PREVIOUSLY: Ace closed her "vigilante" business, checked on some friends, was asked to be matron of honor by Pepper and Tony, and moved in with Logan.
Logan regards my to-do list with an arched brow before adding some chores of his own. Neither of us knows how long we're going to live here, but it's a place and it may as well be a good one.
The first couple days are full of tense silences as we reacclimatize to each other. I still don't know if Logan is permanently quieter than ever, or if that's just how he's being with me right now. He's probably wondering if I'm permanently bossy now too. Once we've repaired and replaced a few household things, Logan says, "Shingles are comin' off the roof."
"Ugh, I don't want to fix the roof."
"You want a soggy attic this winter?"
"I don't know how to fix a roof and I'm not climbing up there."
"Fix the roof or chase the critters out of the attic."
I pout. "Okay."
"All of them."
"What about the owl?"
"Owl can stay."
So the owl watches through slitted eyes as I shoo out her roommates and sweep out her pellets. The raccoon will be unhappy I blocked his entrance, and the mouse family will just relocate to the crawl space, but the owl, who I see now is quite old for living in the wild, stays on her rafter well within reach of me. Maybe she's too tired to move, maybe she'd rather face me than the sunlight. I hear the truck trundle away as Logan goes out for roofing supplies, so it's just me and her, and after a while we forget the other is there.
That evening I've got my feet up on the table, picking stubborn splinters out of my knuckles and checking my plate again for anything I might've missed. Tree fell over the property line, so we took the day to slice it up and haul it back here. Logan says the gas heater bugs him and refused to explain further, so wood stove it is. It might be the smell that bugs him, unless he's gotten paranoid about explosions. Hard to tell.
Opened a few cans of chili beans and had those with steak and some curly dock I found growing near the tree. Logan ate a pithy amount of that, washed it down with beer, but didn't complain.
"So what did Emma say?" he asks across the table.
We've been in an off-and-on conversation about Scott's affair for a couple hours now. "What'd she say two years ago when I last saw her? Don't remember. Scott told me to get lost and I did."
Logan's doing some puzzle on the back of the newspaper. Or maybe he's just drawing squiggles in the Sudoku boxes. It's the free local rag and contains plenty of derogatory things about immigrants and the prime minister. I use it to stuff the gap under the door at night.
"She pissed at you?"
"Emma? Always." I pick up my plate and lean back in my chair to slide it into the sink. "I encourage her hatred, it's our thing."
"What about Scott?"
"Look, I don't think about these people anymore, they have nothing to do with me. Even Storm didn't stay in touch."
Logan huffs and starts scribbling in the margins. "You still talk with Sonus and…whatshername, Jean's girl?"
I scratch my brow, taking too long to answer and making Logan suspicious.
"They had a baby girl," I say.
"They? The both of 'em?"
"Yeah, they got married."
"When did this happen?"
My whole face feels itchy, must've wiped tree sap across it. "December '14."
"Right after Vinny—?"
"Yep." I get up to wash my face in the sink. "Had the wedding in Iowa with her family."
Logan waits to speak while I have the water running, but I keep it running.
"Just tell me what happened, Ace."
"Uh, I wasn't invited. They haven't talked to me since the funeral." I towel off my face. "And I haven't talked to them."
"Sounds like perfectly normal behavior. Between friends."
That restraining order must be long expired, but I'm not crawling up their front steps or anything. "I lost my head a little. Matt had been getting on my nerves for weeks being a prick, so I got into it with him after the funeral. Madge took his side, I got kinda hostile, and they've avoided me ever since. Part of the reason I don't go near that place."
Logan chews on his silence for a second. "Hostile how?"
"You've seen my hostile," I say derisively over my shoulder. "Hostile hostile, I got angry."
"About time Matt saw anyway." I didn't come here to think about them. "You make any friends while you were out here?"
"Since moving into this dump or before?"
"Met a bull moose that didn't mind me," he says. "Used to meet me at the pond and we'd just sit in it together."
I have to cover my mouth for laughing at that image. "He ever bring a six-pack and talk hockey with you?"
"Stop laughing at me." He's pleased though.
There's been a soft tapping against the roof for a while now, so I walk to the window. "It's raining again."
"It was raining yesterday."
"Nothing gets past you."
I try to melt with the sound of the rain, but talking about the Larsons has put me on edge. "You know it doesn't rain in California?"
Logan grunts apathetically.
