FIC: Nepenthe (1/1, G, Logan)
- (I know it's been a while since you've all heard from me. Life has pretty much been one long string of calamities for some time now, and in the midst of dealing with that, I'm afraid my story-crafting skills may even have gotten a bit rusty. All the same, here is a little something I've finally succeeded in completing. I hope you enjoy it.)
Author: Jordanna Morgan (librarie [at] jordanna.net)
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Setting: Begins fifteen years before X1, and ends after X2.
Summary: An alternate history. What if Logan had escaped from Alkali Lake with his memories intact?
Disclaimer: Marvel and Fox create the characters that sell. The narrator of this story is mine.
Notes: Yes, it's another one of my peculiar variations on movie!Logan's past. However, please note that this "alternate theory" of sorts has no connection whatsoever to my "Past Imperfect" series (in fact, it mildly contradicts those stories). If anyone is interested, I may consider spinning this one-shot into something longer.
"Get outta here, Brain-Sucker!"
Shawn Hodgson, the local high school hero-jock, loomed over the counter of his father's general store and glared at me. He was as dumb as a rock and about as much fun to bump into--especially if you happened to be a scrawny runaway who everybody in town knew was a freak.
In other words, if you were me.
I was used to names by now, and I figured he couldn't do much else to me as long as he was on the other side of the counter. I edged a few steps farther into the store, ready to bolt the instant his steroid-soaked brain managed to generate a signal to all those muscles.
"Chill out, Shawn. I'm hungry. All I want is to buy some food. I've got money, see?" I demonstrated the point by holding up a handful of wrinkled dollar bills.
"We don't want your stolen money, freak."
Well, he had me there. On the other hand, I knew Shawn helped himself from the till every time Mr. Hodgson left him to run the store--but I was in no mood to argue with that big side of beef about the moral points of "stealing to eat" versus "stealing to take your latest girlfriend to the movies". I crept a little closer to the nearest shelf, piled with bags of junk food that, at the moment, looked like manna from heaven.
"Please, Shawn... I haven't eaten in two days." I reached for a bag of pork rinds. I hated them, but they were the closest thing within reach.
That did it. Shawn lurched around the end of the counter, grabbing the hockey stick he'd left leaning against the wall. "I said get outta here, you little..."
With a squeal of alarm, I spun to make a break for the door--and collided face-first with a guy who felt like he was made of iron.
I felt a hand drop onto my shoulder, probably out of reflex, but it halfway prevented me from falling over backward as I bounced off him. The startled breath I gasped in brought me a whiff of cigar smoke and pine tar. I looked up; the man was a big hairy lumberjack type, and he didn't look all that friendly.
But he wasn't looking at me. Instead, his deep green-gold eyes were fixed calmly and steadily upon Shawn.
"You got a problem, bub?" he asked quietly.
It was the first time I'd ever seen anything intimidate Shawn. He shifted his weight uneasily, but he gave the stranger a defiant glare, and jerked his head toward me.
"That kid's a mutie. She'll suck your brain out."
The lumberjack guy didn't recoil from me in horror, the way other people usually did. Instead he just looked down at me, without any trace of fear or doubt or even curiosity. Then he turned that same flat gaze back to Shawn.
Shawn's expression got a little blacker--and his knuckles got a little whiter from clamping down on the hockey stick. However, he fell back another step from the older man, whose hand still rested almost proprietarily on my shoulder.
"We're closed," Shawn grated.
The stranger took a breath to speak--presumably to debate the point--and I decided I'd caused him enough trouble. I didn't want anybody to make a scene over me.
Ducking under his arm, I bolted past him and out the door.
The cold air stung my face as I emerged into the snow, which had started to fall again in just those few short minutes since I went into the store. A storm was blowing up. Just great. With any luck, I might freeze before I starved.
At the back of the lot stood a rusting, unlocked metal shed, where Mr. Hodgson kept the canoes and kayaks he rented out in the summertime. It wasn't much, but it was better than wandering around in a blizzard--as long as his son the Jason Voorhees wannabe didn't come snooping around. I trudged over to the shed and slipped through the half-open doors. Bumping into protruding canoe paddles in the pitch-dark interior, I probed around until I found a clear space on the concrete floor, where I could settle down for the night.
