Duty Calls: Lifelines

by Ascian

Notes: Not long ago, Marvel published 'X-Men: Millennial Visions', which was sort of pin-up collection of potential story ideas. One of them was 'Duty Calls'--a look into a future where the "X-Men are split into multiple two-man interplanetary teams designed to protect the cosmos." One of those teams consisted of Wolverine and Jubilee, who patrol the outer rim of the Shi'ar Empire, protecting alien allies against attack. Which, if you ask me, is too good a premise to resist. Too bad Marvel's not planning on making a series out of it. But that doesn't mean I can't have a little fun.

Fair Warning: There isn't much plot to this one. I wrote it quickly, and I didn't have much time to proof-read.

Standard disclaimers apply. Feedback would be greatly appreciated.

It frightens me sometimes, how easy it has become to kill. Used to be, I had problems with that sort of thing. But I've been doing this for awhile now, and I suppose the more you fight, the more you tell yourself that it's for the greater good--

Which it is--the killing, I mean. Someone's got to do it, and when it comes to getting tough jobs done, the aliens in the outer rim know who to call. I keep telling Wolvie that we should start charging by the hour, that this whole "donating our services" thing isn't ever going to buy us our own little planetoid in the Rexus Nebula. He laughs whenever I bring it up--he thinks I'm kidding.

Ha. Just wait until those old bones of his start creaking, and then we'll see who starts pushing reforms in the Peacekeepers Council. Of course, by the time that happens I'll probably be too old to enjoy the luxury of my own private planet.

Or maybe not.

I'm not aging as fast as I should be--just turned forty last year, but I look and feel like I'm in my twenties. My powers, the scientists tell me. I guess being able to control things on a molecular level has more advantages than just being able to disintegrate enemies from a distance. I can slow down time--and least for myself. Don't know how I do it yet, but as long my body keeps running on high, I can live without the knowing. Wolvie makes cracks about it sometimes--keeps asking if I've got a plastic surgeon stashed somewhere on the side.

It's a comfort to him, though. I can see it in his eyes, in the way he looks at me when he thinks I don't notice. When you get as old as Wolvie, your one worry in life isn't when you'll die. It's when your /friends/ will die. And even if the other X-Men are getting on in years, I'm not going anywhere yet.

Someone has to watch his back.

Someone has to kill the enemy.


It frightens me sometimes, how easy it has become for her to kill.

I still have these memories of her in my head, the way it was when she was just a kid. She was such a lil' thing back then--spunky as hell and a wildcat in a fight, spinning hot plasma and fireworks from her fingers. She's still all of those things, but there are lines in her face that weren't there before. A hard quality to her eyes that I don't like. Don't see it all the time, 'cept for when we're fighting. But I'm afraid there's going to come a day when that expression--that cold, unforgiving stare--finds a niche in her eyes and just sticks.

I don't think I could stand that. I don't think I could stand seeing myself in her. She deserves better than that.

'Course, out in the 'Rim, we don't have much choice about the things we do. We asked for this assignment because we were what these folks needed. In those first few years of the invasion, they were getting slaughtered like sheep, with their Shi'ar protectors pissing in their panties behind the nearest moons. Jubes and I--we never did like to sit around. And Earth had gotten pretty tame after the peace. Too tame for a couple of scrappers like us. So we scratched our way to the front of the line, and volunteered for active duty.

We haven't been back since. No plans to return, either. We don't answer to anybody but ourselves out here, and that's the way we like it. Even the Shi'ar have stopped trying to give us orders--best I know, they avoid us when they can help it. Worried about getting on our bad sides, I s'pose. Don't blame 'em. The last commander we argued with lost his main weapons array--a collection of laser cannons that were three times the size of our ship.

But then, that's what you get for talking down to Jubilee. Didn't even snap her fingers. Just narrowed her eyes, and all that was left was a pile of space dust--and a horrified commander that turned three different shades of blue before we shut down the vid link.

What can I say? The kid's got style.

