X-folks are Marvelís. No money. Donít sue.
Kai and assorted originals are mine, as is the situation. Some of you may have heard that Iíve recently moved (for flight school -- yes, Kaylee wants to be a pilot, so you might want to purchase bus tickets from this point on) and Iím now living in a town that is, in short, Hell On Earth. This town is actually listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the highest concentration of churches to people in the USA. (For the record, Kaylee is NOT religious. At all. In fact, Kaylee has a severe allergic reaction to church. She finds herself laughing uncontrollably at Ďreligious figuresí when they threaten the safety of her soul. She kinda figures that her soul is in better shape than most of the hypocrites standing up there preaching fire and brimstone. Not to say that she doesnít respect GENUINE religious people, but she still prefers to go her own way.) This new home also happens to be a DRY COUNTY, meaning that NO LIQUOR WHATSOEVER is sold within its boundaries. Now Kaylee is not an alcoholic, but she DOES appreciate a beer every now and then, and moreover, she DOES appreciate having the RIGHT to have a beer when she wants one. In addition, thereís also a really weird thing called a ĎBlue Lawí here which dictates that most stores (excluding convenience stores and restaurants, but including grocery stores, Books-a-Million, and many other places that are not, by definition, churches) must close early on Sundays to Ďallow people the opportunity to go to church.í
As I said: Hell On Earth. But I got a great deal on rent...
Anyways... In honor of my move to Hell, for the time being all KayleeThreats™ will have a distinct religious theme. To kick off this new policy:
Borrow my characters without permission and Iíll shove a burning bush down your throat. Thank you.
Comments toKayleeSama@aol.com. From your mouth to my ear to Godís recycle bin. ;-)
Cold Shepherd 3
I slept late in the morning, not even waking whenever Logan extricated himself and got started with his day. When I finally stretched and popped my way into full wakefulness the clock glowed a cheery 12:17. Roughly thirteen hours of sleep. I must've been more wiped than I'd thought.
I showered again, lathering my hair with enough shampoo to make a sizable white afro atop my head, then rinsed and stepped out, toweling dry and starting the comb to work. I tucked a towel around myself and walked out into the bedroom, still tugging with the comb, then stood before the dressing mirror at the far end of the room to study how bad the damage was. My hair now stopped a handbreadth below the ridges of my shoulderblades, and I'd lose at least another inch making it even. It's never been a particular vanity of mine, my hair, but I missed already the heavy sweep of it as I turned, the feel of it tickling down my spine.
I remembered the braids again, piled one atop the other. It was all too easy to picture a deep auburn one topping off the batch.
Not really thinking about it, I tossed the comb to the dresser and caught the twist of the towel, tugging until it fell. Stood there looking over myself and for some reason found myself remembering the words: 'You don't die! You heal, Kai.'
I had to look closely to see the scars. Even the crease from the shotgun was little more than a pale dash across my ribcage, all livid redness gone in my sleep. That was probably why I'd slept so long... giving the symbiont plenty of time to do its job. Reducing my battle scars to papercuts and giving everyone, myself included, an easy way to forget how very close to 'too much' these fights got sometimes.
I touched my head with hesitant fingers. Only the slightest bump there now, not even tender. Apparently repairs beneath it had gone well -- if I'd forgotten anything I hadn't noticed. That made sense. I could still remember my name. Names. Could still recall vital events in my life going back two decades, not farther. Faces and voices, words and fists; all there. Or enough there. If anything had been taken from me this time I still had plenty left.
The door opened without a knock, meaning it was Logan and I didn't have to grab for the towel. I watched him in the mirror and smiled when I saw the fast food bag in his hand. The stomach had been pretty vocal this morning.
"You brought me food. I bow down and worship you."
"Kinky," he commented, dropping the bag to the bed, which is as close to a table as we've got in the room. "Couple o' Whoppers." He held up a giant cup bearing an animated character on its face and took a sip. "And a Coke. Thought you could use some calories."
"At this point I'd eat tofu if it was here." I sat cross-legged and reached for the bag, digging in with a satisfied sigh. "Thanks."
He grunted something with the tone of 'you're welcome' and walked around the bed, picking up the comb off the dresser and setting down the drink as he went. A moment later he was sitting behind me and gathering my hair in a broad palm, holding it as he pulled the comb through. "Fire?"
"Car exploded," I explained between bites.
'Huh' seemed a very good way to sum it up. "Anything happen around here in the past couple of days?"
"Yeah. Big excitement."
"Taught Bish how to play golf."
I almost choked on a tomato. "What?"
He continued combing my hair, more carefully than I do it. "He's a quick learner."
"You play golf?"
"Had to pick up a few skills in my lifetime."
"Golf doesn't seem like much of a skill."
"You'd be surprised. Takes a lotta concentration. Kinda like meditating. Just you an' the green."
"Just when I thought I knew you..."
He tugged playfully on my hair, though I could tell his heart wasn't in the teasing. "It'll take ya longer than a year t' know all my secrets, darlin'."
"You don't even know all your secrets, Logan."
"See what I mean?"
I finished Whopper One and started in on Whopper Two, waving vaguely in the direction of the dresser to indicate the cup he'd set there. He handed it over, then put it back after I took a few swallows.
"Want me to cut this?" he asked out of nowhere.
"You ain't wearin' anything else for me to cut off, are ya?"
I jabbed an elbow back lightly in rebuke for the sarcasm. "Sure, I guess. Just don't nick me with those claws."
The bed creaked quietly as he leaned over to open a dresser drawer, then the next one as the first didn't reveal what he wanted. "Nah, not the claws. Bone's not sharp enough to cut without pullin'." I glanced over at the whisper-hiss-click of scissors being snapped vigorously. "These'll work better."
"Don't nick me with those things, either."
"Yes ma'am." Apparently he wasn't ready to start cutting yet. He dropped the scissors to the bed and went back to work with the comb. "You picked up some new scars," he said, too casually.
I almost found a laugh at that. Of course, if I had laughed I'd've asphyxiated on a limp pickle-slice, so it was a good thing that it was only an 'almost.' "You actually remember my scars?"
"What, you don't remember mine?"
Every one. "I'd have to draw a fucking diagram to remember yours."
Broad fingers brushed my hair aside. I felt warm lips touch at the junction of neck and shoulder. A hand snaked over to lightly trace the newest from the shotgun blast. "Somebody got awful close."
You have no idea. "Not for long."
"Doesn't hafta be for long."
I wrapped the rest of Whopper Two in the paper and dropped it in the bag, wiping my mouth with one of the little napkins they supplied and tossing it in, too. "He's dead."
"Good," he said simply. Drew back and ran the comb through one more time. "Don't move."
"Artist at work, huh?"
"That's right." The whisper-hiss-click of scissors opening. "What would you do to me if ya ended up with Chuck's hairdo?"
"There are no words to describe what I would do to you if I ended up with Charles' hairdo."
I turned and looked suspiciously at the dusting of hair across the rumpled covers. "That's it?" Touched a hand to my surviving hair. It did feel more or less even. "One snip, you're done?"
His lips tugged sideways. "Well if ya want it perfect you gotta go to a gay guy. But it's pretty much even."
I stared at him, sure that I could find mock-outrage for that if I halfway tried. I didn't try. His face is a roadmap of years with rough terrain detailed by boldly disrespectful lines. Emotions get lost in there, hidden and disguised even when I don't think he means them to be. Still he shows enough, if you know how to look. If you care to look.
"Know what I was dreaming of the other night?"
"What?" he asked.
"A very long, very thorough, very wonderful massage."
"What, did somebody buy ya one?"
I scowled and smacked his chest lightly. "Jackass."
