Thu, 2 Mar 2000
D Benway d_benway@yahoo.com
Under A Blue Kentucky Sky [S Guthrie, X-Men]

 

The ones you recognize belong to Marvel, but the story is all mine. This is probably more depressing than disturbing.

Assumptions:

1) All of the Skrull/Apocalypse nonsense has not occurred. 2) Sarah is still not very nice to look at. 3) Betsy has a Shadow King in her head and so isn't doing any mind reading. 4) Sam's mother Lucinda has AlS or something equally nasty, and has to move the whole family to Lexington in order to get proper treatment (thanks to S Merchi for reminding me of that detail). 5) Anyone I require is there. You may supply the justification.

There is more to death than a single panel of dark-clad figures at the edge of a small pit.

Also, many thanks to Luba for proofreading assistance. Other works are archived at the archive of L Kmetyk at http://home.att.net/~lubakmetyk.


Under A Blue Kentucky Sky

made in the USA by Dr. Benway

 

She floated the plate off the kitchen counter, and turned it over in the air. She couldn't read the maker's mark, but from the cracks in the glaze, it had to be old.

"Find something interesting?" asked Betsy, wrapping a plate in newsprint.

"These are ancient," she said.

"Relatively speaking," said Betsy.

"I'm sure you have much older ones," she said.

"We do," said Betsy. "I believe my grandfather purchased them off of a bankrupted Duke."

"I thought you had things like that in you family for centuries," she said.

"We might if we were nobility or at least landed gentry," said Betsy. "Furthest back we've been able to trace is Elspeth Braddock, wife of an itinerant tinker in Lincolnshire in the late 17th century. She's the first one to get knocked up by Merlin. After that, he had us breed with whatever provided the best genes. I had everything from the blood of African slaves to the blood of kings. There's a family legend which says that Brian is a legitimate Stuart pretender to the throne."

"Tinker," she said. "Clockmaker?"

"More like a fixit man," said Betsy. "A beggar with ambition."

The wave of pain hit her across the temples. She didn't see Betsy catch the plate.

"He's coming back," she mumbled. "I need a pill."

"It's been only three hours since the last one," said Betsy.

"Hit me," she said.

Betsy took out a cigarette case and opened it. Ten small Talwyn capsules lay inside, glowing like jewels.

"You do know how addictive these are," said Betsy.

"And you know how much it hurts to be so close to someone who's going through this kind of grief," she said. "I don't have the advantage of having my ability suppressed by a psychic parasite living in my head."

Betsy dropped the capsule into her hand. She dry-swallowed it, not wanting to wait to run a glass of water. Another wave of pain hit her, though not so intense. It ought to have been. The Talwyn didn't act that fast.

"Which makes me wonder why you're here and Scott isn't," said Betsy.

"Being here is better," she said.

"Ah," said Betsy.

She picked up the old plate and wrapped it by hand in newsprint.

"How long have they lived here?" asked Betsy.

"Don't know," she said. "Sam said they were descended from some of the earliest settlers in this area."

"Nineteenth century?" said Betsy.

"Eighteenth, maybe mid, maybe late," she said.

"So long ago," said Betsy.

"I was talking to Charles and Scott about the away team," she said. "Somehow, we all ended up talking about Madeline."

"Bloody hell," said Betsy.

"They'd been acting odd around me all day," she said. "Happens every time someone dies. Guess they're thinking about the Phoenix thing. Any rate, Maddie gets brought up and things get sharp. Charles was staying there, so by coming here I don't have to look at either of them."

"Ah," said Betsy.

"Was she so much like me?" she asked.

"Somedays you remind me of her, other days not," said Betsy.

"Oh," she said.

She picked another plate and wrapped it. Then another.

"I miss her, Jean," said Betsy.

"Miss her?" she said. "Miss that murderous-"

"She wasn't always like that," said Betsy. "She gave up her life by choice to follow us, after Scott left."

"Left her for me," she said. "So it's my fucking fault?"

