|Wed, 23 Aug 2000
"Kielle !" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Persistence Of Memory (1/1 -- PG-13, movieverse, dark)
Rating: PG-13 for violence, disturbing imagery, and a touch of bad language. But mostly the first two. This ain't a cheerful story, folks. You have been warned.
Summary: Poor little Marie. She just hasn't been herself since this one battle...
Setting: Two or three years after the movie.
Archive: Please ask. I'll say yes, I just want to know where it goes.
Author's Note: Without giving away too much, I'll just note that I'm going by comic canon on one detail: that Cyke can't control his optic blasts because of a childhood brain injury, not through any inherent flaw in the power itself. Man, I haven't written an X-Men story in AGES...you people are a bad influence! Bad!
Disclaimer: Marvel owns these characters, not I. "The Persistence Of Memory" (http://www.seven7.demon.co.uk/dali/art/persmem.jpg) was painted by Salvadore Dali, and I chose the name for this story not just because the name itself works but also because the twisted imagery fit my mood, too. Feedback is treasured at email@example.com. No profit is made herein and no harm was intended...except perhaps to readers' delicate psyches. Mwahahah. Enjoy...
The Persistence Of Memory
She could hear them better with her eyes closed.
"You haven't been eating enough lately, honey." That was Jean; she could almost feel the doctor's slim, cool fingers brushing her cheek as a mother would touch her child. A touch that could not be, of course, but Jean was always kind enough to at least make the gesture, and she appreciated it.
"Of course I haven't," she replied, barely above a whisper.
"You should at least try." Scott. Always at Jean's side, always a strong presence -- for the team, for the children who depended their protection, for her. A good man, despite whatever Logan thought. It had taken her a few months to realize this, impeded as she was by both the Canuck's lingering effect and a teenager's automatic aversion to authority figures, but she'd done a lot of growing up since then. A lot. Too much, perhaps--
She winced away from that thought and clutched her knees a little tighter to her chest, managing a weak smile for Scott's benefit. She still did not open her eyes. She knew he felt helpless with his eyes shut; she, on the other hand, felt only safe. Protected. Not alone. Not any more. Never again.
"I'll see what I can do," she promised. It wasn't a promise she intended to keep; she wasn't very hungry. In fact, lately, she was hardly ever hungry at all. She could almost sense Scott's frown, but he said nothing; he knew when to give orders and when to back off from a delicate situation. He'd probably scold her again later, but for now he tactfully let the subject drop.
The Professor, on the other hand, did not.
"You cannot continue to let yourself go like this, child." She winced at word "child," but then she sighed and did not react. She was used to it. To Charles Xavier, everyone was a child. Someone to be taken care of. Someone in need of his wisdom. It was his strength, and his failing. She wondering if he knew this.
"We have been over that argument before," he chided gently - - of course he'd overheard what she was thinking, he always could -- "and I'm certain we will go over again in future. Now, however, is not the time. I must concur with the others: you cannot go on like this."
She pressed her forehead against her knees, and this time she did sigh. Noisily. "What is this, an intervention? Don't y'all have anything better to do?"
"Not really. Not much going on nowadays, y'know," Logan drawled. She could almost smell the tobacco on his breath. If she imagined hard enough, she could almost scent the sour tang of a metal that should not exist, mingled with a hint of blood. More than a hint of blood. So much blood--
She jerked as if struck by a fist, frantically windmilling her figurative arms to drag her mind back from the edge. The edge she no longer looked over. The edge which had turned her into what she was today. The light behind her eyelids rushed red as her heart lurched; she fought the fear down, dragging a mask of anger over it and nailing the edges into place with a healthy dose of sarcasm.
"If you guys think you can emotionally blackmail me by bringing *him* into this," she snapped, "I'm ashamed of you. And you call *me* 'kid'? Honestly."
Logan snorted derisively. "It wouldn't hurt you to at least take a bath. And you call *me* 'beast-man'? Honestly."