A quick flash of teeth as he caught my hand. "One massage, comin' up. An' I won't even charge you for it."
"Oh, and here I was gonna barter sex..."
"Well," he amended readily, "donations are accepted." And then he caught my lips with a kiss before I could rally and counter.
Hank lured me down to the medlab with the promise of a new gizmo for the telescope that he refused to show me until after I let him give me the once-over. I grumbled loudly, but made no real argument. I hate the medlab, or any place that smells of chemicals and pain, but some nagging little part of my mind kept insisting that you don't get your brain bashed without having some consequences that should probably be checked out.
I left the medlab half an hour later with Hank murmuring about 'scar tissue' and 'fascinating' in the same breath. Neither one of those sentiments was very comfortable for me, even when it was a familiar kind baritone delivering the prognosis rather than one of the clinically detached voices from my past. He hadn't found anything debilitating, which was all I really cared about. As for the scientific interest... Well, much as I liked Hank, he'd have to keep his goddamn paws to himself on that one. I don't like anyone that much.
And the telescope gizmo turned out to be a dial that he promised would help us get even finer focus out of the image. Couldn't even test it out 'til we had a clear night, which Hank firmly informed me we couldn't expect Ororo to provide every time I had a yearning to see planets. He said a bunch of stuff about 'balance of nature' and other such crud but I'd already stopped listening and was ready for my escape. No matter how interesting the distractions, nothing could hide that I was in a lab, and I wanted out.
From there I headed my way up to the kitchen, hungry again despite having eaten only a few hours earlier. That made as much sense as the excessive sleeping, I figured. Symbiont can't create something from nothing. Needs energy the way any living thing does.
Jean was in the kitchen fixing a sandwich. We traded muted greetings, superficially civil, and then I left as quickly as I was able to without looking like I was rabbitting, carrying a blueberry muffin in a paper towel as my concession to hunger. Xavier had agreed with me. Jean never would. That was her right. It was mine have as little to do with her as possible. And if I was feeling awkward and foolish after last night's performance maybe she was too, which only gave us more reason to avoid each other.
A few minutes later I was on the phone with the repair shop my Jeep had been sentenced to. The mechanic's advice when he'd seen the damage was to "send 'er up the river, miss, an' toss a stick o' dynamite after to put 'er outta her misery." His opinion of the vehicle's chances had changed drastically when I'd waved a little green and promised him a nice bonus if he could fix her.
And now rich satisfaction was in his voice. "Yep. I guess I'm just about a disciple o' god here, miss, what with this miracle I pulled off. Your baby's chuggin' like a train on crack."
I felt an utterly senseless surge of affection and relief. It's just a damned car, Kai. But damnit, a car with memories. First vehicle I'd ever bought once I was free -- bought with money I'd earned without hurting a soul. I'd spent three weeks in a garage with John refitting her, repairing what we could, replacing what we had to. That's the strongest impression I'll always hold every time I slip onto that worn driver's seat: sweltering summer days, sweaty tank tops, motor oil, and the reassuring lightness of John's idle humming telling me that I was in a different world now. A world of my choosing.
Money couldn't buy that, but it could facilitate the remembrance in this case.
It didn't hurt my love for the vehicle to realize that if I'd been driving the Jeep there was no chance Raymond's pissy little Camaro could've sent me off the road. Army Jeeps are built to take abuse. Mine went above and beyond that call of duty.
But if I hadn't crashed Jason Keller would still be out there, totally unsuspected, and that ravine would be chock full within a year. Something to think about.
Remy and 'Ro had come in some time when I was asleep last night. She was probably outside somewhere, maybe training or meditating or doing whatever it is she does when she spends forever up there alone in the sky. He, on the other hand, was walking down the main stairs with a somewhat rumpled look and a jaw-cracking yawn. Remy can pull off rumpled and make it look like Armani. Armani with a particularly roguish heartthrob giving it style.
Today he wasn't going for Armani, though he certainly managed cute. "Mornin'," he told me, shuffling over with practiced unconventional grace to drop a fraternal kiss on my cheek as I turned to hang up the phone. He kept right on shuffling toward the kitchen without more than a pause at my side.
"Afternoon," I called after him. "Find me when you're fully awake, would you?"
He waved assent absently as he disappeared into the kitchen. I gave a bemused smile and tugged at my ponytail while trying to decide who to bum a ride from to go spring the Jeep. I've never been all that fond of riding on the Harley with Logan; our lives are dangerous enough, so far as I'm concerned, without speeding along at seventy or eighty with nothing between you and a really bad roadburn but a few inches and a kiss from Lady Luck. He might be willing to drive me in one of the school cars, though...
There were footsteps on the front stairs outside, then a key in the lock. I leaned against the wall and crossed my arms to wait and see who it was. A few words in an offhand voice told me before the door swung open.
"Warren," I said with a nod as they came into the foyer. "Betts."
"Hello, Kai," he said with polite disinterest. "Is the professor--" A pause, eyes going distant in his blue-skinned face. Only here on the grounds is Warren willing to turn off the image inducer. "Never mind. That's him." He turned to lightly kiss Betsy's lips and then strode past me up the stairs with a soft shush-shush of ruffling feathers.
She stood regarding me. When Betsy regards you, you can't help but feel like a particularly leonine gaze has settled down to evaluate for some curious predator just what sorta meal you'd make. "Good afternoon, Kai."
"Yeah. Same to you." I really wasn't feeling up to this kinda company today. "See you around, Betts." And I started up the stairs, heading nowhere in particular but away.
"Just a moment."
I hesitated. Looked back to find her pacing toward me. "What?"
"There's a fair today. 'Apple Days.' It's in honor of Manhattan's reduction in crime. You've heard of it?"
"Yeah." Could hardly miss it, as much as it was hyped. "I figure it'll make traffic hell, but I need to get my Jeep. The guy said he'd stay open today."
"We're here to pick up whoever wants to go. If you want we can drop you off..."
Problem solved. Not quite the way I would've wanted, but beggars and choosers and all that. "Thanks. That'd actually be a big help."
"You could join us at the fair afterwards. Everybody goes to Apple Days."
"I dunno, Betts..." The thought of lighthearted enjoyment seemed a little... inappropriate.
But the women were dead a week ago, too. Was I gonna change so much just because I'd found out exactly what they'd been through? Seen the bodies? Felt the fear?
She waited, eyes inscrutable, and I found myself giving a brusque shrug. "Ah, I guess I'll go. It runs 'til dark, right?"
"It runs until all the people go home."
"Okay." I turned to head up the stairs. "Be ready in a bit."
So much energy at a fair. Streets cordoned off for parking and booths, highly dubious rides set up on the greens, voices raised in shouts and laughs and shrieks of indignation. Loud and unstinting, the way New Yorkers pride themselves in being. 'Bring on the world!' they holler out with their brashness. 'Nothin' can touch the Apple!'
You don't have to like the bristling arrogance and defensiveness, but if you don't respect it you'll find yourself overwhelmed. Nothing makes a city-dweller more rabid than slurring his home and the neighbors he fights tooth and nail with himself, but won't allow anyone else to disparage.
We spent a while exploring; Logan, Betts, Remy and myself. Itíd been a small surprise to find that the Ďweí Betts had mentioned didnít include Warren. I would've had to've been far more distracted than I was to miss the fact that Betsy didn't venture far from me at any point. She wasn't obvious, no, but she and I aren't exactly buddy-buddy under normal circumstances, and certainly not close enough that she'd want to stick this near to me.
So someone wanted a telepath on me, just in case. Scott, maybe, or even Xavier. Explained her uncharacteristic invitation in the foyer, too. Shoulda known the friendliness was an act.
Sometimes it pays to be a cynic.
