author: Alex L
rating/genre: (R) - Drama/Angst
warnings: Het, language, adult situations, attempted rape
summary: Not all homecomings are happy ones. R for language, disturbing imagery, and references to attempted rape. Featuring Iceman, Wolverine, Gambit, Jubilee, Rogue, and Storm, as well as other favorites.
comments/disclaimers: While I don't own any of the characters (Marvel), this story is mine, mine.
Chapter Seventeen: I Hung My Head
New Year's Eve arrived several days later. The late afternoon soon turned to early evening as the sun began to set over Westchester. A sharp, stinging wind began to pick up, swirling through the barren trees. The snow and ice that had begun to melt slowly during the day were now beginning to freeze again.
Inside the local pool hall, a lone figure sat at the bar, hunched over a half-empty glass of beer. Bluish-gray smoke billowed from the person's mouth, concealing bitter features. Other lonely patrons who had been drinking as long as the loner had knew better than to approach him. Severe consequences were definitely guaranteed.
"Another Newcastle Ale?" the bartender inquired, drying off a few shot glasses nonchalantly. Fresh-faced and somewhat chubby, she looked as if she had just turned twenty-one. Her hair was choppy, reddish-blond on the ends with black roots growing in and she wore heavy, caked-on make-up. She was the foil to the owner and the regular bartender, Harry, a haggard, plain man in his late fifties who looked like he lived a hard life, which was evident from the many lines in his face.
"Yeah.. Why not? Put it on my tab."
At the rate this customer was going, she was guaranteed a nice tip. Nice enough to compensate for the fact she was working on New Year's Eve. She quickly found a clean stein and proceeded to fill it up from the tap. Before passing it to him, she asked, "You gonna be here for a while?"
"Why do you need to know?"
"Liability. Can't let you on the roads until you sober up. You've had, like, eight beers in the four hours you've been here. The roads are gonna be a mess and the cops are likely gonna be on the look-out."
"Listen, I don't need advice from a kid. Besides, alcohol doesn't get to me."
"Whatever, dude. That's what they all say. Listen, I'm just givin' you the spiel I give to all the customers." With that, the bartender darted to the other side of the bar to wait on another customer. A new tattoo can't be worth this trouble, she thought.
"Why is it that you feel the need to pick on people outside of the mansion?" A voice inquired from behind.
He turned around and inwardly groaned. "What do you want?"
Ororo Munroe peered around the dank and dark bar, which smelled of stale cigarettes and alcohol. The floor was sticky with beverages that had spilled hours before but not attended to yet. Loud, hard rock belted from the jukebox on the other side of the room. Not exactly her idea of a place to lounge around, but definitely the type of establishment she would find her friend. The elegant weather goddess certainly stuck out like a sore thumb in the bar, dressed in a long, double-breasted camel coat, a white cable-knit, turtleneck cashmere sweater, heathered wool slacks, and brown high-heeled boots. Her thick, white hair streamed behind her shoulders, slightly rumpled from the wind outside.
She seated herself next to her teammate. "I wanted to see how you were doing, Logan."
Logan puffed on his cigar, eyes narrowing. "As you can see, I'm doin' fantastic."
"Really?" She suppressed the urge to wrinkle her nose. "You haven't been at the mansion for several days."
He finished the last of his beer then moved on to his new one. "I've been around. You just haven't seen me."
"I see." She couldn't tell if he was lying or not.
"Well, now that you've seen that I'm fine, you can run along and report that to the others. I'm sure you have other lost souls to save."
"First of all, no one else knows I'm here. I came here for myself and the child."
Logan almost winced at the icy tone she used just then. However, he managed to keep his stony demeanor. He decided not to say anything and hoped she would get the hint. She was always smart enough to other times.
Ororo shifted in her barstool, aware of what he wanted her to do. This time, she was not going to comply. Instead, she said, "Jubilee is very concerned. She had been looking for you these past few days. She thinks you are avoiding her."
"What if I am?" Logan demanded flatly. "I figured she would want time to bond with One-Eyed before their trip to Paris."
Ororo noted the growing bitterness in his voice. She had heard from Remy about the altercation in the hallway between Logan and Scott several days after the incident. At first, she thought her friend was telling her one of his tall tales. When a concerned Jean confirmed the events of that day, Ororo knew her old friend was more troubled than they had originally thought.
"You are jealous."
"If that's what he told you, then he's full of it."
"Scott did not tell me that."
"I would have thought the Boy Scout would----"
"Actually, I can sense it from you."
"So now you're a telepath?"
"I would not have to be. Your anger is quite apparent, Logan."
"Then maybe you should get outta here. I might hurt you or something."
"Is that why you picked on Scott?"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Logan was genuinely confused as he stared at her. The beginnings of a scowl darkened his features. While he was quite fond of Storm, he was feeling very hostile towards her at that moment.
