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!
Xia levered herself to her feet, watching him like a poisonous snake that might strike any second. “I didn’t know, Logan. If I had known I’d have … done something. You have to believe me.”
“Why?” He snapped, but he knew most of this anger wasn’t aimed at her. He had no idea why he believed her, but he did. He decided to focus on another aspect of all this shit. “What do you want from me exactly? You don’t just want me to find Magneto, do ya? You want me to take him on, don’t ya?”
The deer in the headlights look. Either he was perfectly on target, or so off target he’d ripped the conversational rug right out from under her. “We just want the information,” she said, still looking floored. “We don’t want to have to fight anyone.”
What the fuck was wrong with him? She was right. She didn’t want to fight anyone. The others … he didn’t know about the others … in fact, he was certain they were up to something. They probably just left her out of the loop. He was willing to bet his left nut Spider, Spike, and Chameleon were looking forward to a fight with someone - anyone. And he knew Quake was just looking for an opportunity to rip his head off, ‘cause he didn’t like Logan taking over his position as boss man ( although it was Xi’s by right - for some reason, she didn’t really want it), and he didn’t like Xia being so close to him. ( Which begged the question why. Xia hadn’t exactly clarified the nature of it, had she? And he had never pressed for answers … probably for the same reasons. ) “You don’t,” he corrected her. “You don’t speak for the group.”
She studied him carefully, looking just slightly disappointed. Also, still way too pale. He could smell something peripherally, something off, but it was impossible to say what. It was probably illness, but not one he was familiar with, and not severe enough to be highly noticeable. “You still don’t trust us.”
“Wow, you think?” Awareness that she was probably sick made him feel inexplicably guilty about venting on her. She was the only one among them worth a damn.
“Have we given you a reason to distrust us?”
He stared at her in disbelief. “Tell me who you used to work for again.”
Anger flashed briefly through her eyes, and he knew exactly what she was thinking: “You used to work for them too.” But rather than say that, she glanced away, muscle in her jaw working as she tried to think of a better way to phrase it. She glanced away, as if the desk in the corner had suddenly become fascinating. After a moment, she finally said, “I’m not claiming we’re the most … upstanding citizens, all right? But we all want to destroy Armageddon before it’s unleashed. Our people have suffered enough.”
He grunted in agreement. “We caused most of it.”
She flinched, a high red color flushing her cheeks, but there was anger in her eyes, and her jaw muscles continued to twitch as if in seizure. But she took a deep breath through her nose before finally replying. “I know we did … we’re trying to do what we can now, Logan. We can never alter our past, but perhaps we can atone for it.”
“Do you really think Spider has any interest in atoning for anything?”
She glanced at him, and he wondered if she was finally going to let that anger out. Perversely, he wanted to get into it with her, he wanted to fight. Shit came out in arguments that wouldn’t come out otherwise. But he watched the hostility die inside her eyes, and he got the sudden impression she felt guilty over him. Why? What was she lying about - or, conversely, what wasn’t she lying about? “I won’t lie to you; I worry about him. He’s … the milk of human kindness is a myth to him. He seems to like … inflicting pain.”
“He likes killing. He’s a fucking psychopath.”
She shrugged, acknowledging that but not quite commenting on it. “From what I understand, the … experimenting on Spider was more successful than it was on you.”
“What did they do to him?” He didn’t actually accept that as an excuse for Clive being a complete psycho, but he was curious what they did to him. He was an upper class Englishman ( if what he said could be believed, he was in law school when his powers started to manifest in earnest ) who could climb walls and generally violate the laws of physics. He could also, somehow, alter his own internal center of gravity, jump really long distances, move at lightning speeds ( in short spurts ), and focus his eyes in a way that allowed him to see quite clearly for miles. He seemed to be stronger than average, but no great shakes. It was his ability to defy gravity and be preternaturally agile ( as well as his unerring sniping ability ) that seemed to be his lethal appeal.
“He doesn’t talk about it a lot. But I met him once, before … “ she petered off, clearly not certain what they did to him. “… before he joined us permanently.”
“What was he like?”
She almost shrugged, but thought better of it. “He was more stereotypically British. He was fairly reserved, almost embarrassed by his ability to alter his own personal gravity.”
