Disclaimer: The characters Wolverine and Jubilee belong to Marvel, not to me, and I am merely borrowing them for a while. This story was written purely for entertainment purposes, and no money is being made off of it.
This is a sequel to the very touching "Late Fragments" by Ascian, a wonderful story about Wolverine and Jubilee at the end of her life. To avoid confusion, and because this story contains huge spoilers, read it first.
The silent man sat in a dark corner of the bar, nursing a beer long since warmed to the temperature of the large palms cradling it. Dark, feral eyes were narrowed against the acrid sting of the cigarette smoke that filled the cramped room. The same smoke also ripped at his sensitive nose, causing warm echoes of pain to worm their way into his brain. But Wolverine didn't care; the sensation was a familiar one that brought back memories of countless other bars, just like this one, scattered across the globe.
He lifted the bottle made of heavy brown glass to his lips and took a hearty swig, grimacing at the luke warm liquid that slid down his throat, leaving a trail of flat bubbles behind it. He briefly considered calling over the scantily clad waitress to refresh the beer, but he disregarded the idea, instead taking another pull from the bottle.
From across the room came to sound of light, feminine laughter, overflowing with youth and joy in life. The laughter was so like *hers* that Wolverine whipped his head around to look for her before he remembered.
She was gone.
His heart contracted so sharply that Wolverine reached up to rub his chest at the pain, as if it was caused by a physical fault in his body. Oh, God, how long had it been since he had last heard her laughter, since he had last looked into her bright blue eyes and seen the mischief dancing within, since he had held her next to his heart and felt her tiny hands reach up to rest upon his broad chest? Eighteen years, eleven months, and one week. The man was momentarily surprised at the accuracy with which his mind answered the anguished queries of his heart, but he supposed he shouldn't be. He had a tally of each moment he had been without her engraved upon his heart with indelible marks.
Eighteen years, eleven months, and one week since Jubilee had died in his arms, externally an old woman, though the flame of youth still burnt strong within. Wolverine's eyes turned inwards as his mind flew back, across the years he'd lived since then, to the morning she had died.
* * * *
He had spent the whole night cradling her sleeping form in his arms, but he hadn't slept himself. Logan supposed now that he had somehow known those would he his last hours with her. The pale pink streaks announcing the coming of the sun had just begun to inch their way across the sky when Logan had felt her shift.
He opened his eyes and looked down at her face, wrinkled by her long years on earth, but still as beautiful to him as the day he had first seen her, a rambunctious teenager warily eyeing his crucified form. Her blue eyes, faintly clouded with the beginnings of cataracts, gazed up at him steadily, as if she was trying to memorise his craggy features. She smiled, a sad, sweet smile that deepened the laugh lines around her eyes and mouth.
"I love you, Wolvie." Again, the same bitter sweet smile, accompanied by a gentle brush of a tiny hand on his cheek. And then nothing.
He felt her leave.
Ignoring the liquid silver pouring down his cheeks, he buried his head in the dainty crook of her shoulder and neck, gathering her slender frame to him. He felt a rumble start deep in his belly slowly rising to his throat before he threw back his head and let out the anguished keen of a mortally wounded beast. Again and again, he cried out his grief to the world in a primitive wail that emerged from the very depths of his soul.
From outside the isolated cabin, a single wolf cried out in wild harmony with Logan, amplifying and rebounding his grief back and back again.
Then silence. . .
* * * *
The frozen ground resisted momentarily, then gave way under a series of savage digs with hard, bone claws. Logan knelt over the small patch he had cleared in the snow. A strong shovel lay a couple of feet away, but he ignored it, needing to expel some of the violent feelings whirling beneath his breast bone. The damp was beginning to seep through his jeans, and the chill of the winter air was drawing goose bumps from his shirtless torso, but he ignored both sensations as easily as if they didn't exist. They didn't matter.
Nothing mattered anymore.
* * * *
Roughly shaking his head, Wolverine returned to his surroundings. The bar had emptied considerably while he had been absorbed in his memories, and his beer had gone completely flat. Draining the last dregs of the amber liquid, he grabbed the brown leather cowboy hat from the table next to him and stood up. Wolverine shoved the hat low on his head, pulling the brim down to just above his eyes, and was about to leave, when something stopped him.
There was a subtle shift in the atmosphere, so slight he almost missed it, even though he had trained himself over the years to be aware of just such shifts. The mood had gone from the normal, sodden feel of your average bar to something darker, uglier.
Beneath the brim of the hat, Wolverine's eyes flicked around the room, eyeing each of it's occupants, dismissing those that posed no threat. He acknowledged, then ignored, the man in a wrinkled suit sitting at the bar, a collection of shot glasses at his elbow and another held in his shaky hand, two women, sitting opposite Wolverine's table, in another dark corner, quietly talking over half empty glasses of something amber, and another man, nearly passed out on a large table in the middle of the room. A chorus of lewd laughter finally drew his attention to two tables pushed together between the old jukebox covered in flashing neon lights and the end of the bar.
