Disclaimer: I own nothing. Well, except for my X-Men DVD, a quickly acquired, embarassingly large collection of comics, and two action figures, but other that that, I own nothing.
Archive Rights: Just ask.
Author's Notes: This takes place shortly after the end of the movie. It blantly disregards all comic and cartoon canon and relies solely on the information the movie presented for how the characters' mutations might work.
Summary: How strong is Marie's mutation?
The Wolverine is back.
He shows up every few months, ready for a fight, and no one knows he's a regular but me. Everyone else is too drunk, distracted, or high on bloodlust to notice. He only fights one night, starting with his first opponent early in the evening and leaving early in the morning after defeating all takers. He pockets his share of the profits, at least a few thousand dollars, and then he's gone. He can't stay for longer than that or even the dimwitted bar-bums will start to figure out what I have: that he can't lose.
He's a pretty good actor. He lets the rubes get in a few hits and stumbles around dramatically before he fights back, and even then, he takes his time. If he took them out right away, no one would bet against him and there wouldn't be nearly as big a purse at the end of the night. It's only when someone pisses him off that he takes them down fast.
I know his secret, though. He takes too many hits to keep fighting all night unless he has an advantage. I've seen it in action out behind the bar after a particularly bloody fight when he didn't think anyone was looking. He heals. Sure, he covers it up pretty good, leaving old blood from wounds hours ago healed on his skin, but I can tell. He's a mutant.
I've never let on that I know. Every time he comes in, I pretend like it's the first time, greeting him like I would any of the hardened men that drag themselves off the highway and into my run-down bar.
"What'll ya have?" I ask with a touch of disinterest, my eyes never leaving the bit of bar I'm swabbing.
"Gimmie a beer."
I grab him a Molson Golden and return to my bartending duties. During the fights, he usually drinks whiskey, but before and after, he always drinks beer.
"There a fight tonight?" he asks.
"There's a fight every Friday night," I answer.
"When's it start?"
"Talk to Pete," I say, pointing over at the 6 foot 5 inch mass that is my brother.
Dad's owned this place since before I was born, and I've practically grown up in here. When I was younger, Pete and I'd help Mom clean up in the mornings after the bar was closed and Dad was asleep. When she died, he needed our help even more. Pete worked there from the time he was old enough, and I peeked in so many times, that Dad got sick of yelling at me to leave. Could you blame me? It was the only really interesting place in our whole, backwoods town. When I was old enough, I insisted on becoming a waitress and helping out, too.
Dad didn't want me there, and he made me dress so conservatively at first that I felt like a nun. He had Pete follow me like a shadow for days. It was only after he saw I could handle myself with the rough clientele, that he loosened up a little.
Right before he died, he told Pete and me to sell the bar and leave. He wanted us to move on with our lives. We tried to obey his wishes, but that was easier said than done. Who wanted to buy a run-down bar in the middle of nowhere with the scum of the earth as the preferred customers? Besides, if we left, I'd never get to see the Wolverine in action again. Speaking of which, where was he now?
Scanning the steadily filling bar, I finally saw him by the cage, unbuttoning his shirts. You know, I might not have figured out the little scam he's running if it wasn't for one thing. I mean, he's gone for so long between fights and he only fights for one night. If he'd kept his shirt on, I might not have even noticed him. Of course, after one glimpse of that magnificent chest and back, I knew I would never forget him.
That's one of the main reasons I've never ratted him out or given him any indication that I know. To deny myself the pleasure of watching that man brawl, fluid and raw, sweaty and energetic, would be almost physically painful. Not only that, he was also one of the better behaved customers outside of the fighting cage. He never tried to grope me, never came on to me with lewd comments and crude gestures. He just drank, fought, and left.
I heard the squeal of feedback as Pete turned on the microphone. He never could get the thing to work without that high-pitched grating noise, and to me and the regular crowd, it meant that the fights were about to begin.
"Tonight," Pete began, using his deep, getting-ready-to-rumble voice, "We start with an out-of-towner in the cage. Who will challenge the Wolverine?"
Standing alone, the Wolverine is an imposing figure. However, crouching slightly next to my taller, broader, muscular brother, he looked formidable, but beatable. This was the first of his well-played illusions.
"I'll fight 'im!" Bernie yelled.
Bernie's a regular. He drives a rig throughout Alberta and over into British Columbia sometimes, but he always stops here when he's passing through. He's big, dumb, and always either drunk or getting there. He isn't the best opponent for the Wolverine to begin his performance with. He'd been drinking since the bar opened and he was already thoroughly sloshed. No one would believe it if the Wolverine acted like a punch from Bernie hurt. In fact, I'd be surprised if Bernie could even get one hit in with the way he swayed up to the cage.