“And now he’s a complete fucking nut, flingin’ himself around like a misfired bullet, and walkin’ on the ceiling to scare the maids.”
“Well … I guess that’s one way to put it.”
“So - what? They took his inhibitions away?” Is that what they did to him? He didn’t seem to have any inhibitions to speak of … but there was a huge difference between no inhibitions and no morality at all. “Did they never figure that might be dangerous? And how the fuck did they do that anyways?”
She shrugged with her hands. “Placement of mental blocks? Removal of mental blocks? I have no idea. I … kind of avoided the telepaths. They make me nervous.”
“You can block ‘em out.”
“I can. But they still bother me.”
He stared at her, but she avoided his eyes, finally turning her back on him, shoulders rigid. It was then he understood what she was hiding, and he was more disappointed than angry.
She knew. She knew they were fucking around with his head, but she was too scared to do anything or say anything for fear they’d find some way to fuck with her too. Could he really blame her? She was just a kid then, in a new country, with a new life she could probably not hope to fully comprehend. And she thought of them as her “family” - so, the family was abusing one of their own. What was she supposed to do about it? Looking back as an adult, she was ashamed of her own cowardice, but at that time she was just a scared teenager who could barely manage her own powers. He was the adult; more than that, he was supposed to be the indestructible one, the impossible man, her “hero”. It was bad enough that he had feet of clay; it seemed he had a mind of spun glass as well, achingly fragile and frequently broken. He wondered how he could possibly remain her hero after that.
Suddenly his anger towards her seemed foreign and out of place, and he could no longer remember what it was he got mad about. Was it anything? Now he felt like an idiot. “I suppose you ought to get outta here before Tom gets back and brings down the whole hotel when he figures out you’re with me.”
She turned to face him, a thin smile on her face. She seemed relieved by the shift of the conversation. “He’s not that bad.”
“He hates my fucking guts.”
He had to give her credit - she didn’t deny it. “He doesn’t know you. Ironically, he’s not sure he trusts you.”
“Maybe he shouldn’t,” he said, and it was out of his mouth before he realized what he had just said. What the fuck did he mean by that? Even she looked puzzled by that comment. He could hardly tell her he didn’t trust himself nowadays. Instead, he switched gears again, and hoped she wasn’t keeping track of how scattered he was outside of “missions”. “Look, Xi, are you okay?”
She raised her eyebrows. “Pardon?”
“You look ashen, and you smell a bit … off.” Her eyebrows arched before he could add, “I mean like you’re not feelin’ well.”
“There’s a smell for that?”
He shrugged a single shoulder. “Kinda.”
She hugged herself again, the cold room doing her no favors, and seemed reluctant to tell him anything as she moved back towards the door. “It’s just anemia.”
“Yeah. Sometimes I get it when I use my powers too hard or too long. I’ll be okay as soon as Tom brings me back my protein smoothie.”
“Anemia’s a lack of iron, not protein.”
“There’s lots of iron in protein drinks as well,” she replied smoothly, giving him a faint smile. Was she being honest with him? He had no idea; he’d never smelled anemia before, and he had never looked to see how much iron was in a protein shake.
“Take care of yourself,” he said lamely, wondering, ‘If we were lovers, why won’t you tell me?’
But if they had been, why wasn’t he asking? Was he more afraid that they were or they weren’t?
As soon as she was gone, he sat back down on the end of his bed, and rested his head in his hands. He was handling this all wrong. There probably wasn’t even a right way to handle this. In fact, he was a complete and utter moron. What did he hope to accomplish with all of this? This was a mistake; a huge, monumental mistake. ( Not precisely a first for him. )
No - he had to focus. He was here to shut down this Armageddon thing - whatever it was - and make sure Xi’s “friends” didn’t hijack it for themselves, If he happened to learn a bit more about himself and his past, great. But that was all, that was it.
So why didn’t it feel like it was?
He wondered what the fuck they were going to do now, and how hard he could bang his head against the wall before he put a hole clean through it.
Scott sat behind the wheel of his car, wondering if he could do this.
This was one of those moments where Jean would tell him to focus on “clarity”, but of course she wasn’t here to tell him, and that realization just made everything that much worse.