A group of seven men, their features on the verge of losing the tautness of youth, sat around the table. The table itself was covered in empty glasses with long streams of white foam trailing down their sides, and five large beer pitchers with only the very dregs left at the bottom. A few crumpled napkins were littered across the surface, wet with rings of condensation and alcohol. All were adorned in a semi-uniform of worn checked shirts and dirty jeans with holes at the knees which left their bumpy knees to stick out, surrounded by frayed white threads. Six of the men were watching the last, who was sitting at the end of the table closest to the bar.
He had rumpled, greasy dark hair that hung over his eyes and collar, and a square chin that bristled with a straggly five o'clock shadow. Or at least, a five o'clock shadow from three days ago. He was the biggest of the group, with hulking shoulders and thick arms, though his size looked as though it could be attributed to either muscle or fat.
But the thing that was so entertaining the other six men, and was causing the ugly feel to the air, was the small woman struggling from within the confines of the big man's right arm.
She was small and slender, barely taller than the seated man, and dressed in the tight waitress uniform. Torn jean shorts barely covering her rounded behind showed off her long legs, sleek muscles shifting beneath her skin as she tried to kick the goon in the shin. A snug t-shirt, torn off above her flat belly, wide neckline slipping off of her left shoulder to reveal the strap of a halter top as she struggled, was emblazoned with the name of the dingy bar. She had short, light brown hair, the nondescript strands barely brushing her ears. Two small clips kept the fine strands off of her forehead. As she whipped her head around, Wolverine caught sight of a pair of blazing blue eyes, narrowed in anger. Eyebrows, a shade or two darker than her hair, were lowered like little demon wings over her angry eyes. A wide mouth was drawn taut over teeth bared in a snarl strangely reminiscent of Wolverine's own.
"Let me go, you creep!" she cried out in a high, youthful voice. Unable to break free, she twisted lithely and began to whack at the guy with her thick plastic tray. With a wordless howl of rage, the man shoved her away from him with a violent movement. She was propelled into the bar and collapsed in a boneless heap. The goon stood and moved over the faintly groaning heap on the floor and raised his fist. He was about to bring it down with shattering force when he felt an iron band closed around his wrist.
Wolverine wondered, in a private corner of his mind, what he was doing. The little waitress was of no concern of his. But some small part of him, the same part that had once pushed him to join the super hero team known as the X-Men, wouldn't let him stand idly by as an innocent was hurt.
With a startled squawk, the man twisted around Wolverine's grip on his wrist to face the much smaller man. His wide, washed out green eyes lost their look of surprise as they took in the much shorter stature of the man before him, Wolverine's head barely reaching the man's shoulder. Half drunk as he was, the man also mistook the lived-in features of Wolverine's face, half visible beneath the shadow of his hat, to mean that he was old, and probably slow. A wide, nasty grin split the man's face.
"Well, well, what do we have here?" He spoke in a loud voice, brazenly posturing in front of his friends. He tossed a laughing look over his shoulder at those friends, who were still seated at the table, watching the action unfold. "It seems like the little man wants to start something with Jerry Bokane!" The greasy man said his name with that special emphasis that meant it should mean something. Wolverine had never heard of him.
In a low, flat voice that resonated with deadly promise, Wolverine said, "Leave the girl alone."
Jerry flinched slightly at the sound of the older man's voice, and began to doubt his former bravado in front of his friends. The voice of reason in the back of his mind whispered in his ear that it would probably be best to simply let it lie. This was not a man to be messed with, regardless of his less than titanic stature. Weary eyes mentally measured the breadth of Wolverine's shoulders and chest, registering the brute strength that they possessed. Sweating slightly, Jerry wondered how he had missed those shoulders in his first assessment of his opponent.
About to back down, Jerry heard one of his friends shift, and glanced over his shoulder at them. They sat, watching with smug eyes, the tableau before them. They expected Jerry to have no trouble beating the little man who was challenging him. Jerry's pride rose up, drowning his voice of reason in it's wake, and cast a red glow on the larger man's mind. His self-confidence bolstered by his drunken arrogance, he turned back to face Wolverine.
Wolverine had watched the play of emotions run across Jerry's face and knew, almost before Jerry did, when the other man had felt cowed, had been about to back down. A stab of disappointment had spiked into the little Canadian's consciousness, only to be forgotten as the presence of his friends had spurred the large, dirty man to continue on his path.
Carefully watching Jerry's wishy-washy eyes, Wolverine stepped to the side just as a clumsy punch was thrown. It was apparent that the other man had not expected Wolverine to be able to dodge. Wolverine nearly snorted in contempt. The man had obviously spent too much time fighting drunks who couldn't see a punch coming from a day away, no matter how slow you were. The raw strength behind the attempted strike was formidable, but no match for Wolverine's.