"Please don't swear in the house," said Sam.

She clenched her hands, crumpling the newsprint she held.

"Sorry," she said.

"My mom doesn't let any of us swear in the house," said Sam. "I'm going to see if Logan's found anything."

"Are you sure-" she said.

"Gotta face it," he said.

He turned and disappeared behind the cellar door.

"I'm sorry," said Betsy. "It's getting to me too."

She tried to reply, but she couldn't. Another wave of pain hit, hard enough to bring tears. Betsy put an arm around her shoulder.

"He found them?" she said.

"Logan said he told the sheriff that he saw the dog and Paige at the bottom of the stairs," said Betsy. "He flew around, checked the windows, then went and called the emergency services. Didn't go in."

"We trained him well," she said.

"He's coming back up the stairs," said Betsy.

Sam closed the cellar door behind him and leant against it, closing his eyes.

"It was the furnace," he said.

"No foul play, then?" said Betsy.

"If I'd only gotten here sooner-" he said.

"You could have died with them and Paige would have found you, or perhaps ended up at the bottom of the stairs just the same," said Betsy.

"But I could have-" he said.

"There's no way of knowing that," said Betsy. "Would you prefer to be with them now?"

She gasped, but the wave of pain hit her and almost brought her to her knees. It didn't, because the Talwyn was starting to take hold. When she opened her eyes, Sam was turning away.

"Gotta go talk to Bobby," he said, and left.

She turned back to look into Betsy's impassive face. Her palm rose almost reflexively, but Betsy was faster and caught it in an iron grip. She used the power to make Betsy let go, then brought the hand to her chest and cradled it.

"How could you," she hissed. "What sort of cruel-"

"He has to think of what is and what will be, not what might have been," said Betsy. "He can't afford to do that and neither can we. Not now, not ever."

The tears came from a place other than the physical pain now.

"I shouldn't have come," she managed.

"You did, and what I've said just as easily applies to you," said Betsy, putting an arm around her shoulders. "Is the Talwyn taking hold yet?"

She nodded.

"Then come outside with me for a bit," said Betsy. "When it's fully effective, we can come back in and finish. Come, it's a beautiful day."

She looked out the kitchen window. The cold front had swept away the clouds leaving a boundless expanse of azure sky. It was a beautiful day.


He drew his leather trenchcoat tighter about him as he watched Logan working on the furnace. The man had his shirt off and it was damn close to freezing.

"Nothing?" he said.

"Not a fucking thing, Remy," said Logan, turning to him.

"The detector?" he said.

"You found the battery on the windowsill," said Logan. "My guess is that it went low, started making noise, one of the kids took the battery out and forgot to tell Lucinda."

"Could have been made to look that way," he said.

"Could have been," Logan agreed. "Except there's no sign of any strange scents up there. Spent an hour searching for a sign of anything like that, but there's nothing but their scents down here and up there. Then there's the furnace."

"Strange to have gas out here," he said. "So far out in the country."

"They've got a tank, city boy," said Logan. "Must have been the cheapest way to heat the place, back when Truman was president."

"Thought gas was supposed to burn clean," he said.

"Does, unless this happens," said Logan.

Logan turned a valve and did something with a match. The flame came on but not the blower. It was bright yellow.

"Not gas?" he said.

Logan shut the valve off.

"It's gas all right," said Logan. "It's burning too lean. Should be blue. Might not've been a problem except there's something blocking the flue. Smells like a dead coon. "

"So some one blocked the chimney, messed with the burner, knowing that the detector was out," he said.

"Could be," said Logan. "But there's no scents down here, like I told you. Nothing out of place, no sign of the scents or things you use to hide scents, no sign of magic. My guess is, they went to bed on Thursday night, furnace came on because of the cold snap, end of story. They wouldn't've had the repair guy in to tune up this old pile of iron because it was too early in the fall. End of story."

"Did you put the furnace on?" asked Sam.

He looked up. It hurt to look at the kid.