Through the windshield, it was a nice day. Sunny, clear, but unseasonably hot; the sun felt like a punishment. This was the type of weather where tempers frayed easily, where people got into stupid and often violent fights for no good reason at all. He kept the engine running so he could crank the air conditioner, but the cold, forced air didn’t make him feel any better.
Unconsciously he rubbed his chest, right where there should have been a bullet wound still healing beneath his shirt. Of course there wasn’t; Bob had “healed” them, or did whatever the hell he did. He still couldn’t believe him just telling someone something could make it happen, but he could still recall Bob telling him he had normal eyes - and he did. Just like that. Scott was ashamed to recall his panic attack upon being confronted with his eyes for the first time since before puberty, but he had not been ready for it. He liked to think he wanted normal eyes, but not again as opposed to also; he wanted to be able to switch on his powers when he needed them and turn them off when he didn’t, but it didn’t work like that.
There were many times when he wished he didn’t have his powers at all, but those were foolish thoughts, childish. This was a gift, no matter how it seemed at times, and he had to be grateful for them, even if they did pain him sometimes.
He didn’t actually recall the shooting itself. All he remembered was suddenly waking up in a hospital, with a male nurse moving out i.v. stands and telling him “A guy as well as you shouldn’t be laying around here”, while Bob, standing off in the corner in a bizarre t-shirt ( Sausage Victim? What was that - a rock band? ) waving at him like one of those tourists in front of the window at the Today show. Scott knew then something really bad had happened, but he didn’t know if he could blame Bob for it or not. He wanted to, though.
Until he found out that he could blame Logan.
The Organization was responsible for these latest atrocities, and why was he surprised? They were good at being extremely horrible. But he still couldn’t quite believe this was all over some stupid discs. The Professor felt this whole thing was a ruse, and he was willing to cede to his logic.
But Logan had left. He had gone with them. That ... that fucking son of a bitch traitor. If it wasn’t enough that they’d shot him and Storm, those fuckers were responsible for Jean’s death. And Logan claimed to care for her, and yet he ran off with them the first chance he got. The coward, the cold blooded fucking monster. He had no sense of loyalty at all, did he?
The Professor seemed to think it was more “complicated” than that, but he didn’t really see how it could be. When it came down to it, Logan simply had a choice, and he chose to join the people that had hurt them all quite badly, and killed Jean on top of it. He simply showed his true colors there.
Xavier didn’t seem worried that Logan would give them vital information about them, mainly because the Organization already knew everything, But that wasn’t the point! The point was … what was the point? Oh, yes - that motherfucker betrayed them, as casually as he bedded and dumped misguided women. The only thing was, he wasn’t about to forgive, not like Xavier. Logan had put them through too much shit to do this and expect to get away with it.
Xavier wouldn’t look for Logan with Cerebro, saying he already had but couldn’t find him, and he assumed the mutant who could project an impenetrable force field was “cloaking” him. Besides, Bob had just left, supposedly to talk to Logan, and, “If anyone can find Logan, it’s Bob.”
But Bob wasn’t going to do anything to Logan, was he? He’d probably help him, as he had the same kind of morality - meaning none. Xavier also told him before he left, “Don’t be so hasty, Scott. I’m aware you’re upset, but … things may not be as black and white as they seem.”
Bullshit. Of course he didn’t say that to his face, and he was sure he was right ( to a certain degree ), but he also knew if Logan decided to saunter back - no matter what damage he had done - Xavier would welcome him back and probably forgive him, just like that. Scott wasn’t going to allow that. Not after all that had happened, not after -
( Jean. )
- all the pain and misery he had brought to their door. If he thought he could betray them all and never pay for it, he was wrong.
Before he left, he decided to try and get an idea of what exactly happened from Rogue, although god knew he didn’t like grilling kids. Still, it seemed fortuitous when he found her out back with Bobby, Matt, and Brendan. Bobby had apparently missed “the action” and was sorry for it, but Rogue didn’t seem all that unhappy about it .
