Notes: This story is an epilogue to "Undercloak" and is a bridge between
that and the next multi-part story in the series, though I hope it stands
alone. As always, I adore feedback and I'd love to hear what you think
of it. Extra-special thanks to Lyssie for beta-reading.
"How 'bout another one, Mickey?"
The bartender frowned as he dried a pint glass with a ragged towel. Logan knew that the barkeep was studying him, sizing up how drunk... or rather how sober he was, adding in his head how many shots of whiskey he had poured and the period of time it took to consume them. Yes, he knew exactly what Mickey Rafferty was thinking behind the counter of the nearly empty pub. By all standard measures, a man of his size should be passed out on the floor. But instead of lying in a pool of his own filth and struggling to keep the rest of his dinner down, Logan simply peered down the neck of the empty, brown whiskey bottle and asked for more.
It would never be enough. Logan was physiologically incapable of getting drunk. His mutation, his healing factor, prevented little more than a warm sensation in his belly when at the moment all he wanted to do was be able to drown his sorrows in a bottle of whiskey like any normal man, wallow in a self-pitying haze of recklessness and bitterness. Sadly, it was not his fate to be placed with the rest of the world... by destiny or birthright. Such was the life of a loner, a hero, an X-Man. Life was not easy and grief was even harder.
Across the pitted but polished surface of the bar, the bartender shook his head as he cleared away the empty bottle and glass. "Sorry, no more for you. Let me call you a cab."
He narrowed his eyes at the bartender as he spoke in slow, even tones. "Ya know me, Mickey. I've been comin' in here for years. I ain't drunk."
Meeting Logan's glare, Mickey stood his ground. "I don't rightfully know what's eating you. But I know I've never seen you drink so much since you been coming around here. Go home. Get some sleep. Whatever it is, sitting in here nursing a bottle ain't gonna help you none."
Under the edge of the bar, Logan clenched his fists tightly. Why couldn't he have one thing, just one thing to give him peace... solace? It was so unfair, so very unfair. He couldn't even drink himself into oblivion if he wanted to. He tightened his jaw and shook his head as he finally spoke, relenting once more to the will of those around him as he placed three crumpled twenty-dollar bills on the bar. "I don't need a cab. I'll get outta your hair."
He pulled on his leather jacket, pushed his hat over his eyes and then walked toward the door as Mickey called out to him, "You be careful out there, Logan."
Without looking over his shoulder, Logan scoffed as the door shut behind him and he walked into the chilled New York night, "Yeah. Careful."
He pulled his collar against his face as he tread the dark sidewalk. Winter was coming fast on the city and a thin layer of frost coated the cars parked on the street. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and started the walk home as the cold, thin moon hung high in the sky. It was late, later than he had thought. Mickey was right to be concerned, he was being a friend... as much as Logan tried to deny it.
As his worn boots scraped against the concrete and he turned a corner, he let his mind wander as he pursed his lips and shoved his hands even farther into his pockets. It had been a month, two months since she died. He breathed her name; as if the mere utterance could bring her back and make all his guilt go away. "Betsy."
He had hoped time would make her death a little easier to stomach. But as the weeks passed, his guilt only grew as the memory of her faded. The conversations they shared, the battles they fought, the friendship they had found were all but wisps of faint recollection. She had become a ghost in more ways than one and the reality of it was wearing a hard knot in his stomach.
In the last few weeks he and Warren had started an effort to find the recently escaped Sabretooth and bring him to justice. It seemed the least he could do considering the circumstances, but deep in his heart he knew the real reason he wanted to find Creed. He wanted to make him suffer, wanted to make him pay for what he did to Betsy... to him, to all of them. Life had not been the same since her passing, a cloud of regret and muffled anger had settled over the mansion. Logan had moved back into his apartment in the city to keep an eye on the severely depressed Archangel and to escape the memories that haunted him at Xavier's. Needless to say, when in a fit of anger Warren had started pointing fingers, attempting to blame someone, anyone but himself for Betsy's fate, Logan was nothing short of elated when Archangel cursed Sabretooth's name, even though he knew where the blame should fall. It was entirely his fault, every shred of it. But that still didn't mean Creed wouldn't suffer for his part in the tragedy.
A cold sweat beaded on his forehead as he thought of driving his claws through the beast's skull a second time, watching his warm blood spill out of his face as the life drained from his ghastly eyes. He clenched his teeth tightly as one gory fantasy after another filled his head. Creed would finally get his, if it were the last thing Logan ever did.