"Just testing something," said Logan.

"I used to love the sound of it," said Sam. "I used to wait for it on winter nights. Just hearing it made me feel warm."

Sam was staring at the furnace, not at them.

"Find anything?" asked Sam.

"No," said Logan.

"I've got to go help," said Sam.

"You do that," said Logan.

Sam left and closed the door behind him.

"Safe to light up?" he asked, getting out a cigarette.

"Yeah," said Logan.

"So you're sure its an accident," he said.

"Sure as I can be," said Logan, lighting up a cigar. "You can be sure I'm telling Cyke and Braddock to up the security. Gonna keep my eyes open, but I've got no sense it was anything but goddamn bad luck."

He took a long draw.

"Wish it hadn't been," he said.

Logan nodded, and popped a claw, drawing it across the blower housing. The metal screamed, but not in a way that gave him any satisfaction.


He sat at a dining room table covered in a dozen piles of papers. Hank sat at his left, emptying the last drawer that they'd taken from the desk in the living room. It wasn't a large room, and he would never have imagined that ten people could eat in it. Well, maybe they could if they were small. He decided not to go any further in that direction.

He looked at the receipt. Groceries, two weeks past. Paid in full $60.00. For five kids? He looked up, through the kitchen door. He could hear Jean and Betsy murmuring. He could see the can on the countertop. Five gallons of baked beans for $2.59. That was how you fed five kids at $60.00/week. He didn't think they'd been on food stamps, what with Sam sending money. The thought of the aisle of the grocery store with all the white-labeled cans for the food stamp crowd sent a shiver through him.

"Bobby," said Hank quietly.

"Yo," he said.

"This," said Hank, choking a little.

He looked at it. Bill, unpaid. School photos, big set. He put it in the unpaid pile, with the BP credit card bill and the bill for the new carburetor on the 15 year-old minivan. The bill for last year's annual furnace overhaul was in a special place of its own.

"How can you do that?" said Hank, a bit more evenly.

He looked up. Hank was not looking happy. Hank hadn't used a big word all day.

"Do what?" he said.

"Look at it and file it," said Hank, choking a little again. "I mean-"

"Like Kitty's boyfriend used to say, 'it needs doing'," he said.

In ordinary circumstances, he would have quoted Wisdom with a perfect imitation of Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins.

"But even so-" said Hank.

"If we don't find what we're looking for, how do you think it's going to make Sam feel?" he said. "You want to send him off looking for it?"

"We may have to," said Hank. "That was the last of it."

"Crap," he said.

"You've been handling a life," said Hank.

"Tell me about it," he said. "What do you think I did that summer after our first trip to the Savage Land?"

Hank looked puzzled for a moment.

"The summer I worked for that lawyer?" he said. "After my first year of accounting school?"

"You never said much about it," said Hank. "Now that I think about it, I recall thinking that your silence was strange. Unusual."

"The old guy hated doing this kind of thing so he had me doing it." he said. "Putting the receipts together, making sure the bills were paid when there was no executor to do it. Used to have three or four of these a week to do."

"Oh," said Hank.

"You get used to it," he said. "Build up a skin. It's not so hard. It happens to the best of us."

"This is one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do," said Hank.

"It's harder when you've seen them alive," he said. "Sometimes they would be organized and it would take an hour. Sometimes they weren't and you had to do this kind of thing, follow the paper trail of a life."

"Paper trail of a life," said Hank.

"Heck yeah," he said. "Saw some weird shit. One time, the old guy gave me this cat. Looked like it had been stuffed, but it had been freeze dried. Old guy said the will was inside it, left me to it. I had to use a letter opener. Nobody told us it was under a secret panel the base."

"How did you find that out?" asked Hank.

"The deceased's husband came into the office just after I'd cut the head off and told me," he said.

Hank's jaw dropped. Hank started to shake. He smiled. Hank laughed. Loud. The dishes rattled. He started to giggle himself. Hank's laugh cut off. He looked up. Sam was standing there, looking through the kitchen door. Not at either of them.