The dynamic between Matt and Brendan - and their dynamic with all others - had certainly changed. Matt used to live off of his pseudo “cool, dangerous guy” aura, and Brendan was his slightly nerdy but far more worldly ( and for some reason, he couldn’t help but think of him as a better looking, PG-13 version of Ratso Rizzo in his youth - which he knew was unfair to Brendan, but he couldn’t quite shake it ) sidekick. But when Scott joined them, Matt seemed positively withdrawn, avoiding his eyes and making no vague sexual innuendos or even attempting to posture and look tough in front of his friends, perhaps because he now knew he had blown it. When crap actually happened, it was Brendan who showed the guts; maybe he was freaked out too, but he acted in spite of it, and that made him the cooler of the two in the court of public opinion ( it probably didn’t hurt that he seemed to kick a lot of ass ). Half demon or not, Brendan had a lot of potential, and Scott made a mental note of that. Checkered past and questionable genetics aside, there was little doubt he’d make a valuable team asset.
Brendan’s actual mutant ability ( unlike what most of the kids thought ) was eidetic memory, so he was able to tell him in perfect detail what had gone on after the shooting. He knew Marcus, a/k/a Scorpion, yet another one of Logan’s shady, slippery “friends”, had shown up, but at least he had saved the Professor from some Ressik demons, although who knew what he expected to get out of it. Xavier had also said, seemingly in Marcus’s favor, he had “lied to spare Logan”. Scott didn’t ask from what ( whatever it was, Logan probably deserved it ), but couldn’t see lying as much of a virtue. Sadly, a lot of Brendan’s recollections were about Marcus, namely how he was “cool, but kinda scary”, a sentiment that made Rogue nod in agreement. At least they found him too frightening to emulate in any fashion.
Brendan was not in the final battle, so he could only give secondhand recollections from what went on, but according to Marcus, there was one mutant there who caused earthquakes ( didn’t that sound familiar? ), and a “chick with some kind of field” that seemed to repel bullets and make her immune to telepathy. Convenient. He had no idea where Logan had gone; it seems Marcus left before Logan did, and Logan himself snuck out during the night ( just like the fraud he was ). The pet theory among the kids was he’d actually joined Marcus, and they were now hunting them down for what they’d done to him. It was crap, but he wasn’t about to tell them that; he didn’t care what they believed, as long as they weren’t eager to run off and join him.
But this left him at a loss. How to find Logan and his new ( old ) “pals”, since Xavier couldn’t ( or wouldn’t ) help him. It was Brendan and what he was - and Bob and what he was - that inspired a line of thought that, under normal circumstances, he would dismiss. But things hadn’t been normal for a long time, if indeed they had ever been.
He still felt like a complete asshole, though, which was why he was sitting in his idling car, in one of the sadder enclaves outside of Westchester. It was a really pathetic street, the brownstones and offices all wearing their patinas of age and neglect like ragged clothing, Many windows were boarded over, while others had security grating that looked ancient, ready to crumble into dust as soon as someone gave them a good yank.
The place he was looking for was a ground floor shop in a crumbling old brownstone converted into a small office building. The upper floors were devoted to what appeared to be - judging from the multicolored flyers pasted all along the block and on the utility pole on the corner - a custom printing and design business. The “business” he was looking for was underneath it, with a small blue striped awning shading its glass door from the sun. In flaking gold letters etched on the glass, was the barely visible legend “Gaia’s Arcana”. Oh, he felt like an idiot.
The demon angle. Believing in demons was bad enough, but now he was intending to do business with one - and trust them. Man ….
He tried to look at it this way. They had attacked him and several others, and supposedly a vampire had helped kidnap him, right? ( She was apparently dust now. It was not clear how that happened, but he wasn’t sorry. ) And there was that thing about fighting a god … maybe. If he believed that, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to. But he couldn’t believe that demons not only existed but in such obvious profusion all around them, and few if any people ever bothered to notice. Okay, sure, this was New York, but come on! Only some demons could “pass”; the rest were as obvious as Helga, or that fly eyed guy who vomited super-corrosive digestive fluid on people. ( And what the hell had that been about? )
And now he was about to do business with some. The irony didn’t escape him that, while he didn’t trust Bob, he still intended to trade on his name. Hypocrisy, thy name is Scott Summers.
He killed the engine and pocketed the keys, forcing himself to do this thing.
