"Gimme a beer," Logan growled.
He threw some coins on the bar and dropped heavily onto a stool, thinly padded and covered with cracked red vinyl. The nameless little dive wasn't any different from the thousands of others he'd frequented over the years. Dim lighting hid water-stained ceilings and bare wooden floorboards tacky with spilt beer. A cloud of cigarette smoke hung over everything. Twangy old country music spilled out of a beaten down old jukebox, and a pair of locals spoke quietly to another across a pool table, one of them leaning in, lining up a shot and sinking it with ease.
Logan understood the rules here. He had taken sanctuary in places like this for years, bars and pubs and pool halls built for people just like him, people seeking only to keep company in their isolation and anonymity. This was where he belonged. He welcomed the perpetual tightness of suspicion between his shoulders that he carried on the road. Out here, he wasn't tempted to let anyone in. On his own he was his own master, free to be alone.
It frightened him, everything that had happened in New York. Against his better instincts he had allowed himself to let down so many of his barriers. He had trusted so many others with the truth not only of his mutation, but of his weakness, his amnesia. And for the first time since he had awoken to this empty shell of a life, Logan had loved.
The bartender, an older man with graying hair who's rolled up sleeves revealed muscled forearms left over from younger years, set a long neck bottle of Michelob on a napkin. He collected the loonies and then took up a dirty rag, rubbing it over the bar. Logan could only imagine that the motion came out of habit than an actual desire wipe away the worn-in grime.
Logan leaned on his elbows, bottle dangling between limp fingertips. He allowed himself the luxury of a deep sighing breath. Expression of exhaustion rather than true physical discomfort rolled his head from shoulder to shoulder with two quick motions. He'd been riding hell-bent towards Alkali Lake for almost two days. This was the first time he'd stopped longer than a pit stop for gasoline and beef jerky. He felt pursued, driven forward by the endless questions, those that had always existed but were gorged and powerful now with the possibility of answers.
When the bottle was empty, he ordered another and went to the pay phone. Like everything else in this sad little place, it had seen its share of hard times – it looked as though it had been jimmied more than once. Dropping in a few coins, he dialed the number at the mansion and waited.
"Hello," a smooth, familiar voice answered on the other end. The distance made Storm's voice seem faint.
"Hey, Storm," Logan said. He shifted the phone to his other ear and glanced around. He hated telephones. "Is the kid there?"
"Logan! Good to hear your voice. Sure, I think she's in the T.V. lounge, hold on." Storm laid the receiver down, and he could hear her walk away. His sensitive ears picked up the sound of people talking and walking on the other end. One stood out from the others.
"Have you seen the Professor, Scott?" There was a wealth of warmth in her voice. Something inside him tightened uncomfortably. Cyclops muttered something in response. Logan's grip on the receiver tightened, and he drummed his fingers against the phone impatiently.
"I love you, Jean." She laughed softly and shushed him.
"Scott…" Jean's voice faded away and a quick patter of feet alerted him a few moments before a voice carried over the phone.
"Logan?" It was Rogue. She was slightly out of breath, and her tone was colored with pleasure and relief. Despite his invulnerability Wolverine knew that she was sometimes afraid for him. It had been awhile since his last phone call.
"Hey, kid. How you doing?"
"I'm alright," she answered. There was a slight hesitation, almost imperceptible, that made him wait, silently offering. A soft sigh carried over the line. "I am still having nightmares."
His hand tightened around the phone. He had only remained at the mansion for a few days after Ellis Island. The habits of his nomadic existence and the temptation of answers in Alkali Lake had filled him with an irresistible restlessness. But she was part of the reason that Logan had stayed as long as he had. On their first night, Logan had awoken to find her curled up in the corner of his room wrapped in a quilt, not crying, but trembling all over. She had admitted to having dreams about Magneto and the machine.
"Not anymore. There are nights when I can't sleep at all. It's better." She laughed, just a quick exhalation of sound. "I watch television with Artie, sometimes. He doesn't sleep either."
Logan didn't know what to say. He was far away, looking for his own answers, and he was hardly anyone's psychologist. "Kid… Maybe you should talk to someone. The professor might be a bit of a stodge, but he's the listening sort. Or maybe Jean could help you, give you something to help you sleep."
He didn't need to see her to know that she shrugged, that enigmatic gesture that she tried to hide behind the same way that she used her long hair to cover her face when she was sad or embarrassed. "I'll think about it. I don't like the idea of taking pills, though."
"Just try talking to Jean. You don't have to tell her about the nightmares, if you don't want to. But she might be able to help."
"I think she misses you." There was a brief silence on both ends. Then Rogue continued, "Where are you?"
They made lighter conversation for another ten minutes or so, long enough for him to have to drop in a few more coins. He told her the abbreviated tale of his journey so far, glossing over his weariness and playing up any of the interesting or unique things that he had seen along the way. Sometimes when they spoke he felt a little less jaded.
"When will you be back?" Rogue finally asked. He felt suddenly tired and rubbed his hand along his jaw, feeling two days of prickling beard.
"I'm not really sure. It might be awhile, Kid." Something gentled in his gravelly voice, a subtle reassurance. "I'll make it back around eventually."
"I miss you, Logan."
"I'll see you." He hung up the phone with unnecessary care and slowly walked back to the bar.