"Heard someone laugh," said Sam.

"Sorry," he said. "Needed to vent."

"S'okay," mumbled Sam, turning away.

He thanked every diety he knew that Sam hadn't joined in with them. The kid looked worse than Scott after-

He didn't want to go any further in that direction.

"Sam," he said. "Can you help me with something?"

"Sure," said Sam.

He took a deep breath, and wished he hadn't. Sam looked away.

"In her will, your mother left instructions for burial," he said. "From my reading of the documents, it looks like she had money put away for the burial, but I couldn't find any receipts for a plot. There's not enough in her bank account to cover the costs of burial or cremation. Thing is, you don't have to worry about being short for that, but it kind of looks like there's some money missing."

Sam nodded, and reached in behind the cabinet. There was a click, and the sound of something falling. Sam reached in behind and brought out a small wooden box.

"Here," said Sam.

He opened the box as Sam left the room for the kitchen. Inside were perhaps a dozen envelopes. He picked one up. It was an envelope for a phone bill from the days of the Bell System. The postmark was from 1975. He opened it. Inside, there was a stack of bills. he fanned it. At least $5000 in 20s. He picked out another envelope. $3000 in 10s and 20s. As he picked up a third, Sam put a bag down on the table next to the box. It had ice all down one side, as if it had been in a freezer. He reached in and picked out a stack of bills held together with rubber bands that broke apart as fanned them. There was hoarfrost on the edges of the bills. There was at least $12,000 in his hand and at least another three stacks in the bag.

"The interest," he breathed.

"Banks go bust around here a lot," said Sam. "Folks reckon this's safest."

"Theft," he said, still staring at the bills.

"We all got guns," said Sam, glancing at the top of the china cabinet. "Everyone does, with all the pot farming 'round here."

"Ah," he said. "This should cover the costs and then some."

Sam turned and left the room. He looked at Hank as they heard Sam walk very slowly up the stairs. He put his hand on the paper bag and took the ice into himself.

He stood up and took his chair over to the china cabinet. He climbed up and fished around above the cornice. He found the shotgun, broke the breach, and upended it. Two heavy shells fell into his palm. He climbed down off the chair and went through the the two drawers in the cabinet. One had knives and forks, the other had placemats and two boxes of shells. He took both of them back to the gym bag he had placed on the floor by where he had been sitting. He zipped it up, then stood. Hank was staring at him.

"You don't think-" Hank said.

"Do you want to take the chance?" he said. "He doesn't need it to protect himself."

He went back to his chair, turned in 180 and sat down, resting his head on the back of the seat.

"So, spill," he said.

"I just wanted to help," said Hank.

"You left your work on Legacy to hang around here like a zombie?" he said. "Come on, Hankster. Out with it."

"I couldn't work," Hank said. "Not after this. Had to come and see how it's done."

"That's pretty morbid, Hank," he said. "I'm not planning on going anywhere, so I don't think you'll have to do anything of the executorial type."

"I'm your executor?" said Hank, raising both eyebrows.

"Er, I meant to tell you," he said, feeling himself flush.

"Not you," said Hank. "My parents."

"I talked to your mom last week," he said. "They seem just like always. Last week, just after you came back."

"She's had a mastectomy," said Hank.

"What?" he said.

"I didn't know, and they didn't tell me," said Hank. "Their son the research physician and they don't even mention it. The only way I found out was when my mother got winded walking from the kitchen into the dining room. It took me an hour to get the whole story out."

"Didn't your father tell you?" he asked.

"Alzheimer's," said Hank. "Early onset. Heard us argue for two hours, then the next morning he welcomed me home, asked me when I'd come."

"But the farm," he said.

"She tells the hands what to do, one of them watches over Dad," said Hank. "He can still do most of the basic stuff. Drive the tractor and such."

"Your _mother_ argued?" he said.

"As best she could," said Hank. "I'd like to say that I didn't throw the juice glass, but I did."

