the Last Dance For Me
Rating: PG-13 to R for violent images.
Summary: After humans turn against mutants, Rogue and Logan find themselves trapped in a strange world in which they have no memory of a past nor hope for a future. Fate reunites them and now it's time to make a choice. Survival or freedom? Fear or love?
Category: angst, L/R, character death (but don't let that scare you)
Disclaimer: I know they're not mine! But it's so fun to play with them! Note to any Fox lawyers thinking of lawsuits : I have an army of Logan clones at my disposal and they really don't like lawyers. You have been warned. The song lyrics at the beginning belong to Orgy, who, despite their name, inspire me from time to time with their music. I'm sure they wouldn't mind my quoting their genius.
Archive: it would rock my world, but please let me know who's doing the rocking :)
Special thanX: to the many talented writers on the Wolverine and Rogue mailing list for their support, Logan clones, and inspiration. They were the Muse behind this story.
Dedication: To Mel and Chris and Wonder, my beta-angels, who turned this from mindless insanity into, well, partially coherent insanity. You guys are amazing!!!
Author's Notes: When I picked up the movie for the first time, I never thought it'd become an obsession. Now I find myself writing fan fic and changing my favorite food to beef jerky (preferred trail munchy of shirtless mutant cage fighters everywhere). It's a strange world. I've written some poetry but this is first attempt at a "real" story. I think I'd be less nervous staring down Magneto. Comments and (much-needed) suggestions are welcomed with open and grateful arms.
And I will never leave you
(She's lost in coma where it's beautiful.... intoxicated from the deep sleep. Deep sleep...)
Cracked voices bleed into my dismal little corner of hell, the song distorted by the tinny static of a radio held together by tape, wiring, and sheer stubbornness. Almost the same things keep me from falling apart. Masking tape flesh stretches over plastic wire bones. The stubborn electricity of my blood refuses to let me lay down like a good girl and die, even though suicide's quite the trend in this part of town. It's what happens to people like me when they can no longer stand the silence left by the absence of thought. That silence is cold as Death's bare fingers pressed against your mind, roaring without sound until it consumes the world. It is always terrifying to look into the ragged hole where Past and Memory were torn away. I know that once upon a fairy tale, I possessed such treasures. How else would I feel this loss? No one mourns for something they have never experienced. The fantasies of it keep me up at night, my mind creating entire universes of light and watercolor beauty. But they disappear, always, at the first ray of morning sun, an effervescent rainbow burst before my very eyes, and the silence returns. Screaming. Roaring. Laughing.
For now the music plays, almost loud enough for me to forget that under the gauzy film of the song lurks reality. The ugliness of it fills every corner of this dingy room.
(Do you wonder what it's like? Living in a permanent imagination....Sleeping to escape reality, but you like it like that.)
The iron ribs of the bed frame poke through the bare mattress to press against my shoulder blades with a touch far easier than most I'll attract tonight. The bruises are only a tiny part of the price I pay for survival. The worst part is inside my head. It haunts me, the linger sensation that my memories are just one tiny step beyond my grasp, that if I try hard enough I can recapture them. Sometimes fragments of memory surface, specks of gold against a sea of ebony, and I live for those moments. They keep me sane. There is always the hope that if I can figure out how I stumbled into this nightmare, I can follow the bread crumbs back into the sun.
It is a feeble hope. Most of the time I pretend to be grateful to be alive and spared the wrath of the Purges. It is a lie, of course. I am such a beautiful lie. Beautiful and cheap like the glitter on a show girl's face and the Mister-wanna-dance smile on her lips. But I'm ugly too. Turn me inside out and I'm nothing but stitches, scars, and dried blood. I used to be something like a human, even if my genes labeled me something different. They tore me to pieces and sewed me back into this. You can see it on my skin, in the numbers burned onto the back of my hand.
Don't ask me how that got there, or why I chose to surrender instead of fight and die free. It's another thing they won't let me remember. Maybe they're afraid I'll change my mind. Maybe someday I will. For now I wear the glitter and the smile and I belong to them. It's as simple as that.
And it is still as disgusting as the first night must have been, no matter how long ago it was.
The clock on the mirror tells me that it's half-past seven and time to get dressed. I roll off the bed to meet my reflection in the grimy mirror beside the dresser. My lungs quiver in an exhalation of revulsion at the spectacle etched in the glass. The pathetically thin slip covering my flesh does little to expel the imagined taint of nakedness. Of exposure. Of shame. It's winter in this city, but tonight I'm freezing from the inside out. My blood, my passion, my heart are locked away in ice for safe keeping. They can have my mind and my past, but not my soul. That belongs to someone I see in dreams, a man who touched me once and left no bruises.... When the men stare at me, and I do not look away, I feel I am betraying him even though I have no idea who he is or what he was to me.
I don't have the heart to get dressed yet. To take that final step....
Would he hate me now, if he saw me like this? My eyes search my face for the answer. The gaze crashes immediately into lips smeared with lipstick the color of vampire wine then skids across my cheeks to suffocate in my eyes. Their brown has dulled, but no one will notice the loss underneath the charcoal mascara and the smoky grey eye shadow meant to make me look twenty-nine instead of nineteen. The makeup doesn't hide the bags under my eyes, or the fact that my skin is almost as pale as the two white streaks running through my hair. What kind of freak has white hair at age nineteen anyway?
I end my visual assessment with the firm assurance that he would indeed hate me. I hate myself.
It's 7:35. Twenty-five minutes from now I have to be behind a bar serving drinks and looking brilliant. The walk downtown will take at least that long. Even registered mutants are forbidden to own cars. We're forbidden to do quite a lot of things, once you think about it. The Monitors tell us the rules are meant to protect us. That's their excuse for telling us where to live, where to work, what to think-- or in my case, what not to think.
Ok, now I'm stalling. Better just get this over with.
Closing my eyes like Joan of Arc of her pyre and wishing I was half as innocent, I step out of the slip and into the Wonderbra guaranteed to add to my figure what God didn't. Then it is into the clutches of the dress. The black leather clings to me like a second skin, broken only by a thigh-high slit allows for a little breathing room. The neckline would easily have scandalized Marilyn Monroe. It should shock me too, but it doesn't. Nothing does, not anymore. The dress turns my skin even paler, but the good ol' boys like that. It gives the illusion that I am unblemished. At least they don't touch me...as Irony would have it, the mutation which cursed me to this fate is now my only protection. There are worse things than fingers on skin, though. Life without memory is only one of them.
(Guilty by design, she's nothing more than fiction. She dreams in digital.....)
Let me tell you how I justify it. Remember the man in the dreams? Sometimes he is in my awake-thoughts too. Only pieces of him--dark eyes, a sandpaper voice that softened when he said my name, hands with metal bones--but they are enough to tell me that someone, somewhere, loved me once. When I sleep, I dream of us and of a world that is both alien and yet familiar. When I wake up, I remember almost nothing except for one soul-deep truth. He told me to survive. He told me he would find me again. There is not a moment when I am not disgusted with myself for what I am, but none of it matters if he is real and if he is coming for me. Because of that, I will submit.
But do I hate it?
Only every moment of every day.
(She dreams in digital....because it's better than nothing. Now that control's gone....)
I switch the radio off, flinching as the silence washes over my body. My hands tremble as they slide into black leather gloves that cover my arms up to the elbow. Look but don't touch, everyone. Please. If I hurt any of them, I'll get a beating at the least. Doesn't matter whose fault it really is. I'm the freak; I'll bear the punishment.
I can't look in the mirror as I leave.
If I cry, the mascara will run.
A thin trickle of cheap liquor flows from a dirty bottle into an even dirtier shot glass. It's time to buy some more booze. I don't think I can get even half a buzz off this.
I drink it anyway and tell myself that someday I'm gonna kill them all.
When they call me "freak" and come to beat the crap out of me, I'm gonna show them the meaning of the word pain and I'm gonna love every minute of it. I'll pound their skull until I jar their minds loose and their brains ooze out their ears. Then they'll discover how it feels to wake up in the morning with no idea of who you are. What you have lost.
I'm gonna remember......
We all make those promises to ourselves every night before we close our eyes. When we wake up, we do as we're told and keep our mouths shut, hoping none of our "superiors" get annoyed enough to send us to the disposal camps. You get two choices. You submit or you die. Needless to say, everyone wants to stay alive, even though we've each got our own reasons for it. Something we believe in more than our freedom and our dignity....
My soul whispers to me that once I thought I'd die before I ever let anyone take those things away from me. The numbers on my hand would imply I put too much faith in my courage.
My skin crawls as the sluggish fire of the liquor spreads throughout my veins. I toss back the next glass quickly, before the warmth fades. The drink has all the delicate flavor of month old raw sewage, but at least it warms the blood. That's more than I can say for the heat in this building. Of course, what are a few frozen mutants? We're not human anyway, so it doesn't matter. Who cares if our children die? I helped the woman next door bury her little boy last night. We tried for a days to get him into one of the hospitals that treat mutants, but the waiting list was a month long. He didn't even have a week. We buried him in the yard behind our apartment building, just three feet away from the barbed wire fence. His mother created a few violets to brighten the scene. That was her "dangerous mutation". The woman could grow flowers. For that she was condemned to watch her child die from a case of the flu that a simple dose of antibiotics could have cured.