In the morning I would leave town for good, and find a new place where nobody knew what I was. I didn't know how I'd get there, but I would, because if I stayed around here I'd either starve or get lynched. I might not have enjoyed living all that much, but I didn't really care to break the habit in such an unpleasant way.
Resolved, I laid down on a dry-rotting piece of old canvas, resting my head on my knapsack. As I closed my eyes, a little part of me hoped--and not for the first time--that I just wouldn't open them again.
A moment later, the hollow ring of knuckles against the metal siding of the shed nearly scared me out of my skin.
"Come on out, kid."
That terse voice belonged to the lumberjack guy--and his tone made it clear that he *knew* I was there, so there was no point in pretending I wasn't. Reluctantly I crept to the doorway of the shed and peered out. He was standing outside with his hands on his hips, a dusting of snow caught in his haphazard mess of hair.
"How did you know I was here?" I asked him unhappily.
He shrugged. "Smelled you."
If it was a joke, it wasn't funny. If it *wasn't* a joke... I didn't want to know.
"If you're waiting for me to say thanks, then thanks. But what you tried to do back there won't do me any good--not with him or anybody else in this town. So you don't have to get yourself in trouble with 'em on my account."
"No reason for me to care what they think. I'm not stayin' around here." He reached beneath his jacket and came up with a cigar, which he casually proceeded to light. Then he glanced up at me.
"I heard what you said. About being hungry. I can give you something to eat."
Curiouser and curiouser. I regarded the stranger suspiciously, but he merely puffed his cigar and stared back at me with a look of complete and total indifference.
"Lemme get my bag," I muttered, and retreated again into the depths of the shed.
When I returned, the man strode off without a word toward the side of the parking lot. Taking it as implicit that I should follow, I trudged after him through the snow to a dented brown van that was starting to show signs of rust. When he opened the rear door and told me to get in, I didn't think; I just obeyed.
For all I knew, he was a serial killer, but I didn't much care. If he wanted to murder me, it wasn't as if anybody would miss me.
Least of all myself.
The back of the van was a campsite on wheels: portable stove, sloppily bundled-up sleeping bag, packs of clothing and supplies. I blanched at the glimpse of a rifle butt protruding from beneath the driver's seat, but the man didn't notice. He was looking for something amidst the clutter. Some part of me might have expected a knife or a rope, but all he came up with was a battered canteen, which he tossed at me. Then he threw back a canvas and fished around in a torn cardboard box that evidently served as his pantry.
What followed was a strange meal of cold pork and beans with stale saltines. I wasn't complaining; it was food, and that was all that mattered. I hadn't been lying when I told Shawn I'd gone hungry for two days.
Neither of us said anything for a while as I ate. The lumberjack guy just sat with his arms folded, puffing at his cigar and watching me, without much interest. Apparently he didn't feel any particular sense of satisfaction from having done a good deed.
Maybe I was going to be *his* dinner.
As I finished the meal, I resigned myself to whatever might come next. Swallowing the last bite, I looked questioningly at the man.
"Why did you want to do this?"
It wasn't quite the question I intended. I was thinking something more along the lines of "What do you want to do with me?"--but that just isn't what came out.
The man simply shrugged. "Starving ain't fun." He took the cigar from between his lips and appraised me; but there was only curiosity in his face, rather than some less palatable intent. "So what did Hockey Boy mean about you sucking people's brains out?"
I had wondered if he was going to get around to that. I stared down at the threadbare Indian blanket I was sitting on, and shrugged in turn. "I can make people forget things."
From the corner of my eye, I saw him move slightly, straightening his slouched posture. I looked up again to see him regarding me with new interest, one quizzical eyebrow raised. "Things like what?"
"Like where they left their car keys." I bit my lip. "Or like... everything."
I snorted bitterly. "Just ask my stepdad. They should have him back up to spelling his own name by now."
