X-23 let out a strangled cry as she suddenly woke, eyes snapping open and adamantium slicing through both her skin and the sweaty, shredded sheets. She gasped frantically and needlessly for air, struggling against the now absent forces keeping her down. It took a moment before the red haze clouding her vision disappeared, leaving it blurry but otherwise normal. She squeezed her red, sleep-deprived eyes shut and lowered her clenched fists down by her sides. Automatically, she performed the supposedly calming ritual of meditative breathing. Inhale for two seconds. Exhale for three. Inhale again. Exhale. Rinse and repeat.
Gradually, some of the tension began to seep out, leaving her tired and aggravated instead of raging. With a slightly tremulous hand, she rubbed her eyes and glanced at the clock. As expected, it was still early. 5:27 am to be exact. A growl of displeasure left her as she swung herself out of bed. It was too early to get ready for the day but too late to go back to sleep, not that she would even if she tried.
She grabbed the clothes she had put out last night and noiselessly treaded across the carpeted hallways to the bathroom. She promptly stripped and entered the shower, and proceeded to vigorously washed away the layers of sweat and exhaustion still tightly clinging to her body. A few minutes later, she stepped out, wiped herself off with the nearest towel, schooled her features back to her normal collected self, then briefly examined her face.
She muttered a curse as she realized that purplish crescents were beginning to appear under her eyes, as were faint spiderwebs of red veins in her whites. While her cells could heal abnormally fast, even they were beginning to show the strain of nearly two weeks of barely any good sleep.
After dressing, she harshly brushed the uncomfortable knots and tangles out of her damp, thin hair and went back down the halls and the stairs to the kitchen, rummaging through the fridge. A moment's search provided someone's sandwich, probably Cyclop's judging from how boringly normal its contents of ham and cheese were, and some leftover sausages. Add to that a dip in the cookie jar, and she exited the mansion with a well stocked plate.
The air outside was cool and fresh, a blessing to her overly warm skin. She walked down the marble steps slowly, soaking in calming quiet of the early morning, a silence interrupted by only the occasional sounds of nature. The waning moon was still out, hiding behind the clouds as it readied for the sunrise. What bits of moonlight made it through the gray haze caught on the lawn and trees, highlighting a few patches of leaves and grass, all still soaked in the early morning dew. However, the calming atmosphere did nothing to elevate the energy of the drained teenager, who was currently making her way to a stone bench with slow, plodding steps.
Then, she heard a large yet faint rustle to her left.
The forgotten food fell to the ground as she whirled towards the noise in an attack-ready position, claws out and slightly crouched. Her breathing quickened, adrenaline sparking through her as she clenched her jaw and assessed the threat.
Said threat eyed her with some surprise and - was that concern? - before taking another swig from his beer bottle.
"Watcha doin' out here kid?" Logan raised an eyebrow before letting out a belch.
X-23's nose twitched in both disgust and annoyance before she sheathed her claws and bent down to quickly collect the disarrayed platter of food, trying best as she could to hide the shaking in her hands. Even so, she could feel his eyes on her, taking in her terrific physical and mental shape.
"When did you come back?" She tried to redirect as he continued to approach her, stopping once he reached a comfortable distance of about four feet away.
"A few hours ago." Logan grunted. "That Scott's sandwich?"
X-23 shrugged as she stood up. "Not anymore."
A smirk flashed across the man's face.
She walked over to a bench to enjoy her snack, only slightly irritated when Logan sat next to her on the opposite side.
"Couldn't sleep huh?" He commented as he stretched out in his seat and gave his back and neck a few good cracks, followed by a relaxed sigh. "That why you're so jumpy?"
The teenager stabbed her sausage a bit more forcefully than needed.
"Mind if I have a piece?" He reached over to cross the distance between them.
She glared, ready to drive her fork through his hand and pull the plate out of his reach. But she was a tad too slow, and before she knew it, Logan had snagged her sandwich and a cookie. She lunged to grab them back but only managed to get half of the sandwich back, the other ripped piece still in Logan's hand and the cookie in his mouth.
"Child." She muttered, resignedly yet angrily starting on the ham and cheese.
"Look who's talking." Logan swallowed, then grimaced. "Who made these?"
"Ugh. The elf wasn't kidding."
"Actually, her baking skills seems to have improved."
"By how much?" There was a hint of incredulity.
"I don't know." X-23 downed another sausage, taking only a few seconds to chew. "It's not like I've had much experience with cookies."
