"Just give me the whole bottle," he grumbles. The bartender continues cleaning glasses, peering at the dark, scruffy stranger dubiously. He looks kind of dangerous, so the bartender considers giving him what he wants. But a whole bottle...
"I said give me the whole damn bottle," the stranger growls, and the glint in his eye says that he is not in the mood for negotiating. The bartender puts his hands up in a gesture of surrender and then cautiously places the bottle in front of the stranger. He watches in fascination as the man guzzles a quarter of it in one go.
"Thanks," the stranger mutters, plunking the bottle down. He reaches inside his jacket for something. For a moment the bartender thinks the man is going to pull a weapon. But instead he pulls out a wad of cash and tosses in on the bar. "Now fuck off."
The bartender scuttles off, leaving the stranger to scowl over his bourbon.
"Wow. Somebody's in a cranky mood."
His body stiffens at the sound of the old woman's voice. Fuck. Did he really just let her sneak up on him like that? He's clearly losing his touch. He doesn't have to look to know who it is; he already knows just by her scent; that and the voice.
After a long moment, he finally unclenches his jaw enough to grind out the words.
"How'd you find me?" He asks without looking, his eyes staring straight forward at nothing.
"Wasn't easy, I'll tell you that much." The little old lady slowly climbs onto the barstool. He winces when he hears her joints creaking and popping.
She waves an arthritic hand at the bartender and orders a Sex on the Beach. Logan is about to raise his eyebrow and make a smart remark about her choice of drink, but stops short when he turns his head and actually sees her. The change is...not wholly unexpected. It has been, what, fifty-some years? But it's still a shock.
Fifty years...too long. Not long enough.
He wants to hug her, and at the same time, he wants to walk out that door and get as far away from her as possible. Hugging her would imply that he's glad to see her (which he isn't), that he missed her (which he didn't), and by proxy has missed everyone else from his old life (which he hasn't).
He stares at her as she brings her drink up to her mouth for a sip and then watches the glass shake as she sets it down, noting the slight tremor in her hands. Her hair is salt and pepper now, though it's mostly salt; her skin looks fragile, like wrinkled tissue paper. She's also about 4 inches shorter than he remembers.
"Take a picture, it'll last longer. In my case, literally," she says wryly and takes another sip. She sets the glass down again and swallows, releasing a sigh. "Geez, how 'bout a hug or something? I can't decide which is more insulting, the fact that you can't tell an old lady that she looks amazing for her age, or that your first words to me after all this time are 'How'd you find me'. And you were about to make fun of my Sex on the Beach, which, by the way, is fabulous, so don't hate."
He looks away and shifts uncomfortably. "Sorry. I wasn't expecting..." He trails off, then takes a swig of his drink.
She looks at him with amusement. "Expecting what? To be found in the middle of bumfuck, nowhere and caught off guard by little old me, or to see your dear friend Jubes looking like an ancient prune?"
His eyes dart to her for a moment before going back to his bottle, an uncomfortable silence stretching out between them. "Both, I guess."
She snorts at that. "Yeah, I hear ya, Wolvie. I was kind of caught off guard myself. Don't ask me how, I don't know. One day I'm a hot little potato with not a care in the world, and the next minute I'm shopping for bifocals and all the cute guys are calling me ma'am and asking if I need help crossing the street. Ma'am? Ugh. Where the hell did the time go? I mean I kind of saw it coming, but I didn't, know what I mean?"
Still the same Jubes, he thinks. Clearly the years have not affected her ability to run at the mouth.
"No, I don't suppose you do know what I mean," she says, taking another sip of her drink. "Must be nice, never having to deal with the aging process."
He looks at her sharply. The remark is just a little too close to home, and he wonders if maybe she meant it as a jab. She continues sipping her drink placidly, ignoring his glare.
"So what have you been doing with yourself all this time, Wolvie? Fighting the tough guys and fucking the groupies on a nightly basis I presume?"
He takes another swig and plunks the bottle down, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. "Yeah, you know me," he says without humor. "I'm just livin' it up every night, fighting and fucking, 'cause that's what the Wolverine does. I'm amazingly two-dimensional."
"Yeah, that's what I'd be doing if I had eternal youth. Livin' it up." He looks at her again as she swings her legs back and forth, apparently oblivious to his sarcasm. She's either oblivious, or she's needling him again. Her expression is unreadable as she sips her drink.
He's getting a little pissed. He hasn't seen her in five decades, and the first thing she does when she finds him is bust his balls? How 'bout a fucking hug from her? And what the hell does she know about living with eternal youth, anyway? If he could give it up for a normal life span, he would in a heartbeat. If she knew anything at all, she'd know that this wasn't living it up. What he's been doing is barely living. He's been existing, nothing more.