His gravelly falsetto impression of her was actually fairly good, and she laughed despite herself. For a moment she was annoyed that he'd tricked her into a smile, but once the frown had been broken it was hard to piece back together. "All right, all right, sheesh! You win! I promise I'll get something into my stomach. *And* I'll get cleaned up. A bit. Okay?"
"Some good food would make you feel much better, I am certain," Storm chimed in, her voice softly exotic. "I cannot remember when you last had a hot meal."
"You know, now that you mention it..." She couldn't help thinking back, trying to remember when -- and her smile froze. The last time she'd -- the last time she'd sat down to a homecooked dinner had been--
"Oh, *shit*. Nice going, 'Ro," Logan snarled, but it was too late. The edge suddenly yawned before the girl's horrified imagination -- her chain of thought had drawn too close to escape this time, and her consciousness pinwheeled down into cold darkness.
And the memories closed over her head without a sound.
It had been Christmas.
Well, not exactly Christmas -- the X-Men had been off saving the world or something on Christmas itself, so it was the day after Christmas, but that didn't matter. The point was, everyone was there, crowded around the table in the main living room of the Xavier mansion. Most of the year this table was covered by a dropcloth; massive, resting on hand- carved legs, and gleaming a rich deep red when properly polished, it was an Xavier family heirloom. Kids did homework on it, or played Monopoly on dull evenings, but only once a year was the plain cloth replaced with an embroidered spread and loaded with a holiday feast to outshine any shindig in Whoville.
Some of the students had gone home for Christmas, but not many, and some had already returned on the heels of the holiday. Thus, more so than on any other year anyone could recall, the room was jam-packed with laughter and bits of wrapping paper and tinsel as the combined faculty and student body of the Xavier School For Gifted Youngsters mobbed the buffet. There were even some unfamiliar faces in the assembly; some of the Professor's former students, a handful of significant others (both mutant and human), and a few parental types open-minded enough to meet their children's mutant classmates.
All in all, a happier holiday scene could not be fermented in the sugar-soaked imagination of Norman Rockwell.
You can tell something horrible is about to happen, can't you?
To be honest, it could have been much worse. The mansion's perimeter alarms had worked precisely as designed; just as they had in numerous danger drills, the X-Men had efficiently rushed the children (and guests) down to the Blackbird's hanger, where a secret hatch led to a steel- reinforced tunnel which in turn led to a car-stocked garage several miles distant. The possibility that the mansion might be attacked was remote, but contingencies *had* been planned.
Several of the party guests had powers and "hero experience" of their own -- they'd been quick to take over the shepherding tasks, to leave the resident adults free to man the defenses. She remembered their allies' faces -- the beautiful purple-haired woman, the guy with wings, the handsome blue "demon" who'd bowed charmingly over her gloved hand and asked her for a dance after dinner less than an hour before -- as they'd vanished into the tunnels with the last of the guests.
She remembered the cold lump in her stomach as the massive steel panel hissed back into place without a seam, protecting the innocents' whereabouts from whatever had been about to befall the breached school. She remembered turning away with her lip caught between her teeth, silently vowing to be as brave as the others looked.
For the X-Men had remained behind to defend their home, and as the newest member of the team she'd stayed with them.
Logan had argued, had even tried to force her into the tunnel, but for once she'd defied his incessant smothering and sided against him. Sided with Cyclops. Logan had never quite forgiven her for that, but it couldn't be helped now.
What had happened next was a blur, a shattered mosaic of shouts and flashing energy and falling plaster and the rumble of jets overhead. If it hadn't been so terrifying it would have been funny: giant robots? Like something out of a bad Japanese cartoon. Someone had sent *giant robots* to bring the mighty X-Men to heel? It was almost laughable..
...Until the first blinding wave of plasma struck the mansion, shearing through high-tech defense systems and colonial-era brickwork alike in a terrible howl of destruction.