Logan caught sight of a car exhibit and nudged my arm. "Let's go have a look."
"I'm sick of cars," I muttered, but went along for lack of anything better to do. With realizing that I was under surveillance I'd stopped digging for any remote charm in the fair and was now just debating the best method of escape. They wouldn't really be putting me under watch... would they? Surely this was just a bit of caution. I could understand that. Even accept it in an abstract way, such as 'this-is-a-reasonable-thing-however-this-will-not-apply-to-Kai.' It's normal enough for a person to be mentally rattled after... disturbing events. Some people couldn't handle it. Plain truth.
What Scott was forgetting-- Okay, just when did I decide that it had to be Scott orchestrating this? --was that I'd had plenty of opportunity in my life to become accustomed to death and its accouterments. Sure, I was a little shaken up. Who wouldn't be? But this was nothing compared to...
That was your stomach that just rolled over, Kai. You ever stop to think that maybe ignoring a certain something for months at a time wasn't enough to lay it to rest?
Logan stopped. I halted beside him automatically, not seeing the spread of 'Classic Cars!' parked at careful angles before us.
I'd dealt with what happened with Vic. I had.
'What happened with Vic.' That's how you always think of it, isn't it? 'What happened in the woods.' 'What happened that night.' What happened. The mental voice wasn't as mocking as usual. I almost thought that the ruthlessly sarcastic side of me was as reluctant to touch this as the rest of me. But you never think in terms of what did happen.
Remy strolled over to Logan's other side and pointed, voice hinting at appreciation. I paid no attention to the words. Or much of anything outside of my head, really.
It wasn't like I was forgetting what Creed did.
'What Creed did.' Again.
I just didn't see the need to call it up constantly to remind myself of my mistakes.
What? Was I supposed to trot out every cut and bruise and
concussion or fracture or
My mind was apparently not very willing to play fair today.
"Kai." Her voice was quiet, as though she didn't want to be overheard by our companions. Remy had pulled Logan a bit closer to the vehicles, and the buzz of the crowd was enough to cover whatever Betsy wanted to say as long as she kept it soft.
With effort I forced my thoughts to the here and now. "What?"
"You're not enjoying yourself."
"I don't care much for old sports cars."
"We can leave."
I scowled. Betsy being solicitous is about three sheets to the wrong wind. "'We' don't have to leave. I have the Jeep, remember."
"I'm getting a little tired. I'll come with you."
"Really, Betts, I don't think... that's..."
"What is it?"
'It' was a black replica of the car Raymond Keller had been driving when he ran me off the road. I hadn't thought that I'd remember details so clearly, but looking at the thing brought back an instant flash of the dark shape thundering up beside the rental, a perceived menace in its motion when I looked back now. It was indeed a Camaro. '69 model, which I never would've guessed without seeing one. Logan was making a sweeping gesture at the hood while Remy argued energetically against some point he was making.
Betsy touched my arm. I jumped a bit and then made myself freeze before I could give my discomfiture away any more obviously. "Just... deja vu, Betts." I shrugged off her arm and took a sharp step away. "You're tired. We should go." And I should be striding out of there entirely alone, making the angry face at anyone brave enough to follow. Hopping in the Jeep and getting my ass to the apartment where I could just sit down on the couch and listen to myself think for a while.
So why wasn't I?
I slanted a glance at Betts, cautiously. She just might be unscrupulous enough to think about manipulating me, but I didn't think she would've pulled it off without my knowledge. Passive sensing is one thing, but actually going into my head and changing something? Possible, but not likely.
Maybe I just wanted to be around people today. People I more or less trusted.
Betsy waved Logan and Remy over and put it to them, just like that. "I'm tired and ready to leave." I didn't say much of anything, just grunting agreement when Logan asked if I was ready, too. He nodded and started forward, an arm sliding around my shoulders in a guiding gesture. I went with it willingly enough and turned with him.
He stopped suddenly. "Jesus, it's a Lotus."
Remy gave a low croon of appreciation. "What a car. Lookit dat. Perfect condition."
I didn't see what was so special in the low-slung model of gleaming curves. With the techy gizmos the team regularly uses it was a bit hard for me to understand how any of them-- So now it's 'them,' Kai? --could get so excited about a civilian vehicle. Logan had tensed with excitement, though, and I wasn't sure how he managed to keep that arm around my shoulder rather than beelining it for the car. "Nice," I said, trying not to sound indifferent. "Lotus, you said? Like the flower?"
He gave me a strange look, half-wry and half-pitying. "You got no idea what that baby can do."
I nudged him with a hip. "Go look. I'll go wait by the Jeep, if you're riding with me."
His arm fell with a very good imitation of reluctance. "If you're sure..." He was already moving away even while giving me that 'doubtful look' that men patented years ago when pretending to carefully consider a course of action.
Even in my distraction I found a faint grin at that, waving him on. Looked at Remy. "Well what're you waiting for?"
"Left my cigarettes in de car," he said easily. "I'll come wit' you."
My momentary good humor vanished. Now he's watching me? I started walking without answering him, knowing that he'd know that I knew that he was along to make sure I behaved myself, and not caring. If he was taking it upon himself to join Betts as my guard today he could cope with the fact that it pissed me off. Goddamn. Right now it looks like Logan's the only one who doesn't think I'm about to fucking snap.
You're overreacting, some part of me murmured. It really is reasonable. You hit Jean yesterday. Of course they're gonna be worried about your stability.
It was easier to ignore that voice and let my irritation swell higher. This was part of the reason I used to never wanna be part of a team. In order to be able to trust each other you have to know each other, which means that everyone believes your business is theirs. 'Your distraction is throwing off the team's balance' never became an issue when you played it solo. 'We're worried about you' was easier to avoid, too. Maybe I should rethink my options. Did I really belong here?
Oh, and let's not forget that I'm on 'probation.' I scowled as I walked, completely ignoring Betsy and Remy now and barely even noticing that they were talking in low, quiet voices behind me. I swear, if he actually does anything about that...
At the end of the display of cars I stopped sharply. My watchdogs -- it was hard to think of them as anything but that right this second -- stopped too, Remy asking what was wrong automatically. Not 'what is it,' but 'what's wrong.' Like there had to be something the matter. I took note of that little distinction distantly, on the very farthest corner of awareness.
Closer at hand was a scent. It'd barely registered on the edge of perception, as nearly overwhelmed by other smells as it was, but it was imprinted strongly enough in my mind to make me freeze; then drop unceremoniously into a crouch, splayed fingers going out for balance as I leaned forward slightly and closed my eyes to focus on the scent. I shut out everything -- the milling crowds, the voices muttering in question about the strange woman hunkering down on the walkway, the beer and popcorn and groans of rusty machinery -- and just breathed in, slowly, filtering odors as I'd been doing for as long as I could remember.
'Everybody goes to Apple Days.'
When I finally opened my eyes it was to find Remy crouching a couple of feet in front of me, sunglasses in one hand, the other resting loose and open and ready on one thigh. I blinked at him and thought absently that I needed to say something, to explain somehow, to get that wary look out of his eyes.
Instead I stood and pushed past him, slowly following that thin thread of scent as well as I could. Here and there I lost it and had to drop down again, hardly caring about the looks I was getting, searching until it reached in and curdled my stomach again. It only took a few minutes to realize that he was heading for the parking lot. I picked up the pace until I was nearly jogging.
Remy caught up and put a restraining hand on my shoulder. I brushed it off sharply, not listening to his words. Betts was silent, following and watching.