"Early onset," he said. "Isn't that inherited?"

"I tested myself," said Hank. "I'm clear of it."

"Oh," he said, rubbing his arms vigorously.

"He's got a few years yet," said Hank.

"So what's the panic?" he said.

"They haven't made any plans," said Hank. "There's no will, there's no plans for what happens if they didn't get all the cancer. She's just pretending it couldn't happen."

"So you tried to plan?" he said.

"I went to every damn home anywhere close to the county hospital," said McCoy. "I haven't been anywhere near one of those places since my residency."

"I had to check into them for my Dad, too," he said. "Some of them aren't too bad."

"They're where you go to die," said Hank.

"Yes they are," he said.

Hank didn't reply, only looked at an empty spot on the table. He looked out into the hall and saw the place where the dog had been found. He thought of his father, who perhaps had five years left after barely recovering from Creed's attack. He thought of the McCoys, almost like a second set of parents to him. He thought of Hank's mother fading slowly and in terrible pain, mind living until the body collapsed. He thought of Hank's father, failing in mind but with a body that would go on living, uninhabited. He thought of Lucinda Guthrie, facing a long slow and possibly even more terrible death than either of the McCoys or his father. He was beginning to think of how lucky Sam was, when he decided not to go any further in that direction, either.


She looked out the window, watching Rogue carry a large and heavy sofa bed as if it were a pillow across the lawn and into the van. There was a small hole in the window from Sam, a hole he'd punched through the glass attempting to call out and wake the dead. Had he entered, he too would have died. She knew that they had needed her to come, to clear the poison from the house so that an investigation could be undertaken. She had done her duty, but the stench of death remained. The stench that she knew lying in the ruins with the newly dead who had not yet begun to rot. At least the cold snap had prevented things from going that far.

She had taken the call, 36 hours before. She had had a vague idea that Sam and Paige were expected to help the family move from the farm into Lexington, where his mother would be able to get better treatment for her illness.

They had gone because Sam couldn't reach his comrades in X-Force and had phoned Westchester instead. That it might have been an attack of some kind had to be considered, so Remy and Logan were required. A psi would be necessary, and Jean had managed to drive off the state and county police and officials before they completely obscured any clues that might have been there. If they'd been able to use Betsy, there wouldn't have been that awful fight that had delayed departure for almost an hour. Rogue and Piotr were there for security, but had also come in handy for all the heavy lifting. Betsy, Kitty, Bobby, Hank, and Sarah had volunteered, leaving only a skeleton force back at the mansion. She wished that now that her task was over, she could be back in Westchester, away from this house of death. She had intended to leave with Jean when Emma Frost and the children had arrived, but there had been a crisis at the Academy. Some of them might arrive before the funeral, but Emma would have to stay and stabilize Jonothan. As Emma had put it, he was viable, but there was less of him than there had been before.

She turned back into the room. She knew it even before she'd seen it, from all of Sam's stories. It was the room that Joelle and Paige had shared, the room that they had traded with the twins in The Great Swap. It had taken Sam the better part of an hour to tell that one. Joelle's WalMart uniform remained on a hanger hooked to the top of the closet door. Kitty hadn't gotten to the closet yet.

Kitty was facing away from her, emptying Joelle's dresser. She had filled four boxes already, all of which were sitting neatly stacked and sealed by the door.

"You could help," suggested Kitty, without turning around.

"I-," she said. "How?"

"Tape up some boxes," said Kitty. "Get the tape gun from Lucinda's bedroom. Think we'll need another four, maybe five."

She went into the hall. She heard a bark of laughter, certainly Hank's, from down below. Her teeth clenched and she froze. She heard Sam say something and she started into Sam's mother's room to not hear anymore. The tape gun was sitting on the dresser. Kitty hadn't turned up the sheets on the bed. There was a stain. She gagged. She was shaking by the time she returned.

"Kitty-" she said.

"What?" Kitty said, not turning to her.

