This story is the companion piece to "Sonata of Moonlight and Ghosts".
Many thanks to Kaylee, Luba K and Dr Benway for their help and comments.
It's 4 am. That means Hank and I have been chugging beer for six hours. Can't remember what we talked about except that we started off with women and politics. Hank showed me some really nifty pyrotech stuff in the lab and everything got sort of hazy, but that's okay. I don't feel drunk at all. Damn, 'Lizabeth is going to be pissed.
Hank is nowhere to be seen. I drag myself off the cot. Seems like Hank cleaned up our mess before he left. Poor Hank, always left with the mopping-up. And speaking of mopping-up, I've probably got a situation upstairs that I would do well to handle before it get out of control. 'Lizabeth has a whip-cord temper and a mouth to match it.
It all started while we were having dinner last night. Or most of us were having it, 'Lizabeth was just staring at hers. She had separated out each vegetable from the salad and put them into neat heaps. Jean walked by and asked if she wanted anything else to eat. 'Lizabeth said no, she had a headache. Just the way she always does, when there's something she'd rather not do. That got her a pat on the shoulder from Jean and sympathy from the whole table.
The headache part was probably true. She'd been working Cerebro in the afternoon. But she was using it as an excuse not to eat. During the last three weeks she's lost nearly ten pounds. Nine and a half, to be precise. For three weeks, I've listened to her fret about her weight and watched her get on and off the scales to get an accurate average reading. She insisted I keep track of her progress, ticking off numbers which corresponded to her actual weight in empirical and SI-units, her BMI, the number of pounds she had lost and at what daily and hourly rate. She measured the circumference of her bustline, waist, thighs and calves and calculated the ratio between them, before comparing the result against the ratio she had had when she was nineteen and starting to make it as a model.
I've seen it before, I don't like it. But I've never known what to do when 'Lizabeth goes crazy. I try to be there for her if she needs me, I try not to upset her, I try to keep her away from stuff that might upset her. That's about what I can do for her and it doesn't seem to help at all. If she thinks she can never be thin enough, clearly _I_ won't be able to convince her otherwise.
So I ran out of patience at dinner and told her that if she'd just eat the fucking food, she wouldn't get headaches all the time. I guess I sounded angry, although I didn't mean to. I was just disgusted with the whole situation and I was scared for her sake. What she's doing would be bad enough if we were leading normal lives, but in the super-hero business there are no margins at all. Her life and ours hang in the balance each time we go out on a mission. I want the odds in our favour when she's out there.
Of course, 'Lizabeth recognised a way to put some distance between herself and food, and got up to leave. She hadn't eaten a single bite. Even the Professor and Scott looked at me as if I had just committed murder and 'Lizabeth's fan club, Remy and Logan, scowled at me across the table. Jean, hen-mother to us all, slipped 'Lizabeth something, before turning back to the refrigerator.
Telepaths are all junkies. One way or another, they are wired on chemicals. Most can't live without them and with Hank cooking up whatever they need in the lab, they don't have to. There are all kinds of drugs for telepaths, pain killers and mood-stablizers, compounds to increase or decrease awareness, to filter out noise, to sharpen focus or widen it, to get hyped up or to get off a hype. The telepaths in this house could probably support a minor drug company, the way they are popping pills and shots.
I reacted without thinking. I tried to snatch the package from her to see what it contained, but she moved, I caught her sleeve instead and she kicked my knee out from under me. Unconscious reflex, probably, but it hurt and my wings unfolded in equally automatic response. Half the team dove for cover and 'Lizabeth actually flinched as if she was scared I'd hit her, although I'd never ever do that. Then she held out her hand, palm up, and let me have a look at the package. It contained four aspirins, medium strength. I felt like the fool I was.
She disappeared up the stairs before I could tell her I was sorry. I offered my apologies to the rest of the team, who were getting back into their seats again. Hank suggested diplomatically that I join him in his lab later that evening. Knowing 'Lizabeth's moods, I thought it would probably be a good idea to give her a chance to cool off. But I didn't intend to be this late. It's funny how I don't feel drunk at all.
I've got a key to 'Lizabeth's room. She gave me one, then forgot she had and gave me another. When she demanded it back, in a huff, I kept the first. I think I'll surprise her. She likes that. When we first hooked up together, she would ask me to surprise her, to sweep her off her feet. One part of my mind tells me that's because she's a junkie, but I won't listen to it tonight. I'll snuggle down beside her, I'll take her in my arms. In the morning I'll bring her a yoghurt and some fruit salad and see she eats it.
