AS GOOD AS DEAD
E-mail: notmanos at yahoo dot com
Disclaimer: The characters of Angel are owned by 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy; the------------------------------------------------
character of Wolverine is also owned by 20th Century Fox and Marvel Comics. No copyright
infringement intended. I'm not making any money off of this, but if you'd like to be a patron of the
arts, I won't object. ;-) Oh, and Bob is *my* character - keep your hands off!
Xavier knew there was something wrong the moment he entered the hospital.
It wasn’t that there was something specifically, visually amiss: a crowd of people waited in the lobby chairs up front, in varying amounts of pain and illness, and the staff moved about efficiently, if somewhat chaotically. The sunlight bleeding through the glass door was yellowed as if aged, and the building reeked of disinfectant layered over the distinct, disquieting smell of sickness. But he had a familiar sense of déjà vu even before the head nurse, a slightly overweight but attractive Hispanic woman, said cheerfully, “Mr. Xavier, are you here to pick your friends up? That was fast.” She glanced at Piotr curiously, having never seen him before. Usually he stayed in the car because he hated hospitals ( it was the smell, apparently ), but he overcame his fear today to accompany him. His face still bore the shadows of bruises garnered from the Ressik attack, and perhaps that made him appear suspicious to her.
Pick them up? He had come to see how Scott and Ororo were doing, as Scott had just come through his latest surgery last night. They were far from ready to leave. “Excuse me?” He replied, slightly confused. “I think you’ve made a mistake.”
It was then the déjà vu turned into a sense of psychic pressure as painful and overwhelming as a sudden onset migraine, and he realized what was causing the sensation just as soon as he heard, “Good day, Chuck.”
Bob was now standing near the closest elevator, leaning against the wall as if casually waiting for one. He was wearing his usual black leather pants with matching biker boots, paired with a tight black t-shirt that inexplicably said “Sausage Victim” in bright white letters emblazoned across the front. Xavier did wonder what the hell that was about, but was afraid to ask. His hair was a little scruffier than it had been the last time he’d seen him, perhaps longer, but it was impossible to say. Bob was oddly hard to remember in perfect detail.
He sensed Piotr stiffen in confusion behind him. “Another teleporter?” He asked. Bob had just appeared - quietly, suddenly - and Piotr was simply not used to it, having never encountered Bob before.
“Close enough,” Bob agreed, but his usual cheerfulness seemed forced. Something was bothering Bob, and that was troubling. “I just checked my answering machine messages. Sorry I was so late. It’s been … well, shit’s been happening. Shit is continuing to happen, but it‘s different shit, so that‘s something.” Bob got some evil looks from a woman actually waiting for the elevator, so he looked around and said, “We’re not here.”
The woman looked away, at the elevator panel, straight through Bob’s torso. An orderly almost walked into them before Bob made a sort of sweeping hand gesture, making the man swerve aside. Piotr looked around helplessly, trying to find who Bob had been talking to. “He … alters reality,” Xavier told him. “Don’t let it bother you.”
“Can you rust?” Bob asked jovially. “I mean, you’re metal, right?”
“Huh?” Piotr asked, genuinely puzzled. He didn’t know what to think of this strange man who simply showed up and started acting friendly with everyone, all the while dressed up like low level rough trade.
Bob waved a hand dismissively. “Forget it, mate. I was just bein’ silly.”
“I take it you’ve seen Scott and Ororo?” Xavier interjected, sparing Piotr any more confusion.
Bob nodded, finally standing up straight. “I fixed ‘em. They’re still a little fuzzy on who would want to shoot ‘em. I assured them the kids are okay. They are, aren’t they?”
“Fixed them?” Piotr repeated, not comprehending this.
“I waved my magic wand, and spared Scott from further, painful lung reinflation. Always a bugger, that.” Bob then made a show of looking around behind them, while the people continued flowing around them like a river unaware it was parting for stones. Xavier couldn’t blame Piotr for feeling slightly discombobulated. ( Oh dear, there was a pun in there, wasn’t there? ) “Logan not with you, then?”