This time, Wolverine's smirk held a touch of regret.
The two continued in silence for a the next half hour, finishing up their food and alcohol. The girl kept her eyes firmly trained on the sky, awaiting the sunrise and trying to ignore her leaden limbs.
But as Logan brought his bottle up to his lips for a last chug, a question suddenly came to her mind, bringing her out of her silent state.
"Can you get drunk?"
Logan paused and gave her a sideways glance. "Why are you askin'?"
"Just wondering." She tried to play it off as casual.
The mutant observed her carefully, trying to decipher what was behind the lie.
"If I try, I can get buzzed pretty good." His beefy shoulders finally shrugged.
"If you try?"
"Takes a few dozen bottles of vodka."
She nodded, not very surprised.
"But if they're botherin' you that much, I'd suggest you try a punching bag over a bottle."
"Course, those are a bit of an easy target. If you really want to blow off some steam, level 8 in the Danger Room is pretty good."
The girl swallowed, staring down at her now empty plate.
He let out another gassy burp. "So, have you thought of a name yet?"
"Huh?" She blinked, startled at the change in topic.
"The Professor asked you over a week ago. D'you pick one?"
"...I haven't really found a good one."
"Better choose soon. School starts in few weeks."
X-23 crossed her arms. "I don't see why-"
"You're goin' to school."
"You can't tell me what to do."
"Sure I can."
"'Cause I'm the only one around here who can beat the crap out of you."
X-23 scowled. Despite her previous run-ins with the older mutant, she knew this was true. Even back when she had first attacked the mansion, she could feel him holding back. A lot. He could KO her in no time at all, and there was no way she could catch up with the centuries of fighting experience he had over her. Still, that didn't mean she had to like it.
"HYDRA focused on my education just as much as my physical training." She argued. "I probably know more about chemistry, human biology, architectural physics, geometry, and statistics than any of the kids there."
"True." Logan agreed. "But, they only taught you things that were needed for bein' an assassin, meaning history, writing, literature, and economics were left out."
"Because they're not important." She rolled her eyes.
"That mostly true. But in life, you're gonna have to deal with with meaningless crap just because it's meaningless crap, so you might as well start practicing now."
"That's not fair." She grumbled.
"Life's not fair."
X-23 sighed and sunk into her seat. "You'd think it would cut me a break for just a while."
"Why? Because you went through hell?" Wolverine's eyes turned hard. "Life doesn't owe you a d*mn thing kid, so don't go around acting like you've earned a better life than everyone else. You haven't. The crap you go through doesn't equal the amount of goodness you receive. You want something in your life to happen, you make it happen yourself. Don't expect some otherwordly, supernatural force to do it for you."
"You're self-sufficient and pull your own weight, yeah. But you're lettin' your expectations get off the ground. You do that, they'll eventually crash."
X-23 gave Logan a heated look, riled up enough to feel like arguing but too tired to actually do it. Plus, somewhere deep in the back of her head she felt some part of what he said was right. Not that she'd let him know of course.
"Feel grateful that I'm tellin' you this kid. Other people learn it the hard way, later in life after they've made a crapload of mistakes."
She snorted. "Yeah, cause my life was so easy and I have absolutely no decisions to regret."
It took a second for her to realize that, for just a moment, she had let more emotion bleed into that sentence then intended. Her horrified reaction to her sudden lapse in composure doubled as she noticed Logan's face soften ever so slightly. Embarrassed, she ducked her head slightly, letting her dark hair cover her face.
Logan shifted a bit closer to the teen, resting a rough hand on her shoulder. "I'm not sayin' your life was perfect. I'm just tellin' you that you can't let your past hold on to you."
X-23 tried hard to ignore the sudden stinging in her eyes. Through the blurry film coating her vision, she caught Logan slowly standing to his feet, letting go of her and popping his spine once more.
"I'm gonna go back inside now." He yawned. "The Professor is probably up by now; wanted me to see him once I got back."
X-23 nodded, staring at the wet grass at her feet.
Logan made his way around her and the bench, then unexpectedly paused behind her. After a moment's hesitation, he spoke.
"They don't go away. But they get better."
With that, he left the girl on the bench, the sun now beginning to peek over the horizon.
X-23 clenched her trembling jaw hard, imprisoning the sounds the desperately wanted to break out. She waited until she heard the oak doors slam shut, and for the first time in years, she let herself cry.