Disclaimer: The X-Men and all their cool stuff is owned by 20th Century Fox and Marvel. I'm not getting any money off this, just having my wicked way with them. Original characters/locations are all mine. Slightly AU.
Author's Note: This is the first fic I've ever submitted anywhere. The idea popped into my head one night at work and would not let go. Please review, no flames, but I am more than capable of taking constructive criticism. Italics will denote either a flashback or something that's written, it should be easy enough to figure out which is which. :)
Of all the dives he had to walk into, why did it have to be mine? Ok, sure, it's not like I was trying to make any bones about the place; I did name it "The Dive", after all. But still, with 9 other bars that were far worse than mine in a 2-block radius, why did he have to pick mine? I know what he likes in a bar, or at least what he used to like. Maybe he was finally moving up in the world.
The Dive isn't actually the only place I own. I have a dance club in downtown Detroit called "Rant n' Rave" or "RnR" for short. I thought it was clever and it does make for a good marketing scheme. As I'm sure you can guess, its specialty is techno/industrial music, flashing lights and overpriced drinks sold to barely 21-year-old customers who pay WAY too much to get in. The Dive is my side project, for lack of a better term. It's small, smoky and attracts older customers thanks to my cigar lounge in the back, the non-sucking music on the jukebox and my excellent selection of import beers. I don't even sell American beer here, because I won't sell what I won't drink to people who are old enough to (supposedly) know better. American beer is like having sex in a canoe. It's fucking close to water.
At any rate, I opened The Dive about 3 years after RnR made me a lot of money, just so I could have somewhere to go to unwind after going to work. I'm not ashamed to admit that I took full advantage of the generosity of the government when it comes to women who want to go into business for themselves. The grant was just barely enough to open RnR, but I've been rewarded tenfold what I started with and now I don't have to worry about money or much of anything else. I can't remember the last time someone came to look for me, but I've found that money, while not buying happiness, can definitely buy peace. There's not a P.I. in 5 counties that will tell someone the truth about who or where I am and I have a hacker friend (the most brilliant 17 year old kid on the planet, I shit you not) who keeps my name, face and anything else I want off the radar. But when you're both a mutant and an ex-government agent who's technically AWOL, it's better that way.
I also save money by living in the apartment over The Dive. It also means I don't have to go far when I want to go home and there's no pesky drinking and driving tickets to deal with. Three months ago, I was gladder than ever that home was just a flight of stairs away. One of my favorite groups was there that night, a bunch of 30something men and women who liked to smoke cigars and give a running commentary on the clientele. Their table in the corner was usually a chorus of "harrumph" with the occasional "oh, indeed!" thrown in for good measure. I mentally thought of them as "The Explorers Club", because the more they drank, the more they spoke in faux snobby British accents. I was back in the office doing the schedule when a very loud "HARRUMPH", accompanied by table knocking sounded from their corner. I couldn't make out everything they were saying over the din of the jukebox and the pool tables, but I know they were having fun with the poor, unsuspecting person who just walked in. But, they say curiosity killed the cat and I had to have a look.
As soon as I poked my head around the doorframe, my heart almost stopped and I was frozen in place. I couldn't see his whole face, more like a quarter profile, but I was sure I knew who it was. On the other hand, it had been over 15 years since the last time I saw him, so how could it be him? I stood there, staring in disbelief and telling myself 'it can't be him' over and over, as though thinking it hard enough could make it true. I knew I had to look away because he always knew when he was being watched, but I couldn't. And I'm certain it didn't take the eternity I thought it did before he looked, but those were 2 of the longest minutes of my life.
He hadn't changed a bit. His dark hair was still unruly and stuck up like an absurd pair of ears, he still had the same scowl on his face (which was still unbelievably sexy for some reason) and the same hazel eyes that were both wary and haunted. For a moment, I thought he'd recognized me, but he just grunted to himself and looked away. Time finally started to cooperate with me again and I ducked back into my office, locking the door behind me.
My first thought was "he's with THEM and they've sent him to find me". Hot on its heels was "impossible, if he'd come for me he wouldn't have just sat there and I'd already be trussed up and drugged to the teeth in the back of some non-descript government van". I tried to think rationally, but that was becoming more and more difficult by the second. A thousand different thoughts and feelings were warring with each other and I was alternately sweating and chilled to the bone with dread. I don't know how long I sat there in shock, but it must have been longer than the few seconds I though it was. Ricky, my bartender, was pounding on the door and yelling that he needed help. Yeah, I own the place, but Ricky's the one who keeps it going and if he needed a hand I'd give it to him. I took a deep breath and opened the door with shaking hands.
"Look, bosslady, I know I can't technically boss you around, but a bachelor party just came in and I need you behind the bar." Ricky was over a foot taller than me, 270 pounds of pure muscle, but he mixes a mean White Russian and he keeps the rowdier patrons from getting out of hand. However, his hulking outward appearance concealed a heart the size of Guam and he was as attuned to my moods as almost any other person I'd ever known (the only other person being the person-who-could-not-be-there nursing a beer at a corner table). He took one look at me and frowned. "Hey, Angela, you don't look so good."