Her eyes pierced into his, unwavering and revealing no fear. She had that rare ability to stand up to him when she wanted to. It was something that was endearing to him, demonstrating her loyalty and unconditional acceptance of who and what he was. In a low voice, she said, "Do you know what I think? I think you intentionally instigated that fight with Scott to drive some distance between you and Jubilee."
Logan rolled his eyes at her. "Why the hell would I do that?"
"Besides being jealous over their relationship, you want to protect her- protect her from your rages because you feel you cannot control them. However, you promised her that you would stay with her, so you could not just pick up and leave. So, instead, you're pushing her away in the hopes of keeping her safe. But you are doing more harm than good. She is very worried about you."
Logan was silent, allowing her words to sink into his head. He never wanted to hurt the kid. He had done enough of that over the years. He was supposed to be atoning for what he had done, to start over with her. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Yet, as he stared into Ororo's guileless eyes, he wasn't sure how else he would have handled things.
Ororo straightened her posture. She didn't have to ask whether or not he thought she was right. His body language spoke volumes at that moment. She watched him brood as she ordered a beer from the young bartender.
Logan raised a brow at her. "Didn't think you were the beer type," he mused, finishing his second.
She gave him a gentle smile, taking a sip. "I appreciate it every now and then," she informed him. Her smile soon disappeared as she observed him stare glumly at the empty stein.
There was silence between the two old friends. Both stared ahead aimlessly at the collection of hard liquor bottles behind the bar. Logan continued to smoke his cigar, while Ororo was making headway in finishing her beer. Every once in a while, his eyes would glance at her absentmindedly, but they were curious nonetheless.
Finally, he asked, "Why are you here?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, Princess, I know you have better places to be than here. Why are you wasting your time?"
She detected the bitterness in his voice. In front of her was not the snarling, irrational animal, but a man who knew who knew hurt. It was one of those rare moments he allowed this side of him to be seen by someone else other than Xavier. At first, she didn't know how to react. Then the white-haired weather goddess extended a slender hand and placed it over his weathered one.
"Wasn't that an amazing concert?" Jean asked, green eyes bright with excitement.
Scott nodded, smiling fondly at his wife. They, along with his brother, the new nurse, Annie Ghazikhanian, and Rogue and Joseph, had attended a program performed by the National Symphony Orchestra in the city earlier that evening. The tickets had been left for them as a generous gift from Warren before he left for his family's home in Switzerland. The group was now seated in an upscale restaurant and bar in Manhattan, recommended by Warren. After putting in their orders with the waiter, they relaxed with a bottle of 1999 Estancia, Napa, Warren had reserved for them.
The interior of the establishment was reminiscent of the vacationing Worthington: very swanky, very posh. It began with the small bar at the front, with its black marble fireplace, mahogany paneling and brass- and ebony cocktail tables. The dining room beyond completed the image with navy blue walls, interspersed with more mahogany, and was covered with artwork from a private collection. Herringbone hardwood floors lead to plush, caramel leather- upholstered chairs and banquettes. A blend of black and white photos (Mick Jagger, Gary Cooper, Frank Sinatra, for example) with old English oils that somehow complemented one another.
While the men wore almost identical-looking, black tuxedos, the females decided to express their own sense of style through their outfits that evening. Jean had chosen a fitted, strapless, navy cashmere dress with organza and matching heels. Her thick, red hair was swept up, which brought attention to her swan-like neck. To complete the look, she wore the double-strand of pearls Scott had given her last year. Meanwhile, Rogue kept more covered up than her friend, wearing a black pantsuit with gloves. However, her face was more made-up than usual---darker eyeliner and red lips. Annie maintained the simplistic style she was accustomed to as a nurse and working mother. Her dress was a muted gold, silk dress that skimmed her ankles, but fitted around her chest. The brunette's hair was pulled back in a soft ponytail, leaving curly tendrils around her wide-set eyes.
However, she was not as relaxed as the rest of the people around. Her face formed a worry frown as she clutched her cell phone to her ear. She turned away from her date to focus on the call.
Concerned, Alex leaned over and asked, "What's wrong?"
"No one's answering at the mansion," she told him, tugging nervously at a lock of dark hair. "What if something's happened? I've never left Carter for this long before at night.."
Rogue waved a gloved hand in the air. "Don't worry, sugah. Ah'm sure the gals got everything under control at the homestead." She took a sip of her wine.
Jean nodded, giving Alex's date a reassuring smile. "Rogue's right. Jubilee and Tabitha have sat for the children before. They're probably watching a movie and don't want to pick up the phone. Besides, if there were any problems, they would call."
Annie hung up and slipped her phone into her silver-beaded clutch. Her lips curled into a self-conscious smile as she said, "I'm sorry. I know you're right. The girls are very responsible. It's the mother-part of me that won't go away."
