Homecomings: Chapter 32
Chapter Thirty-Two: Do You Realize?
The interior of the Summers' home resembled that of a rugged cottage. A tribute to Jean's parents' home in Connecticut, the main floor was filled with simple New England furnishings; some new, some purchased from various flea markets in Westchester. Navy ticking stripes and tattersalls complemented indigo quilts, creamy wool cables, cashmere knits and shearling throws. The faint scent of sweet pine emanated from the hardwood floors, reminiscent of the Grey home.
That late spring afternoon found Jean Grey-Summers in the living room of her home. Off from her duties as an instructor, Professor Xavier's favorite pupil took some time to relax. She was dressed casually in a navy, ribbed sweater jacket and a pair of white, cropped shorts, and seated on the Victorian-inspired settee her father had given to her and Scott for their wedding present. The mahogany finished frame featured scrolls and shell motifs, warmed by a cozy, wool bouclˇ¦ She placed a fringed, Harwich Port, windowpane throw pillow behind her back. Her glass of iced tea was on an Oxfordshire bar tray. A gift from Professor Xavier years ago, the tray was made from a heft of antique hotel silver.
The statuesque redhead was flipping through the latest issue of an entertaining magazine. She was searching for possible ideas for Jubilee's upcoming birthday party. In spite of the fact that the young girl's birthday was a month away, it was Jean's practice to prepare in advance. Jean's other motivation for planning early stemmed from the fact that it was Jubilee's eighteenth birthday, a special milestone. As she read through the articles, the telepath began to note ideas for themes, menus, party favors, and music selection.
She had found an interesting recipe for cherry lemonade when she heard a knock at the door. Rising to her feet, she gracefully strolled to the front door. Planning the menu and theme for the party would have to wait for now, she decided.
She opened the door, tossing her Titian-red hair over one shoulder. "Logan," she said in greeting.
"Jeannie," Logan replied, nodding. Freshly showered, his dark hair was still damp, but the two trademark points had already formed. He was dressed casually as usual in a white T-shirt, faded jeans, and black boots under his black X-Men field jacket.
"What can I do for you today?" she inquired, tucking the magazine under her arm.
He grinded his cigar between his teeth. "Is the kid around?"
Jean shook her head. "I'm sorry, but Jubilee went to the mall with Paige for the afternoon. Was she expecting you?"
Logan masked the disappointment by grunting. "Nah. Just droppin' by to see how she's doing."
For the past several weeks, he had noticed that the young girl was quieter and more withdrawn than usual. When he had approached her as to what was the matter, she would smile and reassure him that he need not worry, that she was simply tired from the school year. Unfortunately, she had chosen to lie to a man who could read her like an open book. While he had decided not to pursue the issue, he was not any less worried.
"Do you know when she'll be back?" he asked, puffing on his cigar.
"They didn't say. The two of them left about an hour ago. You know Jubilee and the mall." Jean didn't need to speak about the former mallrat's addiction to shopping. It was legendary around the mansion, much to the chagrin of Scott and Logan, who were often the ones financially responsible for her sprees. Fortunately, as she grew older, the sprees lessened in frequency.
His eyes flicked to the magazine Jean held. "Easy readin' on your day off?" he asked, amused.
She followed his gaze and pulled out the magazine, showing him the glossy cover. "Kind of," she admitted, green eyes twinkling. "I'm trying to get some ideas for Jubilee's birthday party next month."
"Oh yeah. Hard to believe she's gonna be eighteen." Logan was having a hard time convincing himself that the little girl he had met in Australia was going to be an adult. He had just gotten used to the more mature version of the child he had left behind. Finally seeing her as an adult seemed like another adjustment that lay ahead for him.
Jean noticed the sudden glum expression on his face. While she did not probe his mind (she hated doing that without the permission of the other person), the telepath had an idea as to what was troubling him at that moment. She opened the door wider. "Would you like to come in?" she asked, trying to sound guileless. "I mean, you've known her the longest and you can tell me what she would like for her party."
He raised a brow at her. She had to know about his insecurities when it came to the kid. Not that he said anything to her, but Jean could probably tell from the disagreements he had with Scott. He knew she was too kind to be condescending. Yet, he could not bring himself to believe she was that oblivious.
Turning his head away from her to exhale, he said, "I don't think that's really my scene, Red."
"Oh come on," Jean scoffed gently. She then applied a pleading tone to her voice. "You don't have to come up with ideas. You can just listen. Besides, I need some company. Jubilee's at the mall and Scott's away with the Professor."
Logan gave her a skeptical look, but wordlessly put out his cigar on the front step before sauntering inside. As he entered the home, he could not help but to think if he and Jean had gotten together, would they have created a home like this as well? Something bland, vanilla, and terribly boring. Would he wear preppy oxford shirts and walk around as if he had something permanently crammed up his ass? Part of him was relieved that nothing ever came from the sexual tension that existed between them for so long. Perhaps he would have transformed into a white-bread goody-goody like Scott Summers.
No, that would never happen. Not in a million years. No way.
"Do you want something to drink?" Jean asked, closing the door behind him.
He was already in the living room, staring at a pine armoire in the center of the room. With simple lines, setback top and rounded corners and deep moldings, it was reminiscent of humble furnishings in early New England farmhouses. The navy-painted finish was well worn, indicating generations of use. Not a carpenter himself, Logan was still able to appreciate the craftsmanship of the piece. A neighbor of his in Canada was in the furniture business, and Logan used to watch the old man prepare special pieces to bring into town. He often admired the peaceful existence his neighbor led, never knowing violence or rage.
"I'll have a beer," he told her in a low voice, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his windbreaker.
She nodded. "Go ahead and have a seat," she said, disappearing into the kitchen. The attractive redhead soon returned with an ice-cold bottle of Bass Ale, already opened.
Logan took the bottle from her, making himself comfortable in the Highworth Club chair next to the fireplace. "Thanks."
She sank into the settee, crossing her slender ankles. Watching him take a large gulp, she asked, "So have you figured out what you're getting Jubilee?"
"Not yet," he admitted, shrugging. "I guess Cyclops has already gotten her something. Maybe he got her a car or another trip."
Jean could not help but hear the hint of bitterness in his voice. "Actually, I haven't talked to Scott about what we're getting her," she said lightly, green eyes curious. "I didn't realize it was a competition."