I scowled at him. "Thanks, you look like shit yourself." His frown deepened and I sighed. "It's nothing, Ricky. I'm just tired. Still having DJ problems at the other place. You know how it is."
His frown relaxed a bit, as he looked closer. "You sure? I can call Carl; it's not that big a deal. He's just down the road…"
"No, I'm fine. But the mixed ones are all yours. I'll just sling beers, deal?"
He grinned. "Hey, you pour the best beer in the city, who am I to argue?" He held the door open for me and I slipped out, making sure it was locked behind me. I'd hoped that the person-who-could-not-be-there was really not there anymore, but luck wasn't with me. He was still there, scowling at his beer as though it offended him. Well, if he didn't recognize me before, maybe I was in luck after all.
The next 2 hours were hectic, to say the least. The bachelor party had started at one end of the block and they were working up a good drunk by the time they left my place. I was certain they'd wind up at some strip joint or another, as these things usually do, but in the time they spent at The Dive, they managed to run out most of my regulars. By the time they left, the only customers who stuck it out were a couple of old guys shooting pool, 3 of the Explorers and the-person-who-could-not-be-there. Except, of course, he was still there.
I leaned back against the cooler behind the bar and let out a breath of relief. I have very few standards for my clientele beyond the usual "shirt and shoes" rules that everyone else follows. Don't harass the cigar smokers (they like to buy the good Scotch, which is good for business), don't harass me or my staff, don't hustle pool and kilt wearers get the first round on the house (long story, don't ask). There's a sign behind the bar that reads, "Assholes will be cheerfully beaten" and another that says "Complaint Department" with a shelf underneath that holds a mace. Needless to say, my clientele tends to be extremely well behaved. Even though the bachelor party had followed my rules (no kilts, though, which was a shame), I hadn't expected a group of 25 rowdy guys to show up and see who could drink the most shots in a row without hurling. The answer happens to be 9 and it wasn't the groom. I hoped he'd be able to remember his vows by the next day.
As I stood there, wilting, I noticed that the-person-who-could-not-be-there was staring at me out of the corner of his eye, his brow furrowed in concentration. My gut started churning as the mixed feelings of hope and dread once again began chasing each other around in my head. Without even thinking, I grabbed the chilled bottle of Belvedere vodka out of the cooler, poured myself 4 shots and downed them in quick succession, my eyes tightly closed. I stood there for a moment as the alcohol burned down my throat and settled in my stomach, a brief wave of dizziness fogging my thoughts. However, I have a pretty good tolerance to alcohol (years of practice), so it didn't last as long as I would have liked.
I finally decided to take a chance on speaking to him. I pulled a couple beers out of the cooler and popped them open as I made my way to the small table he occupied alone. He looked away as I approached, studying the almost empty beer bottle in his hand. I set one of the beers down in front of him, maybe a little harder than I had intended, and straddled the chair next to his. He looked at me sideways, then looked away, reaching for his wallet.
"On the house." I said, waving his money away. "I have it on very good authority that the boss won't mind."
"Oh yeah? How can ya be so sure?" He replied, quirking an eyebrow at me.
"Cuz I'm the boss." I replied with a smirk, taking a long pull off my beer. It's not one usually found in the states, the import duties on it are outrageous. But Waterloo Dark is a microbrew from Canada that I've loved fora very long timeand I refuse to go to Windsor every time I want one. So much easier to just come down here for it.
"Fair enough." He said, tossing back a third of his bottle in one go, then looked at the bottle and made an appreciative sound. I then found myself pinned down by another sideways stare. "That was a neat trick with the vodka shots a minute ago. Or wasn't it really vodka?"
"Would you like me to line some up for both of us and find out yourself?" I asked, all innocence.
He chuckled with genuine amusement. "Oh no, I know better than to fall for that. When a woman's confident enough about shots, it's just plain stupid to challenge her."
"Ooh, sexy AND smart. I might have to keep you around for awhile." I smiled and played with my beer bottle. He gave a half smile and concentrated on his beer for a moment. I studied his profile, looking for any detail that would tell me this was NOT who I thought it was. Unfortunately, I wasn't havingany luck in that department. I took a sip off my beer before speaking again. "Hmm, modest too. I could get to really like you."
"I get the feelin' you're tryin' to pick me up." He commented dryly.
"Is that so bad?"
"I don't know." He said with a shrug, and then concentrated on his beer again. We sat there in silence long enough for it to be uncomfortable before he turned to look at me full on. "Do I know you?"
I swallowed hard, suddenly nervous. "I don't know, do you?"
"I'm gettin' the impression you might. The way you hid earlier when I showed up. And how youlooked over after the shots, like you were almost hopin' I'd be gone." He took another drink of the beer, savoring it this time. "Either way, you have good taste in beer."