Of all the crazy things... The guy actually looked *impressed* as he gazed at me. "And *you* did that?"
"Hey, it's not like I *meant* to," I snapped back defensively. "Joe was drunk. He... wasn't a nice guy when he was drunk." I rubbed my upper arm unconsciously, the memories of bruises and worse still fresh after two years.
The stranger seemed to understand that well enough. His eyes hardened and his mouth twitched, but he made no comment. After a moment he rose and went forward, sliding into the driver's seat of the van.
"I can drop you off somewhere, if you want."
By this time, I'd pretty much come to the conclusion that the guy wasn't going to hurt me. I got up and squirmed into the front passenger seat beside him. "Where are you heading?"
"Noplace in particular."
I folded my hands in my lap and shrugged, staring at the cracked dashboard. "I might as well go with you as far as the next town. Everybody knows about me here. I can't even get by anymore."
Without a word in reply, he turned the key in the ignition, and the engine grumbled awake.
For more than two hours, neither of us spoke. He simply concentrated on the snowy road, as I watched the night fall over the empty scenery that flashed past the windows. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence. Neither of us had any interest in getting to know the other, and we shared the small space of the van in peaceful indifference.
On the other hand, the mere presence of somebody who didn't hate me or fear me was kind of nice--and I couldn't help being a little bit curious about *why* he didn't.
There was something hard about him that didn't come from mere hard living. He didn't have the scars on the outside that a man like him should have had... but I had a strange feeling there were scars inside. Maybe it was something in his eyes, the few times they met mine. It was no business of mine, and I wasn't going to ask any questions; but somehow I felt that his plain, careless kindness toward me was more than the world had shown to him in a long time.
When he finally pulled into a gas station on the edge of a small town, I was a little bit disappointed.
"I guess this is it," he murmured.
Feeling suddenly awkward, I fumbled in my pocket for my handful of dollar bills. "I'd like to pay you something. For the food and the ride."
He glanced at the money with a skeptical eye. "Where'd you get that?" he asked, and when I shamefacedly dropped my gaze, he uttered a faint snort. "That's what I thought."
A feeble stirring of defensiveness prickled through me. "Look, I never take more than a few dollars from anybody. Besides... I make sure they never even remember afterwards. I'd work if anybody would have me, but they won't, so what else can I do?"
"You oughta be in school somewhere," he muttered.
"They want me even less." I looked away, staring out at the snowflakes that swirled past the window. "I only wish they *would* have me. If I had the chance to figure out how, I know I could do something right with the power I have. I could help people. Even if it was just, maybe..." I shrugged uselessly. "To help them forget the ways they've been hurt."
The man was silent for a long moment. At last, in a quiet voice, he spoke one unfamiliar word.
Hesitantly I glanced back at him. "What's that?"
"It's an old word... for something that takes away pain." He turned away, staring out through the windshield for a long time. Then he looked back at me, with a sudden thoughtfulness in his eyes that I wasn't sure I liked. "There is one thing you can do for me, kid."
"Oh?" At this point, I was getting a distinctly bad feeling about the conversation.
"That memory trick of yours. I... want you to do it to me."
*And there it is.*
"What?" I asked dumbly.
"I want you to take away my memories." He stared out through the windshield, his jaw set, his fingers closed tightly around the steering wheel. "All of 'em."
I frowned, shifting away from him slightly. What he was asking was nothing short of suicidal. On another day, or to someone else, I might not have felt so uneasy about being *asked* to use my power like that--but somehow, in all that silence between us, I'd caught a glimpse of something in this man that I didn't want to hurt.
"I couldn't do that," I protested. "You're the first person to be nice to me in ages. How could I do something so awful to you?"
"Nepenthe," he repeated quietly.
It took me a moment, but I finally understood.
I had been right. There *were* scars inside this man--and they had never healed. He must have carried memories so black, so bitter and soul-consuming, that he was willing to do anything to find relief from them... even if it meant destroying everything he was in the process.