This morning I was very close to rebellion. The metal in my bones could cleave the baby-killers into pieces and my skin would heal while they lay in the street and bled. I could kill them and die honorably
But I didn't. I told you I had a reason to live. I feel it deep inside my soul, a whisper of a memory so faint it only surfaces in dreams yet is loud enough to dim all other static of the outside world. She is beautiful and she was innocent and if they have done anything to hurt that, I will kill them. It's that simple. With each night, with each dream, I come closer to remembering. I will rediscover, someday, the secrets of her face. I ask myself sometimes why they couldn't even leave me that. All I have are the eyes. Soul-deep eyes, soft and liquid like brown paint dripping from my fingertips.
Those eyes give me the strength to ignore the insults and the willpower not to strike back when they beat me for not cleaning the floors fast enough. Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that part. I'm a janitor now. Yee-haw. I mop up their vomit and their spit and their spilled beer. I pretend to let them think they've beaten me.
The need to see her again, whoever she is, is stronger than my pride. It is beyond memory.....this is pure instinct. She is out there, somewhere, and I will know her by her scent and by the depth in her eyes.
Or else she's just a fantasy and I'm crazy.
Or else she's dead and in that case I don't want to live.
My fingers tighten around the glass as the doubts begin to gnaw away at my gut with rat-like efficiency. In some of my dreams, there are needles and straps and machines strapped to our foreheads. There is pain. She is screaming that she loves me and she will never forget me....
And then there is only blackness.
What if she died there, calling my name over and over, wondering why I couldn't save her?
I don't realize the glass has shattered until I feel the blood oozing from a lacework of tiny cuts in my hand. They heal almost before I have time to look at them. There remains only a slight smear of crimson across my skin and along the edges of the glass shards. There will never be scars; not on the outside.
I wipe it on my pants and grab my coat on my way out the door. I'm starting a new job at some booze joint downtown tonight. It'd be an awful thing if I was late and the pigs had to clean up after themselves for a while.
Someday I'm gonna give them what they deserve.
Someday I'm gonna find someone whose eyes are the same as those inside my head, and I'm gonna take away all her pain.
Someday, baby, we're gonna be free.
Today is not that day.
Mitch growls the words at me over the top of his newspaper, his eyes harder than the metal finish of the bar he leans against. He's my boss. He's also one of those people who favored extermination over registration, the kind that would cut a "mutie", as he calls us, just to see what color we bleed. I think it'd shock him when it came out as red as his own.
"I got held up at a checkpoint." It's the god-honest truth, but I don't expect him to believe me. The skin of face tingles in expectation of a blow that never comes. Instead, he folds the paper in a neat square and drops it beside him, picking up the whiskey tumbler beside him. His eyes latch onto my skin with all the slim of a giant leech, oozing slowly from my head to my toes. As if I'm a horse and he's appraising the market value.
His gaze stops at last on my gloves. The contents of the tumbler disappear down his throat while his eyes move back to my face.
"You're a bit skinny, but you'll do."
"Do for what?" Icicle sharp fragments of fear press against the inside of my veins. He's never looked at me that way before. It scares me more than any of his beatings ever did.
"One of my floor dancers got shot trying to break city limits. You stupid muties don't know a good thing when you got it, do you? If Washington was smart, they'd exterminate the lot of you like the little roaches you are." He spits on the floor beside my feet as we are a bad taste inside his mouth. "But until they do, I need dancers and now I'm one short. Consider yourself reassigned."
Oh God, no. No. For a solid fifteen seconds I stare at him, horror bubbling up from my gut in noxious fumes that sour my breath and sear my eyes until I'm working hard to hold back the tears. Working the bar is no picnic, but it sets me apart from the girls on the dance floor, their worn out bodies twisting and turning with twenty different men every evening. No hard-working man likes to dance alone, after all. For a mere twenty dollars he can continue the dance in one of the more....private.... rooms upstairs. I've seen the deadness in the eyes of the girls as they walk up the stairs, night after night. I pitied them....I can't become one of them....I'm safe, my skin keeps me safe...
"I'm not a dancer." I force my vocal cords out of paralysis, my words stretched taut and thin across my fear. I don't want to dance with those kind of men. I don't want to walk upstairs. "My skin...." Doesn't he remember?? Underneath the leather and the satin, I'm lethal. They can't touch me. Until now, that has been my salvation from the dance floors and the motel rooms.
He pulls a pair of gloves out of his pocket and holds them where I can see them. "Precautions will be taken." I swear his eyes are laughing at the tremble between my bones.
The lines of my jaw harden into a rage at that laughter. Before I can stop myself, the words spill out, spurred on by hate just as much as by fear.
"I am not a dancer. My work permit lists me as a bartender and I have a right to that job! I won't dance for you or your filthy-"
My words are cut off by a gasp of pain as Mitch grabs my wrist and twists it back until the bones pop. He pulls me closer to him until I can smell the liquor on his breath as he talks. "You little sow. How dare you raise your voice to me?!? And who do you think you are, the frickin' Virgin Mary? You still think you're clean?" He laughs. "Darling, you're filthy. You carry original sin in your genes just like all your rotten kind. Because of that you have no rights. Only orders. And you will follow those orders exactly as I tell you, or I'll have you on the next train to the disposal camps. Is that what you want?"
I begin to tell him yes, that anything is better than this life, but something stops me. A voice inside my head, rushing up out of the darkness to fill my consciousness completely. It was the voice of the man with metal bones, the one who keeps me alive in my dreams.
You survive, you hear me? You submit. I will find you. No matter how long it takes, or what they take from us. Stay alive. And I will find you.
I close my eyes and listen to myself tell Mitch that no, it's not what I want. I want to live. I'll dance for them. One more piece of me will die, but the bulk of my soul will survive one more day. Long enough for one more dream...
And what if my hope is a lie? A beautiful fiction I have created to convince myself that I mean something to someone, that I am something more than a piece of flesh in a black dress and stiletto heels. What if he's only the dream?
If that's true, never wake me up.
It will kill me.
"You have five minutes before your shift starts. If I catch you acting anything but pleasant, I'll ship you to the camps before you have time to blink. That's a promise. " Mitch lets go of my wrist, throwing his gloves on the bar beside me. "Make sure you give those to any customers you attract. I don't want any dead bodies to deal with." He fills his whiskey tumbler to the brim and nudges it toward me. "Drink up, if you think you'll need it. But who knows? You might find you like it. You might thank me for this."
He laughs as he walks away.
I stare at the whiskey for a moment, my fingers reaching out to flirt with the rim of the glass. My tongue can already feel the liquid fire inside my mouth, burning away all my senses and all my feeling.
I empty the glass and embrace the liquor, shuddering as it singes its way through my skin. Bring on the pain. I don't want to feel tonight. I fill the tumbler to the brim one more time, dumping it down my seared throat. Just enough to burn my brain away and still leave my body in working order. After all, I have to dance. I have to dance.
I think I'm going to vomit.
That sensation dulls as the wildfire drink spreads to my brain. In fact, the whole world begins to smear, running together like the colors of a ruined painting. The bone-deep throbbing of the music dribbles through cracks in my veins until my pulse races to the beat of dirty songs. My brain begins to flash to the colors of dirty lights shining too brightly in my eyes.
Time to hit the floor.
As I rise to my feet, swaying a bit from the potent mix of light and liquor inside my head, the sensation of being watched pulls my head to the left. A man is staring at me. The first impulse rippling across my veins is fear....is he my first "customer" ? I had hoped to hide, to avoid the eyes...
But his stare doesn't cling to my skin. It searches my face, almost like he is looking for something that he'll won't know until he sees. A flash of silver from a nearby strobe light washes his face in two seconds of brilliance, just long enough for me to see his eyes.
My breath catches in the back of my throat.
Those eyes....I've seen them before. Could it....could he...
"Hey, baby, you wanna dance?" The heavy weight of a hand on my shoulder follows the voice and I cringe, turning around to see a greasy construction worker staring straight down my dress. "Mitch told me all about you. Don't worry, doll, I'm a pleasure to work with." He smiles at me around his cigar, the kind of smile that implies a thousand things but names none of them directly.
He reaches for the gloves.
As he leads me onto the dance floor, my eyes race back to the corner where I saw the familiar eyes, desperate to catch another glimpse. There is nothing. Only a bunch of men drinking beer, and a janitor sweeping up trash around their table. I must have let the liquor ferment my brain a little too much and imagined the entire thing. There is no one here to save me, to protect me. I am alone.
A bitter taste of dead hope laces my breath as I start to dance.
But I can't help searching for the eyes.
Now I know why the pretty ones cut themselves.