"The whole time I was in L.A. I never saw it rain. Everything was so dry that the state would just, ignite, now and then. People were actually afraid of rainstorms because lightning strikes would start new fires."
"That's happening here now."
He nods slowly. "Less rain, dry tinder, lightning. Alberta was on fire last year, think I heard. Climate's changing faster, I've watched it. When you were still a kid there was wildlife behind every tree. Now there isn't as much food for them as there used to be."
I see now my future, one I thought I could spend hiding out in forests and mountains when humanity became too tiresome. It's barren, full of people, with nowhere to hide and no animals to hide alongside. "When it all finally collapses onto itself, I'm moving offworld."
"Thought you didn't know this universe. You got a place in mind?"
Shrugging, I chuckle. "Asgard? I'll know by then."
There's a moment before he asks, "What made you get this place?"
"The, uh—when I left the…when the Avengers broke up." I clear my throat. "I got a couple places."
Logan arches a commiserating brow. "I'm sorry, darlin', though I know that doesn't fix a damn thing. Shoulda stuck by you, but didn't want to bleed on you and couldn't stop up the wound." He scribbles something loud and fast on the newspaper. "Jean once told me that I don't stick around and she needed someone who did. I had just been to Alkali and hadn't kept in touch. Had I stuck around though, had I never gone back to Alkali, I would never have found you again. She made her decision, and I made mine, and here you are."
He talks about Jean a few times a day, but when he talks about himself I just hear me. I don't stick around, I didn't want to bleed on anyone, but I can't pass up the opportunity to help even when I'm attempting to disappear.
"What?" I repeat. "Why are we like this?"
"Yes, why? I didn't ask to be like this, who did this to us?"
He pauses to think. "Darlin', does it matter?"
A small flock of deer owned the property before I did. I catch Logan on the porch every morning watching them silently from a beat-up lawn chair. He went into town while I was away, found some chairs for free by the side of the road, and bought a sack of carrots which he likes to scatter around the front yard before making his coffee. Pretty soon we're both on the porch morning and evening, sometimes for the deer, usually just because.
"Water heater isn't working," I say this morning.
"You're the mechanic. Roof looks good though, eh?"
I eye the pile of discarded shingles in the truck bed. "Thought whatshisname offered to come pick those up?"
"I don't want anyone coming out here," he says stoutly. "We'll dump 'em on his lot this weekend. There's that roadside diner out that way, so we'll get some poutine after."
Oh, dessert poutine. I haven't had anything sweet in a while. Logan must be in a great mood to bait me like that. He now draws my attention to a young doe crunching merrily on a carrot.
"Won't your friends be missing you by now?" Logan asks. "Do they know where you are?"
"The ones that need to. Why?"
"Just want to know someone cared to ask, that's all." He bumps his tin mug against the chair's wooden armrest. "Who do you have fun with these days?"
"Fun? What's that?"
"Wade was fun."
"Agh." He waves me off.
"I don't have a fun side—do I have a fun side? Hm." I pop my knuckles and stretch my legs. "Vince was my fun side, he joked and pulled pranks. I'm not very fun."
When I quit the X-Men and moved into the compound, even in the wake of Sokovia and losing Bruce, the Avengers were excited by my arrival. They all wanted to spend time with me, but I wasn't actually there. I'd been in the woods with Vince for two years, turning the scenario over and over in my head, fixated on imagining a version of events where he lived. I hug myself around the middle, still remembering what it felt like to hold him. Sometimes I can recall his smell, or the exact number and formation of freckles by his mouth. How can someone I can see so clearly not exist?
Putting off our chores for the day, Logan and I go for a hike. There's a trail that connects our property with the neighboring ones, since this all used to be one parcel. I'd planned to purchase the others if I could, to further seclude the house, but now that I've stopped up my money flow I'm holding off on that.
When the hike turns out to be longer than we thought, we take a break on a large fallen tree. Logan hasn't said much and neither have I, but when we're not talking we're mulling over something. I take off my brand new boots to let my blisters heal, and Logan scans the area for any smells or sounds that might disturb us.
"Hm?" he grunts.
"I think…I don't think it's Vinny I've been grieving lately," I say. "I think it's me. I lost the most important person in my life and I think it was me. Is that selfish? Around Vince I was the best person I've ever been. Now I'm stuck with this person and no Vince, and what if I deserve it? I would've given up anything to protect him and instead I gave him up to protect everything."