As Jerry stumbled, thrown off balance by the lack of resistance to his punch, Wolverine slipped smoothly in next to him, sticking a booted foot between the other man's. Jerry began to stumble, and waved his ham like hands around in desperate attempt to prevent his harsh meeting of the floor. Wolverine batted away the frantic hands, stepping inside of them to drive a single punch into the surprised man's face.
And then it was over.
The fight, if it could even be dignified with such a name, had lasted mere seconds. His movements seeming like one, smooth blur, Wolverine had taken down the much larger man without even loosing his battered cowboy hat. The lanky, near-youths that had sat placidly at their table as one of their own had challenged the stranger eyed Wolverine warily. One or two momentarily considered the concept of continuing the fight on Jerry's behalf, but then reconsidered. No one wanted to tangle with the stranger. Gathering up their things, along with their unconscious friend, the small ground left the bar.
Almost inaudible under the sounds of the rowdy groups leaving, the heap on the floor next to the bar gave a pained moan. Wolverine whipped his head around to see the waitress push herself into a seated position and place a hand on her temple. He walked over to where she sat on the floor, and stuck out his hand to help her off the floor.
She started as the large, hairy hand was thrust in front of her face. Allowing her eyes to travel over the thick wrist attached to the hand, and the sinewy forearm above that, she eventually reached the face of her rescuer.
"I won't bite," Wolverine barked as the woman stared at his face, wide eyed and unblinking. No, he suddenly amended as he studied the fine boned face a little closer, this was no woman. Too young. She couldn't be more than sixteen, though it was hard to tell, as her expressive face was constantly shifting. There was a slight pull on his arm as the waitress grabbed his hand and hoisted herself to her feet. Wolverine, catching sight of her wince as she straightened, narrowed his eyes and asked, "Are you hurt?"
"No, just a little sore where I landed." She didn't seem to be nervous of him. Even though she had appeared to shy away a few moments ago, her gaze was direct and frank, without the slightest shadow of fear. There was something familiar about the brash light in her eyes, but Wolverine couldn't put his finger on what it reminded him of.
To be honest, Sary King didn't know what to make of the situation. She bluntly stared at the man who had just beaten to a pulp the toughest guy in the bar. Almost as short as she was, and Sary was pretty short, he more than made up for his lack of height with an overabundance of muscle. His broad shoulders lead down to thick arms and large, rough looking hands with an identical, strange pattern of scars on the backs of each. Wide chest, flat stomach, trim hips, and legs that were as muscled as his arms and shoulders. But there was something else, something not as definable, that made him seem . . . Well, rather dangerous. Sary looked dead into the sharp dark eyes beneath the brim his hat, and suddenly recognised where that dangerous feeling came from.
There was something feral in those eyes, and in the way that he carried himself, that made a her think of a wild wolf, coiled and poised to pounce. Somewhere in the back of her head, Sary supposed that she should be feeling some level of wariness when facing the creature before her, but somehow, she couldn't find any such feelings within her.
"SARY!!!!!!!!!" Sary whipped her head around at the sound of her name being screamed above the raucous country song twanging from the jukebox. Her boss, and the owner of the bar, was stalking towards her. His fat face was flushed a bright red, for once matching the colour of his turnip nose, which was always a sort of fluorescent plum. The flush extended up to his forehead stopping abruptly where his hair line had once been, many years before, leaving behind a broad expanse of shining white cranium. Small, pudgy fingers were opening and closing in an abortive choking motion as he stalked through the chaos left by the fight until he was standing before the pair. "What the hell is goin' on here! What have you done, now, you little bitch??!!"
Sary felt a warm wash of red rage begin to rise from her belly, but forced it down. Exerting an extra effort to be meek, she stood and weathered her boss's rage. She really needed the job. "I'm sorry Mr. Tukins," she answered, eyes on the ground, forgetting about the stranger who had come to her rescue. "Jerry Bokane grabbed me again, and-"
"Damn you, Sary!" Mr. Tukins rudely cut her off. "You've been nothing but trouble since the day I hired you!"
"I-" Sary's small voice was cut off by the low, rumbling voice of the man behind her.
"The bastard pushed her into the bar so hard that she lost consciousness. You have no business blamin' her for that."
Tukins didn't look even look up as he responded. If he had, the round man might have rethought his reply. "Of COURSE it's her fault. Sary's a nothing but a little slut who gets her kicks out of making men fight over her and-" The sound of his voice was cut off abruptly as Wolverine, unwilling to listen to anymore of his trash talk about the young girl, backhanded the idiot right in his flapping, fishy lips. A loud thump signalled Mr. Tukins' body meeting the floor.