Her lock is tricky, Victorian. It clicks and whirrs, finally, to let me in, and shuts again behind me. 'Lizabeth sprawls on the bed. The moonlight falls on her hair, her face. She doesn't stir, she's that deep down. A small string of saliva runs down her chin. She's actually drooling. Isn't that cute? No. No, it isn't, because she isn't breathing. She hasn't taken a breath since I walked in the room, which was minutes ago. Aspirin, my ass. She has taken a fucking overdose.
My lips meet hers in a terrible parody of a kiss. I blow my slightly used air into her lungs and her chest rises a tiny fraction. Surely there should be more response than that. What am I doing wrong? Oh, wait, maybe I should check her for a heartbeat first. Shit. She doesn't have one. And I've never performed CPR on a person before. When I try, I feel something break in her chest. I blow more air into her mouth, although I'm certain that most of it will never reach her lungs and I push at her chest and then I remember the intercom and punch 911 on it which is kind of ironic and yell for help. Her saliva tastes of blood now. I really did break something, probably punctured a lung, and I yell at the intercom again, but there's no response and I wonder who 91 is anyway, but I don't have to wonder for long, because Remy is in the doorway. And I don't know how he picked the lock so fast, but he's there and he calls Hank, which is what I should have done from the start and then he takes over the CPR, like he knows what he's doing. Then Hank shows up with a big bag of medical equipment and the first thing he does is stick a gigantic needle into her sternum and when he pulls back the plunger there's foamy blood in there, but it's bright red, which means she's alive. She's alive.
I'm still stunned by that when Hank lifts her off the bed, cradling her in his large arms. He goes off with her and when I try to follow, Remy gets in my face and tells me where to shove what. I swing at him and he gives it back to me in spades and I realise that he thinks this is my fault. Jean breaks it up. She tells Remy to go back to his room, and he does, and she sits me down on 'Lizabeth's bed and holds my hand for a long while, without saying anything. She thinks it's my fault, too, but she's trying to be a good friend and I don't feel up to telling her what really happened. Whatever it was.
I've lost all concepts of time, but when Scott comes by a second time, it's almost dawn. He says 'Lizabeth is resting comfortably. She will be okay, but we should let her sleep. The Professor and Hank monitor her and there's not much else to be done. Jean yawns, so I take the hint and send her off with Scott.
Being alone suits me, right now, because I'm about to invade 'Lizabeth's privacy in a major way. It's for her own good, and for mine. I never want to live through a night like this again. The bathroom is the obvious place to search. There's nothing in the toilet tank and the most secret thing in the locker is a box of tampons cleverly hidden in a soap wrapping. Her wardrobe yields nothing, either, but there's a large writing desk. The unlocked drawers contain mostly business contracts, evidence of economic transactions I'm not at all interested in. The uppermost drawer is locked. I take a flechette off my right wing, a long one with a tapered tip and use it to break the lock open.
There are thousands of pills in there along with what looks like a diary. I start sifting through the bottles and boxes, checking their labels and contents and I see immediately that something doesn't make sense. I'm no fool. I've also got a minor in classical language, which means I'm fairly fluent in medical terms. And none of these medications are meant for her. I used to be on Wellbutrin, right after the mess with Apocalypse and the dosages are all wrong for a woman of her height and weight. Then I switched to SSRIs and yes, there's also some Prozac in here. In fact, a lot of these medications look familiar to me. The ones that don't, don't have any labels either. They are all in granular form. Water-soluble. Easy to put in someone's drink when you oh-so-thoughtfully bring him a nightcap. Even easier if he keeps a glass of water on the nightstand, like I do.
I wonder why, 'Lizabeth, why would you do this to me? But what I should really be asking myself is why Hank would do this to me. He must have sanctioned it, along with the Professor. Shit. With friends like this, who needs enemies? They should have told me. I have a right to know. I pick up the diary which is sealed with a plastic pink padlock. Stupid lock. Stupid woman, who thinks a weak, puny lock like this one will keep anyone out.
The first pages are all numbers. I recognise some of them as her weight. Others are results from Danger Room sessions and comments on notes written by Scott and Ororo. There are a few charts of her bloodwork. I don't know biology well enough to read them, but I can connect some highs and lows to specific events. The rise in leukocytes is related to the cold she had in February. She's kept track of the medications she's been taking, although the names are encrypted. The dosages have increased considerably over a six month period. They don't correlate with her Danger Room sessions, but there's a piece of paper stuck into the book with the heading "E vs R mornings".