As soon as he opened the door, a tunnel of hot air like a blast furnace hit him. It wasn’t just the sun pounding down from above, but the heat radiating off the cracked pavement, hot enough to melt tires. He could even feel it through the soles of his shoes. Too damn hot by half.
By the time he reached the shelter of the awning before the door, sweat was beading on his brow and creeping down to the top edge of his visor. But when he pushed open the door, it was like walking into a meat locker - a meat locker that smelled of thyme and musky oils, sandalwood and something he couldn’t quite identify; maybe graveyard dirt.
Brass wind chimes announced his entrance, but the shop itself seemed empty. The interior was dark, due to the soaped up (?) semi-opaque windows, and was a seemingly “casual” by calculation: shelves of occult books and things he couldn’t hope to identify lined the walls, while circular tables draped with scarves in lieu of tablecloths filled up most of the rest of the space. Sprawled on their surfaces were various items, and each table was devoted to a single thing: closest to him were tables holding “aromatherapy oils” and one holding “healing crystals”. Jesus; he already felt ripped off, and he hadn’t bought anything.
Conversely, Ororo would have really loved this place.
“Hello, and what can I do for you, young man?” A voice like a rusty hinge creaked.
He spun rapidly on his heels, and found himself face to face with an old crone … man? Gender was instantly indeterminate, and the tobacco ravaged voice didn’t help anything. They had a thick lion’s mane of snow white hair framing a face covered with so many folds it could have been made with yellow crepe paper. The eyes seemed very strange; peering out of his/her face as if from out of a deep hole, they looked about forty years younger than the body housing them. And what he assumed were cataracts or glaucoma were in fact pupils - they had pupils as white as the rest of their eyes, defined only by a slender ring of black on the outer edge to distinguish them from the rest of the white of the eye. They wore a shapeless purple tunic that hid a narrow body, and could have been worn by someone of either gender. He vaguely recalled Bob saying something about gender and demons and gods - some didn’t have a gender, did they? Well, not by Human standards at any rate.
He … it chuckled faintly; it sounded like a rusty porch swing. “Not accustomed to my breed, are you?”
“No,” Scott said, not sure what it was getting at, or how to approach this. Well, he had to stick to facts here; he couldn’t let himself be stunned into inaction. “I’m accustomed to demons. I was looking for Forajo.” It wasn’t hard to find a demon bar; there was one two blocks away from the site of the old Seventh Level. Luckily there were Humans there as well, so he didn’t feel more out of place or conspicuous than normal, and his plan went surprisingly easy - the bartender, who appeared to be a dead ringer for Evander Holyfield ( no wonder the atmosphere at the bar was so peaceful ), was in actuality a demon, who told him if he wanted to find anything anywhere, Forajo at Gaia’s Arcana was where you went. But the Evander demon hadn’t said what Forajo was - or if it was a he or a she. Scott now understood that with demons, sometimes what they didn’t say was as important as what they did say.
The white haired demon dipped its creased, leathery head. “Tis I. What can I sell you today?”
Did it actually say “tis”? He shook his head, and moved on to the topic. Again, stick to the facts. “I need to find someone. I was told you could help me.”
It spread its hands, gnarled like old tree limbs. It was almost easy to miss in their distortion that it only had three fingers, and a thumb almost long enough to be one. “Perhaps they were mistaken.”
Now it was time to name drop. “And here I thought Bob only lied about unimportant things.”
Ah-ha; bull’s-eye. It arched a single white eyebrow at him, dropping its odd hands to its side. “Bob? Which one would that be? I know many Bobs.”
“Not like this one.” He’s the Bob of Bobs, he thought, grimacing at his own thought. What a horrible joke. Jesus, what was the name he’d heard used for him? Logan asked Bob about it once, but Bob never gave him a straight answer. Dray something. Dray shogun? No, but that was close … he was a vowel sound away, he was sure. “The drai’shajan,” he added, pretty sure that was it.
That did get a reaction even greater than the last. “And he wouldn’t help you?” His voice rose on the last word, like he/she was excited or nervous.
“I don’t think he’d want to get involved in this.”