"It was an accident," said Sam from just behind her.

Kitty turned to face him, her face was shiny with tears.

"No-one's fault," said Sam. "God's fault."

"I'm sorry," said Kitty.

Sam turned and left without replying. She stared at Kitty.

"Kitten," she said.

She wanted to raise her hands and take the girl into her arms. She couldn't move.

"I had to do this when my grandfather died," said Kitty. "I loved him."

"It must have been hard for you," she said.

"I fucked it up," said Kitty, her voice cracking.

"You were only ten," she said. "A whole apartment-"

"I wasn't talking about my grandfather," said Kitty.

"Your father?" she asked.

"Pete Wisdom," said Kitty, coldly.

She dropped the tape gun.

"You told me that you broke apart by mutual agreement," she said. "You told me that it had all been a terrible mistake."

"And it was just what you wanted to hear, wasn't it?" said Kitty.

"No, it isn't," she said. "I thought you had some respect for me."

"I do," said Kitty. "I wanted you to respect me."

"What?" she said. "Kitten-"

"I was in love with him," said Kitty. "Do you know what that means? Do you? With him, every word had a new meaning. Love. Fire. Fierce. Death. Drink."

"You left him because of the drinking?" she said.

"As if," she said. "We all drank there, except Rahne & Brian. No, the drinking I could take. I even thought that maybe, just maybe I could stop him from getting to where he was going. That's what I was afraid of. Where he was going. Forge didn't drink, did he?"

"No," she said.

"He had it under control most of the time," said Kitty. "When it wasn't, he'd pick a fight and then go on a binge while I was away. I came back once and found him after. I saw him and thought he might be dead."

"So you left him," she said.

"No," said Kitty. "I cleaned him up and we had a long talk and he was so bashful and grateful and embarrassed. I found out later he went and talked to Brian about it. Drinking. He didn't tell me. I just sat there and thought about how one day I would come home to a scene like this. Find him dead."

"So then you left him," she said.

"I went off and did some work for SHIELD," said Kitty. "I met a kid there, computer whiz, looked just like Doug. I practically fucking raped the kid but he couldn't get it up. He was being so friendly, how was I to know he was gay?"

"Oh, Kitty," she said.

"So I went and told Pete, and he asked me if it was likely to happen again," said Kitty. "See, he was going to take me back. So I ran. Came back here so I wouldn't have to do this for him."

Kitty. Her little girl. Perhaps the closest thing to a daughter she would ever know.

"He's still at Muir, pissing everyone off," said Kitty. "If something happened, I just know that Moira wouldn't be able to find Romany and she'd call me and I'd have to go. Only he'd be gone and there'd be nothing left but his body."

Kitty started to sob, deep, heavy tearing sobs. She imagined Kitty in bed with the alcoholic. She imagined the alcoholic dead in his bed. She remembered eight Polaroid photos, six dead in their beds and Paige broken-necked at the bottom of the stairs. She remembered her mother's hand draped over her, slowly blackening and starting to stink as the rescuers dug in towards her. The window was eight feet away. She could blow it out and fly, fly up into the cold clear arctic air and the sun.

Instead, she held out her arms. Kitty collapsed into them.


She was alone in the room. No-one else in the house was alone. She liked to be alone.

Kitty had said she could help by emptying dressers into boxes. She had a box. She'd opened a drawer. There were clothes inside, old as some she'd had down below, in the tunnels. She had sat down on the floor then, and pulled a bone so she could get her knees up close to her chest and look around.

It wasn't a big room, but it was better than a section of concrete pipe since the floor was flat. It also had a window. The room that she'd been offered at Westchester had a window, but it was dead, sterile, never lived in. They all thought that she'd spurned it and taken to the basement because she thought it was too good for her, she was sure of it. That hadn't been the reason. It had been too bright, too dead, unlike the familiar darkness and smells of the old wine cellar.