'Lizabeth and Remy do martial arts together. At 6 pm or earlier they meet up, in front of the porch for some exercises and sparring. It's about that time I usually take an early round above the grounds. I wouldn't have minded if she had enjoyed being around the Cajun sleaze a bit less, but, well, to each their own. 'Lizabeth, ever the number freak, has noted their individual scores on this paper. He usually beat her with three rounds to two. As he's taller, stronger and male, I'm not surprised. A few months ago, though, he started beating her four to one or five to none. Then two to one and after that three to none. There are no scores noted for the last month. I take a closer look at her health charts. There's a pattern here. I should be able to see it.
At the middle of the diary there are a few empty pages before the handwriting resumes, upside down, this time. It's a psychiatric evaluation, saying: "Subject continues to exhibit signs of moderate to severe depression associated with situational adjustment disorder, as expressed by inability to experience pleasure, sexual and otherwise, sense of hopelessness, inability to achieve or maintain sleep, reduced appetite, lack of control over mutant power, and a predominantly flattened affect marked by periods of uncontrollable crying."
That is her conclusion. The data are scattered through the rest of the book. She has kept track of my sleeping hours and my calorie intake. Every failure to complete intercourse is duly noted, leaving me very little dignity. Some of the data I'm unable to interpret, like the single word "leg" or "arm" which occurs frequently in the margins, or numbers and terms unknown to me, but it's clear that WW is myself, CX stands for the Professor, HMC for Hank and EB for 'Lizabeth. These abbreviations, with corresponding dates and times are repeated throughout the book.
Most of the time, WW is paired with one or more of the other three, for example WW and CX the 16th of July, 3 pm. I was in Salem Center then. I remember bright colours, loud sounds, I was meeting someone. But thinking about it seems to make it less real. Who was I meeting with? What was the business? The 28th of July says CX, EB and WW. That day I remember being in NY. I was checking on my flat in Soho, I remember turning the corner Greene Street to Spring Street, but what was I doing there? I never eat at the Savoy. I much prefer the Chanterelle. It's the Professor who likes the Savoy. And there was bright colours, flags flying in the wind, loud sounds...Oh God, I didn't have beer with Hank tonight, did I? I did something else with him. But if I'm not drunk, why can't I remember?
Memory implants need, maybe, some time to settle down. The mind will try to make sense of a rough template and fashion it into something that seems feasible. A good nights sleep aided by certain drugs might do it. It might also help if the subject doesn't think too much about specific dates and events. The only thing I don't see is why they have to do this to me. What have I done, no, what is it that I do, that's so terrible they won't even let me keep a memory of it? And who am I doing it to?
God, no. That can't be. No. Please God it isn't so. I turn the last page and there is a mass spectrometry chart indexed with all the components of the neurotoxin coating the flechettes on my wings. I add what she wrote about me losing control and God, God, God. Is this what I'm doing to her? 'Lizabeth, I'm so sorry. I think I'd slit my wrists right now, if she asked me to, or even if Logan or Remy asked me to do it for her sake.
I pull another flechette off my wing. It's a small one, very sharp. There wouldn't be any pain to speak of. Not for me. But then all 'Lizabeth has done would be for nothing, so I won't. I won't spit in her face and tell her the final fuck-you, I think I've done enough already.
There are thirty-five bottles of beer on the wall. The phrase comes out of nowhere, breaks my chain of thought, my vision clouds and I was having beer with Hank and I can't remember...yes, but I can. I'll never hurt her again, that's the important part, that's the part I have to remember. There are thirty-four bottles of beer on the wall in bright colours. When 'Lizabeth wakes up I'll be there to talk her back to life, to me. I'll tell her I know everything and that I'll never hurt her again. There are thirty-three bottles of beer on the wall and Amstel and Guinness, McEwans and... I'll never hurt her again. If that means cutting the wings right off my back, it's fine; I'll ask Hank to perform the surgery. Or Logan. There are thirty-two bottles of beer on the wall clashing together very loudly, but I love her and I'll never hurt her again and there's only thirty-one bottles of beer on the wall left and I know I can do this. There are thirty bottles of beer on the wall, all crashing to the floor in a tawny cascade of fluid and broken glass, and I think of 'Lizabeth whom I'll never hurt again and then the wall comes tumbling down, too.--
"If I forget you Jerusalem, may my right hand wither
May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you"
Psalm 137 5-6