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I can't believe it's been fifty years. Fifty years, and not a damn thing has changed. The black mud still sticks to everything, coating it with grit and a smell like wet duckshit. The rain still varies between needle-sharp to basketball-sized downpours. The towns still smell like rotten cabbage and the people still drop their eyes to the ground when I walk by.
Me? Oh yeah, I've changed. But the changes started here.
I was with the 25th Division, Eighth Army. Corporal Marko, rifle scout. The Ell-Tee told me I shoulda been a staff sergeant, if I'd just get over my damn problem with authority. I put his teeth out a day and a half later on a patrol. I never did like authority.
Thanksgiving 1950, and we were headed away from the Chongchon river, up into the mountains. They told us the war was going to be over by Christmas. Wet, sticking mud slowed us to a crawl. The snow and the rain in those mountain passes limited us to what we could carry on our backs, and we spent long nights huddled over makeshift stoves, burning letters from home in C-Rat cans to keep our fingers warm.
The Chi-Com forces hit us hard, had the advantage of terrain, of surprise, of superior firepower. The whole 25th Division was defeated, I heard. The 2nd fell, too. We'd lost the pass, and the tide of the war was turning to the Commies.
Me? I wasn't around. I took off when I saw two of my squad members drop stone dead on a march, faces blue and rigid. Yeah, I deserted, so what? Better than suicide, I figured. Because that's all that march was. Suicide. We thought we were unstoppable, we thought nothing could touch us. And they thought wrong.
Two weeks, I went down from that mountain, past charnel pits of bodies, past massacres we'd never seen. All the way to that temple. That damn idol. That damned ruby. I grabbed it, and to this day I don't even know why. Power, maybe. Wealth. Just damn reflexive greed.
And so here I am, fifty years later. This whole damn country's the same. Harsh and unforgiving, cold, sticky, and wet.
Me? I'm unstoppable.
I'm the Juggernaut.
Cho Ri still has that same damn bar, the same one I spent half my garrison time in. When we came back from patrols, I hit the drink. I wasn't a drunk, mind you. Takes a lot more than this piss-weak formaldehyde-laced barley juice to get me lightheaded. Just did it to do it, I suppose.
They look at me funny, then again, they always looked at me funny. When you're a nation of five-foot-nothing little yellow guys, there isn't much difference between a 6'4" redheaded Anglo and one who's just shy of ten feet tall and just as wide. We're all ugly giants to these guys.
Beer tastes a little better, at least the economy of the 21st century's managed to trickle down a little here. I don't get drunk anymore. Don't think I can. I can't be hurt, I can't be poisoned, I can't be beaten, I can't be stopped. I'm the goddamn Juggernaut, and I do whatever I want, whenever the hell I want.
I realize I'm hollering this to a mostly empty bar, and shut myself up.
I slap a few bills on the bar lightly. Even with my fingers just grazing the wood, I feel it crack and splinter. I tend to do that. Even when I try, even when I concentrate. My lightest touch breaks stuff. I mean, that's what I do, right? I'm the Juggernaut. I come around, stuff gets smashed. Elemental force of destruction and all that mojo.
Do you know what it's like? I can't even remember what it felt like to turn a doorknob without ripping the whole thing outta the frame. What it's like to walk down a street without carving two-inch deep footprints behind me. I haven't tried to cook a meal in about thirty years. Got tired of eating once I realized I didn't get hungry.
Ain't touched no one for a while neither. How do you shake someone's hand when your mitts are as big as their whole damn torso? How am I going to ever hold a woman without crushing her like a grape? Not that I'd have the chance, I mean. Hey, I'm ten feet tall and weigh about three tons. Do the math, genius.
As I push my way through the doorframe into the dark street, I wonder why I even paid for the swill. I mean, not as if I'm hurting for cash - I've got over ten thousand in American currency in my wallet. I coulda just walked out, who's gonna stop me?
One small victory, I guess. I gotta take 'em where I can.
The street's wobbling before me, and I manage to hiccup out a laugh. Tryin' to remember just how many I tossed back in that hole of a bar. It's dark, I got there... last night? Shit, I've been drinking fer over a day, getting all melancholy.
I think... heh. I think I'm drunk.