He wants to tell her a thing or two, but the words won't come. "It's not all it's cracked up to be," he finally manages to grind out.
"No? That's a bummer." She rests her chin in her hand and leans on the bar, looking at him. "I don't know, Wolvie. They say that youth is wasted on the young, and boy are they right. I look at my pruny ass in the mirror every day and think to myself that I'd love to have me one of those healing factors."
"You have no fuckin' idea what you're talking about," he growls, clenching his fists. Sharp bumps push up under the skin between his knuckles, and he has to close his eyes to calm down. It's the most emotion he's felt in a long time, considering that most of the time he just feels numb.
"Alright, alright," she concedes. "No need to get all growly and pointy at me." She takes another sip. "So, you're not livin' it up, then. I get it. What have you been doing?"
Walking the earth like a wraith. Alive on the outside, but inside...dead and dry, like an old husk. He grips the bottle and says nothing.
"C'mon, dude. You've been running for fifty-odd years now. You haven't seen or done anything noteworthy in all that time?
He bristles at her words. Running for fifty-odd years. She didn't say it out loud, but her intent was clear enough. Running scared is what she really meant.
She's not here to catch up with an old friend. She's here to punish him.
"Oh, I get it," she says with nod and a knowing smile like he just told her a big secret. "You haven't been running at all, have you? Wolvie's finally settled down! So, what, you have, like, a house now? A regular job? Oh!" She gasps. "A beautiful woman to warm your bed and make it all worthwhile?"
He stands up suddenly, his bar stool scraping loudly across the dirty wood floor.
"I am not having this conversation with you. Fuck this shit, I'm outta here. Have a nice life, what's left of it."
"Logan, wait." She drops the bravado, but he already has his back to her and is making his way towards the exit. "Wait! I want to talk to you!" She gets down from the stool, cursing her aching bones and lack of speed.
"You just did," he says without looking back. "Say hi to the old gang for me. Or not. I don't give a shit."
He ignores her and begins weaving his way through the bar patrons.
"I would say hi to the old gang," she calls out wistfully, "but they're all dead."
He stops in his tracks.
Dead. Can it really be true? He closes his eyes.
Somehow he thought he would sense it...feel it, even if no one had told him. That he would just...know when she finally passed from this earth. The fact that it happened without him feeling it hurts almost as much as knowing that it happened.
A stupid idea, he chides himself; just one last vestige of the ridiculous, romantic ideas he once secretly harbored and had long since buried after he left. And yet, it's an idea that he has never been able to let go.
He's been waiting for this. Waiting for the news one day that would either crush what little was left of his soul, or finally set him free. He doesn't feel free.
He stands there, feeling nauseous. Empty. Completely and utterly alone.
"They're all gone now...except for me and Rogue. We're the last two."
He whirls around. "What the fuck?" He growls, staring at her incredulously like she has just hit him upside the head with a shovel. He suddenly lets out heavy breath, like he has been holding it for a very long time. He points at her accusingly. "You fuckin' let me think she was dead," he yells, "and then you take it back in the next breath, like it's nothing? What is this, some kind of game to you?"
"I'm sorry it came out wrong," she apologizes.
"Came out wrong, huh? Bullshit. You knew exactly what you were saying, and what it would do to me." He's downright trembling with anger, and if he's honest with himself, relief. But mostly anger. He doesn't want to think about what the relief might mean. The emotional whiplash makes him want to claw something, but he settles for smashing a nearby chair and tossing aside the fragments.
"I didn't mean to...mislead you," Jubilee says calmly. "But how else was I going to stop you long enough to catch up with you? I'm an old lady, for goodness sake."
"Excuse me, ma'am. Is this man bothering you?" A handsome young blonde haired man in a cowboy hat is concerned for her well being, and he's brought his cute friend to help. They both eye Logan, evaluating how hard it will be to take him down. Logan is about to tell them to fuck off.
"Ma'am? Aw, damn it. See what I mean?" Jubilee frowns at Logan and shakes her head with disappointment.
She sighs, then puts on a smile and her best sweet little old lady voice. "Oh, that's so very kind of you, boys, but I'm just fine. I can take care of myself. Thank you very much, though."
The young men look at each other, but remain rooted to the spot, unconvinced.
"Are you sure, ma'am? We'd be happy to remove this gentleman from the bar and escort you safely to your car if you like."
Logan huffs at that. "I'd like to see you try."
"We'll do more than try, mister," says Blondie, who starts rolling up his sleeves.
Logan cracks his neck, and Jubilee can see that the shit is about to hit the fan.
"Now boys, please play nice," she says in her gentle-yet-authoritative grandma voice. She places a hand on the shoulders of the two young men. "I don't think my heart could take all the excitement. Please don't fight. Oh!" She pretends to falter.
Both men immediately rush to steady her, placing her hands on their arms for support.