His green eyes, flecked with shimmers of gold, were stony beneath his brows. "I never said it was," he replied flatly.
"Certainly sounds like it," she observed, placing the magazine on the coffee table in front of her. Then she picked up her glass of iced tea.
He scowled darkly. "Are you in my head?"
She took a sip of her drink, surprised. While she had heard him snap at other people, never had he ever done that with her. She wasn't sure what to make of it. "Logan, you know me. I would never do that without your permission."
He grunted in response, not wanting to admit that she was right. Jean shared the Professor's respect for individuals' rights to privacy when it came to thoughts and other mental activity. Still, her perceptive comment managed to get under his skin. Feeling somewhat violated and cornered, his immediate inclination was to lash out. Seeing the slightly wounded expression on the woman's face, a wave of guilt suddenly washed over him.
"I know," he muttered, taking another swig of his beer.
Jean leaned forward her in seat, her face filled with concern. "She still adores you," she began.
"Then you know you have nothing to worry about or feel threatened by."
"What makes you think that, Red?"
"I don't know, Logan. Maybe it's the fights you've been getting into with Scott."
"I'd hate to break this to you, Jean, but you married a.."
"Don't even finish that."
He smirked, taking another gulp of his beer. Despite her warning tone, Logan knew she was aware he was only joking. The beginnings of a wry smile crinkling the corners of her green eyes told him so. Jean was one of the few around the mansion who came the closest to truly understanding him. When he first arrived to the mansion, she was a frequent defender of him, often challenging Scott and Warren's assertions that he should be kicked out. She saw beyond the troubled mind and savage, violent ways the other members viewed as threatening, as something to be frightened and sure of. Instead, she saw someone who could be trusted and who believed in the Professor's ideals as much as the rest of the team.
Still, there was something that always came between them. It was this something that prevented her from truly and completely understanding him. Ultimately, it was this something that might have driven Jean to choose Cyclops over him.
"Logan?" Jean's soothing voice broke into his introspective moment.
He tried not to show her how startled he was. "Yeah?"
"I was just asking you if you think Jubilee would like a party here or somewhere in town," Jean said, sensing his preoccupation. She put down her empty glass and peered over at him. "I suppose you weren't thinking about the answer to that one?"
A dark brow was raised at her. "How could you tell?"
She grinned at him playfully. "Well, I am psychic, you know."
Logan snorted at her lame attempt at a joke. Jean had beauty, brains, and powers, but a sense of humor? Forget it. He took another swig of beer, swallowing hard. "I could be the good guy," he said after a lapse of silence.
She frowned, eyes quizzical. "What do you mean?"
"You remember that talk we had years ago---before you married One-Eyed? I'm telling you I could be the good guy." He started playing with the bottle.
Jean struggled to remember what conversation he was referring to. Suddenly, it dawned her, the dialogue ringing true in her ears. While he had been referring to the situation between them then, she wasn't sure if that was the case at this moment. She was aware that Logan had made his peace with her marrying Scott instead of him. No more romantic tension, only an easy friendship.
"I remember," she told him quietly, folding her slim hands together.
"The kid thinks I'm a good guy?"
"You don't sound like you believe that."
"Hard to believe if you know my track record, Red."
"But she believes it. It's easy to see that."
"Has she told you that?"
"All the time. You're her hero. You know that, Logan."
"I know. Making sure she's safe is one thing."
"But that's not what you're referring to?"
"Then what is it?"
Logan sighed. His face reflected his reluctance as he made his admission. "I want to be the one she always runs to."
"Logan---" Jean began sympathetically.
He promptly cut her off, not wanting to hear her assurances. "Don't," he said curtly. "I used to be good enough to be her everything, Jean. I'm not anymore."
Trying to choose her words carefully, Jean asked, "She's told you this?"
"No," Logan confessed, narrowing his eyes. "She didn't have to."
Instantly, Jean recognized what he was talking about. When Scott had taken Jubilee to visit several university campuses, she had seen Logan spying on the two of them. The look of pain and anguish on his face as he watched them act affectionate with one another was unforgettable. For someone who did not know physical pain, he certainly appeared as if he were experiencing a tremendous amount of it then. It had been so clear what kind of effect seeing Scott with Jubilee had on the self-proclaimed loner.
She shook her head. "It's not that she doesn't need you anymore. I mean this happened when Kitty got older and went back to Chicago."
Logan winced, not wanting to admit how insightful Jean was at that moment. Since Jubilee's recovery, there was an unspoken understanding that things were fine. In the end, it was only her understanding. He, however, did not feel the same way. As much as he attempted to hold on to the memory of the young girl who eagerly walked by his side, he knew that he could not recreate the relationship they had before he left. He was no longer her beloved Wolvie who was the source of all knowledge, all hope, all strength. Now, he was forced to share that role with someone else.
Despite what many around the mansion might have speculated, it wasn't the fact that it was Scott Summers who became another surrogate father. No, it wasn't that at all. It was his realization how much their relationship really meant to him after all this time. The fact that he had to share Jubilee with Scott made him feel as if it was being devalued in some way--- that his role in the relationship was being devalued.
Logan sighed wearily. "I'm not used to it. It's still hard to see Jubes.." His voice trailed off as he finished his beer.
"See Jubilee be more independent?" Jean asked gently. She wasn't sure where he was going.
He shook his head. "That's not it."
"Then what is it?" The redhead prodded, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.
Logan narrowed his eyes at her. Catching himself from snapping at her, he reminded himself it was only Jean. "It's complicated."
She placed a placating hand on his knee. Her ears immediately picked up on the wounded tone in the man's voice. From what she knew of him, the telepath was all too aware how reluctant Logan was to share his feelings with other people. Yet, as they were sitting together, she was hoping that he would be able to overcome his fear of appearing vulnerable. What he was holding back seemed to be taking quite a toll on him. Jean didn't need to probe his mind to figure that one out.
He narrowed his eyes, trying to rack his brain as to what to tell Jean. He had been telling the truth earlier---it was complicated. All he could think of were those shining, blue eyes staring up at him, and the overwhelming urge to be her everything.
Suddenly, he said in a voice filled with longing for things from the past, "Without her, I wouldn't be here. Without her... I wouldn't be goin' on."