"No," I said resolutely, shaking my head. "It's not right. Supposing I did it, and you spent the rest of your life wondering who you are, trying to find yourself? I'm pretty sure that'd be worse than whatever it is you're running away from."
The man, as it turned out, was able to move a lot faster than his previous lazy behavior had suggested.
I had no time to react with anything more than a yelp of surprise as he lunged from his seat and caught my arm, twisting it with just enough force to push me into the back of the van. As his left hand remained clamped around my upper arm, he raised his right fist. In the faint, watery illumination that filtered in from the gas-station floodlights, I caught the glint of a blade.
"You'll do it," he growled, squeezing my arm a little tighter.
His grip hurt, but I don't think he realized how hard he was holding me. Maybe I should have been afraid; yet for some reason, I wasn't. Not of him--not even with those sharp things pointed at my neck. I stared back at him coldly over their gleaming edges, and shook my head again.
"If you want to commit suicide, don't ask me to help you."
"If I *could*... I *wouldn't* be asking you."
He said those words in a very strange, raw-edged tone of voice. As he spoke, his right fist moved upward slightly--perhaps unconsciously, perhaps by design--and I finally got a good look at the knives he was brandishing.
The three naked blades were sticking straight out of his knuckles, as if they had grown there.
Came the dawn, and as my breath caught in my throat, it was only from the shock of realizing that he too was a mutant.
I understood it all too well now. Like myself and so many others of our kind, he had been hated, and had hated in return; he had received pain, and was clearly better equipped than most to *give* pain. Heaven only knew what he might have done with those savage things he was holding over my heart. But whether he hurt because of what he had done to others, or because of what they had done to him, it didn't matter. Either reason was enough to make a man want to lose himself forever.
Yet surely he was made of more than only his pain. With the random kindness he had shown me, and the depths I had seen in his eyes, he had to be. I didn't have the right to unravel the threads of his life--even if he asked it of me.
"I won't do it," I muttered. Slowly I leaned forward, just barely pressing my throat against the tips of his gleaming claws. "You might as well go on and do *me* a favor."
I might have meant those words a few hours before, but now it was only bravado. In that very moment, I had made another curious realization. I wasn't unafraid because my life meant nothing to me; I was unafraid because, deep down, I knew he didn't have it within him to kill me after all.
As he realized that his bluff had been called, a lot of reactions passed across his face: surprise, anger, dismay, perhaps even a little bit of disgust. Then he closed his eyes, and his claws retracted, shrinking back into his fist and disappearing as if they had never been there. His left hand released my arm to rub the knuckles of his right, and he turned away from me.
I wasn't sure, but I thought I saw a faint shudder pass through him.
"If I can't lose the memories of the ones who did this to me... what's inside of me is gonna break someday."
The understanding of just what was inside of him--both physically and figuratively--was suddenly the first thing during that whole ordeal to frighten me for real.
Those metal blades in his hands were no mutation. Somebody had done that to him deliberately. Somebody had made him into something that was meant to kill. And they hadn't just given him the weapons; they gave him hate enough to use them. From my own experience, I knew that hate was the most efficient and inexhaustible fuel known to man.
If nothing was changed, someday, that hate inside him was going to let loose--and then he was going to kill somebody. Maybe a lot of people.
Maybe he already had.
Mechanically, without feeling, I reached out to put my hand on his shoulder. As he turned to look at me, I distantly heard my own voice say, "Sit down."
He slowly obeyed, sinking to the floor of the van. I dropped to my knees beside him. I was glad I couldn't see his face in the shadows there.
"I'm not so great at controlling it, but I can try not to take away any of your skills. Just your memories of the people and places you know, and the things you've done, and... everything like that." A lump rose in my throat, and I swallowed it down. "It won't hurt. You'll just go to sleep, and when you wake up, you won't... *be* anybody."
The man was silent. Slowly, with hands that trembled just a little, I reached up to touch his face.
He caught my hands in his--stopping me not for second thoughts, but only for an afterthought. "What's your name, kid?"
I smiled bitterly. "It doesn't matter. You won't remember me tomorrow."