In the blink of an eye the first floor had caved into the underground levels, and then the second story had collapsed in around them--
It was ironic, really, that when the rubble had settled the only defender left standing was the one who could do absolutely nothing against enemies made of cold metal. The newest member of the X-Men.
It had happened so fast, so much raw power channeled into one pre-emptive strike, that even the battle-hardened veterans had been caught off-guard. She'd been astonishingly lucky -- the first shockwave had flung her against a stout support beam, which had tilted but held just long enough to prevent her from being crushed by a barrage of flying bricks.
The others had not been so lucky.
The silence in the wake of that onslaught had been uncanny. She now realized that the attackers had been waiting to see what emerged from the twisted wreckage of what had once been a peaceful safe haven -- waiting to adjust their attack accordingly, to pick off survivors at their leisure.
At the time, however, she thought she'd been deafened by the thunderous devastation...and by the shock that turned her blood to ice, her knees to water as she stared numbly around at what had only moments before been the main lobby of the Xavier School For Gifted Youngsters. Now it was nothing but shattered debris, glass, wood, stone, plaster...
...and here a limp hand...there a sprawled hip...a face so covered in plaster dust that she could not tell who it was, dull eyes staring sightlessly at a patch of sky...
Surely they weren't dead. They couldn't be dead. She'd grasped at straws, frantically -- Logan! He had to be alive, at least! He couldn't die! He couldn't! But nothing moved, and she couldn't recognize him in the strewn rubble -- and outside something hissed and clanked as if revving up for a second attack, and she was alone, and she couldn't fight them, she couldn't, *she was going to die too*...!
It was then that she'd been struck by a flash of desperate inspiration. A monstrous idea that she would never have conceived if she had not been standing amidst the bodies of her only friends in the world, about to die -- or worse -- at the hands of the monstrosities that had murdered them in cold blood. An idea she could not, dare not pause to consider in the long term.
An idea that had to work *now* -- or never.
With a gasp (she hadn't realized that she'd been holding her breath, as if something in her wanted nothing more than hide like a mouse in a hole) she stumbled forward and dropped to her knees and tore off her gloves and gripped that bleeding hand hard in both of her own. Bare skin to bare skin--
The woman was on the verge of death, one final breath trembling in her punctured lungs, but the spark had not yet fled. Rogue held on for grim life, resisting a wordless wail of protest from her own heart as she felt all that was Jean Grey flow into her mind.
Dimly, through the pounding of her pulse, she felt a new presence settle into the violated depths of her mind...and almost sobbed with relief as the presence understood. And approved.
*Quickly, quickly, there isn't much time!* this new voice sang. Blinded by tears yet unerringly guided by her new spark of telepathy, Rogue obeyed -- she fell forward and stretched out to press her bare palm against the curved hip that jutted from a mound of bricks. Flesh sought flesh through a torn hole in leather, and just in time -- as Ororo's heart fluttered to a halt, her rapport with the elements roared into the girl, granting her sudden comprehension of flight, of rain and thunder and lightning - - of the terrible (*vengeful*) beauty of nature.
The sky darkened ominously overhead as Rogue reached out again, this time taking the devastation behind Scott's eyes into her own.
And again, shouldering the immense burden of the Professor's (why had he stayed to fight? *why*?) mind.
Gaining the Professor's psionic muscle had forced her mindscape open to a terrifying deluge of psychic NOISE. The last shreds of her sanity were now buffered only by the presence of not one but two telepaths in her skull. She'd been too swamped by the sudden intrusion of humanity's voice to keep track of who she'd absorbed.
The ankle in her fingers was Logan's
By now, however, she was too weak to fight the rushing tide of her voracious own mutant curse, too weak to let go...
She took him too.
The huge metal butchers waiting patiently for their prey to emerge never knew what hit them.