Now I know how it feels. The death begins long before you put the razor to your wrists or the rope around your neck. It begins when you're trapped on a dance floor, pressed against a stranger whose hands are everywhere and nowhere all at once, taking from you every shred of dignity you ever tried to preserve....
I fling open the door to the nearest stall just in time to throw up everything I've eaten in the past twenty-four hours. I don't even try to hold it back. I want to get him out of me, to purge the taint of his hands from my skin and I want to be clean again....clean and innocent like I know I had to be once, because aren't little girls born that way?
Darling, you're filthy. Mitch's voice, low and evil in my brain. You carry original sin in your genes...
All little girls are innocent, except for me. I was born ugly, twisted....mutated...
The convulsions of my stomach shake my entire body, throwing me to my knees.
I never hit the cement floor. A pair of strong arms appears from nowhere to catch me before I hit the ground. I writhe against the grip in desperate attempt to get free, terrified that it is my "dance partner" returning for a little added fun. I am helpless here. I can't stop him. I can't even control my own body.
"Take it easy." A voice falls over my shoulders like a warm blanket-- not rough tone of man I just left, but something softer. Something shadowed with an odd note of pain. "I'm not going to hurt you, kid."
Funny, those words almost sound familiar. I know I've heard the voice before. It fills my mind in my dreams, in the fragments of my memory that swim through my mind once the lights go out. I am afraid to trust him, but I have no choice. Not when his arms are the only thing keeping me out of my own vomit.
The smell nauseates me, causing me to retch even more violently. I can only imagine what it's doing to him, yet he doesn't so much as flinch. His fingers hold my hair away from my face. One arm supports me, gently yet firmly, as my body purges itself from its own filth. If this is the only way I can get them out of my mind, so be it. The retching continues long after my stomach is empty, until my ribs ache and I am spitting up blood.
When the last spasm fades, so does every ounce of my strength. I fall back against arms, too weak to support myself. If he wanted to take me now, I couldn't stop him. We both know that's the reason for the fear in my eyes. For some reason, I think it hurts him. His eyes reassure me wordlessly that he means no harm, when I realize they are the same eyes that caught my attention earlier. Dark eyes, hard as stone but softening whenever they fall on my face.
He carries me out of the stall, cradling me against his chest as he wipes traces of vomit from my mouth with a wet paper towel. There is strength in his arms....deadly strength that I can feel even through his jacket....but his hands are light against my face. Butterflies with iron wings, I think, and almost smile.
His eyes darken in anger when he notices the bruises on my bare shoulder. The dance got a little rough. His fingers reach out to touch my arm, and I flinch away before he hurts himself.
"Don't....touch....my skin...." The effort of talking renews the ache in my ribs, but I have to warn him. "It...will hurt...you..."
He nods. For a moment a sort of realization settles over his features, as if he is remembering something he forgot. His hands moves away from my arm, and he settles back on his heels, watching me. The probe of his eyes reaches deep into mine until I wonder if he can see the dreams. If he sees his face in them. Suddenly it hits me how disgusting I must appear at this moment. A crumpled rag-doll girl in the floor of a dirty restroom, her breath smelling of vomit and her skin stinking of strange hands. Charming.
It's probably all he can do not to vomit himself.
"I'm sorry." When you're in my line of work, you learn to heal fast. Already I feel my strength returning, piece by piece, and I find my voice enough to talk. Or at least to attempt the act of talking, around the tears tugging at my every word. Of course I have to go and cry and convince him that I am a total weakling. Great job, Marie. If that's what your name really is.
"For what?" Wire-thin slivers of bronze concern coil around the center of his eyes as they refocus on me. He stares at me like he's absorbing my every word into his mind.
"I don't usually fall apart....it's my first night as a...." I can't finish the word, staring down instead at my gloves. Looks like I've ruined this pair. There goes next week's paycheck.
"Don't you dare apologize." His finger hovers above my lips, so close I can feel the heat of his skin, burning me without pain. I should be terrified that a stranger is so near to me. I should scream. But he is not a stranger. I loved him in a dream and all I want to know is if he loved me back. "You're not the freak here. They are."
Funny he can say that when he wears the same kind of brand I do. But he does say it, and his tone makes me believe he would kill if he had the chance. Kill? For me?? No, that's just my imagination again.. I am unclean. I am ugly with their scars. No one would protect something as disfigured as my honor.
Except, maybe, this man sitting in front of me.
Who are you, mister? I hear myself saying the words. I just can't find the courage to ask.
I thought I despised humans when I heard they were killing babies at birth if they had mutation genes. I thought I loathed them when I heard what they did inside the disposal camps and the laboratories. Those emotions are sweet, sweet love compared to the acid that ate my soul as I held her and listened to her retch. If there is such a thing as hell, I hope every human burns in it for doing this to her. Every man, every woman, and every child. If she is not innocent, then no one is.
And she's the one telling me sorry?
I doubted that she is indeed the thing I dreamed of; those doubts are gone now. Inside her eyes dance a thousand echoes of the calling of my own desire. It is a recognition that goes beyond names or faces or memory, a spark that leaps between our eyes and into our souls.
I'm gonna harnass that spark and so help me we're gonna ride it to the stars, to somewhere we belong...
"Tell me your name."
"I don't remember....but they told me it was Marie."
Marie. I've just learned the most beautiful word in the universe. I file it away in the spot of my mind reserved for new memories. Her name is Marie. "Logan."
Fifteen seconds of silence. Her silken gaze drifts across each corner of my face, as if she too is storing memories. Or perhaps searching for them. "Why did you come in here?"
"You looked like you might could use a hand."
"And why do you care?" The simple honesty in the question is clipped by the slightest almond tinge of bitterness.
"I think you know."
Another fifteen seconds of silence. Her fingers trace patterns of nervousness into the floor, and when she speaks, she doesn't look me in the face. "Dreams." The word falls from her lips in a hoarse whisper.
"I prefer to think of them as buried memories. And I don't know why, but you're all I see."
"How do you know it's me?"
I capture her hand in mine and bring it up to my face in a gesture that feels as natural as if I've done it a hundred times. Maybe I have. It is a pleasant thought.... Her eyes fly up to mine when I touch her, but she's not afraid. Can she sense that I would bleed before hurting her?
"The same way you know me. You feel it.....here." I place her hand over my heart. "It's an itch in your mind that never goes away, the sensation that all the memories are there waiting for you and if you can just find one key you can unlock all the doors. And you stay sane for it."
Her eyes brighten with the kind of empathy that comes from personal experience, but her voice is still raw when she speaks. "It's hard sometimes. The sanity, I mean." Her hands move unconsciously to the bruises on her shoulder. "Always wondering who you are. Always alone..."
"But not anymore." I'm telling it to myself as much as I am to her. "Not alone anymore."
Before she can reply, the rank odor that is Mitch encroaches upon my senses. He's looking for her, and coming this way. Pig.
"Mitch is on his way."
She shivers, her eyes moving to the door. "I have to go back out there, don't I." Her dread soaks through the air until it is almost a tangible thing. The metal inside me hisses to itself in anger that she should have to fear anything at all.
"No." My fingers tighten ever so slightly on her hand. "You don't have to do anything."
"But Mitch said that if I-"
"I'll keep them from taking you back, if that's what you want. Say the word and I hold them off as long as I can." Which won't be long, I add mentally, but at least it would give her a few more moments away from the strangers.
She closes her eyes for one crystallized second, tears leaking through the cracks in her eyelids to trickle down her face along with lines of runny mascara. Then she shakes her head and smiles. A tiny, shadow smile but a smile none the less. "No. You're not going to die before I find out who you are."
This kid has more courage than most grown men I know.
"Fair enough. But the promise is going to have to be mutual. You're going to have to hold on for me....just a little while longer..."
The smile falters.
I release her hand and move my fingers to her face, brushing away her tears with my thumb then pulling my hand away before her powers can take effect. "I know it hurts." Oh, I know. I would rather take a hundred beatings that suffer the acid burn of her tears on my fingers. "But after tonight we're gonna be free."
"What makes you so sure?"
"A dream." My lips twitch toward a smile. Mitch's scent is growing stronger, and I help her to her feet. She sways a little at first, hands clutching my wrists. "Can you make it?"
"I have to go." I can hear his footsteps now too, right outside the door. Three more steps and he'll be inside. "It's only a few more hours. I'll be watching." I'll take care of you, I promise.
"Only a few hours." She murmurs, echoing my words.
"Save the last dance for me, 'k ?" My fingertips flit across her lips in the most delicate almost-touch. Eden's last rose could not be so soft as her skin...
Then the door is swinging open and I duck into an empty stall, trying to ignore the feeling that I am abandoning her to the wolves. She made her choice. She told me she wanted me to live.
For the first time in an eternity, I want to live as well. Not just survive. To live.....with her.
"Where have you been?" Mitch sounds angry. I bite my lip until the blood flows to distract myself from the roaring desire to rip out his vocal chords. Remember those instincts I mentioned? This is one of 'em. You hurt something I love, and you're gonna get it. Sooner or later, but you'll pay.