"I'm just a dark beer kinda girl. This is my personal favorite, it reminds me of someone I used to know."
The sexy eyebrow trick made a repeat performance, then he shrugged and we drank in silence for a moment. Each second felt like an hour to me as we sat there; I had no idea how to broach the subject that hung between us. He solved my dilemma by pulling out a cigar and lighting it, which gave me something else to talk about.
"I usually confine those to the lounge area in the back where the Explorers sit." I pointed out, gesturing with my beer bottle to where the 3 remaining were laughing at something that I had missed completely.
"Yeah, the loud bunch in the corner. When they really get going, they remind me of a bunch of 19th century British guys who are reliving their days hunting in darkest India or something."
"I can move if you really want me to." He said, half rising from his seat. I reached out quickly to stop him.
"No, it's all right. Probably won't get many more people tonight anyway. And they don't bother me. They also remind of someone I once knew." I took a long drink of my Waterloo, glancing at him sideways.
"Hm. Relative or ex?"
"Does it make a difference?" It was his turn to give me the sideways glance.
We lapsed back into silence, finishing the beers I'd brought with me. I waved to Ricky, who came over quickly with two more.
"This one on the house, too?"
I clinked his bottle with mine. "For as long as you're willing to drink with me."
"Hope I don't bankrupt ya." He chuckled.
The silence descended over us again, nervous on my part, wary on his. I wasn't sure if I wanted to be right about who this was, but short of blurting the whole thing out, I didn't know how to find out. Of course, even if I was wrong and it was just an uncanny resemblance, he was still a damn fine specimen and I might just throw caution to the wind and take him upstairs anyway. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn't realize he was staring at me again until he cleared his throat.
"So, how long ya had this place?"
I shrugged. "Few years. It pays for itself and I live upstairs. I have the best collection of import beers in the city." I took a long drink. "And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it also reminded me of someone."
"Well, it certainly doesn't live up to its name. I don't see any sawdust and the music doesn't suck."
I couldn't help but laugh. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. But at least you don't have to worry about the cleanliness of the glasses." He smiled at that. "Besides, there's something about the way a small bar smells, don't you think?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You know. Scent is the best trigger for memory there is. I can smell open water and I immediately think about the first time I saw the ocean. Or I'll catch the scent of pine trees and remember my first Christmas. Things you thought were long buried suddenly come right back when you smell something familiar." I looked around the bar, then back into his eyes. "The person this place reminds me of loved places just like this. Ok, this one is a little classier than I remember, but the scents are all there: beer, cigar and cigarette smoke, even the wood." I chuckled a bit at that. "You should have seen me when I was picking out paneling for this place. I smelled every bit of wood and every stain and varnish until I found just the right ones. Figured if I was gonna be surrounded by a memory, it might as well be an accurate one." I looked back at my companion. Now it was his turn to look surprised. "What, is something wrong?"
He shook his head as though to clear it. "What? No, no it's just…I never thought of it that way." He dropped his cigar in his empty bottle then turned to look at me head on. "Seems me and your lost friend have somethin' in common. I always end up in places like this because I like they way they smell. Reminds me of somethin', but I can never quite put my finger on what."
I swallowed hard, hoping I wasn't blushing or turning pale. Not that I can really turn pale. With 2 bars to run, I rarely see the sun, so "fair" doesn't begin to describe me. "Well, maybe being here will help jar your memory."
"Maybe." I saw that his beer was empty again and waved Ricky over to bring him a fresh one. Bless his heart he brought an ashtray, as well as my cigarettes from behind the bar. I smiled at him gratefully and lit one with hands that I don't think shook too much.
"Ya know those things'll kill ya." My companion said ironically.
"Oh, this from the guy with the big cigars." I took a long drag. "They haven't killed me yet. I figure I still have plenty of time." Oh, if he only knew how true that was. Finally, the suspense got the better of me, the small talk grating on my nerves. "So, why are you in Detroit?"
"Just passin' through."
"Ah, I see. Been anywhere interesting?"
"You could say that."
"Not much for conversation, are you?"
"Not used to bein' around people so much. Been travelin' alone for a long time." He took another long drink of his beer and pulled out another cigar. I helpfully lit it for him. "Thanks." He took a long drag then once again looked right at me. "So, back to your disappearin' act earlier."
Damn, he wasn't sidetracked. "I-it wasn't." I stammered. "I mean, I was gonna ask my bartender something and as soon as I popped my head out the door, I forgot what it was." Yeah, that didn't sound convincing to me either, but it was the best I could come up with on short notice.
"Still don't explain why you ran n' hid. Looked like you'd seen a ghost."
I took another long pull off my beer, then ran my hand through my hair, debating if I should put my cards on the table or not. After all, he'd been damn good at what he did, we both were. It could be a ploy, a subtle trick of some kind. But "subtle" was never the word that came to mind where he was involved. I would be inclined to say "mayhem" most certainly, but never "subtle". I sighed and decided to take a chance. "Maybe because I have, Logan."