"Oh, crap!" The waitress muttered. Wolverine raised a single, bushy eyebrow at the exclamation. Sary knelt next to her fallen boss, slapping his cheek gently to rouse him, all the while glaring at the man responsible for his unconscious state. That was rather surprising. Gone was the meek creature who bowed and scraped to the obese bar owner, a spitting little cat in it's place. "He's going to fire me for sure, now. Thanks a bunch, bud."
Wolverine didn't say anything, just stood and stared at the girl. She looked down at the prostrate man a moment longer, her high forehead furrowed, then she appeared to come to a decision. Rising gracefully from the floor, she poked at Tukins with a small foot and looked back up at Wolverine. "Ah, forget it. It would only have been so long before I snapped and quit anyway. He's a jerk, and a bitch to work for." With that, she pulled off the cropped t-shirt that served as her uniform and dropped it over her ex-boss's head, leaving her clad in a bright red tank top that clung to her youthful curves.
"Right." Wolverine gave her a brisk nod and turned to leave, tamping down the protective urges he was feeling towards the elfin girl. After Jubilee's death, he had sworn off protégés. Eventually, he always lost them, and it always hurt so much. Besides, it would have reminded to much of her.
Pushing through the heavy glass door, he stepped into the parking lot, the humid air hitting his body like a solid wall. Starting across the parking lot, he was still battling with the impulse to go back for Sary when he heard the door open and swing shut behind him. A light, spicy scent tickled at his nose, his enhanced sense of smell no longer damped by a heavy haze of smoke. At the same time as he identified the quick footsteps coming up behind him, a voice called out.
"Hey wait up!" Sary lurched to a stop in front of him, the thick soles of her black army boots planted solidly a shoulder's width apart. Thrown over her tank top was a black bomber jacket, the back embroidered with a red and gold star-burst. Slung across her chest was a large canvass tote bag in army green, packed to overflowing with what looked like all of Sary's possessions. Her small, slender hands were encased in a pair of fingerless, bright blue gloves. The expression on her open face was an endearing mix of bravado and vulnerability, both tinged with an oddly familiar brashness.
"What d'ya want, girl?" Wolverine snarled, then winced. He hadn't meant for it to come out so harsh.
Seemingly unintimidated, Sary answered, "Well, I was just wondering if I could maybe catch a ride with you or something." She asked the question nonchalantly, as if the answer didn't really matter to her, as if she didn't really want to go with the enigmatic man. The moment stretched silent as Wolverine simply looked at her. Sary began to fidget and back-pedal. "Hey, y'know what? Never mind. It was a stupid idea. I mean, I don't even know your name or anything, and you've already bailed me out once tonight. You don't need to play taxi for me, or anything like that-"
"Logan." The single word was barked out in a low voice, stopping the rambling in it's tracks.
Sary blinked, not understanding. "What?"
"My name. Logan. Or Wolverine, if ya prefer." Though outwardly impassive, Wolverine was spinning with confusion. He hadn't intended to offer his name, or any other information. In keeping with his swearing off sidekicks, he'd intended to just rebuff her and walk away. It wasn't that an uninhabited area, getting a cab wouldn't have been a problem. He certainly hadn't had any intention of offering her a ride. However, now, he found that he couldn't do it. "C'mon. My jeep's over here."
A bright, impish smile broke over Sary's face, making her seem even younger than she had unconscious. "Thanks, Wolvie!"
Wolverine, heading in the direction of his vehicle, stopped in his tracks. *Wolvie . . .* All of a sudden a memory, the memory of his last night with Jubilee, over took him.
*"You believe in reincarnation, Wolvie?"
Logan shrugged, pulling the covers higher over her back and shoulders. "I don't know. Never thought about it much. Suppose I was too busy thinkin' about this life to worry what the next might be like."
Jubilee grinned faintly, and Logan's heart fluttered at the sight of the old spark in her face. "I believe in it," she whispered. "And you know what? I'll be back, Wolvie. And I'll find you. I promise."
He swallowed heavily, and tightened his grip around her waist. "How will I know you?"
She placed a hand on top of his own, and squeezed. "I'll be the firecracker tagging after you."*
Could it be? After all that he had seen in his extraordinarily long life, Wolverine had long ago accepted that just about anything was possible, but this . . . Looking at the girl in front of him, and Sary was little more than a girl, slightly older than Jubilee the first time he had seen her, Wolverine rolled the idea around in his head, tasting it, testing it for a sense of rightness.
It was possible . . . There was a tough-as-nails attitude coupled with aching vulnerability that could be seen in both girls, though Jubilee had grown out of it long before she died. Something about the way she held her head, the way her eyes coolly regarded the world, so nonchalant, yet at the same time absorbed by everything she saw.
For the first time, in a very, very long time, Wolverine smiled.
Maybe, just maybe, his firecracker was back, bringing with her a light that had been missing for too long.