"I got sick." she says. "It was the whiskey."
"What, it wasn't good enough for your delicate stomach? I don't care if you just had a baby in here, there are men out there who are getting lonely and some of them have asked for you by name. Get out there and do your job and if I catch you making up excuses again, I'll break that cute little jaw of yours. Understand?"
"And wipe your eyes. You've got mascara all over your face."
He pushes the door open and she walks out first. Back to the smoke, and the lights, and the music. Only a few hours from now it will all be over. Once our shift ends, we can disappear and never come back to this hell-hole.
As for these minutes inbetween, I will die each time they put their hands on her, each time she flinches. But I will resurrect again and again at the thought that I've found her again, and this time no one will take her away.
A few hours, he said.
I don't know how I survived it, but I did. I moved my body in all the right ways and smiled at all the right times. I couldn't see Logan, but I felt him. Through the smoke and the sweat and the lust swirling around me, his eyes were there. They hovered around me, misplaced guardian angels shielding my soul.
Save the last dance for me.
I would not be afraid to dance with him.
A few hours stretched into what felt like thirty years of hell before my replacement showed up, a tight-lipped women ten years who looked at the smudged mascara around my eyes like she knew why I had been crying and was disgusted by my weakness. Hey, I wanted to tell her, at least I'm alive. I may cry and I may bleed but at least I'm not dead inside. Not anymore.
He stood waiting for me beside the door, the muscles beside his eyes tightening when he saw my weary limp and the new bruises mottling my skin. His eyes clouded with smoky incense of sorrow and pain and something else I dare not name because I am not worthy of it.
Love... My mind whispers it anyway.
Then he blinked and the clouds were gone as he put his jacket around my shoulders and took me to his apartment.
Five minutes ago I finished my shower, my skin scrubbed until it was pink in attempt to wash away the ghosts of hands. Soap, however, only cures so much.
Now we're drinking coffee and trying to figure out what exactly we're supposed to say to each other. I don't think his eyes have left me since we walked out of the bar. It's almost as if he's trying to memorize every detail of me all over again, afraid I'll be snatched away. My eyes are memorizing him too. He's not the only one who's afraid.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
He's asked me three times already. "Yes." I smile, hoping that the gesture will convince him I'm telling the truth. I am fine. As long as I'm with him, I'm more than fine. It doesn't matter what else about me hurts.
We fall back into the silence around us, a cold sea that numbs my fingers through my gloves and threatens to stifle me if I don't fight against the tide.
"Thank you for the clothes." I had dreaded putting on that horrid dress again, but halfway through my shower he knocked on the door and told me there were clothes outside for me. He said he got the jeans from a neighbor. The shirt, I know, is his. It is soft red flannel and leaves his scent wherever it touches. As if it is an extension of his hands.... That image brings a shiver to my spine that I have to struggle to suppress. "The dress was a little uncomfortable." Mitch had given it to me the first day I showed up for my assignment there. He'd watched me try it out for him and every time I put it on, I remember the coldness of his eyes. I wasn't even a girl to him, just a thing. An animal.
"You don't have to wear it anymore."
His eyes latch onto mine, making sure we both know exactly what he means.
"Maybe not." I stare down at the coffee cup, my fingers tracing idle circles on the warm ceramic. " I don't know if I have that choice. "
"There always a choice. The real question is whether or not we want to take it."
"What choice is that?"
The word crashes with leaden weight into a shocked silence as my eyes fly back to his. Escape... It is treason to even breathe the word. For one like us, it is death if we are caught. But it is also life, for those lucky enough to break the city limits.
"Do you know what you're saying?" A whisper. I am half-afraid to do anything but whisper. Escape means freedom. It frightens, yet excites me, as a child's first handful of snow. The ice burns cold against the skin but it is so very beautiful that you don't feel the pain. "You know what they do to us when we try to escape."
He nods. "But there are ways to avoid the checkpoints. I've been planning it ever since the first day I woke up with this brand in my skin. The guy who lived across the hall from me back then worked in sewage maintenance, and he told me that a system of drainage tunnels runs underneath the entire city. They lead to a water purification plant about three miles outside the city limits. He said he was going to take his chances, and from what I hear, they never caught him."
"If you knew of a way to escape, why didn't you?"
A slight pause. "I had a reason to stay." His eyes push deep into mine, caressing my soul. "I was looking for someone."
My mind can barely wrap itself around that concept. He could have left at any time....he could have found freedom....but he stayed. He stayed for me, and he didn't even know my name.
The needle-prick of unshed tears pokes tiny holes behind my eyes. "You don't even know what we were." Now the tears slide back from my eyes to saturate my words. Deceitful little demons, those tears.
"You're right." He says. "But I know what is inside my head. The dreams are memories, or at least what's left of them. And in every one of them, I see you."
I lean forward in my chair so he can see the burn inside my eyes, the desire to remember what he remembers and feel what he feels.
My hands slide forward until my fingers are splayed against his.
"Logan," I whisper. "Tell me what you see."
She wants you to talk, not sit there and stare at her like a pervert. It's not my fault, really. If she had the faintest clue what her touch does to me, she wouldn't be leaning across the table like she is now, her fingers moving slowly to cover mine. And she most definitely would not be looking at me with those melted chocolate eyes or whispering my name in that kind of whisper. To top it all off, she wants to hear my dreams. Of her.
It's a good thing she's not a telepath or I'd be in some serious trouble.
I force my lungs to unfreeze and take in air, attempting to pull my thoughts together. The dream-memories are her past as well as mine. She has a right to know.
"Most of the time they're just one jumbled stream of images and feelings and sound, but sometimes I can the whole picture at once, just for a moment." And I begged to remember those moments when I woke up. "Once I saw us on a train. We were talking about some kind of school. You were hurting-- I could smell it on you-- and I wanted to take it all away. Something interrupted us, I don't know what." The smile that forms on my lips with the memory turns bittersweet. "I think you hurt a lot around me."
"I think we both hurt, but it was the only time we both smiled too."
I don't tell her about the morning three months ago when I woke up in a cold sweat because I had dreamed I'd stabbed her through the chest. She had tried to wake me from a nightmare and I had repaid her with six inches of cold steel. She touched me then. Nearly killed me. The truly frightening thing is, I'd take it all over. The pain, the fire in my head was nothing compared to the rush of her mind within mine. It was a type of intimacy only angels shared, and we touched it once. More than once...
"I saw us on top of the Statue of Liberty, of all places. Don't ask me how we got up there." she grins and I can almost see the image floating across her mind. "You were holding me and your thoughts were passing through my head."
"I think I dreamed that once."
"The other memories are hard to describe." The smooth lines of her forehead wrinkle in thought as she continues. "Most of the time they're nothing more than words or flashes of an event or of a face that fade before I can really see what's going on."
"Do you ever dream of how we lost our memories?"
She shakes her head, her fingers moving across the brand on my hand. "Do you?"
"Yes." My bones shudder at the remembrance of the terror that echoed through those nightmares.
You screamed, Marie. You screamed and they wouldn't even let me touch you to ease your pain. They sent electricity through my body when I even tried.
"I'm sorry." Her lips tremble slightly with concern as she looks up at me, and not for the first time I wonder what she sees in me that softens her eyes so. "That you hurt. I don't think they could have caught you if you were on your own. I remember the metal in your hands....and that your wounds healed themselves.....they wouldn't have been able to take you."
"Don't you think I made that choice for myself?"
A handful of seconds through time before she speaks again.
"I don't think we were lovers."
I knew that, but the simple, direct way she says it catches me off guard. "No, I don't think we were." I try to hide the disappointment on my face. She has enough people trying to take advantage of her without having to worry about my intentions when she sleeps tonight. Even though I'd never so much as touch her without her full, total consent.
"So what were we? Acquaintances? Friends?"
"Less than lovers. More than friends."
She nods, her hands moving away from mine to rub her arms as if she's trying to warm herself. Let me hold you, kid. I'll keep out the rain and the snow and the wind.
"What are we now?" Her tone is so low when she asks the question, the words spoken so quickly, that I can barely hear her.
"We are together again. We can figure everything else out in time."
Once we're free, I'll be anything she wants me to be. How am I supposed to tell her why we never....that we didn't....well, it wasn't for lack of wishing on my part. Let's leave it at that.
"Do you really think we can get out of the city?"
"To be honest, I don't know. If we can get to the right tunnels, I think we have a chance, but the entry point is a good mile from here. A lot can go wrong in a mile."
"I want to do it." The light catches her eyes in just the right way so that it appears they are made of iron. "As you said, we have to make a choice."
"And what if we're caught?" I have to ask, have to make positively sure she wants to risk this. If it were just my life, I'd have gambled it long ago, but that's the point....it's not just my life.
"I don't want to live if it's not with you. I've tried it for too long and I'm just sick of it. "
I'm supposed to say something big and important here, but I can't. She's blown me away, yet again.