In the tunnels, some of the older ones had told her what it had been like above, living where it was bright. She had been unable to imagine it. She had met those who lived in the light sometimes, on expeditions to the surface. The ones who weren't pale and who didn't have sores. The ones that she could scare the piss out of just by looking at them. The boys whose room this was would have looked just like any of them.

There were two beds in the room. Kitty had pulled up the sheets for some reason just before she had come in. The box sat empty in the middle of the floor. There were clothes on the closet floor and in a pile near the window. There was a baseball bat and a glove that was coming apart. The bat was scuffed. Everything was scuffed and worn. The beds, the books. She looked over at a bookcase. The books were all old, like they had in the tunnels when they had books at all. Some had pages falling out. Most were kind of yellow. The only new thing in the room was a computer. She knew that Sam had bought that for them. For his family. The light from a switchbar glowed from down under a bed.

She remembered wanting this. She remembered knowing that she hadn't deserved it and had had to live in the tunnels because she was bad. She remembered trashing bedrooms when they hit houses on Morlock raids, always leaving things for the upworlders to remember her by. Rooms so much like this one.

There was something on the floor beside her. It was a stuffed bear, old and tattered. She had always wondered what the appeal of the things was supposed to be.

"Seymour," said Sam.

He was staring at the bear. The frame was holding him up. She knew he hadn't slept in at least 40 hours. He told them he wasn't going to sleep until they knew why.

"Huh?" she said, tossing the bear aside and rising to her feet.

Something tore inside and she felt a fresh bone cut its way out through her calf. Sam slumped forward but did not fall. He picked up the stuffed animal.

"The bear," said Sam. "That's his name. Always sleeps in Jed's bed."

Sam staggered over and slipped the bear in under the covers.

"I'm helping," she said.

"It was an accident," he said.

"They sure?" she said.

"Yeah," he said.

"Then go to bed," she said.

"This used to be my bed," he said.

"Not here," she said.

She pulled some bones that might have gotten in the way. They landed on the floor with wet, heavy sounds that he didn't seem to hear.

"Come on," she said, letting her bear part of his weight. "Let's go outside."


The old sofa must have weighed two hundred pounds, easy. She carried it to the truck with one hand and scratched her head with the other. Her scalp was itchy. There hadn't been time to wash it the last two days. The sun was out and she felt warm, but then, she always did. One of the advantages or disadvantages, she was never sure which, of invulnerability was that it always was room temperature, no matter what the thermometer said or what she was wearing. From the sweaters that everyone else was wearing, she decided that it had to be cold.

She lowered the sofa onto the bed of the U-Haul. Piotr was inside, strapping a blanket to a stuffed chair. He was intent on fitting it just so, and paid no attention to her. She turned to look at the house. It looked a good size, but not for seven people. It looked a little shabby. It needed a good coat of white paint so its colour would be as clean as the blue sky and green trees. She glimpsed two figures walking off into the fallow fields behind it, saw the sun catch on purple and red hair. She wondered how Jean could stand being within a mile of the place.

A movement on the porch caught her attention. Sam sort of staggered out, like people did when they were shot and didn't know they were supposed to fall down yet. He started to fall, but Marrow caught him and sort of dumped him rather clumsily into a corner, propping him against the rail.

"Pete," she said, pointing at the porch. "What you make of this?"

He finished with the chair and looked up at her.

"What is it?" he said, not coming forward, remaining metaled up.

"Come look," she said.

Marrow came out with a blanket and threw it over Sam. For a moment, she thought that he looked like a piece of furniture covered with a drop cloth. Marrow bent over and fussed with the blanket, then went back inside.

"It is over," Piotr said.

"Over?" she said.

"I believe they have concluded that it was an accident," he said.

"You think," she said.

"If they had concluded otherwise, he would have come here to ask us for help in seeking vengeance," he said.

"I suppose," she said.

He turned.

"Hey," she said. "Come here and rest a minute."

He gave her an uncomfortable look, but did as she asked. He didn't metal down.

"Why you think he was so concerned about this moving business?" she said. "No-one's going to want to move into that place now."