Above them, friendly gray snow clouds were rapidly mutating into a churning mass of black, lit from within by an ugly green glow that would have sent any smart midwesterner running for the storm shelter. Without warning the heavens tore asunder, pounding the earth with a torrential sheet of rain. One robot was abruptly torn away from its post as a tornado smashed into it like the hammer of God -- an instant later another was struck by lightning, again and again and again and *again*...
And something small exploded from the ruins as if borne on the sonic brunt of an unearthly howl of loss and rage. Impervious to the driving ice, heedless of the deadly tracking systems that were locking onto its small outline, its new target soared up into the lashing storm.
The third killer caught on too late. As the electrocuted robot finally crashed to the ground in a smoking heap, its sole remaining brother was startled (if a robot can be startled) as its head, neatly severed just under the jaw by a slash of hard-edged red light, slid from its shoulders to land on the school's driveway with a resounding clang.
If the robot could be said to have been surprised, its operators -- thirty miles away in a top-secret shielded bunker -- were downright astonished. Despite the loss of transmission, the heartbroken scream they'd overheard briefly through the microphone hookup was still resounding, reverberating, mercilessly echoing...
Through their minds.
Clapping hands over ears didn't help. Begging for mercy didn't help. The terrible psionic wail merely grew inexorably louder, and *louder*, and *LOUDER* -- and then they were no longer surprised.
After all, it's hard to be surprised -- or to feel much of anything, really -- when your brain has just exploded into your sinuses.
"It's okay, sweetie, it's okay now, you're safe, we're here..."
"C'mon, kid, come back to us..."
The voices filtered in faintly as she slowly, slowly came back to herself. Her eyes were squeezed shut but she knew where she was -- damp concrete under her cheek, the itch of filthy ill-fitting clothes swathed in stifling layers over her lethal skin, the smell which not too long ago had been an unbearable stench. A smell she had gotten used to.
She was not home. But she was as close to home as she was ever going to get, ever again. Because didn't they say that home is with the ones you love?
And she had that. Oh yes...she had them, all right.
With a deep breath, the girl planted one woollen-mittened hand on the cement and pushed herself back up onto her butt and scraped a hank of oily hair out of her eyes...and opened them. The voices receded slightly as she let the real world invade all of her senses at once, but it was a real world she no longer comprehended -- everything she saw, heard, felt, whirled with connotations from multiple schismed slices of her psyche.
She couldn't tell if she liked the smell of Italian food wafting from a nearby shop or if she hated it or was indifferent to it, but her patchwork memory was telling her all three plus an amusing memory of a vacation in Rome and the recollection of a grandma who'd cooked great spaghetti.
(Had she ever been to Italy? Did she even have a grandma? Some of her said yes, some said no...and they were all right, and they were all wrong too.)
She couldn't tell if she'd been here before or if that'd been someone else. Couldn't remember if she'd once killed a man in an alley, or had always avoided them, or had never seen one in her life, or had lived in one for months now. The last...perhaps...but she shied away from trusting her own (?) thoughts. She couldn't.
She couldn't even tell what her favorite color was, now.
She didn't know which thoughts were her own.
In the back of her mind some of those shattered bits of cognizance were moving to lock the bad memories away again, to shove them over the edge into the yawning abyss at the heart of her soul -- to protect her -- but there was nowhere to hide in her own head. She would find them again, and relive them again, and it would never end.
To the rest of the world, she was just another dirty, crazy bag lady lying forgotten against a dumpster in a neglected alley.
Wouldn't they just laugh and laugh and laugh if they knew that she, yes, *she* was the mutie who'd singlehandedly murdered the X-Men?
"That's not true," something protested softly but urgently from deep within one of the gaping crevices in the mind of the girl who'd once been called Rogue. However, she was already laughing hysterically at herself, caught up in a brittle mad hilarity which crumbled abruptly into terrible muffled wracking sobs.
No one heard and no one cared as the sun set over Westchester County.