Lost in his imaginings, he barely noticed as a trio of skateboarders approached him on the sidewalk. So he didn't step out of the way as one headed for him, shouting, "Get outta the way, mister! Comin' through!"
As the teenager collided into him, the two fell in a heap on the pavement and Logan came up snarling, claws bared as he reached for the boy's throat. The shouts of the boy's friends pounded in his ears, but all he could see was the squirming form beneath his grip and as his vision turned red, all he could think of was revenge. As his growls deepened in pitch, he stared fiercely into the boy's wide, panic-stricken eyes and his innocent fear brought him back to himself. With a start, he dropped him to the pavement and fled, his feet pounding on the pavement as he whispered to the cold, still air, "Sorry. I'm so sorry."
As he rounded the corner, he heard the teens doing their best to laugh the incident off, saying it served them right for being out so late in that part of the city. But Logan kept running, knowing that he had held the boy's life in his hands and that the feral expression on his face and the bony claws extending from his fists would long haunt the teen's nightmares. Closed delis and empty newspaper stands passed in a blur as Logan dashed through city block after city block until he finally stopped in an empty alley and hung his head between his knees as the sound of his rapidly- beating heart thudded dully in his ears. What kind of monster was he to threaten the life of a boy like that? He was no better than Sabretooth himself.
Betsy would not have wanted him to become this man. She would hate herself for leaving him to this fate. He couldn't desecrate her memory by falling into the open embrace of the beast within. He would never forgive himself and if she were alive, neither would she. Logan shook his head as he regained his breath. As he peeked out of the alleyway, he looked down the street. His street. In his absentminded wanderings he hadn't realized how close he was to home.
As he entered the lobby of his building, he raised a hand to his face as he blinked at the flickering florescent light. He hadn't noticed how dark it was outside, how his eyes had grown accustomed to the night and its deep shadows. He then stepped into the elevator and held his breath for a moment as he pushed the number of his floor and chanted softly to himself, "Just hold it together. Hold it together."
With shaking hands, he fumbled with the deadbolt and then stepped quickly inside, shutting the door and relaxing against its frame. He pressed his rough cheek against the cold wood, happy that he was finally alone with his anger... his misery. No one else would be hurt; no one was left to threaten.
Or so he thought.
As he discarded his jacket, draping it casually over the back of a worn easy-chair, he sniffed the air around him. No, he was not to be granted a single wish that evening. He was not alone. Logan narrowed his eyes and snarled. His visitor smelled of soot and sage, magic and long-guarded secrets. Logan only knew one man who smelled like that.
He turned on a lamp and grumbled. "Gomurr."
Standing on his oak coffee table, his green robes smudged with sacred oil and incense ash but still pressed and mended, Gomurr the Ancient grinned a large, lop-sided grin. "Logan."
Logan rolled his eyes as he placed his hat on the table and pulled out a chair. As he sat, Gomurr watched him from across the room as he said, "Very good, Logan. Knew it was me by my scent?"
"Who else would smell like a shop of horrors?"
Logan sighed. He had expected Gomurr to turn up sooner or later and he had hoped he would be a little more prepared when the moment arrived. The wounds from Betsy's death were still too fresh and he wasn't sure if he was up to a round of mind games from the old sorcerer. He shook his head as he said flatly, steeling himself for whatever Gomurr's presence might portend, "Now cut the crap. What do ya want?"
Gomurr folded his arms over his chest as he said haughtily, "Humph. You're not going to attack me? The last time we saw one another, we weren't on the best of terms."
Narrowing his eyes, Logan thought to the last time he had been in the presence of Gomurr the Ancient. It was in the sacred inner- chambers of the Crimson Dawn. As Betsy lay helpless and in agony on the floor, her old wounds reopening as the life drained out of her, Logan had attacked the proctor of the Dawn in anger. Bloodlust rang pure and furious in his ears and Gomurr had stopped him, encasing him in magical force field. Logan had struggled until he was spent, tearing futilely at the walls of his bright prison, working himself into a berserker rage until his muscles finally gave out in exhaustion. After his frenzy had faded, he regretted his short temper, regretted that he wasn't able to be with Betsy as Tar leeched the Dawn's healing energies from her body, but mostly he regretted being weak when he should have been strong.
