Logan wanted to laugh, but he didn’t quite dare; Desmond “Anaconda” Mills was still pretty powerful even if he was only eight. His scowl was as ferocious as he could make it, but the riot of adorable black curls on his head dialed the intimidation factor way down.
“Helena says you can’t go in the kitchen.”
“Is that right?” Logan shot back, glancing at the boy, “And why would that be?”
“Because she’s mopping it and she’s already mad about the grape jelly Kitty tracked on the floor,” Desmond replied, moving past the man and heading down the hall. “I’m outta here.”
Logan waited until the boy disappeared around the corner and then stepped to the kitchen doorway, looking in, hearing a faint and unusual sound. He grinned.
Helena Anderson, House Mother for the Xavier School was indeed mopping the floor, bent over and displaying a finely rounded backside wrapped in a tight pair of cut offs. Logan noted the fringe around the edges, and had an impulse to reach over and tug one of them, just to make her jump. His initial interest had been in getting a beer, but the sight of Helen’s ass along with her tied off tee shirt was making the brew a secondary consideration.
She couldn’t hear him; her iPod was cranked up, and he recognized the sound as her soft humming along to The Rolling Stones “Under my Thumb.” His grin widened; out of all the songs Jagger had ever sung, this one would never apply to Helena. The woman had pride, determination, and the infuriating ability to get her way around a lot of things. Considering she worked in a school full of young and cocky mutants, that was a hell of an accomplishment. He leaned one hand against the doorway, reluctantly looking at the distant fridge at the far end of the kitchen. The floors gleamed. Logan looked at her lovely rounded ass, and within two seconds, Helena spun, glaring at him. She tugged the buds out of her ears.
“Logan, stop leering at me. We’ve discussed this before.”
“You lectured,” he corrected gruffly, trying not to grin. “I pretended to listen. But if you’re going to stick your booty in tight cutoffs and wave it around, I don’t think I’m too out of line in checking it out.”
“I’m not waving it around!” Helena protested, her face pink. Logan had an infuriating way of coming off as reasonable even when she knew perfectly well his mangy mood was sheer amusement. She sensed his lust being carefully held back, and his curiosity once more. That, and thirst. “What do you want?”
“Loaded question, doncha think?” came his instant reply. “At the moment I’d settle for a beer though.”
Helena looked at the floor and then back up at Logan, her exasperation clear as she blew a loose strand of hair from her eyes. “Oh sure, yeah, those big dirty motorcycle boots won’t leave a trace on my clean linoleum.” She tried to sound gruff, and for the most part carried it off, but Logan heard a little quaver in her voice that made his grin widen.
“Fine. I can take my boots off.”
“You’ll get your socks wet.”
“Logan! That’s just . . . gross!” she snapped back, trying not to grin herself now. She pulled the bucket over and set the mop against the wall, then looked down at the damp towel she was standing on. “If I had another one, you could sort of walk it over, but I don’t. So you’re NOT coming in the kitchen.”
“I. Want. A. Beer,” he rumbled, not quite as amused now. Helena shook her head.
“You shall not pass.”
“That’s what YOU think.” Moving swiftly he reached over his shoulders and peeled off his shirt, throwing it on the floor. Helena gaped at it, and moved to pick it up, unprepared for the strong arms that encircled her waist and hauled her up. She gave a yelp that was cut off by her solar plexus hitting Logan’s shoulder and driving the breath from her. He held her up over his bare shoulder and stepped onto the shirt, laughing low.
“Gandalf you aren’t, honey. Since I don’t want you chasing me and messing up your pretty floor, I’ll just take you along. Want a beer?”
“Put . . . me . . .” Helena gasped, “Down!” It was hard for her to speak; not only had she hit his shoulder hard, the sudden sensory input of his furry bare skin against her exposed stomach and thighs made it hard to concentrate, Logan shook his head, his hair brushing the side of her waist.
“I will, eventually. Come on—” He shuffled across the floor, his shirt wiping along the linoleum, one arm looped easily over his shoulder, keeping her draped there. Wisely she’d stopped struggling, but the rounded swell of her butt against the side of his face had him grinning. “Ya know, we’re sort of dancing cheek to cheek here—“
“Logan---” Helena growled, trying not to let her smirk show in her voice. It was a terrible pun, but accurate. She braced her hands down his back, justifying that she needed to so she wouldn’t fall off. Never mind that the man had muscles, warm and hard flexing with every step. She tried not to think about that, but after two more steps the man under her rumbled.
“Oooh a massage too—this trip to the kitchen is definitely getting better all the time.”
“I’m NOT massaging you, I’m trying not to fall off!” Helena protested, flushing pink. Logan laughed.
“You’re not gonna fall. I’m not evil enough—or stupid enough-- to drop you,” came his assurance. He’d crossed the wet linoleum, dragging his shirt under his shuffling boots. When Logan reached the far side, he gently set Helena down on the counter next to the refrigerator. “There, sitting pretty, right?”
“Sitting anyway,” she agreed, still blushing a bit. Logan yanked open the door just as his cell phone rang; lazily he pulled it out and flipped it open.