"It matters." I couldn't see his expression, but something in his voice told me that for the first time in our brief acquaintance, he had smiled. "It matters to me."
Tears stung my eyes, and I closed them. "It's Kyla."
"Kyla," he repeated softly. Slowly he released my hands, and said nothing more.
FIFTEEN YEARS LATER...
"I want you all to meet Doctor Kyla Morris, a former student of mine. She's a therapist who specializes in helping young mutants, and she's here to provide help to those of you who may need it."
The roomful of children and teenagers greeted me with resounding silence.
A few of the youngsters slouched in doorways like wary animals, while others sprawled listlessly on the couch, counting the bullet holes in the ceiling. The more attentive ones sat shifting uncomfortably on chairs that looked like salvage from a barroom brawl. It was the same story of battle and sudden destruction that I had seen all over the Xavier Institute since my arrival that morning. But the broken windows and ominous dark stains on the carpets were not half as depressing as the fear and suspicion on all those young faces...
Or the fact that Jean Grey was dead.
In his summons to me over the telephone, Professor Xavier had told me no details of the recent crisis. I learned the full story only after I arrived, when I could see firsthand the effects--both physical and emotional--of an armed invasion of a school. Twelve years of studying psychology was not quite enough to prepare me for that.
I was going to give it my best shot, though. With a nod to the Professor, I stepped forward and faced my reluctant young audience.
"There's not much I can say, except that I know how hard it is to be a mutant at your age. I've been there. And while I can't say I know the kind of trauma you've just been through, I'm going to do my best to help you cope with it. My job is to help you understand that what's happened is a memory now--and memories can't hurt you, unless you let them."
I smiled sympathetically at the students; every one of them reminded me of myself. "Until the Professor says otherwise, I'm going to be here every Monday and Thursday. If any of you want to talk to me, please, don't hesitate. Even if you don't want me to give you any guidance, I promise I'll just listen, because talking it out goes a long way too. The important thing is to share what you're feeling, and that's exactly what I'm here for."
I turned back to Professor Xavier. He dismissed the students, who shuffled out of the room, obviously glad to escape. I smiled ruefully and shook my head, moving to the desk to gather the notes I had written while talking with the Professor earlier.
"I guess I can't blame them. I would have reacted to a psychologist the same way when I was that age."
Xavier maneuvered his wheelchair around to the side of the desk. "Don't worry about the children. Your invitation to them was very eloquent, and I'm sure those in need of counseling will reach out to you."
"It's not the kids I'm worried about." I paused, glancing sideways at the Professor. "I saw Scott when I got here this morning. He... wasn't in a very welcoming mood. I didn't understand until later, when you told me... about Jean."
"It's going to be very difficult for him to heal," Xavier replied quietly.
"He's probably afraid I'll want to play therapist on him. I'm no good for it in situations like his, though." I smiled sadly and shrugged. "Psychology is a fine thing, but nobody will ever convince me it can comfort a person who's lost someone they love."
The corners of Xavier's mouth turned up slightly. "I thought psychologists were supposed to believe that their science, when properly applied, is the answer to every problem."
I chuckled. "I couldn't exactly psychoanalyze my way out of that anti-mutant campus rally you rescued me from twelve years ago."
"The fact that you made it that far on your own is the real credit to you, Kyla. Few young mutants could change from a runaway to a serious and accomplished student in so short a time as you did." Xavier rested his chin on his hand, regarding me with curiosity. "You never did tell me what it was that motivated you to turn your life around, or to take the field of study you chose."
"Oh. That." I glanced away from the Professor, thinking back to a cold, dark Canadian night fifteen years earlier. "You might say I met a man--one who was terribly in need of help. And I tried to help him... With my powers, I tried. Only I'm afraid I may have done more to hurt him than anything else ever had."
I shook my head, regretting the choice I had made that night, as I had so often through the years. "I realized then that wasn't the way to help people, and I wanted to learn the *right* way. So I started studying, and I never looked back." I smiled ruefully. "I guess in some way, I'm trying to make it up to that man. As a psychologist, I suppose I ought to know better, but I can't help the way I feel."