"You didn't give anyone up, Ace. Get that out of your head, you didn't fail him."
"I was a superhero. He married me because I was a superhero, because it's what he wanted to do, because I could protect him. He had demons on his tail and I could make all of them go away. And then I wasn't with him and they caught up, and I became this ugly person, the kind of person he decided not to be. That's failure."
"No," Logan's shaking his head firmly now, "no, you've got this all wrong. Vince didn't love you because you could protect him, and he wouldn't have loved you if you weren't imperfect. I don't claim to know that boy's heart, but I know you've got this wrong. Maybe he didn't marry who you became, but you think he wouldn't understand? Boy ran around with monsters and realized he was stronger than them. Who else did he know who was that strong?—you. If his death weakened you to be like them at all, he'd be hurt but he'd understand, and he'd forgive you. He didn't need a superhero, he needed you, and promised to follow you weak or strong. Now, cut that out."
The urge to argue arises, but I let it die. "Do you think I'll ever find another one like Vin?"
Logan rubs his chin. "Not—maybe."
"Not maybe." He smiles minimally. "There is no other Vince. He'll always be the only one. You might love again, it'll just be different."
That's when I finally, stupidly realize there were women before Jean. Could slap myself for being so self-centered. "I love you, Logan."
"Thanks, darlin'. You aren't so bad yourself."
"Did I turn out okay? I mean, I didn't, but did I turn out how you expected? Everyone else expected something. I don't know what you wanted for me."
"I just wanted you to be safe and happy, but I always knew it wasn't going to be easy. Life wasn't perfect for me before Alkali, but it had its moments. You get used to the ebb and flow. Never really knew about you, how that place would affect a kid. Turns out you were alright."
I rest my chin in my hand and eyeball him. "I started fights on the blacktop. Constantly. And I screamed at night."
"Could've been worse. Plus, you stuck around after graduation; that surprised everyone. Kept waiting for you to go traveling, or to shack up with one of the boys, but you just made a nest and settled in."
He huffs, and for a split second squeezes my knee as tight as he can. I swallow and keep my eyes on him.
"I'd found home, Logan."
He trembles slightly, patting my knee. "You deserved one."
I wolf down my pasta, chewing as loudly as I please. Logan drinks his beer, I drink mine, and we smile at each other over the dinner table. My whole body feels good, and when Logan smiles back, shaking his head a little, it's just the cherry on top.
It's a windy night, so we leave everything in the sink and lie down at different angles on the bed, limbs hanging off the sides. Logan settles in a way that doesn't aggravate his metal bones and sighs with obvious relief, before getting out a toothpick. Meanwhile I curl up, drowsy and full, by his feet. The only part of me he can reach without moving much is my knee, so he scratches it with one finger for a while. I stretch slightly, yawn without reserve because there's no one here who will mind my teeth, and try to burrow deeper into the bedspread.
"There was this one time…" He starts into one of his back-when stories like he does on warm evenings on the porch. He tells me stories about people he knew and conflicts he fought in or against. Tells me offhandedly about lives he changed, individuals he never saw again, but who likely remember him more than he lets on. A few times he mentions women who were worse at sticking around than he is; some who stabbed him in the back and others who knew they were better off letting him walk away. Mostly though, his stories are empty of human interaction and instead filled with miles of road and mountain ridges, odd jobs that kept him anonymous, strange bars he only ever visited once; a lot of quiet decades between here and his days as a young man.
I turn my head on the blanket. "And when my life looks like these stories sound, will I still see you?"
"I'll be around," he says. "We'll meet up like this, swap tales over a beer. You're young yet though."
"What does that mean?"
"You might still make a family. I'll visit, but only if you want me to."
"What kind of family would I make where you couldn't be part of it?"
"Already have that, with the Avengers."
"That's different, that's work. And you could be an Avenger."
Logan huffs. "I've already worn one letter of the alphabet, don't necessarily want another."
He tosses his toothpick out the open window. On some nearby property an ATV growls into earshot and away again.
"We need to go back to the school."
I bristle. "We?"
"I'm not saying you'd have to stay."
"We just got this place back in shape."
"And I'm not saying we'd be welcome, but I owe it to the Professor, to Jean, to make things right. And I need you with me when I do."
I press my tongue to my teeth. "Everything's different there now, I told you, and they do not want me back. I don't owe anything to anyone who used to be there."