Scott Summers was manning the controls for the Danger Room. The window in front of him provided him a view of the team training in the room below him. Careful to monitor their progress, he made slight adjustments to the training simulations. Such adjustments included adding new holograms, summoning new robots to attack the team members, and aiming stun lasers. Today's mock situation---fighting off new and improved Sentinels rumored to have been created by an underground faction of the US government.
Scott adjusted his visor, observing the team dodge robots and lasers, and taking out cameras with their various abilities. He was quite impressed with the progress Tabitha and Sarah were demonstrating. Initially, both struggled with control and restraint, especially Tabitha, who had a penchant for indiscriminately using her powers. Kurt and Kitty, who were also in the training simulation, were also doing quite well, using their powers strategically to overcome the robots and lasers.
In spite of the other people in the Danger Room, Scott found himself focusing on one person in particular.
Using razor-sharp adamantium claws to tear apart cameras and laser canons, the man was like a wild savage in a controlled environment. All he was missing the drool coming from the corners of his mouth. For a second, Scott regretted placing him in the Danger Room with the students, who were quite impressionable. He did not want to convey the message that being out of control and tear things apart was an acceptable strategy. In sharp contrast to Logan, Scott was a firm believer in using his head first, rather than his instincts in combat.
Alex walked into the control room, wearing his uniform. It was a very elegant and simple, dark-blue version of his original containment suit, with a golden belt and matching armbands. He sauntered over to where his brother was sitting at the main computer, following the older Summers' gaze.
"I hope I'm that sharp when I get to be that old," Alex commented, blue- green eyes impressed with the leap Logan made as he dodged a laser.
Scott turned to face him, smirking. "You'll be using a walker when you get to be that old, if not dead." Then he shrugged. "I don't know if it's sharp as much as being.. Logan."
"Being Logan is a bad thing?" His younger brother asked, still in awe of the other man's reflexes and abilities.
"In some ways," Scott replied tersely, facing the window again.
Alex was aware of his older brother's ambivalent feelings about the Canadian. Logan was everything Scott was not---angry, bitter, and maladjusted. He often operated by the seat of his pants, using his senses to guide him through situations. While Scott tried to honor the Professor's sentiment of valuing human life even in combat, Logan tended to be indiscriminate and even hostile to that ideal ("They're shootin' at us. Why the hell should we make sure they're OK?!"). Needless to say, the two were often at odds during field operations, with Logan often challenging Scott's assertions as overall leader.
There was also the fact Logan used to have a thing for Jean and made no attempts at hiding it. While he was never explicit by grabbing her and forcing himself on her, there were the smoldering stares, the sly comments made in front of Scott, and the occasional brushes of the hand. In spite of being the one to marry Jean, Scott never really forgot Logan's attempts to ingratiate himself with the redhead. There was still tension between the two men whenever they were in the same room.
Personally, the younger Summers brother did not mind Logan. In fact, he found him very resourceful. He supposed that's what years and years of experience and life had brought him. The man was always around with a plan, albeit unconventional at times. It was also reassuring to know that he was basically indestructible, both physically and mentally. Even in the heat of the battle, Logan always remained focused on the tasks at hand.
"So, what's he done today to get under your skin?" Alex quizzed, crossing his arms over his broad chest.
"What makes you think that?"
"My bad. I forgot your active dislike for him was a constant."
"Alex, I don't---"
"Oh come on, Scott. I may have been gone for a while, but I know that some things still stay the same. You don't like the guy."
"Fine. Happy, now?"
"Not really. I understand the history and everything, but most of that's been resolved. First, you're married to Jean. And, second, everyone around here knows to follow your orders or endure one of your temper tantrums. And believe me, nobody wants to put up with all that kicking and screaming."
"OK, OK. But seriously, what gives? The guy's been around the team for a while. He's gone on countless missions and proven himself to be trustworthy, even an asset to the team."
"You sound like Jean and the Professor."
"Well, if you've got those two telling you the same thing, what gives?"
"What else is there?"
"A lot of things. You don't need to be concerned about it."
"The hell I don't. If it has anything to do with the team, I think I'm entitled to know."
"Well, it doesn't."
"Then what is it?"
Scott turned to his younger brother, a wary expression crossing his chiseled features. "He's a loose cannon, Alex. Not exactly the best thing to have around here. What kind of example is he for the students and the rest of the team?"
"Sometimes, you need that element," Alex pointed out, frowning. "It helps to have another perspective on the same situation. Anyways, you're talking about him as if he's dangerous to have around here."
It was Scott's turn to frown. "You don't think so?" he asked, hiding the incredulous tone in his usually even voice.
Alex shook his blond head. "No, I don't think so. What makes you think that?"
"Have you wondered why he's spending a lot of time with the Professor lately?" Scott raised a brow at him. "The last time he did that was to control the rages he had when he first got to the mansion. Jean or Storm haven't said anything, but I have a feeling there's something up. They're just refusing to say what."
His eyes narrowed behind his visor, recalling how evasive his wife had been with him when he confronted her about the issue. Usually, when the Professor was engaged in private sessions with anyone, she was involved. While she denied any partaking of the endeavor, there was something that belied her words. He then attempted to ask Storm about what was going on since she was one of Logan's closest friends. Like Jean, she chose to claim her ignorance, acting as if she had no idea what Scott was talking about. It was at that point he knew something was afoot.
"So what?" Alex shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. "Could be that he and the Professor are working on some things that have nothing to do with these rages. Even if those private sessions had something to do with his anger, you've got to give him some credit for wanting to do something preventive as opposed to doing other things."
"As in?" Scott raised his brows expectantly. He wished sometimes his brother wasn't so inclined to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Even with Bobby Drake, someone who resented him so deeply, Alex found some way to try to see things from the other man's perspective, even trying to empathize with him.
"I don't know," Alex said, puzzled. "Maybe not taking his frustrations out on mansion property or people." He looked pointedly at his older brother.
"Or picking up and leaving without notice," Scott muttered under his breath.
Alex's blond eyebrows shot up. He thought he had heard his brother, but wanted to clarify. "What was that?"
"Nothing." Scott shook his head, turning his attention back to the computer.
"Really? Because I could have sworn you said---" Alex began.
Scott waved his hand at his younger sibling dismissively. "Not worth repeating, Alex. I have to get back to this training simulation." He then curtly turned his face to the window.
Alex gave his brother a strange look. Then he pulled a chair from the back of the room and slid it alongside Scott. The two brothers continued to observe the training session from the control room. Finally, he could no longer keep his comments to himself.