I reached the parking lot and my feet stuttered to a halt as I looked swiftly left, right, left again. Fresh enough... he might not've gotten anywhere... The scent was choked with exhaust and tar now, and I could barely pick it up at all. Logan could follow it. Is there time to get him? C'mon, let me find the bastard... let there be a little justice in the world after all... I don't think about religion as a rule so I didn't consider who or what I was appealing to. I just figured that this situation was bigger than I was, so maybe if there was anything out there it'd take an interest.
The wind shifted, bearing the airborne scents of the parking lot away from me. I swore and kept looking, realizing dismally that I wouldn't recognize him by sight -- I'd only seen a shadow behind the wheel, and even that only briefly. There were a dozen men nearby who could've been him, dozens more past that. The parking lot was really a network of partitioned roads that stretched for nearly a mile.
Remy fell into step beside me, keeping up easily with his longer legs as I strode forward, hopelessly looking around me. "Y' wan' say what dis is about?"
I caught another thread of scent. Stopped, turned, and tried a new direction. "Not now."
A tickle across the surface of my mind. Betsy's voice, cautious, not tentative: "You don't know exactly what you're looking for."
"I know what," I said tersely, changing direction again, hopping over the bumpers of two cars that were nearly kissing. "I just don't know who."
"Needle in a haystack, anyone?" Remy muttered. I didn't even bother to glare at him. Somehow, some way, I had to find the sonuvabitch. This couldn't be finished until... he...
I froze again, this time so abruptly that Remy nearly slammed into me. Late afternoon light picked up a few sparkles in the paint and almost seemed to make it glow, setting it apart from the more modern vehicles surrounding it. It wasn't red; it was maroon. Maroon, well-maintained, double-parked.
Dented noticeably on the right front fender, paint scraped and abused over twisted metal.
The man digging in his pockets for keys, then, was Raymond Keller. Even the wind obliged me by shifting to carry his scent definitively to me.
Almost dreamlike, I felt my right hand drift toward the small of my back. Beneath the light jacket and the baggy T-shirt was a concealment holster snugged right against my spine, and inside of that holster was my 9mm Beretta, fully loaded. He was fifteen yards away. A duck in a barrel.
Remy's arm slipped across my back, hand spreading over the gun as he swept around me and, smiling, pulled me into a lover's hold. Still in that haze of not-quite-reality I didn't fight him -- just let him draw me close, felt his hand blocking my access to the weapon, and didn't take my eyes off the man at the door of the maroon Camaro.
Remy was murmuring, his tone a light thing that sought to soothe, like a person would use on an injured animal or a frightened child. "Easy, chere, jus' keep calm. Let's not go pullin' no guns here... we don' need trouble. Dat's right, jus' breathe in like dat, nice an' slow. We'll get his plate an' track him, neh? Not'ing t' worry about. Not'ing t' get upset over. Betsy, do somet'ing. Non, Kai, don' pull back, jus' take it easy, nice an' easy..."
For some reason my body was trembling, shaking hard, and the emotions roiling up to nip at my mind weren't as cut and dry as simple vengeance. One part of me wanted to turn my head in against Remy's chest, let him use that magic in his voice to help me find the vital balance in my mind again. Something more insistent was battering away inside my ribcage with determined force and demanding that I draw the Beretta even if I had to break Remy's arm to do it.
"Dat's it. Good. Can' go shootin' people all in public like dis, neh? We'll find a better way, chere, I promise we will." His left hand still guarded the gun. His right stroked my back rhythmically. I stayed limp against him, head turned sideways on his chest as I stared at Raymond and catalogued details automatically. Almost six feet. Built for muscle, carrying a layer of fat instead. Brown hair to match Jason's, coarser features, smile lines around his eyes and mouth. He looked younger than his brother. Dressed rich; quality clothes designed to appear casual. The Camaro he was still searching for keys to was no cheap car, either.
I heard a bare, incoherent sound rise from my chest as he finally dug out keys and held them jangling in his hand. Remy's grip tightened, flattening me against him, tone taking on a bit of an edge as if to call my attention back to him.
"He," I said, finding it hard to manage words. "He used his car... all those women... with his brother. The dent is me. It's me."
A short, sharp breath into the chest against my ear. The hand stopped stroking, then started more determinedly. "A'right. I know. I know. We gotta pick de place, y' hear me? Not like dis, wit' all dese people here. Don' be stupid, Kai, jus' keep y' head on straight, take it easy, Betsy, tell me y're doin' somet'ing, good, Kai, stay calm, dat's good, jus' like dat..."
"You don't know what happened to those women..." I heard myself say. 'What happened.' Abstract. Only tangentially connected to me. What happened to those women. What happened with Creed.
"Easy," he said again. "Easy."
A woman walked between us and the Camaro, a harried look on her face and a young girl in tow. The girl's hand was clutched in the woman's, her little feet jogging to keep up. A brown braid flipped and bounced energetically against her shoulders. Another quiet, objecting sound from my chest. Remy held me tighter. I couldn't've torn my eyes away if I'd tried as I saw the girl glance at Raymond, saw his gaze come to rest on her. A broad smile, cheerful and clownish, spread the heavy lips and let teeth glint. I couldn't see the girl's face to know if she smiled back but I heard her giggle in response. Raymond raised a large hand in a wave, then wiggled his fingers at the child teasingly.
The little sound in my chest became an inarticulate choked cry that I didn't even try to restrain. Before I knew it I was moving, slamming a knee upward to distract Remy, knowing he'd twist his hips and block it. He did, swearing, and I used the slight space I got in his arms as a result to twist, wrenching back against his hand and tearing free. He tried to grab for the gun. He missed.
Raymond was starting to raise his head as the woman and child hurried off. His eyes found the three of us but showed no true comprehension of what was going on, of who I was. He didn't even recognize my face, this shit who'd come so close to killing me. Probably didn't remember or care about the faces of any of them...
He doesn't have to remember. I remember.
I tore the gun free, sweeping it around my body to bring it to bear on his nose. He finally seemed to catch on and his dark eyes widened impossibly as he lunged back stupidly and lost the limited cover his car provided.
Before I could fire I was met with a diving body and a tight grip around my chest and arms, the force of it knocking me hard to the pavement and pinning me beneath Remy's not inconsiderable weight.
"No!" was all I was able to say, hissing it between clenched teeth. "No!"
"Arretez-vous, si merde!" But his words didn't matter. He was pinning me, trapping me, holding me down when I was remembering what happened ('what happened with Creed') to those women, and instinct took me over with a savage lurch, stealing rationality and hiding it safely behind the things you (don't want to remember) do to make it stop controlling you--
It was pure strength, no finesse, that let me break his hold. I slammed an elbow to his jaw. Followed it with a tight roll in his loosened arms and pistol-whipped him across the face. Pain exploded over his expression and his nose wept blood freely. Somehow he grabbed the hand the pistol was in and wrenched it down with hard fingers, pinning my wrist but freeing the other hand in the process. I darted fingers for a nerve cluster in the neck, counting the seconds that would allow Raymond to get away.
Remy's fingertips touched the gun. Something crackled in the air, softly charged like electricity, and I nearly screamed as searing heat worked across my palm. He charged it... the fucker charged my gun! And he tore it from my scorched hand and flung it away even as he shouted in pain when I hit the nerves.
The Beretta exploded, sounding like a large firecracker. Remy flinched from the nerve-jab and freed up my shoulder enough to let me slug him, which got him offa me finally and gave me a chance to lunge to my feet. I didn't need a fucking gun. I didn't need anything but my own two hands so long as I could find that sonuvabitch Raymond and make him suffer the way I shoulda made his brother suffer...
But before I could even make my eyes focus on the Camaro, Logan was in front of me.
I went left, swinging over the fender of a Volvo, and tried to get around him. He made it there first and met me as my feet touched down. I waited half a heartbeat for a grab, a tackle, a punch. None came. I tried to feint, trick him, dodge. He knew my tricks too well, though, and didn't fall for them.