Scott refilled her glass with some more wine. "Understandable, but it's alright to have a night out every once in a while."
She smiled at him shyly. This was the first time she had been around them outside of the mansion and outside of her duties as the nurse. "Thank you."
"No problem," he replied warmly. Though he knew little of her, Scott found himself genuinely enjoying her company. She seemed the perfect fit for his younger brother, whose relationship with his ex-fiancée ended very abruptly. While Lorna could be overly aggressive, Annie was quite sweet and soft-spoken. Even looking at her now, she appeared to be happy to be with Alex. Fortunately this time around, the feelings were mutual.
Rogue leaned back in her seat, feeling Joseph's fingers tangle in her hair. She exchanged a knowing glance with him. He gave her a small smile before turning his attention back to the conversation. As the discussion steered towards concert, she began to tune the voices out. So this is what it's like to be in a real couple, she thought happily. We can touch and go out with other people who can do the same thing. I don't have to worry about putting someone in a coma. It's almost like being normal.
For so long, she had dreamed about having a moment like this---where she wasn't the person people felt sorry for. She fit in for once. And she was in love with a good man, who took care of her, was honest, and would do anything for her. He was the one who brought this normalcy to her life. As she reflected on that last thought, she leaned over and squeezed his hand affectionately.
"Rogue?" Jean waved a hand in front of her face, grinning. "Earth to Rogue?"
Startled, Rogue shook her head. "What's up?"
"We were talking about New Year's Resolutions," the redhead informed her. "Do you have any to share?"
Rogue frowned thoughtfully. "Ah'll pass for now. What about y'all?" She finished her glass of wine in one gulp.
"I resolve to feel less guilty about spending time away from Carter," Annie piped up, earning some chuckles from the others.
Alex nodded, taking his turn. "And I resolve to finish my degree this year," he declared.
Scott snorted. "You have to," he told him wryly, "You've reached your limit as far as time is concerned. Otherwise, aren't they going to kick you out if you don't finish?"
"Shows what you know. I have one more year."
"Alex, it's been seven years. Get it over with!"
"Listen, you try saving the world and writing a dissertation on shifting plates. Then we can talk, bro."
Jean turned to her husband, an amused grin crossing her model-perfect features. Despite the length of time they had been away from each other, the Summers brothers acted as if they had been together for most of their lives. "So, what's yours honey?"
Before Scott could open his mouth to respond, Alex blurted out the answer for his older brother. "To stop picking on his better-looking, smarter sibling." He smiled when he earned giggles from Jean, Rogue, and Annie.
Behind his ruby-quartz lenses, Scott glared at Alex, then rolled his eyes. He could see why Bobby found him irritating to be around sometimes. "I resolve to send Alex back to school and not let him continue to eat me out of house and home."
Rogue was saved from revealing her resolution or lack thereof. The efficient waiter then brought out the appetizers ordered earlier. He placed the steamed mussels with fennel, tomato, basil, and pernod in the center of the table. Next to that platter was the grilled duck foie gras à la Murphy with an apple-pecan-lavender-honey-cognac sauce.
Rogue shrank away from the two platters, eyeing them skeptically. Unlike the others who were eagerly looking over the dishes, she wasn't sure about ingesting either one of them. In particular, she found herself especially concerned about the innards of some poor duck. She shuddered inwardly.
"What's wrong?" Joseph inquired, already helping himself to a couple of mussels. Thankfully, he was keeping his voice low as not attract any attention.
"Ah don't know, hon.. Ah don't think Ah can eat this stuff."
"You don't think you'll like it?"
"Nah.. It's not what ya call traditional country cookin'."
"Understood. But don't you want to try? It won't hurt. If you don't like what you eat, I'll gladly finish the rest."
"Maybe," she said warily. "But let me brace myself first, sugah." Then she placed her napkin from her lap on her plate and stood up. "Ah'll be right back, y'all. Ah need to powder my nose."
Joseph peered up at her perceptively, but hid his amusement over his lover's way of coping with something new.
If I stay here long enough, maybe they'll finish everything and I won't have to try something new, Rogue thought, closing the door of the ladies' restroom behind her firmly. Exhaling loudly, she sauntered to the sink and opened her purse to retrieve her compact. She hummed softly as she dabbed a small amount of powder on the bridge of her nose and forehead. As she slipped the compact back into her purse, she noticed there was something else inside. Curious, she removed it.
When she discovered what it was, she froze. Suddenly, tears began to flow down her cheeks, ruining her make-up. She felt her knees begin to buckle. To support herself, she leaned against the counter and tried to recollect her strength.
Lying on the gray, marble counter was a tattered, playing card. It was the Queen of Hearts to be exact. Written lightly in one of the corners was the word, "Always".
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