War. No. Not that way, then. When I remembered Charles' kindness to me with his books and his passion for educated company I wondered if it could be something that simple. Had he lent Magnus books? Or, perhaps, taught him?
And suddenly I felt Magnus' hands on my body again, kissing my eyes with soft lips ... just as Charles liked to do. Oh yes, Magnus had learned from Charles. Or ice versa? My eyes widened and I told myself it was impossible. Charles? Surely not. But I have learned a great deal about men in my present profession. Not least of all never to dismiss anything as impossible. Still ... I told myself I was being unnecessarily convoluted. I must be mistaken.
My eyes widened but otherwise I gave no sign of my possible epiphany. It did explain quite a lot, though, didn't it? I wrestled, momentarily, with my baser instincts before I decided to let my new suspicions lie still and quiet within me. Charles, it seems, has a predilection for whores ... He has been good to me, though, in his way. There was no need to hurt him so on such flimsy evidence. But what to do? First, I decided, I had to be certain.
Charles was grateful, I think, when I rescued him from his predicament.
"He's only afraid," I said quietly. "He doesn't want to be hurt anymore." It didn't escape my notice that Charles did not hesitate in his answer. We both knew who I was talking about. Score one.
"He's dangerous, Jean," the expatriate New Englander replied and his lips formed themselves into a hard line. He sighed. "But I see that my advise comes too late. You can't stay away from him now, can you? Damn him." That last was laced with growing anger. Score two, perhaps? No one feels that strongly about someone who doesn't matter to them.
"He thinks he already *is* damned," I pointed out. I kept my voice light, but I was not smiling as I it. I was probing blindly, now, to see his reaction. I was luckier than I deserved. Charles regarded me with such buried rage I was stunned. His voice shook with it and his eyes glinted like glacial ice.
"Good," he hissed. And his busy hands began unconsciously shredding the fine linen they clutched. After a moment he looked at the ragged remains of his kerchief with great surprise, as if his hands were alien things that had somehow betrayed him against his will.
"He must have hurt you a great deal," I said. Another probe. Charles only nodded.
"Oh yes," he acknowledged. His smile was the bitterest sight I believe I have ever witnessed. "He ... took something away from me. Something very precious." He looked off into the distance. After a moment, when he again had control of himself and felt that he could face me, he watched me closely. I made a mistake then; a move made too soon, that presumed too much. It's true that I only wanted to help him, so perhaps I may be forgiven for my lapse.
"Did you love him?" I asked my friend and sometimes lover. Charles blinked as if he couldn't quite understand the simple question. His look told me that I must have taken leave of my senses.
"Love Magnus?" The doctor shook his head in sharp denial. "It isn't possible to love Magnus. He won't allow it. You don't love a raging fire; a great conflagration that consumes everything in it's path and leaves only smoldering ashes in it's wake. Not if you're smart. And I've forever been cursed with too much intelligence; my mother always said so. He'll consume you too if you let him. I *know*" He stuffed the remnants of the kerchief, guilty evidence of his unwanted passion, into his trouser pocket.
"No," he said. "I never loved him." As far as I know, that was the first time he ever lied to me. Score three.
He rose to leave and I stood with him, not knowing what to say. Words are treacherous things. Ask Henry McCoy about that. The shield he makes of them often fails him. So I eschewed words altogether and only squeezed his hand when Charles cupped my hands with his. Whores learn to use their bodies to speak for them when words are not enough.
Magnus could tell you that.
"Take care that he doesn't burn you, too, Dearest Jean," Charles whispered as he left me.
I sank back into my chair and struggled to put the events of this steadily becoming even more wretched day behind me. I fancy I was well on my way to succeeding. It's easy, really. All you have to do is think of something else. Find someone else to mock, some other target for all that unwanted insight and acidic reflection. It works splendidly.
But the fates were not yet through with me. "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods", the poet says. He couldn't have been more right, I discovered. It wasn't until I heard his voice that I realized the enormity of what I had done. And what it might very well cost me. Damn Magnus.
"Are you all right?" came Slim's quiet inquiry.