He had told Gomurr he would tear him to shreds if he ever saw him again, that he would pay for coming between him and Tar. But as he exhaled another tired sigh and studied the tiny wizard, all he could say was, "Ya don't matter anymore. Guttin' yer sorry hide ain't gonna do anybody any good. It sure as hell ain't gonna bring her back."
Gomurr simply smiled that large, nearly toothless grin of his as he stepped down from the table and approached him. Logan did not smell even a trace of adrenaline on the sorcerer, not a hint of anything but calm, practiced composure. He hadn't come here expecting a fight. Under all his sarcasm and bluster, Gomurr was a wise and intuitive soul capable of sizing up an opponent with a casual glance. Despite all the bickering and cajoling the two had exchanged over the years, Logan knew he could learn a great deal from him.
As Logan slumped in his chair, Gomurr stood and pressed his hands together solemnly as he said, "No. It will not bring her back."
They stared at each other in silence for a few moments, the only sound the radiator clanging to life in the corner before Gomurr finally spoke. "I bring you something."
Gomurr reached beneath his thick robes and produced a katana held in a leather scabbard. He placed the sword in Logan's hands and stepped away as he bowed his head, allowing Logan to examine it at his own pace. Logan pulled the katana from its sheath and held it in the air as its sleek metal glinted in the light. It felt light but sturdy in his hand, destructively strong but delicate at the same time. There was no mistaking it. It was hers.
He shook his head and as he looked at Gomurr all he could ask was, "Why?"
The wizard furrowed his brow in confusion and said, "It was lost in the battle. I only wanted..."
Logan let Gomurr's words trail unheeded as he returned the sword to its scabbard and placed it on the table. His anger from earlier was quickly fading and all he could feel was an almost overwhelming sense of nothingness... emptiness. It was more unbearable than the white-hot rage that had been searing through his mind. If Logan hadn't known better, he would have sworn it felt like he was drowning. Blinking slowly, he finally interrupted the sorcerer's babbling, managing the words, "Why did ya bring it to me?"
Gomurr wore a confused expression on his face as he said, "I thought you would want it. Maybe return it to Worthington when he was ready for it?"
Placing his hands on his knees and peering into the wrinkled face of the sorcerer, Logan asked again, "But why, Gomurr? Why do ya care?"
Gomurr blinked as he drew a deep breath. "Because it is the least I can do. Because I had much respect for her. Because... her death does not sit well with me."
Logan nodded slowly as he glared at him, never breaking eye contact as his anger threatened to surface once again. "Then why didn't ya do anything to stop it?"
The tiny man tightened his jaw and gazed at him with an irritated expression as he levitated a few inches off the floor. "You blame me for her death?"
Closing his eyes and dropping his head, Logan swallowed his bitterness, letting the emptiness take him again, doing his best to avoid ending the dispute by a show of violence. So instead of lashing out at the sorcerer, he said quietly, "I don't know who to blame anymore."
"Blame has no part in her fate, Logan. She was given a gift, a gift that was not free. A price had to be paid and she paid it. It is the way things have always been done. It is the way they will always be. She was a person of honor and knew this. Why can't you see it, too?"
Logan clenched and unclenched his fists as he sat uncomfortably in his chair. "Because it's all my fault. I never should have come to ya to begin with."
Drawing himself up as tall as he could manage, Gomurr stood in front of him and clicked his tongue as he shook his head. "And where would she be then, hmm? She would still be dead. No. What you did was give her time to make her peace in this world. You did what you did because you loved her."
Finally looking at the sorcerer with red, bloodshot eyes, Logan said weakly, "If I loved her so much, than why are my memories already slippin' away?"
Gomurr stared back at him mutely, his face stern yet understanding and Logan couldn't bear to look at him any longer as he dropped his head again and admitted, "Gomurr, I can't even remember her face. I can't even remember what color her eyes were."
"They were purple," whispered Gomurr as he stepped away from Logan, the air crackling with a blue, electric energy and the walls glowing with an eerie, magical light.
Purple, he thought, like irises in spring... like the sky just before the dawn. Yes, he could almost see them. Almost.
Logan watched with weary eyes as the sorcerer enveloped himself in a bright, radiating sphere. And as Gomurr the Ancient disappeared in a dazzling flash of color, he heard him say somberly, as if from a great distance but as clear as the starry sky outside, "And you will remember, Logan. You could never forget a woman like her."