I hear a familiar call, and my brain kicks into my memories of learning gutter Korean. Probably right in this place, too. I ain't never been one for nostalgia, not really. And I know I got no business being here, not as if... ah, the hell with it.
I fall to the sirens' calls and stumble my way into the whorehouse.
Used to be, fifteen dollars would get you all you could want for one night with one of these broads. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been down here a few times. Enjoyed the hell outta myself, too. We were young, dumb, stuck fifty thousand miles from home. Didn't give a damn about them. Hell, we didn't give a damn about ourselves half the time. Most of us knew we were walking dead anyway.
Didn't love none of 'em. It don't work that way. You pay, you get yours, you go. Ain't no hookers with a heart of gold here, these are whores, plain and simple. They don't care who you are, no matter what those sweet words say. An' you don't care a damn who she is, either. Always gotta remember the rules. A whore ain't got a name. All she's got that you need you can find in the dark.
They won't even look at me now. Place isn't even busy, and I'm not getting the time of day from the girls. A few of them stare at me, then walk away. I know why. It ain't 'cause I'm not their kind, they'll spread for whites, blacks, anyone. Like I said, I'm the Juggernaut. I can't even sit at these barstools without turning one into splinters. I ain't getting near that velvet couch. I'd split any of 'em in two.
Dammit, I don't even know why I'm here. I can't touch 'em, they don't want me, I... hell, it's been so long, I wouldn't even know what to do. My head's swimming, I gotta get myself out of here.
And she's in the way. The only woman left... hell, she's just a kid. Can't be more than seventeen, but that's old enough to be a woman hundred times over here. Frail little thing, standing between me and the door. She's looking at me with those eyes, doesn't know what to do. She can't be that new at this. It's gotta be me. I gotta get out of here.
"Fifty dollar, mister?"
English. Huh. They never bothered with English before. And I know fifty ain't the going rate these days. So I look at her a little closer. Marks on her wrists and her jaw tell me she's been used to this for a while, and not in a nice way. Not that I give a damn. She's just a...
She's just a kid.
I don't remember handing her the money. I don't remember her grabbing my hand and dragging me off to some side room. I can remember the laughs from the other whores. I may be big, but I hear real good. Some of 'em are laughing a the poor girl's misfortune. Some of 'em are wondering if they should stop the big American brute. As if they could. I'm...
I'm sitting down on this bed, really just a mattress on the floor. I feel my butt against the concrete and the springs just give way. She doesn't care. She just stands there by the closed door and looks at me. I can't even meet her eyes. It ain't like I'm nervous or nothing, I know what to do here. It's just...
She asks me what I want. And even through her broken English, I know she's just a scared kid. And she's not scared of me. And I break the rule.
I ask her what her name is.
And she tells me it's Ang, and I laugh. Chinese name. Someone else who doesn't belong here. She's an outsider, so they think it's okay to give her to the rough customers who can't tell the difference, or don't care. They figure that she'll do anything to stay fed. To stay safe.
She asks me what I want, in that pidgin dialect that's almost a stereotype of these people.
I can't take it. It just ain't fair. What I want, she can't give. I don't even know what I want. And I don't know why, but I start telling her. All the way from that day that my father married Sharon Xavier, about golden-boy Chuck, about my dad dying and how it was all Chuck's fault. But it wasn't. I don't know who I'm confessing to, her or me. It's my fault, it was always me who caused the accident. And I hate Chuck because I hate myself, and I can't let it go. I'm the Juggernaut, I'm an unstoppable force. Nothin' in this world can bring me down except this goddamn monkey that's been on my back since I was thirteen years old.
I don't know how long I've been crying, and babbling to her like she's my priest. But Ang listens to me. And when I'm done weeping, I feel like I'm that thirteen year old boy again, all empty inside. From out of nowhere, she sits on the bed next to me, and she just puts her arms around my neck and doesn't let go. I'm frozen, I don't know what to do. It's been... I ain't touched a woman in fifty years, except for the times I was knocking around some of those X-broads.
I look at her, I look at my hands. Jesus, I could crush her like an egg. She's so small and delicate. I don't deserve to have her here like this, hearing me out, listening to my life spill like this... She's better than this. Hell, she's just some hooker in a brothel, I shouldn't care, I...
As carefully as I can, I lift her off of me, and I lay her down on the bed. I get up to go, and stop. This isn't right. I'm not right. I haven't been right for more than fifty years.