Xavier closed his eyes briefly, wondering how he was going to tell him, but when he opened his eyes, Bob was agape in shock, his violently cobalt eyes as wide as silver dollars. “What the ..? Chuck, what the fuck?!”
“I’m not sure I understand it myself,” he admitted. Piotr wanted to ask what they were talking about, but decided Bob was a fellow telepath as well and didn’t. “He felt drawn to the woman, and left with her. That’s the only thing that makes sense.”
“You drove him the fuck away!” Bob exclaimed, throwing his hands up in disgust. “ You lied to him and you dismissed him!”
He was slightly taken aback at the
accusations. “I never drove him away.” But didn’t he fear he had?
Bob shook his head and looked away, crossing his arms over his chest. “You know how he’s been since …. what happened to Jean.”
Xavier felt taken aback once more. But then again, this was Bob - didn’t he know everything? His cobalt eyes scudded to Piotr behind him. “You can’t hear this.” He then looked down at him once more. “How much do you know about that, Chuck?”
“How much do you know?” He countered.
“I asked you first,” Bob said, clearly stalling.
But Xavier was curious enough to know what Bob knew that he told him. “She … evolved. Transformed.”
“Do you know why?”
“Not precisely.” He then studied him carefully. “You had nothing to do with that, did you?”
“Gods, I hope not,” Bob admitted. That didn’t sound good. “You haven’t told them she’s .. well, not precisely dead, have you?”
“Did you know she’s been contacting Logan through his dreams?”
Bob must have been some omen of chaos; it trailed in his wake like a shadow that never went away, no matter the time of day or night. “No. He didn’t mention that.”
“He doesn’t know. No, that’s not right. Unconsciously he knows it’s Jean, but he won’t consciously admit that, as she appears in his dream as raw energy. She’s struggling with it; she doesn’t seem to realize her own strength.”
“What does she want with Logan?”
Bob shrugged, grimacing like it pained him to admit he was at a loss. “She’s trying to talk to him, communicate through him, perhaps, but so far she hasn’t been able to formulate an articulate message. I hope she’s retooling and coming back at it, but I have no idea.”
“Have you tried to contact her?”
“She’s avoiding me.”
Xavier thought that was rather wise of her, but then it occurred to him that there might be a connection between Jean’s efforts to talk to Logan and Logan’s sudden decision to help the very people who had violated him.
“That’s an interesting theory,” Bob agreed, trespassing in his thoughts. “What, do you think maybe his longing for her, coupled with the fact that he believes her to be dead and it to be his fault somehow, has made him reach out to a woman who may be an old love interest? Well, that and the fact that he feels completely alienated from your little super squad.”
“I beg your pardon?” He wasn’t about to admit it, but he hadn’t even begun to consider that possibility: Logan seeking some type of intimacy out of remorse and guilt over what he’d lost. And he called himself a telepath? He had seriously bobbled the ball on that one.
“You can’t blame yourself for that, Chuck,” Bob said, once again eavesdropping. “You don’t like to go near Logan’s mind.”
“I try and respect his privacy,” he said, mentally adding *Unlike some others*.
Bob chuckled anemically. “I can’t help it, mate. Goes with the territory.”
“What did you mean that Logan feels alienated from us? Doesn’t he feel alienated from life itself?”
“Ah, noticed that, did ya? Yeah, but he was almost in the door with you guys, ya know? Okay, mainly with Jean, but hey, that’s why you put ‘em together, right?”
He knew he was repeating himself, but he couldn’t help it. “I beg your pardon? Are you insinuating something?”
“Just that you knew chemistry when you saw it. I ain’t accusing you of bein’ a pimp. But you had to know that was eventually gonna be trouble.”
“I talked to Jean about it. She said they were both adults, and they could handle it.”
“Like eat her cake and have it too, huh? See, this is why open relationships are so nice.” He shook his head in a manner that could have been considered dismissive. Sometimes people were just amazin’ closed systems of entropy, weren’t they?”
“Is that how you see people?”