He frowned and stared at the front of the house, then away.

"I expect it was to keep his mind from it," he said. "From the size of it."

"It's big for you too, huh?" she said.

"From here, it could almost be my own home," he said. "He's come to live in my country."

"What country is-" she said. "Oh."

"I cannot go into that house," he said. "I would have to force myself, if any of you were in danger there."

"Even Kitty?" she said.

He shrugged.

"I thought you were getting on better," she said.

"We are speaking," he said. "I believe that she will return to Scotland soon."

"First I've heard of it," she said.

"Instinct," he said. "She has said nothing to me, either."

"I'm sorry," she said.

"Are you?" he said.

"What's that supposed to mean?" she said, looking into his impassive steel face.

"You seem almost unaffected by this," he said. "All of the others are affected in some way, and you are not."

"It's sad," she said.

"Seven people died in that house," he said.

"I know that," she said. "I said it was sad."

"I heard you," he said.

"So what do you expect me to do?" she said.

"I've seen you cry," he said.

"I'm sure you have," she said.

"Then why-", he said.

"Because it has nothing to do with me," she said.

He did not reply. He stared at her impassively.

"I'd give my life for you, for any of you," she said. "I almost died to save you when you got all frozen and cracked up."

"Would you cry if I died?" he asked.

"Probably not," she said. "I don't see you cry much either."

"No," he said.

"So it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black," she said.

"It comes out in my art," he said. "I have destroyed almost all the canvases that I have painted since Illyana died. When I try not to feel it, I produce rubbish. What I once heard McCoy describe as paint-by-numbers art."

"I'm sure he didn't mean that," she said.

"He did and he was correct," he said. "Much of my art is not good. Kurt could capture more with his Leica than I could with my paint. Kitty only liked my work because she has no taste in art at all."

"I like some of your work," she said.

"But you do not cry either," he said.

"Thanks," she said. "I'd rather not talk about it, if you don't mind."

"Please," he said. "It would help."

"Metal down," she said.

He did. She looked into his eyes. She looked away.

"That's fine," she said. "I've only ever talked about this with Xavier."

"If it is too sensitive a-" he said.

"I don't remember anything from past," she said. "Nothing about a home, about parents, about brothers and sisters. Nothing before Mystique found me in a dumpster behind a 7-11 in Alabama."

"How old were you?" he asked, metalled up again.

"Seven, eight, nine, something like that," she said. "Xavier says it's unheard of for memories of childhood to be completely erased, but they've never came back. At least not anything I'm sure was mine."

"Irene Adler died," he said.

"Yes, she did," she said.

"And you felt?" he said.

"Like I told Xavier, I knew from the start it wasn't forever there," she said. "I always knew that one day some of them wouldn't come back. I miss my Nana, but I only got teary over her once."

"This is puzzling," he said.

"I have cried," she said. "Over Remy."

"Remy," he said.

"Xavier once asked me if I was numb to other people's pain" she said. "I guess that's the best way to put it, but it's kind of hard to describe otherwise. I want to feel with you, to share with you, and I can pretend, but there's almost never anything there. I wanted so much for it to really be there, and I thought that if I fell in love with Remy, if I could fall totally in love with him body and soul, that it would happen. That I would feel. I couldn't, and so I cried over that. Pure self-pity."

"I envy you," he said.

"Don't," she said. "I feel like one selfish piece of shit."

"It was wrong of me to pry," he said.

"Please don't tell," she said. "About the pretending. I'm sure they all know, but please don't tell."

"I won't tell," he said.

"I'm going to look for something big they're finished with," she said. "If I don't come back, it's because I'm packing. You'll be OK out here?"

"I will," he said.

She walked through the tall grass towards the house. There was a breeze. She looked up at the blue, cloudless sky. She hoped that it would be as nice on the day of the funeral.


Composed under the influence of:

Therapy? Love Spit Love The Moody Blues Infinite Jest, by DF Wallace


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