“Oh. Is this a bad thing? I would not want Bob coming back at me … “
“No, it’s not bad. It’s just something he’d prefer to … distance himself from. His image, you know?”
He cackled with a noise like a dying chainsaw. “Yes, of course. Plausible deniability.”
He forced himself to say, with as neutral an expression as possible, “Exactly.” He always knew Bob was a slimy weasel.
Forajo splayed his gnarled hands on the glass counter top, between a display of pentagram jewelry and shrunken head key chains in a wicker basket. His fingernails were thick and yellow, and somewhat claw shaped. Scott found himself wondering how much of this was demon, and how much of this was show for the customers. “I need something owned or at least recently touched by the person, and two hundred dollars in cash. I don’t take checks.”
Shit. “I don’t have it on me.”
“Can you get it?”
He nodded, wondering if Logan had left anything behind. He probably hadn’t. He never had that much to begin with; it was like the mere responsibility of inanimate objects was too much for him. Scott was pretty sure he couldn’t even get in to look, not without garnering the Professor’s attention - and if Xavier saw what was in his mind, it was over before it even began. So how was he going to do this?
Get someone already on the grounds to do it for him. Look in Logan’s room, see if he left anything behind. Rogue would do it, if he told her he was going to look for Logan, but didn’t want the Professor to know, fearing … fearing that he might get caught in the crossfire. But Logan and Marcus weren’t the only ones with a grudge against the Organization. At least that part was true.
No! How could he even think of using Rogue like that, pulling a child into this scheme? It wasn’t simply dishonest, it was a sleazy thing to do. But there was no way he could ask Ororo, as she’d probably figure out he was up to something bad when he refused to step on the grounds of the mansion and look for himself. But how else could he do this? And hadn’t Logan betrayed Rogue most of all? Besides the Professor ( and Jean ), of course. Rogue, for some stupid damn reason, believed in him ( just like Jean had ), and here he’d gone off with - for all intents and purposes - the enemy, to do god knows what to any mutant ( or Human ) who stood in their way. Logan was probably having a field day with no one to hold him back, no one to point out killing was wrong. He probably should just wait until the evening news, and then follow the trail of bodies.
“We close at six,” Forajo said, grinning at him coldly. He had stubby little nubs of teeth, as yellow as candy corn.
“Can I ask how old you are?” Scott wondered, curiosity finally getting the better of him.
Forajo’s grin grew so wide it looked like it might crack his head in half. “Would you believe me if I said I was five hundred years old?”
“Good for you; I’m twenty seven.” He winked a ghostly white eye at him. “They want Gandalf crap, they get Gandalf crap.”
“You’re more like the Crypt Keeper.”
That made Forajo laugh, and it was like a cupboard door swinging back and forth on a rusty hinge. “I like you Human. Ya know, I’m a make up artist. If you ever need to disguise yourself, keep me in mind. I ain’t cheap, but I’m the best.”
“I can see that,” he said uncertainly, heading back to the door. He didn’t know how much of this was truth and how much of this was fiction, but he didn’t honestly care. He just wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.
“Remember the terms, Human.”
“I got them,” he said, and paused in the doorway to look back at him. It was literally like straddling the line between worlds - fiery hell and icy hell. “I’ll be back before six.”
Forajo’s eyes glittered like diamonds. There was something unsavory in them, a sort of sordid glee that made him feel instantly dirty. “I’m sure you will be. Bob waits for no man.”
Scott left, not even commenting on that. But he was strangely afraid to look back, until he crossed the boiling street and returned to the safety of his car, which had heated up rapidly in the brief time he was gone; it was like getting into a toaster oven.
He started the car once more, if only for the air conditioning, and started to reach for his jacket on the passenger seat, which held a cellular phone in its pocket. But he paused, and wondered if he could really do this.
Yes, he had to. He had to do this -
( for Jean )
- to show Logan that they weren’t just another bunch of people he could use and throw away when he was done with them. Besides, who knew what the hell he was going to do with his old buddies? He could not only be setting mutant rights back twenty years, but he could be trying to trigger a full out species war. If anyone could do it, it was Logan. He was, at his worst, nothing but an animal; him and all those Organization friends of his.
And Scott was going to find him and kill him if it was the last goddamn thing he ever did.