"Oh my, you're both so strong. Please, I need to sit down." They carefully escort her to a table and pull out a chair for her, gingerly setting her down. Jubilee winks discreetly at Logan and he rolls his eyes.
"Such handsome, chivalrous men," she croons, patting their faces. "You remind me so much of my two grandsons. I bet the ladies are just lining up daily to get you boys on their dance cards, aren't they?" Blondie and Cutie look quite flattered and pleased, practically blushing at her compliment.
"Right. And on that note, I'm outta here. Have fun, 'grandma'." Logan turns and heads for the door. Jubilee is about to call after him, but Cutie is feeling extra proud and confident after all the praise, and he stands up to taunt Logan.
"That's right, walk away, dirtbag! You know you don't want none of this. We would have kicked your ass!"
Logan turns around slowly. "Is that right? Well why don't you just come on over and kick my ass right now?"
His smile is sinister enough to make the blood curdle. He's going to enjoy this.
"Ah, shit," Jubilee mutters under breath, closing her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose. Why couldn't Cutie have just kept his mouth shut?
Before she can even blink, the boys are being thrown across the room, crashing down on a table of bikers, and the entire bar has erupted into one huge brawl. Right smack in the middle of everything is Logan, of course.
She taps her foot and looks at her watch.
"You almost done, Wolvie? I've got places to be," she calls out.
"No one's stoppin' ya," he replies with a grunt as he knees another man in the gut.
Jubilee sighs. "I was kinda hoping you would be coming with me."
She watches as Logan puts a burly looking man in a sleeper hold. "Keep dreaming, Yellow. Ain't gonna happen."
"Pretty please, with sugar on top?"
"C'mon, don't make me beg," she pleads. "That's so not becoming to a woman of my stature."
"Pftt. A woman of your stature, huh? Don't worry, begging won't get you anywhere, either." He drops the now unconscious burly man to the floor with a thud and then staggers as another man jumps on his back and puts him in a chokehold.
Logan begins thrashing him around and the two slam into Jubilee's table, spilling her drink into her lap. Her mouth falls open as a river of cold Sex on the Beach rolls down her legs and splashes onto her bright yellow shoes.
"Ugh, that's it! I have had enough!" She slowly climbs to her feet, draws a deep breath, and with an angry yell, paffs an explosive spark from her hands so powerful that it knocks everyone in the bar off their feet.
A stunned silence follows as the entire room of men watches the tiny old woman, their faces frozen with confusion and awe. They've all been flattened to the floor in a circle around her, like trees in the blast radius of a comet that has struck the earth. The only sound that can be heard is an old country song whining from the jukebox and Jubilee's footsteps as she hobbles over to Logan.
"Fuck. That was pretty impressive." Logan pushes Mr. Chokehold off of him and staggers to his feet, brushing off his clothes. "Not bad for an old lady. I didn't think you'd be that powerful."
"Yeah, I'm like a fine wine. Or cheese or whatever. I've only gotten better with age," Jubilee replies dryly. "Now are you coming with me, or do I have to paff you into oblivion and have someone drag you to my car?"
He's about to say something smart, but suddenly, he just doesn't have it in him. The walls he has so carefully built over the years begin to crumble at the thought of seeing Rogue again.
"Look, Jubes, I told you," he says with a sigh. "Ain't gonna happen. I don't want to fight with you, especially in your condition..." Jubilee narrows her eyes with indignation. "but I can't go back there. Please, just...let me go."
Apology and misery are thick in his tired voice; longing and sorrow are etched in his face. Jubilee softens at his expression. She understands everything now. And she finally knows without a doubt: everything she suspected is true and that she is doing the right thing.
"She needs you, Logan. It's coming to the end now, and she needs you."
Logan closes his eyes. Please don't say that she needs me, he thinks. Not now.
He chose his path a long time ago and has seen it through for five decades. But not to the end. Not yet.
He hasn't been exactly happy, but he has found some measure of peace over the years that came with acceptance. But this, this is exactly what he has been afraid of, what set him on this path to begin with, and to go back now...all these years of longing and heartache and wandering and trying to find peace would be rendered...pointless.
He doesn't know if he can do it. Doesn't know if he has the strength to face this.
Jubilee's words ring in his ears. It's coming to the end now. She needs you.
An old memory comes rushing back to him, and he remembers the feeling, as strong as the night it happened. The night on the Statue of Liberty, when he realized that he would do anything, anything to answer her plaintive cry for help. He would put his claws through his own chest to get to her. He would let her take his life, if it meant that she could live.
He couldn't deny her then, and he can't deny her now.
The powerful call to answer her need is thrumming through his veins. It's more powerful than his fear, more powerful than him, and from that, he is forced to draw his strength.
"Ok." He opens his eyes. "I'll go."
. . .