He wouldn't get out of the way.
Now Logan... even Logan is against me on this... My teeth ground tightly and lips drew back. With that conclusion reached there seemed only one way to handle this. When he continued blocking me, face full of such focus that it was impossible to read, I let frustration have rein and uppercut him to the chin.
As if he'd been waiting for just that he twisted, caught my wrist, gripped my bent elbow and pushed. I half-spun to try to avoid the damage the hold could do-- Elbow, fucking elbow, Logan and my fucking elbow --and ended up spinning right into an arm-lock. Behind my back, professional restraining method, one muscled forearm across my throat and No, not Logan, not Logan like Creed, please not Logan harsh breath in my ear. He was saying something over and over, but I couldn't hear it, wouldn't hear it, because all that was missing was the sensation of claws tickling over my skin, all that this lacked was the chuckle rumbling through my bones until I--
"Keep that fuckin' thing away from her, Betts!"
"It's not what you think, Logan."
"She don't need you slicin' into her brain."
"Will you trust me?!"
No, stop, not that, keep her the fuck outta my thoughts, she can't see, they can't see, don't stop me, no no no no
"... Do it, Betts."
Every sense exploded.
I was hearing red and seeing screams and tasting pain and feeling iron-laced blood against my skin.
Up was left and down was right and I was somewhere vaguely off of center, perceptions torn and confused. I knew I was fighting. I knew I had to kill someone. I knew my arm was nearly torn from its socket, as hard as I was straining.
::Look! Stop fighting me and look.::
Raymond. Raymond standing back from his car, staring with wide eyes, just as he'd been right before Remy-- Oh shit, Remy, I hit him, he tried to stop me, fuck, I didn't mean it, Remy --took me down. My vision misted, cleared, misted, as if tears were gathering and being blinked away in my eyes. I don't cry. Psionic knife. Betsy's knife. Does things to a person's head, makes you go all staticky...
Raymond couldn't be allowed to get away. Three dozen dead women screamed inside my mind, two dozen in the ravine, one dozen of those with enough flesh on their faces to reveal their dying terror and pain. He couldn't--
I couldn't let--
::He won't, Kai.::
Raymond's mouth fell open. Words tumbled out, but I couldn't hear them. Had to reach him... somehow... damn anyone who got in the way, who couldn't understand, who tried to make me stop.
He stumbled, his knees trembling and his eyes blank, then lurched into a barely steady walk. Futile desperation caught in my throat. If you can do something, and you don't...
A soft squeal of well-tended brakes as the vehicle coasted to a stop. The red and blue lights weren't on, but the man at the wheel
A cop? She's sending him to...
was obviously on duty, and Raymond's not quite balanced approach caught his attention immediately. The parking brake ground out its application and the door gave a little groan as it opened.
I stopped struggling entirely; not that it'd been doing me much good, what with my body feeling like a giant Kai-shaped noodle. It was Logan who was restraining me, and the moment I stopped fighting he eased me down to rest against a tire, his hands shifting from the painful restraining hold to sit on my shoulders as he crouched in front of me. His face hazed as my vision went blurry again. I blinked sharply, feeling something trickle down my cheek.
"Hold it right there, buddy." The cop, warily.
"Officer." Raymond's slightly gruff voice was emotionless. "I need your help."
Another something tracked down my face and dripped from my chin. I wanted to close my eyes, look away, but Logan's steady dark gaze wouldn't let me.
"What sorta help?"
"I need to report a crime."
"My brother murders women."
"He's probably finished with the latest one by now. Should be calling me any day."
The latest one. Me. The latest one. Me.
"... What's your name?"
"Ray. Raymond Keller."
"So you're telling me that your brother kills women? And he's done it before?"
"And just how do you know about this?"
I managed to roll my head. Barely. Looked at Betts. At the faint sheen of violet I could see in the air around her.
"I help him."
It can't... not this simple... what if he takes it back? What if he--
"And I'll show you where he stashes the bodies if you don't believe me."
My eyes slid shut. Squeezed tightly. My heart was still pounding far too hard and high, racing like a scared rabbit's. Breathing was heavy and rapid, too. "Shit," I whispered between breaths. "Shit."
Loganís hands didn't leave my shoulders. "You got it together?"
I heard a familiar rendition of the Miranda Warning as metal clinked together, then the distinctive click of cuffs latching into place. "... and if you cannot afford an attorney one will be provided for you..."
"Betts," I said, a trifle shakily, still not opening my eyes. "Will he...?"
"What I broke," she told me quietly, "will stay broken."
A breath shuddered out. It was settled. It was over. Raymond would pay. "Shit." It was over, and the louder groan of the back door on the cop's car confirmed that as he seated Raymond inside. Moments later the front door slammed. The parking brake clicked off. The engine revved. No one spoke as the cruiser pulled away.
Logan's hands slid from my shoulders. I heard him straighten and step away, something that sounded like a soft curse muttered out beneath his breath. Betsy sighed, low and deep as though pushing tension out. And then there was...
Oh goddamn... "Remy?" No answer. I could hear his breathing -- through his mouth, I noticed with a sharp pang of guilt -- and scent placed him, too. With effort I made myself crack lids. Looked right, finding him leaning up against a pickup's tires in a similar position to mine. His nose was swollen already. Smeared blood beneath it had made more of a mess of his face. His sunglasses were on, hiding eyes and feelings in one swoop. "Cajun, are you...?"
He didn't even look my way as he pushed away from the truck and stood, a small grunt of effort his only concession to how painful it was to do so. "I'm a'right." His voice sounded off. Slightly nasal. "Betsy, would y' drive?"
I pushed to my feet. Or tried to, ending up instead clinging to the driver's side mirror on the little Ford I was up against, working to make wobbly legs obey. "Remy..."
But Remy was winding slowly through parked cars, Betsy moving to go with him after a long, silent look at me. I closed my eyes again, turning and letting my forehead rest against the window of the Ford. Too tired to try to follow. Wouldn't know what to say anyway. Everything was a muddle in my head and all I wanted to do was find some place to collapse into insensibility for a while.
"Can you walk?" Logan asked eventually, low and quiet.
"Gimme a minute."
"Where're your keys? I'll get the Jeep."
"My pocket," I said, not pulling away from the car to reach for them. "Is he... is he okay?"
"He'll live." He walked over, hand slipping into my right pocket and finding the keys to pull them out. "How 'bout you?"
I opened my eyes and stared through the window into the car. Worn vinyl upholstery stared back at me, looking as tired and rundown as I felt.
"Ask me tomorrow."
We went to the apartment that night. Facing Xavier or Jean at the mansion seemed unnecessarily risky, considering. Even I -- not very well versed in telepathic ethics -- knew that what Betsy had done would be considered very, very wrong. Going into a person's head and changing something irreversible...
On the other hand, Charles might just agree. Wonder what Betts would think of that.
My head finally stopped pounding around the time we pulled into the small lot that serves our building. Logan parked the Jeep with a deft touch that almost no one else is ever able to manage with my car, letting the nose come to rest a breath from the faded bricks that walled the lot. The loud engine quit with a cough when he turned the key, then kept insistently click-click-clicking as if unwilling to shut down entirely.
There was no conversation. I moved automatically, sliding out of the passenger seat before he moved without realizing until I'd closed the door that maybe he wanted to talk. Before I had a chance to pause and turn back to him he was opening his door and stepping out, tossing the cigarette he'd been nursing for the past few minutes. My duffel from the Apple Bend trip-- How can that seem so long ago? --was in the back. He grabbed it while I was still thinking about whether or not it was worth carrying in tonight.