Three hours later, after she's wrapped in a blanket and fast asleep against my chest, I am still in awe. She is all fire inside, yet the passion is wrapped in such a delicate chrysalis. Her body barely leaves weight against mine. I could crush her bones to dust with my fingers in a heartbeat. Her rice-paper skin, the deadliest weapon about her, is the most sensitive, leaving record of every harsh touch and cruel intention ever passed to her.
I'd kiss them all away even if it drained my soul.
She was shivering but now she is warm with my own body's heat, a slow steady burn passing between us even through the many blankets. Sleep is nearly impossible, this close to her. It's a small loss....I get to watch her breathe. Imagine her dreams of me. A deep satisfaction begins to spread throughout my stomach. The freaks and the pigs might touch her once, but they'll never be inside her dreams. That's all mine.
But I don't need a dream to tell me I love her. I don't need a memory to tell me that she is the only good thing that ever happened to me.
All I can think of is what if tonight is really the last night, even though it feels like the first. Would she know....
I think she would.
When I close my eyes, I do not dream of the past. I dream of the future, and I hold it in my arms as she sleeps.
The sweetest moments in life are the quickest to fly away.
One moment I close my eyes beside him, and the next he's shaking me awake, pushing a cup of coffee in my hands and telling me it's time. The coffee burns the edges of my tongue when I taste it, crackling through my still-sleepy brain.
I don't want to wake up, yet. I don't want to leave this room. Here is peace. Here is security. The world is still asleep, and the air is a watercolor painting of gray and blue that comes before dawn. It feels like we are the only two people on earth. Adam and Eve, three days after creation. This is our garden, maybe the only paradise we'll ever know.
But there are serpents to fight. Once the sun rises, so will the demon gods, and this room can't hide us from them for very long.
I wrap the blanket tighter around me to keep out a sudden chill.
Logan is busy packing-- scouring the kitchen for any dried food kits and throwing them into a ragged backpack, along with a supply of ration credits to use when we got outside the city. He adds to that two flannel shirts and my blanket, once the coffee has warmed me enough so that I no longer need it.
By the time the cup is empty, the first rays of sun filter through the window, golden needles that prick my eyes until they are forced to forget sleep. The streets are beginning to hum with early morning commuters and pedestrians. I am fully awake now. Fully aware that this is not Eden, but much rather Babylon itself.
"Ready?" He zips the pack shut, slinging it over his shoulder. His hand is on the doorknob. Ready to go. Only his eyes are hesistant, waiting for me to reassure him one final time that this is my choice too, not simply his.
I take one last look around the room where he held me through the night, and take a deep breath. "I'm ready."
Am I afraid? Terrified. I'm sure I stink of the fear of death and of dying. But there is an even greater fear of losing him that spurs me to follow him out the door and into the city.
It's time to face those serpents.
Outside, the blue of pre-dawn has blanched to a gray coldness that nibbles at my nose and cheeks as we walk down the street. The wind whispers of coming snow, and I shiver underneath his jacket.
"Yeah." It's only a half-lie. I am cold, but that's not the only reason why I can't bring myself to stop shaking.
"We can go back, if you want."
Back to what? Bar room smoke and leather dresses? Bruises and empty minds and....
It hits me, for the first time, that there really is nothing to go back to. Here I am trembling at the future when I know deep inside me that I've lived for today. Didn't I always tell myself that someday he'd find me and we would escape together?
So he's here. So we're escaping. Maybe I never counted on the scared-so-bad-I-can't-breathe part, but I'll survive it. I've survived everything else.
"No." Even if I did want to, I wouldn't tell him, because he'd go back with me and that kind of life would kill him. I'm surprised it hasn't already. He survived for you. He lived the hell for you. Don't let him down now.
"Relax." he breathes the word in my hair, and I think he's reminding himself at the same time. "We gotta make them think we're just another couple out for a walk. Nice and normal."
He wraps one arm around me, pulling me against him. I lean my head against his shoulder and slide my hand around waist, resting it against his back. Think nice. Think normal. Think everything you'll never have. I can feel his heartbeat through his ribs, a frantic wild rhythm that betrays the utter calm on his face. It is then I notice how he holds his arms out from his body just enough to bring them up hard and fast if he needs to. How his fists are clenched and ready to spit metal.
Just another couple out for a walk. Sure.
We're crazy to be doing this. Or desperate. Or both.
"So what are we gonna do if this works out?"
I have to talk because if I don't, I think I'm going to scream.
"Go north." he said. "Canada."
"Is that where we came from?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. We just gotta clear the States if we want anything close to a normal life."
"Tell me what normal will be like." Give me a dream to hold onto, something beautiful and soft that will quiet these demons in my mind.
He looks down at me for a second, a bit of a startled smile on his face. "It'll be anything you want it to be."
"Somewhere quiet." I said. "Far away from people and cities."
"How does a cabin sound?" We turn another corner. Three more blocks to go. I suspect he's enjoying this game as much as I am, though his eyes never stop scanning the crowd. We haven't even seen a policeman yet. It's lucky.....too lucky....
"With a fireplace?" My eyes follow his from place to place. Person to person. Fear to fear.
"If you want."
"I want." I lean into him as the wind picks up again, closing my eyes just long enough to feel imaginary flames on my face. "It'll be huge. And there'll be a tiny staircase leading up to the bedroom. And a real bed, with a real mattress..."
"Big enough for two, I hope."
As if that's not unsettling enough, he has to look at me again, his eyes thick as burning incense and making absolutely no attempt to hide his desire.
Did I mention I'm sweating?
"That depends," I grin. "on who the other person is."
He grunts, but I see the twitch of a smile under his sideburns. Gotcha, Logan.
"We're almost there." He steals a glance over his shoulder. "No one seems to be especially interested in us."
"Two people out for a walk, right?"
"You said it, baby."
For about three minutes after we lapse into silence, I am positive that we're going to make it. We're going to be free. The delight of it dances up and down my bones, snapping and rushing through my veins and nerves. We're going to be free and somewhere out there, a cabin's waiting for us with a fireplace and a bed just big enough for two.
Then we turn the corner. We walk five, maybe six paces down the street.
Straight into a police squad.
There are six of them, leaning against the building about twelve yards ahead of us. The white insignia of the Monitor Units is sewn into each of their sleeves.....they must be a check point squad. That can't be right, though. There's no check point on this street. From the cigarettes in their fingers and the coffee cups in their hands, I'd guess they were on break. Probably chose this side road for the same reason we did....it was quiet and out of the way. Just our luck. Now they're looking at us.....
A lightning bolt of fear stiffens my spine, and my fingers dig into Logan's back, clutching his shirt. I can feel his muscles coil, tight as springs and waiting for the slightest command to release their fury. But we keep walking. Eyes ahead, nonchalance pasted over our faces. We're just two normal people, out for a stroll. Believe it, please, believe it.
As we near them, his arm tightens on my shoulder, pulling me behind him just a little. His breathing is heavier, almost a feral growl in the back of his throat. When I steal a glance toward the policemen, I know why.
They aren't look at us. They're looking at me. All six of them.
I jerk my eyes back to the street ahead of us, gritting my teeth together until my skull aches in hopes I can keep my jaw from trembling. They're not really looking at me. It's just my paranoia, my fear of getting caught. They have no reason to stop us.
Yeah, like they ever need one.
My shoulders rise in a deep breath as I mentally step back from worst fears and stare them dead in the face. That's the first step to defeating them, I've learned. Acceptance. If they want you, they're not going to listen to you say that your skin is death. You can show them on your identification card. That'll make them angry. That's ok, though. You've taken beatings before. The hardest part will be convincing Logan not to do anything that will get him killed.
Now we're walking by them.
I feel the eyes, crawling up my legs and back as if they're trying to decide if I'm worth the time. Logan is as brittle as frozen lead, his growl more pronounced with each breath. Take it easy, love. Men have looked at me before.
But not in front of him.
Time shuffles by with the pained slowness of an old man on crutches. We haven't slowed our pace, but it feels like we are crawling. Only two more blocks, after this. Two blocks and you're free. Remember the fire? Remember the warmth? It's gonna be yours, and they'll never hurt you again....
We are no more than three feet away beyond them when the words snap out and catch my spine like meat hooks. The pain...
"Turn around and identify yourself."
I stiffen, paralyzed, and don't move.
"Can't you hear? Turn around."
Logan turns us both to face them. The lieutenant, a young man with an arrogant voice and dangerously bored eyes, is standing up now. Staring straight at me. My teeth sink into my tongue to bite back the whimper in my throat. Not again....
"What's the matter, officer?" Logan's voice is low, a perfect picture of controlled calm. For some reason, I think it is a danger signal few people pick up on until it's too late. "Is it against the law to go for a morning walk?"
"It is if I say so, buddy." The lieutenant drops his cigarette in the snow and smashes it with the toe of his boots. His eyes move to me, sweeping up my profile again with a lazy stare. "I think I'm going to need to her identification card."
"Why?" Logan intercepts the man's gaze with his own, a hard diamond-edged stare of disgust. He needs to be more careful. This lieutenant is the type to take things personally.