“Logan. I need some help,” Hank murmured firmly.
As he fished along the shelves for a beer, Logan gave a grunt to indicate he was still listening.
“I have a guest coming back with me and I need to have Charles make arrangements with her current employer in a manner that diverts suspicion. I also need a listing of any information you can get on mutant . . . recruitment . . . programs being run covertly by the government. I’m too high profile to do any digging at the moment particularly while on the road.”
Logan’s nostrils flared for a moment, and his hand on the beer tightened. “Just great. Spooks blackbagging us now—anything else, Blue?”
“I’d suggest being cautious on any trips into town until we find more on whatever the program is that might be underway. I have—” Hank’s voice grew grimmer, “—A few individuals to deal with here.”
“Yeah? Well deal ‘em one for me. I’ll get on it and get back to you,” Logan muttered, flipping the phone shut. He absently twisted the cap off the beer and passed it to Helena, who took it and frowned when he moved to flip the cap over his shoulder. He shoved it in his pocket instead.
“You’re pissed, and it’s not about the floor,” she commented. “Seriously pissed.” Carefully Helena took a deep swig, swallowing hard, and Logan watched her throat as she did so, appreciating the beautiful lines of her neck.
“That I am. Blue thinks there’s a little move by the government to snatch mutants, and I wouldn’t be a damned bit surprised to find out it’s true.” He pulled out another bottle and scowled at it for a long, considering moment. “Never heard of this brand.”
“Try it,” Helena murmured. “You might like it.”
Together, they stepped out of Waffle World into the night. A breeze blew up along the streets, moving the heat along, and Lucy leaned against Hank, her voice low. “The van--”
“My car,” Hank countered. “A health fair van is hardly discreet, and if we’re followed, all they’ll find from the license plate is that my vehicle a rental.”
“You’re infuriatingly logical,” Lucy sighed, fishing for her cell phone. “I suppose I should let Ian and Londie know--”
“Not yet,” Hank warned softly. “Your phone may be tapped. Let’s get somewhere safe first.” He offered the crook of his arm, his smile gentle, and Lucy linked her own into it, her momentary annoyance fading under his courtesy and concern.
There was nothing but sincerity in his comforting scent, and she trusted that. Carefully she tucked her cell phone away, sighing. “Very well. Lead on, McCoy.”
He chuckled, and as they passed under a streetlight, she noted he was slightly red. “This is . . . very unlike me,” he confessed. “I would like it on the record that I’m not in the habit of escorting dinner companions back to my hotel room.”
“Yes, well I don’t let myself be escorted back to hotel rooms,” Lucy informed him gently, “but I’m not thrilled about being grabbed, choloroformed and thrown into the backs of vans, either.”
Hank gave a little growl. “Certainly that will never happen on my watch.” His utter conviction made Lucy smile again, and she looked over her shoulder, seeing no one behind them as they strode along the sidewalk. They said nothing further until Hank had helped her into his car and they were pulling away from the parking lot.
He sighed. “We are being followed; I thought we would be.”
“Are you sure?” Even as she asked it, Lucy shrank down in the passenger seat, feeling her anxiety increase. Hank reached over one large blue hand, lightly patting hers.
“We don’t have far to go, and we’ll be safe with other people around. You can call your associates and reassure them from the hotel,” Hank told her quietly. “Although to be honest, it might be better to stay with me now that we’ve been seen together.”
“I can’t do that!” Lucy protested automatically. She could smell a tinge of worry on Hank, and knew she was reacting to it; closing her eyes, Lucy worked to control her tension. She knew she’d succeeded when Hank sighed, his big hands loosening on the wheel. “Sorry—I just meant—that’s a bit extreme, isn’t it?”
“Doctor San Marcos—Lucy—you’re one of us,” he told her quietly. “Not just a mutant, but also part of what Charles, I and the others are working for. You’ve been helping us for years, and you matter very much, so I for one am not about to allow you to fall victim to the heinous intent of those men.”
She turned to look at him, mouth slightly ajar, and before she saw it, Lucy caught the scent of his blush, warm and earnest.
“My God, they really don’t make them like you anymore, Hank McCoy,” Lucy murmured, feeling a flush of admiration and amusement.
Even in the dim light of the car, she could sense his blush deepening, but he merely smiled and drove on.
The Double Tree Inn was brightly lit, with a few people in the main lobby. A few looked up at them as they walked in, but Hank paid no attention and steered Lucy to the bank of elevators on the far side, making sure they weren’t moving too slowly or too quickly. The first car was full, but the second was empty, and they stepped in together. Hank sighed and punched the button for the sixteenth floor. “Are you all right?”
“Nervous,” Lucy admitted, although she tried to hold back the scent. “Hank—I don’t . . .”
“There are two beds, and in any case I’m prepared to stay awake tonight,” he rumbled. “I have more than enough paperwork as it is.”
“No, I didn’t mean,” she began quietly as the car reached the right floor and the doors opened, “that I’m not grateful, but I don’t want to be an imposition. I can check into my own room, you know.”