I followed him up the stairs. Glanced at 2B before ascending, somehow not feeling the usual pang. Too damned tired to think of JoJo and all the associations there. The steps gave their usual complaints at our passage, neither of us paying any mind, and the key was as stubborn in the lock as usual.
People who live together for any length of time fall into routines. Our lives are too unstable for more than the most basic of those, but one thing had been established right near the beginning, pretty much from the first week we'd lived here; have a rough night, grab a couple of beers and sit on the couch unwinding for a bit. Whoever's hands are free first goes for the fridge and grabs two bottles, tossing one automatically to the other. Regular as clockwork.
Tonight my hands were free, but I found myself walking slowly for the bedroom rather than the fridge while he paused to drop the duffel on the couch.
I grabbed a shower, cutting it much shorter than I would've liked and wrapping myself in a terrycloth robe, hair wound up in a towel. Logan was sitting on the bed when I came out. The look he gave me was weighty and inscrutable.
"What?" I asked, somehow not all that surprised to find my voice rough.
"Just waitin' for the shower," he lied, looking away. "You leave any hot water?"
"Good." He stood and brushed past me, not quite meeting my eyes. I knew this situation was strange and uncomfortable, but something about his body language was setting off warning bells in my head. I wasn't really sure how someone was supposed to react to events like today's, true; however, I knew Logan, and he wasn't even trying to knock me outta my funk with caustic bluntness as per usual.
You pushed it too far, Kai. Pushed him. He doesn't wanna bother with your fucked up head anymore.
Who could blame him? It wasn't like we had any sorta real understanding so far as the 'relationship' went. Nothing formal. Never really discussed it, which was sorta my fault. What did I offer him that he couldn't get anywhere else if he halfway tried? A helluva lot of trouble. Other than that? Nada. Zip. Zilch. Right?
I listened to the shower for a while as I finished getting ready for bed. By the time he came out I was curled up underneath the covers and staunchly pretending to be out cold. It wasn't long before he slid into his side, soap-smell tickling my nose. A long sigh told me that he was seriously gonna try to relax and sleep.
And then we both lay awake, not moving, not talking, not touching. For hours.
At two I slid out of bed, murmuring something about 'can't sleep' and 'watch TV.' He said nothing; only nodded, letting me pad into the living room in silence. I flicked on the TV with the remote and muted it. Even on mute there's a quiet buzz of sound that I can follow well enough when I try. I channel-surfed until I happened across 'I Love Lucy' and then stopped, figuring that would be enough distraction.
It's over. It's finished. Dead or locked up, both of them. Why the fuck can't I let this go?
Why couldn't I let 'what happened' go?
You know the answer, my infuriating mind murmured. It's not about Keller. It's not even about those women, is it? They were dead before you saw them. Now they've got whatever revenge they could've wanted.
No. It wasn't about them.
I made a promise. When I first made it I'd been naïve. I'd thought that somehow I could do what my sensei had done. Never give up, and through that stubbornness make the object of it stronger. Vic had wanted to improve, I honestly believed that. I'd staked a lot on trying to help him. Told him things about myself, hoping he'd believe me when I said it was never too late to dig out and dust off a soul.
And then things had gone so horribly wrong.
I stretched out on the couch with my head pillowed on an arm, watching Lucy whine and thinking about things I really didn't wanna think about. Things I'd successfully avoided thinking about with any depth for months. It wasn't easy to admit to all that had... happened?
Even now when you're trying to think about it...
But no. That, I wouldn't allow. Once a weakness is bared and I know I can do something about it, I have to. Especially when it's inside my own mind and pertains so strongly to my sometimes-dubious mental health. I may not be able to take what's in my head but I'll be damned if I won't face it.
So. Facing it. I took a deep breath. Then a deeper one. I could do this. I could.
Just how the hell does one go about doing this?
On the tube Ricky came home and gave an exaggerated 'Luuuucyyyyy!' as he saw the usual carnage. I rubbed at my forehead and brought my legs up against me, curling up tightly. It was cooler out here than in the bedroom.
What was so hard to face about Creed? I'd been hurt before. That bad, even, and worse. The rigors of the conditioning program had been harsher than anything he'd been able to do to me. At least when Vic was done with me I'd still been able to find myself buried beneath the fear.
Of course I was scared. He coulda killed me.
Right. Like Keller with that damned shotgun pressed to my skull. One flick of the trigger and 'Kai' would've been less than a memory, even if the body lived. A sweet little reminder of the impermanence of life.
But Keller, my mind pointed out mildly, is dead. And Creed's running around out there smirking over the fucking moronic bitch who let herself get beat up and raped-- and by then I thought I was gonna choke even on the mental words, but I wouldn't let myself stop-- and still told him that it was 'okay' because she 'wouldn't give up on him.'
Knees were already drawn up, so it was a small thing to link arms around them and bury my face against unyielding bone. Unyielding. Right. They weren't so unyielding when he had them, were they? It hit me low, somewhere deep in the gut, making me momentarily wonder if I was gonna find myself in the ignoble position of spewing my guts over a memory. That pain... it'd been so thick, the pain. I couldn't breathe around it. Vise-like pressure around my chest, constricting my heart and forcing it into my throat, lungs struggling to work, left one punctured, and above it all those yellow-tinged green eyes searching mine and looking for some reaction that I'd die before giving him... and he wouldn't stop. Every time I thought, hoped, for just a heartbeat, half a heartbeat, that it was over...
I smelled the salty wetness of tears before I realized they were dampening my knees. Fucking hell, I hate crying. Twice now today, tears on my face. Once I could blame on Betsy, but this? Purely me. Purely emotional bullshit. Purely
I'm over this, I insisted, pressing eyes against skin and hoping very much that Logan had finally been able to sleep. I lived, and I kept going, and I fucking beat it, and damnit, I'm over this. And sure, I feel like a fucking moron for ever making that stupid promise, but I'm a little older and wiser and perfectly willing to drop it, right? Fuck 'never.' I'm giving up tonight. I'm giving up before Lucy whines again. I'm giving up before I drop one more goddamned tear. You hear that, Vic? I - am - giving - up! I didn't mean it! I woulda told you almost anything that night, you bastard. Anything. 'Cause I wasn't gonna have my last memory be of you ripping my little shot at altruism to shreds. No way. And I don't need that promise, and I don't want that promise, and you can just go stick your thick-skulled head in a trash compactor and save us all a helluva lot of grief. The thoughts weren't doing much to stop the silent tears. Not much at all. You bastard. You fucking bastard. Why won't you let me go?
Ricky 'awww'ed and hugged Lucy, murmuring reassurances in his thick accent. She sniffled-- Oh hell, now I'm sniffling like Lucille Ball... --and hugged him back, working around to asking for a concession toward her future as a performing artist. I wondered distantly for the thousandth time why Ricky didn't just stick her in the play and save them both a lot of trouble.
Just leave me alone, Vic, I thought again, dully this time as emotional and physical exhaustion caught up. Stay outta my head. Stay outta my life. I don't want you in here anymore. Fucking tears over this. You're not worth it.
It was the first time in years that I could recall falling asleep with a tear-soaked face.
It was still dark when I felt the soft something crawling up my legs, jerking me out of forgotten dreams and snapping my eyes open in the flickering light of some old show on the still-running television. Dawn was probably an hour or so off. Even with the heater on low it was a bit chilly in the living room.
And Logan was drawing a blanket up over me wordlessly.
I actually debated faking sleep again. He seemed as willing to indulge the lie as ever, laying the blanket over my shoulders and stepping back with a whisper-soft tread. Bare feet. Probably came out here just to bring the covers.
I sat up before he could vanish back into the bedroom, throat tight. "Hey."