Bob suddenly gave him that open, rangy grin of his, but it had an edge to it, like his good humor could turn sour at any moment. “It is what we all are, Charlie, for better or worse. C’est la vie.” He then glanced at Piotr, and said, “You’re back with us.” Hardly pausing for breath, he went on. “Let’s get Scott and Ororo out of here, then I’ll see if I can’t find out what’s up with Logan.”
“Are you going to bring him back?” Xavier wondered, hoping for a major affirmative. ( Which, coming from Bob, would probably be some variation of “You betcher ass, mate.” ) What could they have possibly wanted with Logan? It couldn’t be benign; that was the only certain thing.
To his surprise, he shook his head. ”That’s up to Logan. Have to respect his privacy, after all.” He then winked at him in a way meant to be funny, but it seemed positively sinister. He turned towards the elevator, punching the call button, clearly signaling that this conversation was over as far as he was concerned. He sang quietly under his breath, “We are an accident waiting to happen.”
Xavier didn’t know about Bob. He didn’t know about him at all.
He knew the instant he got a good look at his surroundings that he didn’t want to be here.
He was back in the garden of Xavier’s, but it was Jean’s version, abundant with blooming flowers, whose strong scent made him sneeze. If he lingered - and if they were real - it would be painful to be near them, simply from the potency of their reek. Logan knew the thing had to be here - he sensed a presence - but he really wasn’t in the mood to deal with that cryptic energy right now. “What now?” He sighed, walking away from the row of butterfly bushes, overgrown to the point that they looked like a solid hedge. But as he walked around them, heading for the mansion … he ended up in the exact same place, the center of the garden. What the fuck? “I ain’t in the mood for head games. What d’ya want with me?”
“What do you want?” Jean’s voice asked, oddly curious.
Even though it felt like his heart stopped, he pivoted instantly on his heels, and found himself suddenly face to face with her. He took a step back, not quite ready for this; even the non-communicative ball of fire would have been better than this. “Jean,” he finally said, remembering to breathe. He wasn’t sure if he was sick or simply angry.
“Why are you here?” She asked. Her eyes glowed orange in the light of the setting sun, the same sun kissed color of the sky, and it made her hair look like a knot of frozen fire. She wore the same demure top and skirt she was wearing the first time he saw her; all she needed was a lab coat to make the picture complete.
“What?” He was pretty sure seeing her had shut down part of his brain. He was thrilled to see her; he was heartbroken to see her. He couldn’t decide, “I … this is your place, not mine.”
She shook her head, crossing her arms loosely over her chest. “Not this place. Where you are.”
Okay, now he knew he really was dreaming - that made no fucking sense at all. “Huh? We’re in the same place.”
She gave him a tiny smile, like she was enjoying a private joke, and he was suddenly gripped by a wave of anguish. He missed her; he wanted her back. He fucked up so many things with her, he was sure of that now, and he would have loved a chance to go back at them, fix them somehow. “No, Logan, we’re not.” She then studied him, head cocked to the side, and asked, “If you know you’ve made a mistake, why see it through?”
He didn’t know what she wanted, and he had absolutely no clue what she was rambling on about. As painful as it was, he met her eyes, and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Jean.”
“This isn’t about me,” she claimed. Then she reached out to him, and he lurched back, suddenly certain he didn’t want to feel her touch. He had no fucking idea why, but he just didn’t think he could take it. She looked a little taken aback by that, as if she didn’t understand his reluctance to be touched. Still, she let her hand fall to her side, and said, “You can’t do this to yourself, Logan. There are no obligations here.”
He snorted in disdain, feeling a wave of self-pitying anger, towards her and towards himself in equal measures. “There are always obligations. I just … I don’t know what to do. I … I don’t know.” Right now he didn’t know much about anything. The longer he stayed with Xia and the others - who resented him to varying degrees - the more lost he felt.
In a way, it felt good. He felt stronger, more in control, more settled inside himself, but at the same time, he felt like he was losing some intangible part of himself, something that was confused and hurt, something deeply fucked up … but something that had feelings, no matter how screwed up they were. Nowadays, he was starting to feel cold all the time, and he didn’t know what it meant.