I sit back down, and I rummage through the dresser until I find a pen and some paper. It ain't easy to write a letter with hands like mine, but I make do.
When the sun rises, and Ang wakes up, I'm gone. There's a letter on the dresser, and ten thousand dollars American. I even left a small note for her.
"I didn't deserve to have you listen to me pour my heart out last night. I'm not too good with right and wrong, but I know that I'm doing the right thing here. Take this money and get out of here. There's places you can go that are better for you than this. All I ask of you is that you use some of this money to stop by America and give this letter I wrote to my brother in New York. His address is on the other side of this note, along with a phone number. It's to a man called Sean Cassidy, I know his cousin. He won't steer you wrong, and if I know Irish, he'll bend over backwards to help you. Thank you for listening to me, and letting me know that I can still do the right thing.
"Professor!" Rogue's voice echoed through the X-Mansion. "Letter for ya!"
Charles Xavier took the letter from the southern belle's hand, looking it over. It lacked stamp or postmark, merely bearing his scribbled name on the envelope. He looked up at Rogue questioningly. She shrugged.
"Some nice-dressed Oriental gal said it was for you. Then she got in a taxi and left."
Without a word, Charles opened the letter, then blinked. "It... it's from Cain."
"Your brother?" Rogue crowed. "Th' Juggernaut? What's he want?"
Charles' lip quivered as he read. Slowly, he smiled, then looked up at Rogue.
"He says he's sorry. And that... just that 'he has stopped.' "
"Stopped what?" Rogue demanded. "Stopped hating you, stopped a life of crime?"
Fifty years, and I've come to a stop.
Unlike the rest of this damn country, not everything's the same here. Some of the walls are crumbled, there's vines and weeds growing through cracks in the walls. And that idol's got a big empty space where something belongs.
Damned if I don't know what that feels like. It started here, and it stops here.
I walk a little further into the temple, and I stand before that statue carved in relief. A dome-headed dark god, the destroyer. Looks a lot like me, standing here in this rust-brown armor and helmet.
I laugh in his face.
"You want an avatar?" I bellow, "You want someone to be your engine of destruction? I've given fifty goddamn years of my life being nothing but a destroyer. No, hell with that. I've spent fifty years as the Juggernaut, I've spent my whole life wrecking stuff. My life, other people, other lives. Hell with it. And hell with you."
I look up at that stone god. Last time I saw his face, I stood toe-to-toe with him on his home turf, and I kicked his ass. Me, Cain Marko, I beat a god.
Right now, you could knock me over with a feather. I take off the helmet, letting the wind blow my hair. I toss the helmet at the carving's feet.
"Hell with you." I repeat. "I quit."
The helmet is followed by the metal breastplate.
Metal knuckle dusters, arm wrappings, boots. I toss them all away in contempt.
And it begins. This wrenching, burning in my chest, like my heart's trying to rip its way out of my chest. I drop to my knees, screaming with the pain. I can feel myself sweating bullets and hear my ribs crack. I feel my skin split, and I touch my chest in agony.
I feel the hard, smooth surface of the Ruby Gem of Cyttorak under my fingers. Gripping it and wincing it, I pry. I wrench and pull at this thing embedded in me, this stone that has made me invincible. It gives me the power to crush obstacles, to resist all harm, to smash through any barrier, to be unstoppable.
And I will make it stop.
With a soundless crack of thunder, it comes out. I gasp, breathing in stale jungle air. I feel my chest, whole and unblemished. The ruby seems so big in my hands. I turn around, turning my back on Cyttorak. I don't need him anymore.
I walk out to that idol, and I reach up with my aching arms.
"This belongs to you." I say. "I'm sorry."
The ruby slides into its place with a click. I can almost swear I see that idol smile, but it must be my tired eyes. I rub my face with a hand, and feel... wrinkles. I look at my palms. Small, frail. Wrinkled and old.
I am seventy-five years old. Finally.
And I am not alone. I turn to see half a dozen old guys in robes walking out of the shadows. One of them smiles and holds out a robe to me. Monks, I figure. Servants of the temple.
"Welcome home, Cain." He says. "Welcome home."
I laugh to myself. Home's a good place to start. Here's as good as any. I slip into the robe, surprised at how well it fits.
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