He stopped, back to me, hand trailing along the rear edge of the couch. "Didn't mean to wake ya."
My fingers tangled in the blanket. I pulled it a little higher. "Thanks. You didn't have to do this."
Silence. He didn't turn or leave. Damnit, it wasn't like him to act this way.
His voice was rusty and hard. "Didja hear whatcha said to me? Back at the fair?"
"I... said something?"
Now he turned, and I suddenly wished he hadn't. "You called me Creed," he said harshly, not even a twitch of his tense frame belying the tone. Only his eyes.
My chest hollowed. "I... did?" No, not aloud... I couldn't have said that aloud...
"You were terrified. Of me." Even the gruffness couldn't quite cover up the pain in his voice.
"No," I said, my stomach twisting. "It wasn't you..."
"How could you think... I..." He shook his head, eyes not leaving mine and growing more desperate. "I ain't like him, Kai."
"You're not," I agreed instantly. The one insecurity that crushes him, and I'd slammed it right in his face, full force. He fights so hard to not be Creed, and what do I go and do? Tell him he is. "You're nothing like him. Nothing like him."
"Christ, Kai, you couldn't see yourself..." He came around and sat on the far edge of the sofa, as if afraid to come too close to me. Afraid of my reaction. "I didn't know. You always hide everything that way ya do... I thought you were doin' okay. I didn't know it was..."
"I am okay," I said instantly. "I just... y'know, how everything..." I stopped and sighed. Shook my head in something like surrender. "Fuck, Logan, I didn't know either."
He looked faintly surprised at the admission. No more than I was at giving it. Then his words were careful, cautious. "How could... we... have missed this?"
'This.' Like it was a 'thing.' Like I had a 'problem.'
"I don't know." He sat so stiffly. This sofa had never been so long. "You were right. I was... scared. I never woulda said that in my right mind, Logan, you know that."
"Christ." A hand scrubbed tiredly through hair, rubbing at his scalp. "You were scared o' me. You." Like he just couldn't believe it. His eyes met mine. "For just a sec in your mind I was him."
"It was... the hold. The way you were... restraining me." At this point I couldn't even say it was none of Logan's business. Not after this. "He... grabbed me that way." I touched my neck with not entirely steady fingers. "His claws were here." Drifted a hand down to rest lightly against my stomach. It seemed to feel far more tender than it should. "And here. And he was... talking into my ear. Like you did." My face was probably as pale as his drawn features looked just then; my head had that curiously light feeling that warns of ashen skin. "I didn't even hear... What were you saying?"
He looked away, at nothing in particular. "I said 'listen to me.' Over and over."
A small, not amused smile. "That's it? What were you gonna tell me?"
"Dunno. You never listened, didja?"
That couch grew longer. "I didn't mean..."
And there it was. I'd hurt him. He knew I hadn't wanted to, but that didn't change the results.
"I'm sorry," I said inadequately.
Then blinked in surprise as he gave me a fierce scowl. "Don't."
"No, really," I tried to explain, wondering if he thought it wasn't genuine. "I mean that. You know I wouldn't... not intentionally. I didn't want to--"
"Kai," he cut in, scowling more. "You got nothin' to apologize to me for. You hear me? Nothin'." The fierceness of his words didn't leave much room for doubt. He really believed that.
The couch got shorter.
"I'm sorry anyway," I said quietly, stubbornly. "Take it or leave it, but I am." I'm sorry for letting Creed have enough control over me to do this to us. Because this was evidence that Vic still had power over me, no matter how much I tried to say otherwise. I'd been changed by him, undeniably. Maybe it's time I set to doing some changing in return... But what could I do? How?
Right now you can give Logan your full attention instead of that bastard psychopath, for starters.
He was looking at the flickering television screen, face wearing that expression that was painful for me to even look at. Hadn't answered my apology one way or the other. I couldn't even begin to guess at all he was feeling.
At the very least I could show him that I didn't fear him. I uncurled from the blanket and pulled it up around my shoulders instead, knee-shuffling down the couch until my thigh brushed his. He looked at me. Touched my face with callused fingers, then dropped his hand away. "I ain't in the mood, darlin'."
I pulled the blanket around to toss an edge over him as I twisted to lie against him. "Neither am I." His arm went around me automatically and I curled into the warmth. "I just wanna touch you," I told him as I closed my eyes, head resting on his shoulder. I hoped it was the right thing to say.
Lips pressed my forehead. He pulled me a little closer as he shifted to get more comfortable. "Y'know I wanted to kill that bastard today," he said quietly. "Almost as much as you did."
My eyes flicked open to stare at the floor. "It was... better this way. I think." I sighed faintly. "I admit I was... surprised... when you weren't with me on that, though."
Fingers stroked my hair. "I didn't want you to kill like that. Outta your head. It's... too much to work through sometimes."
"I could handle it."
"You can 'handle' anything. That don't mean ya should."
I nodded a little. "I know. I kinda figured that's how you felt."
"But if you'd been yourself an' you wanted to gut him..."
I turned my face up and found his lips, very briefly. "Thank you."
He drifted off to sleep that way eventually, head tipping back and arm still looped around my shoulders, sprawled half on and half off the couch. I listened to his heartbeat; to the reassuring bah-bump it made. Thought of blizzards and sandstorms, ghosts and lockets, hookers and tombstones and statues and chicken soup. Not quite a year yet, but so much filled the time behind us. Being with him was no longer something I questioned every day, wondering how much longer either one of us would let it go on. I could see waking up tomorrow with him snoring in my ear. The next day, too, and maybe even the one after that.
But there were loose ends I had to tie up before I could really think that way. A dozen small and one huge, glaring, green-eyed large one. Vic won our fight, no question... but I lived, and as long as I lived I hadn't lost the war. Defeat isn't what happens when they win: it's what happens when you lose. I wouldn't lose until I quit.
Therefore I wouldn't lose.
No more sitting here all nice and cozy in Manhattan. No more abstract awareness of some nebulous promise that doesn't mean shit untested. Know what, Vic? I could care less if I told you 'Never.' You can stick 'Never' where the sun don't shine. But I told myself that I'd find a way to make sure it wasn't all for nothing, and that is one promise I'm not gonna let go of. You won't stay the fuck outta my head, Vic? Then I'll find a way to get inside of yours. Creed was red-flagged, tracked actively by Three Eyes as the most dangerous individuals always are. I'd checked months ago on a location for him. Found none, but the moment he did show up FlagWatch would know. I'd have to see to it that I would know, too.
I closed my eyes and breathed in, tasting the familiar flavor of musk that made up Logan. How unbelievable that I now missed that scent when it was gone. Incomprehensible even, to have a single other person so present in my life.
He wouldn't approve of my going after Creed. Whether out of fear for me or hatred for Vic he'd do everything he could to hold me back. Which meant he wouldn't know. And when and if he did find out...
Later. Think about it later.
I had to be Kai first, Logan's lover second. I just hoped he'd understand that when all was said and done. Creed wasn't worth it. If I lost Logan because of what I was going to do...
If you're not willing to risk that, drop it here and now.
Then quit whining. Make a choice.
It wasn't until the next day that I made it back to the mansion, and evening twilight was already creeping in through the windows as I took the stairs and hallways to Remy's room. Being the sneaky sort has its advantages when you're trying to avoid people; I hadn't run into anyone yet and figured I could keep avoiding that with a little effort.
Or not. When I reached the Cajun's room the door opened before I could knock. I processed scent a moment before catching sight of Bobby's face. It was all I could do to keep from scowling. Drake and I have... issues.
It didn't help that he gave me a pretty well developed irritated look either. "He's asleep. You should come back later."