But he was good, wasn’t he? In a strange way, when he was planning these assaults, telling the others exactly how things were going to go down, he felt like he was where he belonged; he was home again.
And it scared him shitless. He was where he belonged, doing what he was designed to do, and something inside him was slowly but surely dying, and he couldn’t figure out why. It seemed counterintuitive somehow; it made no sense at all. How could he feel more in control and yet be falling apart at the same time?
“Leave before you can’t return,” she said cryptically. And when he looked at her eyes, he saw nothing but fire -
Logan woke up, aware something was amiss. It only took a millisecond for him to figure out the hotel’s air conditioner had conked out. It made a noise like a floor buffer in an industrial steel toilet; it was conspicuous by its absence.
Not that it mattered. It wasn’t a hot day, or even much of a warm one, just humid. As he shoved himself up to a sitting position, he found he was only covered by the rough sheets anyways; the ugly floral patterned comforter had been gathered together into a lump and tossed into the far corner of the room. beside the television cabinet. It bothered him that he couldn’t remember doing that. He should have guessed he would, though; lately, he liked being cold. Maybe he was trying to make the external match the internal, or he just wanted to remember what it was like to feel. Oh, fuck him - how maudlin was that?
He stumbled to the bathroom, feeling like a sleepwalker, and he realized that lately he felt like he was always sleepwalking. He was pretty sure he wasn’t under anyone’s telepathic sway, but maybe that made it worse somehow. It would have been easier if he could blame this all on someone else.
Even though he was far more depressed than horny, he took a cold shower anyways, hoping it would help wake him up, but he wasn’t sure it did. He still felt zombie-like getting dressed, like he was just going through the motions of being a living human being - what the fuck was wrong with him? Nowadays it seemed like he only felt real while in the midst of something - the more tense the situation, the more dangerous, the better. Otherwise, he was just numb. That dream about Jean probably didn’t help very much.
He was pulling on his undershirt when her heard a light, tentative knock at the door. He knew by smell who it was. He went to the door and unlocked it, asking the moment he did, “Is Tom gone or just asleep?”
Xia gave him a slightly disappointed look. “We are a team now, you know?” He simply waited as she came in, stepping back into the truncated “foyer”, and as soon as she shut the door behind her, she admitted, “He went out to get some breakfast.”
“I hope he remembered to get some toast and beer for me.” He retreated into his room, a little put-off by how messy it had become in such a short period of time. Did he remember doing this? Would it matter if he did?
This was probably what it was like to have alcoholic blackouts - except he didn’t get drunk, let alone drunk enough to forget everything. Only the insane blacked out for no reason … which explained so goddamn much it almost floored him.
Xia chuckled faintly. “That’s an interesting breakfast. I thought it was white wine with toast.”
“I ain’t fancy.” He sat down on the end of his messy bed and started to put on his socks and boots, while Xia perched on the edge of the room’s lone chair. She was careful not to sit on his coat, although who the hell knew why. Wasn’t like he cared if it wrinkled. “What is it you wanted to tell me?”
“Why do you think I’m here to tell you something? I could be here to talk.”
“You could be. But you’re not.”
She sighed wearily. “You don’t make anything easy, do you?”
“Not my nature.”
“I should have guessed.” She let a moment pass, rubbing her palms on her knees as if they were wet. “Why is it so cold in here?”
“Is it?” He lied. “I hadn’t noticed.”
She seemed to let that go, but he did feel her eyes linger on him a beat longer than necessary, either guessing he was lying or worried he was completely insensate. “Clive thinks we’re on the right path.”
“And what proof does he have to substantiate that?” He asked, finally looking at her. “From what we’ve been able to tell, the Organization version two-point-oh has no fucking idea where Magneto is, let alone Armageddon.”
“But they’ve been attempting to intercept us. It’s a good sign.”
He scoffed, returning to lacing up his boots. “Is it?”
“We must be getting close. Otherwise why so much interest in us?”
“Oh, gee, let me think. We were their trained pack of mutant killers for how many years? I wonder why they’d be interested in tidying up their loose ends.”