"You don't need to ask so many questions. It's starting to make me think you've got something to hide." He waves a hand over his shoulder toward his men. "Simmons, Rosenbaum. Get their IDs and check her for weapons." A oily smile oozes across his face as he turns back to us. "And if you, my dear, would be so good as to move over to that wall and place your hands behind your head, we can get this over with as quickly as possibly."
Someone behind him laughs, a thick, ape-like snicker..
I stare at him for a moment, cursing him for his smile, and wanting to spit in his face, but in the end I submit. It will be over soon, and then Logan and I can be on our way. Why should I be so squeamish? It's nothing new.....
Good thing I didn't eat breakfast, or I might start getting sick again.
I start to disentangle myself from Logan's grip, but he won't allow it. His arm tightens around me, suddenly a band of steel that I can't break.
"She isn't going anywhere, buddy." Danger words. What is he doing? "We haven't done anything wrong."
The lieutenant has his gun out before I can blink. "Listen to me, buddy. If I say she's carrying a weapon, she's carrying a weapon. Unless you want to be spending the night in jail, you'll let her do as she's told. When we're finished, you can go back to your little walk. It won't take long. My men and I are very, shall we say...efficient."
Logan snarls, and I can almost hear the metal in his skin whining with the tension it is taking him to hold it back. He opens his mouth to reply, but I cut him off.
"Logan, do what he says." I brush my eyes against him, willing him not to do something rash. "We can still make our... appointment...."
"Ah, the little girl is smart." The lieutenant croaks, his smiling oozing even further across his face. "What'll it be, buddy? Are you going to let her obey the law or are you going to force me to shoot you for obstruction of justice?"
"You don't want her."
"I'll be the judge of that."
"You don't understand." He's talking quickly, desperation edging his words. "If you touch her skin, you'll die. Don't take my word for it. Check her ID."
The lieutenant stares at Logan for a long moment, then nods to his men. I fumble in my pocket until I find the piece of plastic that could save us, and hold it out to them. It trembles in the wind, or is that the shaking of my hands?
One of the policement takes it from me and begins to read. "He's right." Disgust creeps into his voice. "Physical contact with her skin is deadly. She's a friggin' mutie...." He looks back toward us like we're decaying meat. "I'll bet they both are."
"We're registered." Logan tells them. "We have every right to walk the street that you do."
The lieutenant laughs. "Not this street. Obviously, you two haven't learned respect for your superiors." His lips form a thin, cruel smile, the kind that belongs to a boy about to pull the wings of a butterfly. "What do you think, boys?" He half-turns back toward his men. "Should we let 'em go or teach them some of that respect?
Cries of "teach them" and "let's play with them a while" pound against my ears as if they are already blows against my skin. I tell myself not to be afraid, that I can take it, but I shrink back against Logan anyway. I don't want to bleed anymore.
He moves in front of me, shielding me with his body and with his arms. It is amazing how safe that makes me feel, even here. Even now.
Like wolves, they circle us, hungry-eyed as if they can already smell the blood. Any moment now, the first blow will fall. I close my eyes and press my face into his back. I don't want to see it coming.
"Begin." The lieutenant's voice.
"Wait!" Logan's voice, cutting through the air. Stopping them in their tracks. "Listen, I'll make a deal with you. Me for her."
What?!?! My eyes fly open in disbelief. He can't be serious. He can't be....
But he's still talking. Fast and furious and angry all at once.
"Why should it matter to you which one of us you pound so long as you get to beat the crap out of something and go back to work feeling all big and strong?" There's a condescending note to his voice. He's trying to pick a fight..... "It doesn't take much of a man to beat up a little girl, but I'll bet I could outlast all of you."
"Is that so."
"Don't you want the chance to find out, boy?"
My mind is screaming no, no, but my voice is gone. It is lost somewhere inside the murky fog of my fear and I search desperately for it. I have to tell him to stop. I'll have to tell them to take me too, that I deserve it if he does....
But I can't speak and instead we all wait, and the snow falls.
The lieutenant opens a cigarette case and places a new cancer stick between his lips. He holds a lighter against it, his thumb coaxing a thin line of flame into the air. "Fine. Take him."
My fingers clutch at his shirt, at his arms, but they are pulling him away and he is letting them. He is going to let them take him from me and make him bleed just so I won't have to.
The butt of a gun smashes into the base of his spine, driving him to his knees. He allows this. He doesn't even try to block.
The second blow catches his shoulder, nearly toppling him.
Suddenly my voice is back, and I'm screaming for them to leave him alone, that I'm just as guilty as he is. I'm cursing them with every oath I ever learned, straining against the man pinning me against the wall. Clawing, scratching. Ready to take my gloves off and suck what little soul he has right out of his body.
Another blow, to the same shoulder. Logan's eyes close in pain and his chest tightens, but he clings to his balance. His legs slowly begin to work himself back into a standing position.
A billy club to the knee caps sends him right back down.
I'm crying now, tiny icicle tears that freeze on my cheeks and at the corners of my eyes. How dare they. How dare they. How can he just let them?
But when his eyes swim to mine again, through the red waters of pain, he tells me he loves me. He reminds me of freedom.
Freedom and a little cabin and a bed for two. No more bruises.
So I force myself into something far more difficult than resistance would ever be.
I stand and I watch.
Bring it on, boys.
I grunt as the stock of a gun catches me in the stomach, turning my lungs into a vacuum as the air whooses out of me. That's it. Nice and heavy, just the way I know you freaks like it. A fist connects with my face, splitting my lip and filling my mouth with the taste of blood. I swallow part and spit the rest back in the Monitor's face. You all hit like baby girls. I could kill the lot of you, without even breaking a sweat. But I won't. You go ahead and hit me and strut your manhood and don't you even think of hurting her.
Once this is over, we'll be free.
Once this is over, I can hold her and we'll be safe.
For this, nothing is too much.
I grasp her eyes as a drowning man clinging to his last lifeline. I can see the tears on her face. Angels should never cry. That's what she is, my angel. Guardian of my soul and the only other person who shares my memories. Through the haze of hate and violence and blood clogging my senses, the heady scent of her beauty reaches to me and nearly overrides the pain.
An especially vicious blow to the back twists my throat into a growl. Ok, so maybe it doesn't override that much....
The opium seductions of unconsciousness curl through my brain, promising me oblivion, and darkness without pain. I reach out toward it, eager for the release, craving it......but then I see the lieutenant turn his eyes back to Marie. It is a deliberate stare, one that of lust, of evil. And she doesn't know. Her eyes are on me.... She doesn't suspect..
He drops his cigarette and takes a small handkerchief out of his pocket. Inspiration brings a smile to his face.
NO, you look at me, buster. You want to hurt something, you come over here and hurt me, but don't you....
My thoughts shatter when he grabs her head and twists it away from me, placing the handkerchief over her mouth and forcing his lips against it. Her scream is muffled, but it carves right through my soul.
Sick son of a....
My claws slide out before I can even finish the curse. Unconsciousness is forgotten. Pain is banished. Hate is released, and the metal of it sings as it slides through the throats of the two men nearest me. Oh yeah, how do you like that? Does it feel good now?
I smell their fear of me, and it spurs me forward. Logan disappears and pure metal takes control, slashing and snarling and tasting their blood between my lips as it taints the falling snow with red haze. This is for taking our memories. I run my claws through a man's shoulder, ignoring his scream of pain. This is for putting your brand on her and making her dance with strangers. I rake them across the skin of the face of another man. This is for all the times she cried and bleed and hurt because of you. Two more fall to the ground in ribbons. One had the skill to get a knife into me, but my skin healed while his fell in shreds from his bones. I use his body to shield me from the bullets of lieutenant and his last surviving man until I can get to a gun.
A searing dagger of pain slashes through my arm, and I hit the ground hard, gasping as the impact reawakens the barely suppressed pain from the beating. That was a lucky shot, but it was also his last. I squeeze off three bullets in his direction and one hits him straight through his heart. Or at least, what used to be a heart before the gunshot turned it into quivering red jelly.
Five down. One to go. I roll out of my fall, following whatever my instincts tell me to do, and land on my feet again. This time luck is on my side. The lieutenant is reloading. My gun is up in an instant, trained at the man's head. His eyes widen as my fingers tighten on the trigger....but then his lips part in a smile.
His arm closes around something, pulling it up and in front of his body. Something soft and female and....God, it's Marie. It's too late to stop my shot, but I jerk my hand away, watching the bullet go wide.
He has her by the hair, his gun pressing into the soft skin of her neck. And he's laughing.
"Drop the gun, mutant, or you get to watch me splatter her brains all over the wall."
Her eyes reach out for mine, wide and terrified.
That man just signed himself up for a violent and painful death.
"Let her go, human." I growl, the hair on the back of my neck standing straight up as every nerve in my body screams for his blood. "Then maybe I'll be kind enough to kill you quickly."
"Go ahead and shoot me. It'll give me enough time to kill her, though. Is that what you want?"