I actually jumped. I'm as easily startled as the next person, but it takes someone like Magnus to put a whore to the blush. Was it guilt? No, impossible. That would mean that last night had meaning beyond the purely physical. That would mean that Magnus had touched me with more than his body. That would mean that I had betrayed Slim in some way. It's a terrible thing when you ... care ... for someone as much as I do Slim and are still glad they're blind and can't see the guilt and fear stamped on your face. After all, since Slim couldn't see my tears I hadn't disregarded Logans canny advise, had I?
"I won't let him hurt you," Slim said.
I am one of the few people who have ever seen Slim's eyes. He's careful about that. They were meant to be brown, I think. I've always seen them in my mind as a deep warm brown like the earth or Fall leaves. But the cloudy cataracts that have covered them since his early teens are pale, ugly things. Slim doesn't let just anyone see them. People aren't kind, faced with someone else's affliction. I should have known better than to think he wouldn't know. When did it happen I often wonder? When did this deceptively quiet, strong man take up residence in my soul? Before I knew what was happening he'd slipped past all my defenses and I was lost. There are times when I'm sure he knows what I'm thinking. He frightens me, he knows me so well.
I couldn't face him. Any more than Charles could face me. From behind, strong arms encircled me and held me tightly. I turned and buried my head on his shoulder.
"Oh God, don't cry," he pleaded and stroked my hair, clumsily, uncertainly. Not at all like Magnus' deft, sure touch. Slim is the only man I willingly allow to touch my hair. "Please don't cry. You know I can't bear it when you cry."
Did an errant tear fall on his hand where he could feel it? Did he hear the tears of sorrow in my voice? Perhaps. With Slim I'm never sure how he knows these things. He simply does.
"It's all right," he said; his voice and the broad hands that succored me were full of certain love. Not at all like Magnus' hungry, demanding touch: sure of what they wanted but with no idea how to get it. Or give it.
"It doesn't matter," he told me and I began to cry even harder. My small fists beat an irregular, broken tattoo on his broad chest. But my strongest blows bounced off the hard muscles of his body like raindrops. He made no move to stop me and not a single sound.
"Don't say that!" I cried. I struggled to spin away from him but he refused to let me go. "I"m a whore," I flung at him, "and I spent the night in another man's bed!" The muscles of his jaw tightened for an instant, no more. "And I wasn't paid," I raged at him, "it wasn't because I *had* to. I *enjoyed* it! Don't you understand? I'm a whore!" He lifted my sobbing face to kiss me lightly on the forehead.
"And I'm an ugly, blind bartender with absolutely nothing to give you but me," he said simply. "I love you, Jean. Nothing you can ever say or do will change that. Nothing." He smiled, holding me tighter.
"You're stuck with me," he assured me.
For many long moments we just stood there holding one another until the fear was beaten back. Absently, I ran my fingers threw his now tousled ginger colored hair. His smile reminded me of how much he likes that and I smiled in return.
"Once upon a time, " I said, "a little girl named Jean Grey has to have done something wonderful. I can't imagine what it was. But, there's no other explanation for *you*." He chuckled warm laughter.
"Sure there is," he said, merrily. "I'm The Frog Prince and you're my Fairy Princess!" He lifted me in his arms and spun me around until we were both marvelously dizzy and the world was far, far away.
"Hungry?" I asked. Slim has a beautiful smile. It's like watching the sun come up.
"Starving," he assured me. "Pierre is making pancakes, today," he whispered conspiratorially, taking my offered arm.. He couldn't have seen my small moue of distress, but he knew it was there. He patted my hand in sympathy. "Be nice," he urged with that smile still intact. Pierre is a wonderful cook. Emma hired him directly from the Cordon Bleau in Paris, after all. Nothing but the best for her customers. He's still working on the intricacies of ethnic American cuisine, however. His crepes melt in the mouth, delighting the senses. His pancakes, on the other hand, taste like old, boiled shoe leather. Pierre is very proud of them. I sighed.
"We could always eat at Delmonico's," offered an understanding Slim. I squeezed his hand.