Logan tents his hand over his eyes. "Anyone? What about old Ace? Wouldn't she want you to find peace?"
"I'm not going to find it there."
"But I might. Will you come with me?"
"I-I don't…How do we fix things?" I ask. "How do we make up for all we've done and how we've acted?"
"We were grieving."
"Our grief was destructive and we chose to keep it that way."
Logan huffs, but with less gusto than a normal Logan huff. "You've always been better at smoothing things over than me."
"Yeah, but I'm just as proud. I still have a list of people I won't apologize to even though I should, and none of them are at the school."
We're both quiet for a while. When the silence starts to annoy me, I turn on the radio and find some music, scratchy and storm-strewn.
"I'm going," Logan says, "and I'm doing it for Jean and Xavier. I spent too many good years there to not do the right thing now. You do what you're gonna do."
Getting up, Logan stomps into the kitchen. I can hear him opening the cabinets, and soon there's a beer in my hand. I sit up and open it without a thought. Drinking is like Logan's crying, so I keep quiet while he polishes off a few cans. Finally, he says,
"Kid, this may be the shittiest thing I ever say to you, but you've got me. You've always got me, whether you want me or not. We might get separated again, but you know what I mean."
"Yeah." I set my empty bottle aside. "You've got me too."
We spend the next couple days preparing the truck for the journey, as my car can't handle the forecasted snowstorm. Logan still hates teleporting, and there are no changes of clothes waiting for us at the school, so road trip it is. We lock up the house with its new roof, turn off the recently repaired water heater, and head out.
First we drop off those shingles at the junkyard like Logan promised the owner. We packed light, so the space wasn't needed for our things which were all crammed into my duffel. It sits upright between us on the long seat like a third passenger.
Since it's in the wrong direction, we forego my poutine and head east until Logan has to use the restroom. A different roadside diner with a goopy plate of poutine painted on the glass front. I look sideways at Logan and he chuckles.
"Go make yourself sick."
"I'll get something for the road too, what do you want?"
"Beef sandwich. You got cash—?"
"I've got cash, I've got it," I assure.
The waitress behind the counter isn't thrilled to see us, but you can't knock Canadian politeness. I try not to sound too American as I place our order, and she doesn't bat an eyelash at scruffy Logan heading for the bathroom without a word. I mean, he looks better than he did when I found him, but he still looks like trouble.
Once the waitress has disappeared into the kitchen to take out her frustrations on the cook, I watch the little TV screen broadcasting the local news. I try not to think about the school, and how much I don't want to be there. The antics at the local grade school's fall festival are much more interesting.
Brakes squeal right before a crash. I'm off my seat and out the door just as a driver steps out of his vehicle. Two car collision, both SUVs.
"Anyone hurt?" I call across the parking lot as I approach.
"I'm as good as it gets," he replies uncertainly, observing the damage. "They just swerved right into me."
His vehicle has a sizeable dent in the driver's door, and the other vehicle's bumper is crushed. We don't see the other driver though, so he checks through the window to see if maybe they collapsed inside.
"Hey," he says sharply. "There's no one here."
I come over to see if they might have crawled into the back.
"Hold on, lemme get my phone," the driver makes a light jog back to his vehicle. "You have a camera phone? Mine isn't…"
I turn to him just in time to see him crumble into a flaky ash. His legs shale away, followed by his torso as his face disintegrates. His hand is the last to go as it holds open his car door before fluttering gently across the road.
My first reaction is to turn invisible, thinking whatever did this will get me next. Then I look in the driver's seat of the other vehicle. Dark brown ash. Hair standing on end, I wait, I listen. There's shouting at the gas station down the road, punctuated by a shriek.
I fast walk back to the diner and into the kitchen. Three different sweeps of ash, one by the stove, another by the garbage can, the third scattered across the threshold of the open walk-in freezer.
Logan. I can't…I can't hear him. I can't hear him anywhere.
I rush back to the truck, pawing through the duffel for my phone, paying close attention to every sensation in my body, waiting to feel myself flake away, guessing at what the beginning symptoms might be. Phone in hand, I turn around and jolt so hard I hit my head on the doorframe.
Logan's standing at the edge of the parking lot, listening to tires squeal at the gas station. We both watch as the vehicle narrowly skirts the collision in the middle of the road, bounces over the curb, and streaks past us.
Logan turns to me. "Leave the truck. Jump us now."