My fingers are quivering around the handle of the gun, begging me to give the order to kill him. I will not surrender....I will not let them take me back....
But even as I promise that to myself, the gun falls from my fingers. I raise my hands to the back of my head, my eyes never leaving Marie's face. I love you, kid. We don't have to remember someone in order to be willing to die for them. I've learned that today.
The universe is slowing to seconds, and I watch the lieutenant raise his gun toward my head. The pain I kept at bay during the fight seeps back into my body now, a dizzy fire that swirls behind my eyes and twists my brain. So this is how it's all gonna go down.... With her eyes wide and terrified and me again unable to protect her.
The world begins to spin, faster, faster, faster and I can't keep up. My knees begin to buckle, despite my attempts to fight the pain. I want to die on my feet.
Instead I fall to the ground, the weakness of my bones betraying my will. I wait for death, my mind already straying into the last, the final dream.
The shot never comes.
Instead, the gun falls from his fingers as his face twists into a hideous contortion of pain, his eyes bulging and his skin withering. Marie's hands are clasped on either side of his face. Her bare hands. His fist slams into her face, into her back, but she holds on. That brave, stupid girl. Her own eyes screw together tightly as his life passes into her, and my belly twists with the knowledge that his gutter mind probably burning her inside.
Even if it is, she doesn't let go until his body slumps back against the wall, twitching and convulsing like a cockroach doused in pesticide. She pulls her hands away from him, her body shaking almost as badly.
Open your eyes, Marie. Let me see those beautiful eyes and let me know that you're okay.
Her eyelids flutter, but fail to open.
I have to get up. I have to go to her.
C'mon, super freak.. Heal.
Gritting my teeth, I haul my carcass up to a half-drunken stand, snarling as every fiber of my body erupts into pain all at the same time. Just take it one step at a time. One step... One step... Focus on her eyes. Focus on her lips. Focus on the way her hair captures the light and shines with it....
Then I'm beside her, half-kneeling and half-falling and so afraid she won't stop trembling, that she won't open her eyes.
"Marie...." The word scrapes across my vocal cords, coming out more a growl than a name. I wince. The blood-lust is always hard to purge from my brain, once I let it take control.
I decide to let my hands do the talking, sliding my claws back into my flesh as I take her by the shoulders and pull her partly into my lap. She's still shaking. I wrap my arms around her, trying to calm her. To still her. Half of my brain is still disconnected from my body, from the shock of the beating and the fight. I don't even know what I'm whispering in her ear over and over again, only that it has to work. There is no alternative.
The eyelids flutter again.
Come on, you can do it.
She blinks, and suddenly I find myself staring into the most beautiful brown eyes in the world.
She smiles and baby, I'd take the pain all over again just for that.
"Yeah, it worked. You okay?"
"I'll live. How bout you?"
The monster must have gotten a solid hit to her jaw, because as I watch, the blood spills through her lips and trickles down the side of her face. I reach to wipe it away with my shirtsleeve, but gasp as a sudden rush of pain sweeps over my from my arm. I glance down at my shoulder to see a large-- and rapidly spreading-- splotch of blood seeping through my shirt.
I've been shot.
It had, believe it or not, slipped my mind momentarily.
"Logan, your arm." Now she sees it too, and she straightens into a sitting position, her fingers hovering above the wound, as close as she can get without touching. "How bad?"
"Flesh wound, but it's bleeding pretty bad."
She moves, dizzily, towards the patch of snow where she dropped her gloves and pulls them over her fingers again. "How long will it take to heal?"
"A couple hours, if we can find somewhere to hide and get the bleeding under control."
"We've got to hurry." She picks up the lieutenant's gun and puts it in her pocket. It is a strange image, my soft little Marie with a big, metal gun. "While you were fighting, one of them radioed for help. They'll be here any minute."
The words have no sooner left her mouth than the wail of a siren pierces the air. The sound is close. I give us five minutes, maybe a couple more if we're really lucky.
"Can you walk?" She says, spitting a mouthful of blood onto the snow as she stands to her feet, swaying a little.
I consider bravado but decide to be honest. "I think so." The ache in my legs is almost totally gone, and most of the little cuts and bruises have disappeared. I'd be right as rain if it wasn't for this hole in my shoulder. Lack of blood tends to make one dizzy and general unfit for evading police. "But until this bleedings slows, it's a gamble how far." She doesn't look like she's in the mood to run any races either. Her face is paler than the snow, her eyes burning unnaturally bright. I cringe to imagine what must be tearing her mind right now, what kind of thoughts that rat sent into her as he died.
The scream of the sirens is closer.....closer.....
I struggle to my feet, hissing as my shoulder burns from the movement. Her eyes meet me when I stand up, her voice very small and very quiet.
"So where do we go?"
"I don't know." I am supposed to be her protector, so I try to hide the desperation in my eyes as I pick up one of the guns lying in the snow. Even that small exertion of my arm muscles pushes me close to roaring at the burn. "But we'd better go fast."
I grab her arm with my good hand, and begin to pull her toward an alley.
"No, wait." Her eyes flash. "I know where we can go. There's an abandoned building one block over. We can hide there until your arm heals."
"Just how do you know that?"
"It was in his head."
I shudder, but now is not the time to take that guilt trip. Not when half of the city police force is on our tail.
By now, it's too late. The first police car turns onto the streets, lights blazing and siren blaring warnings of death and judgment.
A voice through a megaphone demands surrender.
I have no idea how we find the strength to run, but we do.
The pavement jars the bones in my legs as we run, and my lungs scream for mercy which I do not bestow. The wind slaps our faces and stings our eyes, but I don't have to see to know where I'm going. I see it all inside my head, thanks to the lieutenant. Just around the corner, half-way down the street, there is an empty building where we can hide. Where we will be safe.
Behind us the street trembles under the tread of heavy tires and pure evil. Any moment now, the bullets will carve death's initials into my back and it will be all over. That or my lungs will tear into pieces. My heart will explode inside my chest and leave my soul naked before these monsters.
One more step. One more breath. Pain.
One more step. One more breath. Hope.
One more step and the cycle starts all over again.
Voices now, snatched up the by wind to nip with bloodthirst at my heels. The voice of the cruel. Stop or we will shoot. The voice of the man I love, ragged with pain but still beautiful. Keep running, Marie. Don't look back. We're almost there. There is the voice of Fate in the pounding of my heart, perhaps giving me a reason that this is happening to us, but the language is one I do not understand.
A blur of heat and metal sears a tiny path across the edge of my shoulder as we turn the corner. Other slivers of lead vanish into the snow or bounce off the pavement to pepper our skin with shrapnel. Logan shoots back, and sometimes he hits flesh and they scream. Another car, barrels down from the left to cut us off. Twenty yards to the building. Twenty yards and we'll be safe.
One step. One breath.
In one second, between the wind and the sirens and the pain, I give up. I loose sight of the door, seeing only the blue-red sirens and the black metal of the guns and the hopelessness. Defeat sours my throat, thick and bitter like week old meat.
And the cars are right behind us and he's prying open the door, pushing me through into the semi-darkness on the other side and....
The door slams behind us with a heavy thud.
We are safe from the bullets. We are also trapped.
My knees buckle and I crumple to the floor, gasping for breath as my heart pounds within my chest with such force I think it's trying to punch its way out. I'll thank about traps later. For now, I just have to get this breathing thing back under control.
Twenty-two inches away from me, Logan bleeds his life onto the cement. Timid rays of sunlight float through the broken windows to sparkle in the growing pool of crimson underneath his shoulder; running did nothing but aggravate the wound.
His eyes waltz with mine through the patches of light and darkness, and behind his pupils is a soul-deep weariness I have never seen before. Oh my love, it wasn't supposed to end like this.
"We have the building surrounded." The metallic drone of a man speaking into a bullhorn pervades every corner of our stolen sanctuary. "Reinforcements are on the way. Resistance is futile."
My fingers stretch across the floor until they find his, my hands drawn to his as if by magnetism. We are always drawn together, no matter the distance between. Even if it's only in dreams. This is no dream, though, and I need to feel the tangible flesh of him against me. I need to know I'm not alone.
"If you surrender now, you will not be harmed."
Of course not. They'll only steal our memories again, tear us apart. maybe forever this time. We'll live out our days in a cage in a lab somewhere, or digging rocks in a labor camp.
There is always a choice, he told me.
I choose him. I always have.
"How many bullets do we have left?" I ask him.
I bring my other hand to rest over my stomach, fiddling with the buttons on my shirt. "All it takes is two."
His fingertips press against mine until I can feel the throbbing of his veins through the cloth of my gloves. Have we ever been so alive before, and if not, why?
The tin god outside speaks again, his words clipped and harsh against our warm silence.
"Your lack of answer can only be interpreted as hostility. If you do not throw down your arms and turn yourselves over to justice within seven minutes, we will be forced to enter the building by force. Your lives will be in your own hands."
For once, I want to add.