"What?" I cried. "And insult Pierre? Never!" Slim laughed and gladdened my heart. "Vive le France!" I muttered and strode bravely forward to face Pierre's inedible pancakes.
I took his hand and guided him to a table. It isn't necessary, you understand. Slim is remarkably capable. He knows every nook and cranny of Emma's domain better than she does. He never gets lost. He knows exactly how many steps will take him up the stairs to his room, down the bar to the last customer barstool and precisely where every bottle of liquor lurks.
And exactly how far away the doubled barreled shotgun he keeps beneath the bar is located at all times.
No, he's not helpless. But he knows how much it pleases me to do small things for him (because I have nothing else to offer him) even though they aren't necessary. So he indulges me. He's a very kind man.
I didn't see Magnus all that day. I was almost glad in a way. I wasn't ready to face him. And besides, I had business with Logan that night. He needed supplies. I waited for him in the basement of Drake's Mercantile, accompanied only by the soft glow of an oil lamp. When the agreed upon hour of midnight came and went without any sign of Logan, I sighed. There was no point giving in to my impatience. Logan was Logan. He'd be there when he was there. And not one instant sooner.
I have no idea how long he was there, concealed by the darkness, before he spoke up. Probably for a very long time.
"You really should get more sleep," Magnus' cultured voice advised me from out of the blackness just beyond the range of the lamp's thin light. Startled, I spun to face him, thinking fast. But not fast enough.
"Don't bother to lie," he said. "Innocence doesn't become you, my dear. I told you once you can't save him. I always knew that you were the key to finding him. It was only a question of time." All the color drained from my face until I was as pale as Magnus.
"And so you thought you'd go right to the source, did you? You're really something," I spat.
At first Magnus said nothing to my accusation. Then he nodded.
"I have always believed in taking the most direct route to the solution to any problem," he acknowledged. "In this case that was you." He looked away but his voice was quite steady.
"What a piece of work is man," he quoted in that musical voice, so fit for the rhyme and meter of poetry.
Enraged at this Shakespearean reminder of my trust in him and his apparent betrayal, I slapped him. He let me. Once. But when I drew back my hand for another blow, it never landed. He caught my wrist in midair and held it there. I struggled to break free but could not.
"Once was enough," he warned me. "I owe you that much. Twice is redundant. I expected more of someone with your imagination and education. For shame. Surely you can do better than that, Jean," he taunted. In the heat of the moment, I had forgotten how much he hates to be touched against his will.
"Oh, yes," I assured him between gritted teeth, "I can do better, *Silver* ..."
His grip on my wrist tightened involuntarily; suddenly, I felt the full force of the strength that had bent the iron of Emma's parlor furniture and I cried out. But I refused to beg.
So did he.
"Let the Lady go, Mister," came a deep voice from out of some dark, hidden place in the large basement. Emerging from the shadows, it was just possible to make out the reflection of lamplight off a glittering metal blade. Magnus pushed me away and I almost fell to the sawdust covered floor before I caught myself. It didn't occur to me until much later that I was, perhaps, safest there, out of the line of fire.
"Ah, Mister Logan," Magnus greeted his now fully exposed target, "if I didn't know better I'd say you've been avoiding me. You'll hurt my feeling if you're not careful. You're a difficult man to find."
Logan moved closer into the light. "When I want to be," he acknowledged. "You okay, Jeannie darlin'?"
"Logan!" I shouted, "get *out* of here!" But even as I said the words I knew they were futile. And, sure enough, Logan shook his head at me.
"Can't do it, darlin'," he said sadly. "Ain't my way."
Magnus lowered himself into a nearby chair, long unused, and fastidiously brushed the dust from off his dark coat. with long, agile fingers. Those pale eyes watched Logan carefully, as they watched everything. Logan didn't flinch. He isn't easy to intimidate. Magnus almost smiled and nodded imperceptivly, pleased. But, pleased with *what*? Pleased with a good man with whom he had no quarrel? Or simply a good opponent? It was impossible to tell.
"You intrigue me, Mister Logan," began Magnus, crossing relaxed arms over his chest. "It isn't often that I meet someone capable of inspiring such anger in an entire town. They all want you dead, you know. You must be quite a through bastard. I like that in a man."