"You said he would have left," he piped up, breaking the silence.
Scott's mouth formed a grim line in response.
"Why would you care if Logan left? I would think that's you probably wanted," Alex continued, raking a hand through his wavy, golden locks.
"You would think," Scott managed through gritted teeth.
Alex folded his hands together. "I'm wrong?" he asked, trying not to sound bewildered.
"Alex, let's drop it, OK?" The older Summers brother pursed his lips, trying to contain the tension radiating throughout his body. "I'm not in the mood to discuss this. I have a team to train, you know. In case you've forgotten.."
"No, I don't think we will, Scotty." Alex crossed his arms over his chest. "What's changed?"
"Nothing." Scott muttered pointedly.
Alex could tell when his brother was lying. There was always that nervous twitch that tugged at his mouth whenever he spoke. "I don't believe that. Before, you would have personally helped Logan pack and carry his stuff to his car so that you could see him off."
"As you hinted at earlier, there are some positive qualities he happens to bring to the team." Involuntarily, Scott's lower moved slightly at the end of his sentence. He cursed himself silently for allowing that loss of control. He predicted Alex jumping at his chance to point out the fact that he was not being candid.
As predicted, the younger Summers jumped on it. To his credit, he restrained from being totally obnoxious about it. "While I'd like to think you're agreeing with me, I don't think that's quite it."
Scott shrugged, pretending to be aloof. "Then I don't know what else to tell you."
"How about the truth? I'm thinking it's more of a personal reason." Alex resisted the urge to paste a Cheshire cat smile on his face. Part of him was afraid that Scott was going to give him a taste of what was under his visor.
Scott almost flinched. "Personal? Maybe you've been sniffing those chemicals in the infirmary, Alex."
"Very funny," his brother groused. Then he said, "I'm serious, Scott. Whatever it is, it goes beyond Jean, beyond how irritating you think he is. So, whatever could that be?"
"I thought you got your degree in geophysics, not psychology," Scott scoffed at him, still trying to be evasive as he could. "Are you thinking about changing careers again?"
Alex leaned back in his chair, grinning affably. "Humor me."
Scott raised a brow at him. Inwardly, he groaned as he ran out of other things to tell Alex. He realized that his brother wasn't going to step away from the subject until he received the answer he was after---the answer being the truth. He exhaled loudly, nervously adjusting his visor. Besides Jean and the Professor, Alex was one of the few people he trusted closely with his private thoughts. He supposed revealing his reasons to him would be safe.
"It's complicated because there's someone else involved," Scott finally admitted, his voice pressured from the slight anxiety he was experiencing at that moment.
Alex's blue-green eyes widened in confusion. "I don't understand," he said. "What are you talking about? Who else is involved?"
Scott pulled his face from the window, features drawn in an exhausted and wary expression. "Jubilee."
"Oh." Alex could have kicked himself for not knowing better. While he had been staying over at the house, he had noticed how close the two had become. It was a different dynamic now than before where she was treated as one of the wards who lived at the mansion. The dynamic was more that of a father-daughter relationship. He remembered seeing her consult Scott about various things from philosophy (debating the existential quality of Calvin and Hobbes) to choosing a college. The affection and pride that crossed his brother's face was nothing like anything Alex had seen before. There was a genuine sense of enjoyment that exuded from Scott as they interacted together.
As if reading Alex's mind, Scott said, "She's the closest thing I have to a child now. Jean and I have been talking about starting a family, but it never seems to be the right time. Having Jubilee with us has made me realize how ready I am to be a parent. It's different when there's a child involved. The world isn't about you anymore."
While he could see his brother's eyes behind his visor, Alex could immediately tell that Scott was glaring at Logan through the window. "You don't think Logan gets that?" he asked.
"No," Scott answered bitterly, pursing his lips. "No, he doesn't. When things don't go his way, he packs it together and leaves, not thinking about the consequences or the people he abandons. Like he always does."
"That's an awfully simplistic way of looking at things." Alex argued quietly.
Scott snorted. "It's Logan, Alex. What do you expect?"
"I expect something a little more complex when it comes to that guy," his brother pointed out, "I mean, the Professor and Jean have both said that the guy is kind of screwed up because of what he's been through over his lifetime. He's been a human guinea pig."
"And that's an excuse?" Scott struggled to keep from raising his voice. He hated having this conversation in the first place, but there was no need to attract any unnecessary attention.
Alex shook his head. "No, but the way you've portrayed him.. It's like he's Carter's age or something."
"Carter's a little more mature." Scott muttered. Then he sighed. "You don't understand. You weren't there when he left the last time. You didn't see how upset she was to see him go. You weren't there to see her cry and hear her blame herself for him leaving. You never saw how this was the last straw for her, you know?"
Alex pressed his lips together, concerned as to how worked up Scott was getting. It was almost as if her pain those years ago was now his. He hadn't seen his brother this upset for quite some time.
His older brother continued with his frustrated monologue, not giving any signal or acknowledgement to Alex. "It took so long to convince her that she didn't make him go away. She was so upset and out of it, it was like she was being victimized all over again."
"But you were there for her," Alex pointed out gently, offering a warm smile.
Scott peered over at him, his own hardened expression melting somewhat. "Yeah.. I don't think I would have not been there for her."
Alex rose from his seat and began to head to the door. "Maybe that's something you and Logan share," he said quietly, "He feels the same way. It's just that he shows it differently from you. May not be your way or the right way, but it's his way." With that, the younger Summers brother sauntered out of the control room.
Birthdays were for people who knew how old they were, who they were, and where they came from. Birthdays were for people who were certain as to what their present was based on. Birthdays were for people who wanted to celebrate the fact that they were alive. Birthdays were not for people whose memories might have been implanted, not were they for individuals who found themselves cursing their own existence.
Logan knew he belonged to the latter category. He wasn't going to delude himself into thinking that he was not. He had spent too many sessions with Xavier and roaming the wilderness of his native Canada trying to accept what he was. No, it wasn't being bitter or angry about being denied a "normal" life. Rather, it was his way of being a realist. For him, life was not sweet or picturesque, but clouded in shades of pain and loneliness. That was Logan's reality.