“That would require your credit card, which is traceable,” Hank pointed out gently. “Believe me, having a guest is no imposition.” He caught her gaze and held it. “You can trust me, Lucy.”
She flushed. “I know. I just—all of this is sort of overwhelming. I’m used to staying under the radar and not being . . .”
“Hunted?” Hank filled in, stepping out of the elevator. “I understand, but the situation has changed, my dear.”
His room was one of the larger suites. Lucy stepped inside, noting the living room area with comfortable chairs, and felt better about the space. She watched as Hank hung his coat up and loosened his tie, sighing a bit. “Please, make yourself comfortable. My phone—” He handed her his cell, a slightly larger model than Lucy had seen before. “Check in with your colleagues—I insist.”
“Thanks.” She took the phone from him and moved off, finding the bathroom and dialing away. When she emerged a while later, Hank was seated at the table near the window, already engrossed in a pile of papers and files. He looked up, over the rim of his reading glasses, flashing Lucy a quick smile, and she thought he looked unexpectedly adorable.
She let her scent say so, and seeing Hank clear his throat made her smirk.
“I told Ian I had an emergency come up and that I’d check in with him tomorrow about my plans. He and Londie should be able to handle the rest of the Health Faire—they both owe me favors. What I don’t know is what those plans are, Hank McCoy.”
He nodded. “I’ve sent an e-mail to Charles, and he’s working now to find out exactly who your potential assailants are; until we hear back, I’d rather we stayed together.”
Lucy nodded and let her glance drop to the papers in front on Hank. “Anything I can help with?”
He hesitated, then perked up. “Actually, yes. I’d like your input on our current healthcare set-up at the school, with a particular eye on what could be improved or expanded. And after that, what long-range plans would you suggest for the transition from pediatric care to standard adult care for mutants?”
Lucy blinked. “Are you serious, Hank?”
He looked at her, and managed a wry look. “Utterly. I can’t think of anyone more qualified to offer the insights. And while you do that, I might be able to get a handle on some of these asylum requests.”
She took a breath, savoring his old book scent again, and settled into the chair opposite him. “All right then, but I warn you; you may not agree with some of my ideas.”
“My dear, I relish the opportunity for debate,” he assured her, and handed over a thick folder.
They worked in tandem long into the early hours of the morning, conferring, discussing, and occasionally disagreeing over the finer points of curriculum, preventative medicine and health care. Lucy enjoyed the evening; Hank had a ferocious intellect and good insights, sprinkled through with wit and compassion. He listened so intently that she got a little self-conscious at times, but she appreciated the chance to air a few ideas she had on mutant pediatrics with someone who understood both medicine and the unique status of the patients.
It felt good, she realized, to be able to relax with someone without having to guard her every reaction. Lucy hadn’t realized how restricted she’d kept herself, and the evening was a bit of a revelation.
For his part, Hank was quietly, deeply impressed. Lucy San Marcos was talking her way into being offered the post of chief physician at Xavier’s school without even realizing it, and Hank suspected Charles would agree once he’d met her. It was clear that she not only understood the delicacy of treating mutants, but also had a working and fundamental understanding of children and young adults. Her advocacy for them came through time and time again, and her suggestions were sound.
By two in the morning, Hank realized they’d not only drafted out a fully revised health care intake for new school patients, but also had a good start on a revised health curriculum as well. Guiltily he stifled a yawn and reached over to pat Lucy’s hand. “I suggest we pack this up and get some sleep, Lucy. I have a luncheon with the lieutenant governor about a state field office, and after that, we have a plane to catch to New York.”
“We?” she mumbled. “I wish I had a toothbrush.”
“We. I haven’t heard back from Charles yet,” Hank reminded her, glancing at the open laptop. “Let us compromise. Sleep now, then perhaps shop for some necessities for you in the morning and see if any messages come in.”
“I suppose you’re right, “Lucy covered a yawn of her own with her palm. “E-excuse me.”
“Sleep,” Hank urged. “I will take the bed near the door. Do you need the light on?”
Lucy rolled her eyes, smiling. “No, I’m fine with the dark, and I appreciate everything, even if I’m not always clear about saying so.” She reached out and lightly touched his hand; the contact gentle and warm. Hank nodded.
It was a little awkward; Lucy stripped down to her underwear in the bathroom and came out wrapped in a towel, sliding between the covers and peeling the towel off once she was in bed. Hank had put out the ‘do not disturb’ sign and was padding around barefoot, fishing out pajama bottoms from his suitcase. He took his turn in the bathroom and returned, looking slightly self-conscious in all his bare-chested glory. “Sorry about this—”
“You have nothing to apologize for,” Lucy murmured firmly. “Honestly, I am a doctor; I have seen chests before.”
This seemed to mollify him; Hank managed a sheepish look before moving to his bed and climbing in with a grateful groan even as the box spring under him creaked. Lucy reached over to set her glasses down and flick out the light, her voice soft. “Goodnight, Hank.”
“Goodnight, my dear,” he murmured, settling down in the dark.