"Since when've you been his keeper?" I asked moodily, keeping the wine bottle safely behind my back. Remy might appreciate it, but anyone playing up the 'concerned' angle probably wouldn't. "I think he can tell me to get the hell out himself, if that's what he wants."
Bobby glanced back inside, then stepped out and closed the door. "He's tired. You say you're his friend. Maybe you should act like one."
And then he left, while I was busy choking back retaliatory remarks. Wonder if Remy told him... Nah. Not like him. He's too used to covering. Even if he does blame me. He should blame me. Losing control was never an excuse. Sensei would've tarred my ass for that.
I brought the wine around and glanced again at the year. Might be enough to earn me some forgiveness. If not, he'd at least get drunk enough to forget pain for a bit.
Pain I put him in.
Quit playing with your guilt and knock on the damned door.
Two knocks, then a muted groan that no one other than Logan or I would've heard. "It's open."
The door didn't creak -- he oiled it very thoroughly long ago to keep from waking anyone during his late night entrances -- but I could imagine very easily a phantom whine of hinges as I swung it open on the darkened room. "Hey, Cajun."
He was lying on the bed with a forearm over his eyes, two pillows supporting his head. A familiar enough position. I'd seen him this way a couple of times.
I'd never caused it before, but I'd seen it.
"Hey," he answered without looking. His voice sounded slightly off and only now did I see the bandage and swelling across his nose. "Figured y'd show up 'fore long."
There didn't seem to be an answer to that. "I brought wine," I said instead. "The good shit. Thought you might like a glass. Or five."
A long pause, then-- "Close the door, Kai." I did so, dropping us fully into the dimness of the room. I could see fine and he's always hinted that his unique eyes give him an advantage in low light. "Sit down. Not," he said sharply, "on de bed. Damn t'ing's too springy... feels like a quake ev' time someone sits."
I took a chair instead. "You've got glasses, right? I didn't think to bring any."
He still hadn't pulled that forearm from his eyes. Something looked wrong with the picture. After a moment I realized that his muscles in that arm were flexed with tension, not relaxed as they should be in that position. "Mebbe I ain' feelin' much like drinkin' now."
Okay. He's pissed. I deserve that. "I... can leave it. If you want. For later."
"Got a headache. Don' really wan' t'ink 'bout drinkin'."
I'm sorry. I'm very sorry. I'm so, so sorry that I can't even say it. "Are you... is everything gonna be okay?" Okay. Right. Look at him, Kai. You fucked him up but good. And he, unlike a certain thick-headed woman I was really not liking at that moment, didn't heal like magic.
A moment of hesitation, then he pulled the arm from his eyes. The left, I noticed, was covered with a patch. Probably to keep him from being disoriented. Logan had played my news courier, telling me in a non-accusatory voice that I'd damaged the nerve when I'd hit him across the face. He'd be okay eventually, but for now his vision was screwed in that eye.
His other found me easily, though, and he grimaced as he sat up. "You," he said bitterly, "hit like a truck." A hand scratched at his stubbled jaw, but he winced when he hit a little lump that I could dimly remember giving him. You really did a number on those good looks, Kai. "F' de record, I pissed off de wrong asshole at Apple Days." A speculative look with the one eye. "Pretty much on track, neh?"
"It had nothing to do with you. You just... got in the way." Something told me that wouldn't help my case with him much. Lying would help even less, though, and I'd always tried to play it straight with the small handful of people I called friends. "It didn't help much that I was already figuring you were there to play surveillance on me."
He swore sourly and punched a hand against the bed, then grimaced as it bounced slightly. "Y' t'ink I was posted on you."
"Non. 'Course not. What, y' don' t'ink I care 'nough 'bout my friend t' wan' keep an eye on her m'self? Make sure she's okay?" Now he simply looked disgusted. "I don' know y're definition of friendship, but I'm t'inkin' it ain' all dat similar t' mine."
I would've followed Remy if our situations had been reversed. Iíd wrapped myself up in his affairs uninvited before, and likely would again. My eyes dropped and I lightly slapped the closed bottle into my hand, thinking.
He flinched at the sound; a quick twitch that shook the bed.
No, Remy... goddamn, no... Even if he knew I hadnít meant it... even if he realized that Iíd been out of control and would never do something like that to him in my right mind... his body remembered, and reacted. You donít hurt someone that hard without results.
He stared at me -- glared at me from his good eye as though challenging me to comment on the motion. That, at least, I could avoid by answering his words. "I was wrong, then. Scott didnít send you."
"Scott didní send me," he agreed.
Carefully, I set the wine on his dresser and stood. My heart took an uncomfortable plunge down to my stomach as I realized that his eye tracked me with more than the usual alertness. How long would he be on edge around me? "For the record... the wrong asshole from the fair is... really sorry. More than she really knows how to say."
"Yí want me tí accept dat?"
Twist that knife, I thought with a twinge of helpless bitterness. "I hope you do. Canít make you."
He turned and swung legs slowly off the bed, then stood with the aid of the wall, his normal inhuman grace blunted. "Den talk tí someone," he said on slightly shortened breath. "Talk tí me. Talk tí Logan. Talk tí Xavier, fí all I care. But talk tí someone Ďfore yí lose it again." A hard look. "Yí ainí said, but I can guess a few tíings. ĎBout Creed. ĎBout dis guy at de fair or his brother or whatever." More softly: "I feel for yí, Kai. I do. If I could fix tíings..."
"I donít want you to Ďfix things,í" I cut in, more sharply than Iíd intended. "I donít want anything of the sort. I..." I... was being a mega-bitch again. "Fuck it. Iím sorry, Remy. Iím handling it. Really. Iím not..." I waved an arm and felt my chest tighten in frustration at the quick tension that passed through his body. "... Iím really not just ignoring... things. Not now." This was more than Iíd give almost anyone. Habitual reticence was unhappy with these words. "I had no idea how much was... still on my mind. I know now."
He didnít seem quite willing to let it drop. "What happens next time? When yí lose it again?"
"Yí caní say dat, Kai!"
"I wonít!" Another of those bare almost-flinches met the raised voice. I hadnít meant to raise my voice. Feeling edgy -- tired and confused at once -- I turned my back to him, brushing a hand hard over my eyes to chase away that angry sting. I shouldnít have come here. He doesnít deserve this shit. Iíd already done enough to him -- that glaring, angry eye-patch spoke volumes, didnít it? How hard would it have been to do something permanent to him, or to anyone whoíd gotten between me and Keller?
He didnít say anything. After a few seconds I cleared my throat, roughly, dispelling the knot that settled there as best I could. The very least I owed him was honesty. Even honesty that hurt to say.
"I forget sometimes that you donít... heal... like I do." And I didnít mean just him. "I... I just forget."
Nothing. My eyes stung furiously again, alien sensation, and I had to clear my throat once more as I walked the few steps to the doorway. A bridge built of painstakingly gathered trust started smoking behind me, ready to burst into healthy, destroying flames. I wondered how badly Iíd miss it.
A drawer whispered. Glasses clinked together, ringing with that bell-like tone of fine crystal.
"Tíought yí came for a drink," he said, his own voice sounding a bit tighter than usual. "Friend a mine tolí me itís de good shit. Caní drink it all alone."
My hand was on the doorknob. I didnít turn. "You donít have to do this," I told him hoarsely.
"I know." Motion of feet, then the Ďpop!í of a cork and the rich scent of fine wine. "Címon. Letís fíget for a few hours, neh?"
I closed my eyes hard and thought of too many things to even begin to name. I was exhausted before even beginning, and something told me that tomorrow would draw on resources I wasnít sure I had.
Tomorrow. Not today.
I turned back as he poured the wine. "I canít think of anything I want more."