Yet, here he was, celebrating a birthday. Granted, it was not his own, but the mere fact that he was actually partaking in the festivities seemed quite contradictory to his reputation. Mr. Logan, the man who spent his free time either riding around town on his bike or in his truck, was attending a party where lanterns made from jelly jars encircled with ivy, willow, and myrtle hung from the many trees on the grounds of the mansion, and where the signature drinks included non-alcoholic choices, such as cherry lemonade, various sodas, and rhubarb iced tea. Not the Mr. Logan who called a night out, smoking and drinking at the local dive. Not that Mr. Logan.
This Mr. Logan was here not for himself, but for someone else.
He narrowed his eyes, inwardly cringing at the current music selection blaring from the sound system that was set up on the stone-covered patio. It never ceased to amaze him as to how male singers nowadays managed to sound increasingly female. What truly struck him was the fact that there were always young people salivating over such performances. The music seemed to magnify Logan's feelings of discomfort being at the party in the first place.
Not that the evening was badly planned. That was hardly the case. Jean had worked furiously to ensure that all the details of Jubilee's birthday party were perfectly in place. She was the one who had come up with the outdoor, backyard setting for the event. Fortunately, Mother Nature, with some assistance from Storm, provided a warm, but comfortable early evening air for the party. Jean also created the many decorations as well, using the flowers from the mansion's gardens and Storm's greenhouse to make centerpieces for the buffet tables. With Cook's help, Jean had also arranged the menu, which was comprised of Jubilee's favorite foods--- cheeseburgers, crab cakes, potato salad, chips, and French fries. However, Jean had insisted on baking the cake herself, a six-layered coconut cake.
To appease the Professor, Jean, and Storm, Logan left his cigars up in his room. No alcohol, no cigars.. Logan grunted softly, feeling more and more tense by the second. He scowled, leaning against the doorframe of the French doors that led inside the mansion. Briefly, he wondered whether or not anyone would miss him. The backyard was swarming with young students, and most of them were crowding around the pool and various buffet tables set up.
"Logan," Storm's cool voice was refreshingly soothing to his ears. Wearing a blue-and-white striped tank top and a pair of stone chinos with navy, tassel moccasins, she appeared to be the antithesis of Logan---relaxed and thoroughly enjoying herself. The weather goddess took a sip of her drink, eyes sparkling.
"Storm," Logan replied back in greeting.
Ororo studied him carefully. From the facial expression he wore, she could immediately tell the loner was feeling very out of place at the party. "I suppose if you had your way, the child would be celebrating her birthday at Harry's." She resisted the urge to wrinkle her nose at the thought of the dive Logan and Remy frequented. Only one visit to the establishment was enough for her.
Logan snorted. "That easy to tell?" he asked, not really thinking about how transparent he was.
She took another sip of her drink. "And I'm not even psychic," she quipped, noticing that he did not have a drink in his hand. She held out her plastic cup, offering him a sip.
He quirked a brow at her, but sampled the cherry lemonade anyway. His scowl then turned into a grimace. He wasn't sure how kids could stand consuming so much sugar. Handing the cup back to his friend and teammate, he choked out, "Interesting."
Ororo tried not to smile as she watched him attempt to recover. "I am surprised you do not carry a flask with you for occasions such as these," she observed dryly. To her, Logan seemed the type to carry one with his trusty cigars.
"I try not to go to parties where I can't be myself," he muttered, shoving his hands into the pockets of his faded jeans. He kicked at an imaginary pebble with his boot-clad foot. There was a part of him that was still upset with her for not allowing him to smoke.
She nodded. "Well, I have to say I commend you for coming this evening, Logan."
He turned to her, green eyes stony underneath his thick brows. "I'm here for the kid," he said flatly. Then he frowned, as he added, "Can't call her that anymore. Eighteen doesn't make her a kid anymore, does it, Storm?"
"I don't suppose it does," she admitted warily. "But it is not like she is leaving, is it?"
He raised his brow at her. "No, she's not. Not like me."
Ororo placed a sleek hand on his muscular arm in a comforting gesture. She wasn't sure why she was doing it. However, she could not think of anything else to do at that moment.
"Logan.." she began gently, her voice becoming warm with empathy.
Logan drew back, surprised with the physical contact initiated by the woman he thought was rather standoffish and not willing to be in touch with her feelings. There was also the fact that he was feeling she was taking pity on him. It was something he did not want or need. "Don't," he said to her quietly. "Just don't."
Ororo noted the bitter tone to his voice, placing her hand by her side and nodding in understanding. She was aware of how guilty he had felt when he came back to the mansion all those months ago about missing out on the child growing up. He was reeling from the shock of interacting with someone he thought he knew but really did not. It was as if he had to start all over again. The weather goddess suspected he was feeling that the child was slipping farther and farther from him now that she was an adult.
Her ears picked up on a low growl that emanated from the lips of her companion. Curious, she raised her head and saw that he was glowering, staring intently at something on the other side of the yard. Logan appeared as if he were confronting something painful and despised. Ororo, concerned, followed his icy glare.
Jubilee, in a red, hooded T-shirt and a pair of khaki, cargo shorts, was standing barefoot by the pool, her raven hair spilling down her shoulders. Next to her was Scott Summers, looking his usual stodgy and repressed self in an oxford shirt and chinos. The two of them were talking, their words muffled by the chatter of the other guests. At one point, the tall, boyishly good-looking man placed a hand on the young girl's shoulder and leaned close to her so that he could whisper something in her ear. Jubilee turned to him, nodding earnestly. She then gave him a small smile before being whisked away by Tabitha and Paige to dance on the other side of the pool.
Logan's eyes narrowed. What flowed through his veins and surged to the vessels in his neck and face was very familiar. It made his stomach twist into knots and his heart harden. The urge to unsheathe his adamantium claws and tear into something was irresistible. That something being Scott Summers.
Who the hell does he think he is? Logan quietly snarled to himself. That should have been him over there. That used to be him over there. Now he was alone.
"He's been good to her," Ororo said, her cool voice breaking into his thoughts.
Logan snorted, staring straight ahead. Jean had joined Scott's side, nestling her head against the curve between his shoulder and neck. The two wore almost identical grins as they stared across the pool, watching Jubilee, who was dancing with Carter and Sammy. Logan almost spat on the ground in disgust. Another reminder what he had lost to Scott Summers.
"You should be grateful."
"Who said I wasn't?"
"Your expression says otherwise, Logan."
"I don't do the dopey-smiley crap, Storm. Leave that to Hank or Drake."
"I almost forgot about how you like the role of the surly loner."