“It’s more than that.”
“It is? News to me.”
She was silent for a moment, shifting nervously in the chair. “Do you miss them?”
He glanced up at her curiously, noticing - not for the first time - how pale she was. It seemed like every day she was a bit more pale, as if wearing Kabuki make up, and judging from her pale pink lips, he wondered if the cold was getting to her. It wasn’t that cold in here … was it? Oh fuck - he was the guy that woke up naked in a snowstorm in the fucking Canadian Rockies. Could he even begin to be a good judge of temperature extremes? Cold was what he was; cold was home. How much was too much? “Them who?”
“Those people back at Xavier’s - “
He burst out laughing, cutting her short. “Yeah, sure darlin’. I miss the superior telepath and his various lap dogs. I never fit in there. I was just there for - “
( Jean. )
- somewhere to crash. And it seemed … okay at first. I can’t believe I let my guard down”
“They used you?”
He rolled his shoulders in a half-hearted shrug, and for some reason he didn’t feel he could look her in the eye. “Not … kinda. They wanted me to be something I wasn’t.” ( A killer. I’m a killer, he thought, and instantly banished it. Maybe he was or maybe he wasn’t; he didn’t know if it mattered anymore.) He shook his head, shook away all the creeping doubts, and got back to a more comfortable subject - facts. “Spider’s wrong. We’re not on the right track; we’re not even on a track. We’re just spinnin’ our wheels here.”
“But yesterday, in Salem - “
“We pulled our last ambush.”
She looked mildly surprised. “What? You’re doing so well, Logan. We’ve never been so focused - “
“What?” He had no idea what she was saying. Did she think he was saying he was leaving? ( Jean’s cryptic words, “Leave before you can’t return,” reoccurred to him, but he still had no idea what they meant. He almost missed dreaming of being vivisected. ) “Look, the reason their attacks on us have all failed is ‘cause they didn’t know I was with you. Once that group reports back to their superiors, they will know, and I am no longer a surprise element. We’ll lose that edge.”
“No we won’t. We still have you.”
He thought she was lying, attempting to catch him off guard by being hopelessly sappy, but she seemed sincere. The worst thing about Xi was she always seemed sincere. He knew, in the back of his mind, she couldn't be, not having been in the Organization as long as she had been ... but he wanted to believe, didn't he? He shook his head and looked away as he got up, grabbing up his second shirt from the bed. ( When it was this cold, layers were a good thing. )"I ain't special; just another failed project of theirs."
"You weren't - " she began, but instantly stopped. He was what? He was a failed project? "You are special, Logan. You always were."
He snorted derisively. "Yeah. I can rip open my own gut, use my kidney for a hackey sack, and put it back in. That's pretty special, all right."
"That's not what I mean. You were the impossible man, remember?" There was a slight pause - perhaps a realization of horror at what she just said ( him, remember? That was a good one ) - and then she continued on quickly, as if hoping he wouldn't notice. "No matter how bad things were, you'd find a way. If there wasn't a way out, you'd find one or make one. Improvisation was your greatest strength."
"I thought it was brute force." He raised an eyebrow at her, wondering what she would say to that.
But her look threw him off once more. It was wistful yet mildly sad, as if she was recalling a loved one now dead. "You did what you had to do. Call it what you want."
He didn't like being looked at that way - like he was a ghost of his former self, a replacement of the man who had walked before. It unnerved him, and brought home the fact that he would never be - for good or for ill - the man he was to her. Mentally he scrambled for another topic, something to say that would get her off this subject, something that would wipe that look off her face. "You never told me what happened to the others," he finally said, settling on that. "The rest of the U.N., or whatever the fuck they called us."
At least that made her smile faintly, and glance away as if discomfited. "Well, you know what happened to Static."
"Yeah." According to Xi, he and Static - or sometimes just him - were thrown into a larger strike force referred to derisively as the "U.N" because they were all from someplace else: Static was from Ireland; he was from Canada; Xi was from China; Timebomb was from Scotland; Inferno was from France; Shrike - who was apparently a periodic member before his "breakdown" - was from America. They did several "strikes" together, but so far she had only told him about her first one, in Tunisia.