Logan's eyes narrowed. "Who in hell *are* you, Mister?" His deep bass voice was almost a growl. It was a rhetorical question, really. There was never any doubt that Logan knew who Magnus was. And *what* he was.
Magnus blinked and in a instant his eyes were colder than the first advent of Winter. I thought he might kill Logan then and there. But, then, he threw back his silver head and laughed almost until the tears came. I decided I liked Logan's honest curses better.
"Why, in Hell, I'm no one at all," Magnus smiled. Logan frowned. He's not one for subtlety.
"You're a complicated man, Mr. Logan," Magnus continued. The ex-Confederate shook his dark head in quick denial, cutting him off.
"No, I ain't," he said. "It just suits ya ta think so, cuz that's gonna make it easier for ya to ta try to kill me, is all. I ain't hidin' a blamed thing. Ain't got no hidden motives or any such like. I'm a simple man. I just want what's mine. That bloodsucker Shaw stole something from me and I aim to git it back. Ain't nothin' complicated 'bout that." It was difficult to tell in the poor light of the lamplit basement, but it looked to me as if Magnus went even paler than usual. As pale as a sun polished desert bone.
"*Yer* another story, though, ain'tja, gunslinger?" observed Logan. "Oh, God, Logan!" I thought and I went cold all over. "Be careful what you say!"
"What do you mean?" said Magnus, slowly, the shadows in his eyes dancing in fear.
"I *mean*," replied Logan, "that somethin' crawled under yer skin a long time ago and it ain't done wigglin' around in there." Logan stomped out his cheroot beneath one booted heel. "Best be careful, friend," he advised softly. "It's aimin' for yer heart. I don't figure there's a lot left that it ain't already et."
Too many people underestimate Logan. He's ignorant and uneducated, yes. But he's not stupid. There's a lot of experience and intellect hiding behind that roughneck exterior. He doesn't miss much that goes on around him. It was was good to know that he hadn't been wasting his time since Magnus' arrival the previous week. He'd been watching and listening, apparently. Magnus fairly exploded out of his comfortable chair.
"You know *nothing* about me! Nothing!" he shouted at the small, disturbingly discerning man before him. Logan smiled. He doesn't do it often. Thank God. His one brown eye gleamed in the rapidly disappearing shadows as the rising sun began to filtering into the basement through the eastern window. He nodded.
"You got the right of that," he growled. "Don't want to, either. I know enough. The details ain't important. I been where you are." He grunted in self mockery. "Didn't like it much. I left."
"I'm going to kill you, you know," said Magnus, clearly. "Jean didn't change my mind about that." Logan began gathering supplies and stuffing them into the course burlap sack he had brought with him for the purpose.
"Didn't figure she would. Takes a lot to derail as much fear and hate as yer draggin around, Mister. More'n just a pretty face, that's Gospel. Or even somebody who really cares 'bout ya." Logan has sharp ears, so I'm sure he heard my sudden intake of breath at his incisive remark. Like surgical steel, Logan cuts right to the heart of things. Often, he doesn't realize what he's done until he sees the blood. But Magnus' intended victim gave no sign that he saw anyone bleeding as he threw the sack over his shoulder and faced Magnus squarely.
"I ain't afraid o' dyin', gunslinger," he said calmly, "but if I was, it'd still be a damn sight better'n bein' afraid o' livin', wouldn't it?"
Magnus said nothing. He just sat there, the cold metal of his gun clutched so tightly in his hand that I thought surely the delicate, carved ivory of the handles would shatter beneath the assault. He made not a single move to stop Logan when the ex-Confederate slipped into the murky shadows and disappeared with his urgently needed supplies. Not one single move. He just sat there with his eyes tightly shut against the world.
"What a piece of work is man," I said, my voice all but inaudible in it's husky fury. I left him there, then, as he wished to be.
As I told myself he *deserved* to be.
Alone and in pain.
End Part Three
*Cue Music From "The Good, The Bad And the Ugly"* On To Part 4! Ya'll!