"Not in the mood, Storm."
"I am merely saying it is one of your more endearing qualities. Always has been since you first arrived at the mansion. It was almost yesterday when you attacked me for being on the wrong side."
"Are you trying to be a wise-ass?"
"Logan, surely you know me better than that."
"I thought so."
There was a long pause in the conversation. While he hated to admit it, he was thankful that someone like Summers was around to take care of Jubilee. He had come to grips with that bitter realization long ago. It was as if he were conceding that the uptight prissy could do something better than him. In this case, it was being a more stable father figure to Jubilee. Before his departure, Logan had relished his close relationship with the young girl. It was the one thing Scott could never touch, could never have. No, it had been the two of them, laughing at the rules, throwing caution to the wind, and living each day as if it were the last.
Now, it was different---painfully so. Now, the kid was grown up, more wary of the world and more wary of Logan, despite her eventually warming to him. Now, she looked to Scott for guidance, support, and love. Now, she needed Logan "in a different way" or whatever the hell that meant.
Logan's mouth formed a grim line.
Now, he was the one left behind.
Now, here he was, again, losing out to the pretty boy.
His steely eyes flicked over to Ororo. Her usually placid face was filled with concern. The weather goddess appeared as if she wanted to say something to him, but did not. Sighing, Logan turned to her. He knew what was on her mind. He just didn't want to be any part of it at that moment. Or ever.
"I'm OK," he told her woodenly, crossing his arms over his broad chest.
She pressed her perfectly shaped lips together, her eyes skeptical. "I do not believe that," she finally said.
He shrugged, turning his face away from her. "Then that's your problem, Princess."
A lock of white hair fell into her eyes. She brushed it aside hurriedly, wishing she could do the same to the veil coolness Logan insisted on hiding behind. The man could be so irritatingly stubborn sometimes, not only on the field but off it as well. She knew for a fact that he and the child had reconciled and started reconstructing their previously fractured relationship since his return. She also knew of the child's reassurances to him that Scott had not replaced him. This was because the child had initially approached Storm about the problem.
Yet, here Logan was---brooding like the wounded animal he thought he was. Given his past and what had been done to him, it was no surprise he had turned out the way he did. His guardedness and simmering resentment against the world and others was somewhat warranted.
However, there was something different. As Ororo studied his scowl, she recognized the act from many years ago. The last time was when Jean had chosen Scott over him, finally sealing the deal by marriage. During the reception at the mansion, guests could hear howling through the rustling trees that autumn evening. It was faint, but anyone who heard it suspected it was an animal in pain. Only months later, did Ororo realize the fact that Logan was nowhere to be found during the party. And despite the fact that he did not explicitly say so, one could immediately detect a sense of being cheated emanating from Logan.
Just like now.
The weather goddess's exotic features arranged themselves in a thoughtful frown. As much as Logan wanted to exude his tough-guy, no-nonsense persona, Ororo was struck by the fact that he continued to act like a victim. Like he was being wronged by Scott acting as a surrogate father to the child. Like he was being wronged by the child for reciprocating the care and warmth shown to her by the other man.
Her eyes sneaked a glance at her unassuming companion. Peering into his hardened features, she managed to reformulate her original hypothesis. While the rest of his face was distorted in an angry scowl, his eyes told a different story. In addition to his pain, Ororo saw a flash of remorse in the cold, green depths.
"Perhaps, it is easier for you to be angry because it is better than feeling guilty," she suddenly said aloud. Her eyes widened as soon as the words left her mouth. Usually, the weather goddess was more reserved than that.
Logan turned to her, his countenance stony. There was no anger or surprise. It was simply devoid of any expression. Also surprising was the fact that he made no move to leave. She was sure he would have given her a withering look and fled inside the mansion.
After a brief, painful silence, he grunted. "What do you know?" he demanded flatly.
Ororo inhaled sharply. "I know that the child cares about you very much and has long forgiven you for leaving," she replied calmly. "And I know that for some reason, you cannot forgive yourself. But you will not admit to it. So, you would rather blame Cyclops for your suffering instead of yourself."
"You make it sound simple," he said quietly.
She shook her head, white tresses floating about her head. "It is not.. At least, not for you, Logan."
The wiry man refused to look at her, but fixed his gaze ahead. Several yards from where he and Ororo stood, Jubilee and Sammy were teaching Carter how to do the twist. She held the boy's small hands patiently, demonstrating how he should swivel his hips to the beat of the song. She looked so young, but at the same time, more mature. While Logan realized that she was no longer a small child herself, he had been ill equipped to accept her new adulthood. It was compounded by the fact that he had not been around to help shepherd and guide her into that new phase of her life.
He should have been there.
He was supposed to have been there.
"You don't know what it's like," he finally muttered. "All those years when I was gone, I wanted to come back. But I couldn't. It was never the right time. I couldn't trust myself.. I thought it was better for her to think I was a jerk than to tear into her. I don't think I could have lived with myself if I ever.."
He paused for a second, shaking his head. Then he went on. "I guess I made a pretty lousy decision. She turned out to be a great person and I had nothing to with it."
"That's not true," the weather goddess protested.
His face reflected the thoughts of his bitter revelation. "Yeah.. Yeah, it's true. I missed out on a lot with her. And, there's nothing anyone can do about that."
"No," Ororo answered, her voice dropping to a low tone. "No, there is not. That is all in the past. But, you can be here now and in the future. You still have control over that."
"And there is nothing more she wants than for you to stay with her. The two of you have gotten closer since you got back. Yes, there may be work to do, but that comes with anything."
"Forgive yourself, Logan. The only thing standing in your way is you."
Ororo glanced down at her now empty cup. Her throat was dry from talking and the surge of anxiety she had experienced when she had blurted out her thoughts. A light smile tugged at the corners of her graceful mouth as she said, "It looks like I need to refill my drink. Can I get you something, Logan?"
He shook his head; absorbing the sage advice she had just given him. "No, Princess. I don't do the nada stuff."
"Damn," Jean muttered, pursing her lips and lowering her camera. Her green eyes flicked to the counter on top, which indicated she was out of exposures. Turning to her husband, who was returning from a trip to the buffet table, she said, "Scott, can you run inside and get the extra camera from the main rec room?"
He was in the process of popping several French fries into his mouth. "Sure," he replied before chewing.