As it was, the Wolverine took one look at Bernie, landed a quick punch squarely on his jaw, and knocked him out. He didn't even break a sweat. I'd hoped for a little more action.
He scanned the crowd, his eyes stopping on me. He mouthed the word, "Whisky," and I nodded. Picking up a glass and a full bottle of Jack Daniels, I made my way through the bar towards him. Meanwhile, Pete had climbed back up into the cage.
"Is that the best we can do?" Pete asked into the microphone, egging the crowd on. "We've got a real fighter here. We need a real challenger. Is there anyone out there man enough?"
"I am!" a shout came from the door of the bar.
I didn't recognize the voice. He must just be passing though. Hell, the majority of my customers are just passing through. When I turned, leaving the glass and bottle at the side of the cage, I saw that he was tall, not as tall as the Wolverine, but close. He looked strong enough, his wife-beater style tank top accentuating his muscles. As he entered the cage, he shook his greasy, dirty blond hair and cracked his knuckles before easing into a defensive posture that screamed martial arts training. The Wolverine was an untrained scrapper, but I had no doubt that he could beat this guy, no matter what fancy moves he had.
The guy liked to kick, and the Wolverine took a few quick hits to the face and chest before he started fighting back. He took his time with the guy, punching, blocking, and accepting blows, almost like he was savoring the experience before finally putting an end to the battle with a solid upper-cut to Blondie's jaw. Sweaty and invigorated, he picked up the bottle and poured himself a generous helping of liquor before the next fight.
Since I was the only one who knew what he was, I was the only one that knew when something went wrong. At the beginning of the sixth fight, he started getting tired. His movements slowed. After ten fights, he stumbled over his feet, and almost tripped. It didn't look like an act. As the night progressed, he allowed fewer blows and ended the fights almost as quickly as they'd begun. Hours before the bar was due to close, the fighting was over. No one was willing to take him on, and the betting had dried up when everyone realized that he would always win.
When Pete declared an end to the night's brawling, the Wolverine left the cage and went to the restroom to clean his wounds and dress. I left the bar to pick up the leftover bottle of Jack Daniels. Usually he drinks at least two bottles of the stuff, but tonight, he'd never asked for a second bottle, and this one was still two-thirds full.
The bar had mostly cleared out by the time he came back to claim his winnings. Even though drinks were still available, the fight crowd left when the bloodshed stopped.
I'd already received his much smaller than usual take from Pete and was ready to hand it over when he sat down. When I looked up at him, slumped at the end of the bar, I couldn't stop a gasp of surprise.
"You're still bleeding," I whispered, and indeed, he was.
He'd gotten a nasty gash on his forehead when his face was knocked into the metal cage in one of the last fights. The gash was smaller now, but it was still oozing blood.
"Yeah," he muttered noncommittally. "You got my money?"
"Here," I said, passing him the small wad of bills with one hand. Then I pulled out a clean bar towel with the other hand and reached for the wound. He flinched away, and I lowered my eyes. "Sorry, I just wanted to help."
"S'okay," he replied, reaching out his hand for the towel and placing it on his own forehead.
"I have a first-aid kit," I said. "I'm sure there's some butterfly Band-Aids that could hold that gash together until it heals."
"Thanks," he said.
That's the Wolverine, quite a talker. I rummaged under the bar until I produced the small first-aid kit. I quickly found the Band-Aids and asked him to lean forward so I could reach him over the bar. He complied with a grunt of pain, but no further comment. It took three to close the wound.
"Why aren't you healing?" I wondered.
"What?" he asked, pulling away sharply and standing up with a pained expression.
Dammit, I'd said that out loud. Well, the secret was out. He knew that I knew, and the curiosity was killing me.
"Don't worry. I won't tell anyone. I was just wondering. I know you heal, but why is it taking so long?"
"How do you know?" he asked in a raspy whisper.
"I have eyes and I'm not stupid. I've known for years."
He stepped up and reached forward, grabbing my shirt collar and pulling my face towards his. "Who else knows?"
It's a good thing for him Pete was in the back. If my brother saw what he was doing, mutation or no, this guy'd be in a world of serious hurt.
"No one," I answered, shaking my head as much as I could in his grip.
He stared into my eyes for a second before releasing me, probably deciding I could be believed. Straightening his jacket, he turned to leave, and I knew I'd never see him again. I couldn't let him go without asking again.
"Why isn't it working?" I asked, being deliberately vague for the benefit of the few patrons still here.
"It is," he called over his shoulder. "It's just slower."
He turned at the door, his face edged with pain and weariness, and he responded. "I don't know."
See part two.