She sighed, running a hand through her sleek, short black hair, ruffling it like feathers. But no matter how messy she made it, it always settled itself down again within a minute or two. "Juliet apparently could not take as much as everyone - herself included - thought she could. She got ill after Tunisia, and a month later was diagnosed with a rare but aggressive form of cancer."
He didn't know the woman - he certainly didn't remember anything like a French flame thrower - but he still felt a twinge of pity. "Radiation exposure?"
Xi nodded. "It seems that way. She died a couple weeks after diagnosis; it was pretty fast. It was shocking for me, because I didn't realize mutants could get cancer. I guess I thought we were above such mundane illnesses, you know?"
No, he didn't know. Illness never occurred to him much, because he didn't get sick. He was probably exposed to as much radiation as Juliet, right? And he was still ticking along just fine ... but then again, that was his power, wasn't it? "What about Timebomb? He was there with us, right?"
"Yes, but he didn't go into the deeper areas, where there was greater radiation. He seemed fine. A little over a year later, though, he was on the end of a bad ricochet during a fire fight."
Xi touched a finger to the center of her forehead. "Blew out the back of his skull. It was like his head just popped, like an over-inflated balloon - " She paled slightly, but he didn't know if it was her own description or her memory of the incident that caused it. "It was like he used his power on himself, but I don't think that's possible. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"I know that feelin'." He let a moment of silence slip by before he asked, "What did Shrike do for the team, exactly?"
She glanced up at him, slim dark eyebrows raising slightly in surprise. "You didn't know? I thought you had encountered him since then."
"I did, but he wasn't very sane." He wondered if she knew he was dead, and who killed him. She had to know he was dead, but the death was probably blamed on him. Which was fine, as far as he was concerned; Naomi was better off being forgotten by these assholes.
She nodded in understanding, but still seemed a little unsettled by the mention of Shrike. "He was our telepath. He was only good at relatively close range, but from there he was ... he was extremely impressive."
He heard the buried fear there; she didn’t like Shrike, did she? He wondered if anyone did. “He wasn’t on every mission?”
She shook her head. “No, it was … occasional. He was only used in the field from time to time; he used to be very close with Control before his breakdown.”
“Occasional? Correct me if I’m wrong, but Static completely bollixed telepaths, right? That was part of her power? So didn’t having her and Shrike on the same team strike you as kind of redundant?”
She shifted uncomfortably in the chair, and he could see just a hint of panic behind her eyes. Perhaps she didn’t like talking about him, or perhaps she didn’t like where he was surely headed. “I’m sure there was a good reason. Control was nothing if not efficient.”
He grunted a sarcastic laugh. “I bet. Shrike was sent along for me, wasn’t he?”
She looked up at him, fighting to keep the surprise off her face. “What?”
“To keep me in line.” He wondered - in retrospect - how Shrike could have slipped inside his mind so easily, could have taken him over so easily … and how his mind could find “counters” for him almost as quickly. Now, he realized it was because his mind had been “run through” by Shrike before - and it was the same reason why he had a sort of “immune response” to him - familiarity breeds contempt. He just wondered how much Xi knew about that. “You knew I was brainwashed, didn’t you?”
Her hazel eyes widened, and her shock seemed relatively genuine … but at the same time, it really wasn’t much of a shock, now was it? “No, you - I didn’t - “
“Oh, cut the bullshit,” he snarled, feeling a surge of rage that warmed him from the inside out. “How much do you know, Xi? Do you know what they did to me? Do you know why?”
She just stared at him, shaking her head, and he could feel the anger coursing through his veins, not just warming him but tensing him to fight, to lash out, to act or react. “Tell me what you want from me right now or I walk,” he growled. “And I’ll go through each and every fucking one of you to do it, if I have to. Just try me.” He stood there, nearly panting, hands curled into fists at his side. He felt positively homicidal right now, like there was some dark serpant squirming inside his own mind, and he didn’t know why.
But goddamn if he didn’t kind of