His wife pretended to make a stern face at him. "Jubilee must have passed on talking with your mouth full to you," she chided him gently, recalling the young girl's tendency to do so whenever she was excited about something. The habit gradually disappeared over the years, much to Jean's relief.
Scott handed her his plastic plate, filled with food. He shrugged. "There are worse habits I could have picked up from her," he informed her. "Maybe tomorrow I'll pick up that neon-yellow trench coat we saw on that website. Jubilee said it would go with my shades."
Jean smoothed the skirt of her navy-and-white, striped halter dress. "She was laughing when she told you that, remember?" she reminded him, red ponytail bouncing behind her head.
Scott grinned, then turned on his heel and made his way to the French doors that led inside. The birthday party, so far, appeared to be a great success. Many of those close to Jubilee, including Sean Cassidy, were present. Thanks to Jean's conscientious planning, everything was perfectly prepared and arranged. As he passed by some of his students and teammates, it looked as if everyone was enjoying themselves. He only wished that there were more of these times. To him, many at the mansion had the displeasure of experiencing more darker and sinister times. The sight of people relaxing and not being preoccupied about being attacked for being different was something that was sadly rare.
Initially, Jubilee did not want a party. She wanted to spend her eighteenth birthday having dinner with her closest friends. However, this changed as soon as she learned more about the details. Jean's excitement over planning the event became infectious. Soon, Scott found himself living with two hyperactive women whose voices suddenly reached octaves not known to human ears.
He paused in his steps, staring across the Olympic-sized pool. It was still unbelievable to him that Jubilee was now eighteen years old. Like Logan, Scott got to know the skinny, shorthaired girl who loved to mouth off and eat junk food. Unlike Logan, however, Scott found himself slightly put off by her loud personality. He also wasn't used to having children around the mansion. With some prodding from Jean, he found himself accepting and intrigued by some of the odd and sometimes immature behaviors Jubilee engaged in. Like constantly eating sugar or screeching over the musicians who liked wearing black-framed glasses and shaggy haircuts.
Scott never thought of himself as the fatherly type. Sure, he was a leader, but playing the role of a parent was an entirely different story. He considered it a greater responsibility than being in overall field command. In addition to being a guiding force in the child's life, one had to establish a close relationship. Given the fact that he never his parents growing up, he hardly thought he was capable of the job.
Yet, here he was, helping to raise a child who needed a family. In the beginning, he thought he and Jubilee had nothing in common. While he craved order and calm, she often sought out action and excitement. As they got to know one another, he then realized they shared quite a bit. Both were orphans. Both believed they were alone in the world. Both compensated for their sense of abandonment. Despite the fact that their methods differed, there was still that common element---surviving.
Perhaps it was the need to survive that brought them closer. Perhaps it was the overwhelming need to protect her the way he had wanted to be protected when he was growing up. Right now, Scott was not sure. All he knew was that he was quite proud of the young woman Jubilee had become. While he wanted to take credit for it, he knew that he could not. Deep inside, he believed that without him and Jean, the young girl would have turned out the same. She seemed to exude an inner resilience, able to overcome all the tragedies she experienced. He knew that some people were born with such ability. However, Scott was aware someone else had helped to instill that in her.
He reached the open French doors when he noticed a familiar figure standing right in front them. Sour expression. Arms crossed. Trademark points of hair on both sides of his head. Wolverine.
"Logan," Scott's mouth was drawn back tautly. Great, he thought, just the person I wanted to see. He could feel his teeth suddenly grinding together, a habit he had since Wolverine came to the mansion all those years ago.
"Cyclops," the other man managed with just as much effort. He seemed just as pleased to see Scott.
Scott knew he was supposed to walk on by and into the mansion. However, his feet were not cooperating. For some unknown reason, they remained glued to the ground beneath. Inwardly, he cursed himself and racked his brain to deal with the situation more gracefully. He decided on initiating some small talk with the man he considered to be an unstable force on the team.
"Um, the party looks like a success." Scott cringed at the wavering quality to his voice.
Logan did not seem to notice. "Yeah. You and Jean did a good job." He was surprised he did not want to grimace as he responded.
Scott struggled to hide his own shock. "Uh, thanks. Well, it was mostly Jean's project," he said rather quickly.
The other man nodded gruffly. He suspected as much. Cyclops didn't look the type to arrange flowers and tablecloths. Then again, neither was he.
Without thinking, Scott suddenly said, "Your coming really means a lot."
The loner raised an eyebrow skeptically at him. He wanted to ask Summers if Jean or the kid put him up to saying that. From the rigid way One-Eyed was carrying himself at the moment, Logan realized that no one forced him to say anything. His lips formed a smug smile.
"Yeah, well.. I wouldn't have missed the kid's birthday," he finally said, exhaling. "I didn't go to the other ones. The least I could do is show up to the eighteenth."
Scott pressed his lips together, unsure as to how to respond.
"I love that kid more than anything," Logan suddenly said.
The younger man was quiet for a moment, staring down at the ground. "So do I."
There was a brief silence between the two men. As much as he wanted to slip inside, Scott found that his feet still refused to move. There was a part of him that wondered whether or not Jean had something to do with this. He glanced over at his wife, who seemed engrossed in a conversation with Storm and Lorna. Seeing how occupied she was, he strongly doubted her involvement.
Scott decided to break the pause again, the quiet between them almost deafening despite the background noise around them. "Hard to believe she's an adult now."
The usually laconic nodded, eyes not meeting Scott's. Instead, they peered straight ahead, as if it were easier for him to carry on the conversation that way. "Yeah. Seems like yesterday the kid was.. A kid."
Scott nodded in agreement, nervously adjusting his ruby-quartz, wraparound sunglasses. "Yeah, I know."
"The kid turned out pretty well."
"You and Jean.. You guys did a good job."
"No, let me finish, Cyclops."
Scott nodded stiffly. His discomfort was multiplied by ten at that moment. He never knew what to expect for the man he considered as the person who liked to fly by the seat of his pants. Logan's tone of voice was just that hard to read. He was inclined to suspect that Logan was going to tell him off. He was all too aware of the other man's jealousy and bitterness over Jubilee's close relationship with him. The fight during Christmas was still vivid in Scott's mind. He could still see the resentment flashing in Logan's eyes.
The loner closed his eyes, and then opened them. It was one thing to think and admit things to himself. To actually verbalize them to another person, specifically the person he could not stand the most. The turmoil searing inside him was truly unbearable.