I let go of his hand and reach for the gun in my pocket, my lungs moving in a slow, deep breath. Savoring the air "How do you want to do this?"
He doesn't say anything.
"You owe me a dance."
He begins to sit up, a grimace shadowing his face, but a shaky smile warms his eyes and slides across his lips. "You promised to save me a dance, remember? I think I'd like to collect now."
"You're crazy." I shake my head in disbelief. "Here?"
He's on his feet now, and the smile's even bigger. It infects the corners of my mouth until they begin, slowly, to crease upward. He holds out his hand.
He pulls me to my feet as if I weigh no more than air, sliding his good arm around my waist so that his hand rests in the small of my back. I shiver, and he knows it. Can he see the burn of my cheeks through the shadows of the room? My hands move up his chest, slowly trailing the muscle and bone up to his neck, clasping my fingers together at the base of his hair. I hear him suck in his breath at my touch, watch his eyes burn incense to the image of my soul that he's carried with him in his mind for so long.
I know exactly what I'm doing to him and I have no intention of stopping. It works both ways. His fingers begin to trace circles in my back as we sway back and forth to the music of silence. Every inch of my skin breaks out in goosebumps.
In my head, there are violins and lights strung over water and glittering ballrooms with golden chandeliers. In my head, there is no blood and no guns and no end of the line. There is only him, and me, and the last dance of the evening before we go back to our fireplace and the bed that just might be big enough for two.
"I'm sorry." His whisper tiptoes through my ear to intrude upon my dreams.
"We were supposed to be free."
I rest my forehead against his chest, drinking in the strength of his heart. "We are free."
He presses a kiss onto the top of my head, and for one more long moment, we dance. Swirling, turning, touching. Living.
Then he moves his lips next to my ear and tells me how he wants to die.
Marie, take off your gloves.
I didn't plan on crying. I was going to be so brave, and prove to him that I could smile until the end. I was going to show him....
And now I can barely see through the tears.
My gloves lie in the floor at our feet. My naked hands tingle in the cold air as I run my fingers across my skin, a weapon that has already killed one man today.
"You sure you want it like this?"
"A gun shot would be less painful."
"To me or to you?"
"You." I am not afraid to feel his mind inside me, not like I was afraid of the lieutenant. Something tells me I have felt Logan's mind before, and that it is a part of me. I will not hesitate to make it all of me, if that's what he wants.
"I'll take that risk." His voice is low, a honey-over-gravel rumble that warms me from the inside out as he runs his hand up my arm and shoulder until his fingers hover a baby's breath away from my face. "Was it worth it?" The words barely form sound, more like a rustle of thoughts than of speech.
"Do you really have to ask?"
A wandering ray of sunshine catches his smile and flings it into my eyes. I'm momentarily blinded by him.
And he kisses me.
The electricity of his bare lips against jolts me like I have been indeed touched with a live wire, and I jerk back out of sheer instinct. His hand behind my head traps me against him. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't move away. I wouldn't if I could. I want to be kissed by him, until there is no seam between his soul and mine. Until we are one. My hands tighten behind his head and I return the passion.
Within fourteen heartbeats, my powers take effect. The veins under his skin begin to bulge and wither, his breathing stretches to pained gasps as he begins to shake. If he lets me go now, he might survive. Instead his arm pulls me closer, deepening the kiss.
The tears in my eyes spill down my face and turn our lips to salt. Every synapse of my brain is wide open as the blinding hot energy of him rushes through my nerves, boiling my blood within my veins. My breath is his breath. My heartbeat is his heartbeat. His soul and my soul leap toward one another, mingling at last in rainbow sparks of love and destiny and something deeper than goodbye.
Somewhere in between the beauty and pain, the memories return.....
A fight in bar. A snowy road.
What I am going to do?
I don't know.
You don't know or you don't care.
I'm not going to hurt you, kid.
What kind of a name is Rogue?
What kind of a name is Wolverine?
Logan's fingers dig into my back as the shuddering increases, as cracks appear in his skin and blood flows into our kiss. The memories continue, an entire world flashing into life before my mind's eye.
A train and tears. His hand on my shoulder, his words in my heart.
There are not many people who will understand what you're going through, but I think this Xavier is one of them. He seems to genuinely want to help. A rare thing for people like us....
C'mon, I'll take care of you.
Midnight on the Statue of Liberty and he proves his promise with his blood. He touches and resurrects me and leaves pieces of his soul still inside my mind. So this is why we dreamed...
Back inside the mansion. Standing at the door, hurting because he's going away. Runnin' again?
Not exactly. I have some business to take care of up north.
I don't want you to go.
Dogtags in my hand, a promise sparkling in his eyes. I'll be back for these.
I feel the seizure begin to shake my own bones, until I can no longer keep us standing. The next wave of Past washes over me, submerging our bodies in the glittering surf as we fall to our knees. I wonder if he is seeing this too. I choose to believe he is.
A world falling apart. Shaken from bed by his hands when the stars are still hovering in the sky, told to dress because it's time to run. That the school isn't safe anymore.
My fist striking his face, screaming that if he cared he would have come before now. So lonely for him, for so long.
That this is my home, I can't leave.
His fingers around my wrist, his voice harder than the metal in his bones.
I fought my way through the border to get you out of here and I'm not leaving you to die with the rest of them.
Leaving on a motorcycle and discovering six hours later that the army had taken the school. Bioweapons killed everyone there.
Crying in his arms at the death of my only real family, knowing he is all I have left but all I really need.
As the shaking increases, jarring my teeth and the bones of my skull itself, the memories sharpen, flashing before our eyes with greater speed and intensity.
A truck at the border. A failed shot at freedom. Soldiers, pouring out of the midnight, prying me from his hands. Snarling, rage, claws. Three of them go down and none get up. Cattle prods between our bones. Screaming......
Leave him alone....
Dragged into separate vans. Tears. Pain. He's screaming something to me. Last words.
You survive, you hear me? You submit. I will find you. No matter how long it takes, or what they take from us. Stay alive I will find you.
Blinding white light. A metal table, leather straps. His voice.
Please don't hurt her....let her remember...
It is the only time I had ever heard him beg.
Struggling, helplessly, against cold machines strapped to our foreheads. Screaming again, of love and of holding on and of never forgetting.
This time we wake up without memories. Only dreams.
The last images fade as dying fireworks into the darkness of my mind....our....mind. I realize, suddenly, that the shaking has subsided. That his lips are cold, unresponsive against mine. No....it can't be over this soon.....he can't be....
The sobs I have tried to keep back overflow the floodgates of my soul and my body again shakes with the sorrow. I've killed him. I've murdered him. It doesn't matter if he asked me to, I should have said no. I am afraid that I didn't do it because he asked, but only because I wanted a kiss and I wanted to feel him inside my head....
Then I look at his lips and see a grin. I look in his eyes and peace. I no longer doubt that he remembered too. This was the only way we could remember. He realized that.....
I lean forward and cover his broken skin with a thousand butterfly kisses. I kiss his face and his lips and his hands finally rest my head against his chest, my tears soaking into his shirt. You don't have to wait long for me, love. I'm on my way.
I listen to the sounds of the ultimatum die away into tomb-like silence, and then it is time to prepare my answer. Pressing one last kiss onto his forehead, I pull myself up into a sitting position. The gun in his belt has four rounds left in the chamber. I remove them and add them to the clip of my gun, then jam the catridge into place. Bring it on, baby. You freaks are gonna p-a-y for his death. I'm gonna make you sign the check in blood. Funny...that sounded a bit like Logan talking there.
You know, you'd think I'd be scared? An hour ago, I was terrified of this. I looked at death and saw something hideous and black and cold, and the fear of it smothered me like dirt over my grave. But death isn't always ugly. Sometimes it's a kiss, a first kiss and a farewell and an I-love-you-forever all at the same time.
Sometimes it's freedom.
I drag Logan's body to the other side of the room, away from the door, and drop into a protective crouch in front of it, a primal urge to defend it slithering up my spine like rattlesnake venom. My lips curl in a half-snarl before I even realize it, and that brings a grin to my face.
You're really in there, aren't you ? You just can't leave me alone, not for a minute.
Somewhere inside me, his eyes smile.
Then all hell breaks loose.
The door explodes, stray bits of metal and wood peppering my skin though I scarcely feel the pain. The cuts heal almost as soon as they appear. I feel his growl in the back of my throat, a deep rumble of defiance and of challenge, as the policemen pour into the room.
"Drop the gun!" The leader screams, his face twisted into black hate.
I stare at their guns, at the black hate in their dead faces. And I pity them. I may be the one dying here today, but they are not alive. I used to be as they were. A man saved me from that. A man who walked out of my dreams and who danced with me, just once, and kissed me goodbye.
"I said drop the gun, mutant!"
The metal of the weapon is cold between my fingers, deadly but so beautiful.
"My name is Marie." I said, rising slowly to my feet, burning my eyes into theirs as my hand lifts the gun toward them. "And I remember."
A thousand thunders roar into silence.