Hell, she's got more than that. The Brood-Kree never stand a chance when she's around. 'Course, Jubes says the same thing about me, and while I do my part, I know better than to think I could have survived this long without her. Not saying I've gotten slow--just that with the numbers we're always up against, even I would be hard pressed to keep my head above water. If I were alone, that is. But I'm not. And that's a gift, pure and simple.

I got some words of advice from Cable before we left Earth. The techno-organic virus had finally taken over the rest of his body, but the man underneath the metal hadn't changed. Not surprising, really. Especially when you consider who his father is.

"When you get out there," he said--and I still remember how his one good organic eye flashed. "All you'll have is each other. Doesn't matter what kind of ship they give you, or what kind of weapons you rattle. In the end, it will come down to the two of you."

"Yeah? What's your point?" I was getting outfitted for an adamantium cybernetic suit, and he was distracting me from the technicians swarming around my body. The Shi'ar had promised that the suit would increase my speed and strength. At the time, I didn't think I would need anything like that--but I was game for a new toy.

Cable smiled--he could still do that, although his mouth was slightly lopsided and it made him look like the tin man from the Wizard of Oz. "My point, Logan, is that you both will need to take care of each other."

"Already knew that," I muttered. "Kid and I have been working as a team for years."

"I know," he said, and his eye flashed again. "But a team is not a lifeline. And out there in space, fighting for your lives day after day, that is what she is going to become. Are you ready for that? Is she?"

I stared at him, the technicians and the suit forgotten. "What is, is," I said, in as even a voice as I could manage. My fists, tucked against my thighs, were balled up tight. I wondered if it was possible to knock a man, who was mostly a machine, unconscious with one blow. And I wondered why I was even thinking about it, instead of actually finding out for certain.

Cable blinked at my choice of words, but after a moment, slowly nodded. "Be safe, Logan," he said. "Give my regards to Jubilee."

And that was the last time I spoke to him. He left the next day to rejoin Storm on their patrol route through the inner solar system, where they were responsible for protecting the Earth's colonies on Mars, Venus, and the Moon.

For a while, I didn't think too much about what he had said. 'Cept for those times when I wanted to get pissed at someone, and there wasn't a handy target. God, I miss Harry's. Not too many places out here where a guy can get into a good bar fight and work off some energy. Jubilee's a great sparring partner, but there are some things you just can't duplicate.

Took me a year before I really understood, though. There I was, smack in the middle of a Brood-Kree landing force, Jubilee perched in her harness on my back, working her magic while I worked mine--and all of the sudden, Cable's words started floating through my brain.

Lifelines. It was like a whisper that started out soft, but kept getting louder and louder until it was a scream. I was dimly conscious of the fighting--of the tearing flesh and breaking bones, the splash of Brood-Kree guts on my feet--but mostly, I was aware of Jubilee. I could feel her through the cybernetic suit, and it suddenly occurred to me that she was the only reason why I was on that godforsaken planet, fighting for my life and the lives of the aliens who lived there.

And at that moment, I honestly couldn't remember ever having had a better reason to do anything at all. God--I couldn't even think of a better reason to be alive. Still can't, and it's been almost three years since that day.

So, I've understood for awhile now. 'Course, that's why I get scared for her sometimes. Not because she might get killed--although that's always a possibility in this line of work. No, I get scared for Jubilee because of all the killing she has to do--and which she does so easily, with a snap of her fingers. Enemies, sure--bastards that wouldn't think twice about gutting us into little bits.

"We're the best at what we do, Wolvie," Jubilee said to me after the first few battles. "And what we do isn't nice."

No, it's not. Still, even though what we do ain't nice, it doesn't mean that Jubilee's heart should get used to all that death, or the feel of a living body's molecules splitting apart in her mind. The kid's always had a sweet streak, for as long as I can remember. Doesn't matter what happens to her--Jubilee's got a spark that just keeps burning.

But like I said, there's been a certain coldness in her eyes, lately. Something I don't ever recall seeing before we got out here.

I have to protect that spark inside of her. I have to be her lifeline, even if she doesn't realize she needs one. Because she's mine--my line to life.

Someone has to watch her back.

Someone has to kill the enemy.