Let's just get this over with, he groused mentally. "You two did a lot for Jubes.. I just wanted to say.. Thanks."
It took a great deal of self-restraint for Scott not to drop his jaw at that moment. The only other time Logan was this close to being civil was when they thought Jean was lost forever. Hearing the laconic man from Canada express his gratitude was definitely one of the most shocking moments in Scott's life.
Logan sighed before continuing. There was no turning back now. Too much had been said already. "You guys did a better job than I ever could if I was around."
Scott frowned at him. "That's not true," he protested, his words a shock to his own ears. Despite this, he could not imagine saying anything else.
Stony brows softened as they were raised. "You don't think so?"
"No," Scott admitted, still stunned. "No, I don't, Logan. Why would you think that?"
Logan turned his face ahead, not facing Scott again. As he stared ahead, he replied, "I'm not exactly father-of-the-year material, even when I'm around."
"I'm not sure what you mean," Scott told him, confused.
Logan sighed, deciding to expand his point. "You and Jean took care of her, made sure she was safe, helped her grow up to be a great person. Maybe that's what normal people do, not people who run off."
Scott's forehead wrinkled. All these months, he had been thinking the same thing. He had come to believe that Logan was a negative force in Jubilee's life. The man was self-centered, fleeing whenever things did not go his way. The man was too hardheaded to ever admit he was wrong about anything.
It was then Scott realized who was the one that was really hardheaded.
He recovered enough to compose himself slightly. "Logan," he began quietly, "Jean and I.. We didn't do it all alone."
Logan snorted. "Oh come on," he scoffed bitterly. "Are you saying I did a good job raising her when I was gone all that time? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. If anything, maybe I did her a favor by not being around. Who knows how she might have turned out?"
Scott frowned at him again. "I don't think you're getting it," he answered, "I mean, Jubilee was a good person before she came to live with Jean and I. All that strength and determination she carries with her, that was there for a while. She learned that from you."
While he was somewhat astonished, Scott knew the words rang true. Equally strange was the sudden weight he sensed lifted off of his shoulders. All of a sudden, Scott could feel his feet move. He edged closer towards the doors.
"Um, I've got to go inside and get the camera.. Jubilee should be opening presents soon." Scott cleared his throat awkwardly.
Logan's eyes stared straight ahead. "Maybe that will cheer the kid up."
Scott gave him a perplexed look. "What are you talking about?" he asked, suddenly feeling defensive. The last time he checked, Jubilee was having a good time, surrounded her friends and others close to her. He had never known her to be dismayed at the prospect of receiving presents.
Logan narrowed his eyes, not acknowledging Scott's change of tone. He knew that the pretty boy was getting his shorts twisted, but the truth of what he was witnessing could not be denied. Tapping the younger man's arm, he motioned to the direction of his gaze.
Scott peered ahead. Sure enough, the young girl was standing away from the crowd of dancing guests. While there was a hint of a smile across her small mouth, she appeared far away and deeply lost in thought. Instead of enjoying the party, she seemed to be simply observing the whole thing. It was as if she were searching for something. She hung back, playing with a strand of blue-black hair with her slender fingers.
"She was fine a while ago," he said, brows furrowing. "I wonder what's wrong."
Logan faced Scott, expressionless. He remembered the conversation he had seen the two of them together. "What were you two talking about?" he demanded.
Scott placed his hand on the doorframe. He looked thoughtful as he attempted to recollect. "Nothing much. I just told her about how some people couldn't make it. Rogue and Gambit are in Brazil.."
The two Southerners had left together to take care of the funeral arrangements for Joseph several weeks ago. Following that, the two decided to take some time off from the X-Men to attempt to rekindle their relationship, helping each other heal from past hurts over the years. They decided exploring South America would be conducive to that. However, the couple had not forgotten about the young girl's birthday. Rogue had mailed out a package a week ago, which Scott was able to pick up from the post office that day.
Scott continued with his report. "Then there's Warren, Bobby, and Jean- Paul. The Professor sent them out this morning to investigate some company in Toronto. I'd thought they'd back in time for the party, but Warren called me a couple of minutes ago, saying they wouldn't be back until tomorrow. Then Bobby took the phone from him and told me to give Jubilee a pinch so she'd grow an extra inch."
Logan rolled his eyes. Trust Icicle to come through with trademark immaturity. He had to admit that he preferred Scott to deliver the message than to see Drake act it out. Otherwise, he was going to get a sample of adamantium.
"Maybe she's upset that Worthington isn't coming," Logan mused, crossing his arms over his broad chest. "He usually gives the most expensive presents." He remembered Storm gushing over some ugly vase Worthington had bought for her. Apparently, it was an antique that was worth a great deal of money.
"Maybe," Scott echoed, still uncertain. Then he said in a low voice, "What about going over there?"
Logan's brows immediately shot up. Was Summers really talking to him? If so, was he being serious? "You think that's a good idea?" he inquired incredulously.
There was no hint of insincerity. "Sure.. Why not?"
"Just asking." Logan tried to act as nonchalant as he could.
"I mean, you'd probably get her to tell what's going on. I tried and she told me everything was fine and not to worry. Maybe she wouldn't be able to pull that off with you." The younger man rationalized.
"Yeah.. Maybe." Inside, Logan could help but feel some satisfaction. Cyclops was standing in front of him, saying that Jubilee still needed him. He stifled a smile. While he would never admit it out loud, Logan was pleased to know that he was still considered an important part of the kid's life.
He was about to make his way to the girl when Scott stepped in front of him. The other man still appeared quite uncomfortable. All that was missing was the trembling limbs.
Scott adjusted ruby-quartz, wraparound sunglasses and bit his lower lip. "Logan?"
Logan raised a brow at him expectantly.
"Do you remember when Jubilee was attacked by Sabretooth and I said I would have done things differently from you?" Scott asked, shifting from foot to foot.
Logan almost winced. Not the most pleasant memories to replay in his head during the kid's birthday. "Yeah," he muttered.
"I lied," the younger man told him in a low voice, shoving his hands into the pockets of his chinos. "I would have gone after the bastard, too."
For the first time that day, Logan's face displayed a range of emotions--- acceptance and surprise. However, he was decidedly silent. Instead, he gave Scott an emphatic nod, communicating the understanding he suddenly found himself sharing with Summers.