Xavier gazed at me, with a peculiar light in his eyes. "What happened to that man?"
"I don't know." I shrugged, hugging my folder of notes to my chest. "I never saw him again. I just... hope he's happy. Wherever he is."
A few beats of slightly uncomfortable silence passed, and I cleared my throat. "Well, I'd better get settled into that office you set aside for me. Some of the kids might want to talk."
Clutching my notes, I made my way to the door. With a backward glance at the Professor, I opened it...
...And collided with a man who felt like he was made of iron.
As I bounced back in startlement and my notes fluttered to the floor, he automatically caught my shoulder. Opening my mouth to apologize, I breathed in a smoke-and-pinewoods scent that had been locked in my memory for fifteen years--and suddenly, incredibly, I knew.
*It was him.*
I don't know how I found the nerve to, but I looked up into his face. It *was* him: the same penetrating, wolf-like eyes, the same crazy hair, and the same hard-set jaw, although now even more thickly forested with whiskers. Impossibly, the man who had changed my life--and whose life I had taken away--did not look a day older than I remembered him.
He stared at me, and for a single, terrifying instant, I was *sure* he remembered me.
Then his hand dropped from my shoulder, and he looked past me, toward the Professor. "Who is this?"
I'm not sure what I felt then was relief; something like it, perhaps, but there was a strange sadness to it as well. I *was* grateful that his bad manners, in addressing his question to the Professor instead of me, gave me a brief moment to absorb my feelings and suppress them before he looked at me again.
In any case, Xavier answered from behind me. "This is one of my former students, Doctor Kyla Morris. Doctor, allow me to introduce Logan, our... *security specialist*."
So, his name was Logan--at least now. I never asked his name all those years ago. I wondered if it was his name then, or the name of someone he had cared about. Perhaps it had a deep enough emotional connection to survive my powers, and linger in his mind.
The ghost of that indifferent stare I remembered was now tainted with belligerence, and although he was looking at me, he still addressed his words to Xavier. "A doctor? To replace--Jean?"
He revealed more with that single hesitation than I might have learned from an entire therapy session.
"No," Xavier replied patiently. "Doctor Morris is a psychologist. She'll be visiting twice a week for counseling sessions with the students."
I didn't dare to turn and look at the Professor. If he was reading my mind, discovering what I had once done to this man, I didn't want to know. I was more afraid than I had ever been in that distant first encounter. Of what, I'm not sure; perhaps of what Logan, if he knew the truth, would have liked to do to me with those things inside his hands.
I wondered suddenly if they were still there.
However, he showed no sign of recognizing me, and he must have put down my reaction to him to the fact that he (still) looked like an angry timber wolf. His expression became a little more disdainful, but that was all.
"So. A shrink." He raised an eyebrow at me. "Lotsa luck."
Then, as I continued to stand in weak-kneed astonishment, he bent down and gathered my fallen sheaf of notes. He held them out to me as he straightened, and I numbly reached for them, taking an irrational care not to touch his fingers.
"Thank you," I mumbled half-coherently, and slipped past him, forcing myself not to run down the hallway.
I can't tell him.
In the weeks since my counseling sessions at the school began, I've had a glimpse of the man who calls himself Logan. I've seen him out on the school grounds, teaching self-defense to the students; I've seen him prowl the darkened hallways, alert and watchful. I've seen the ghost of that same careless kindness I once received--only it isn't really careless anymore. Beneath all the shadows in him, he *does* care about these people. Something here has filled the empty spaces that I left in him, and those who hurt him before me left...
Or at least, it's beginning to fill them.
It doesn't really ease my guilt. I'll never know what might have been, if I hadn't erased his tracks and set him on a new course. All I do know is that the story of that one night--of the improbable favors exchanged between two broken strangers who eventually found their paths after all--could tell him nothing about who he was before. It would only compound the damage I did to him, and I can't rob him of the fragile peace and purpose he's managed to find.
As for me, I owe everything I've made of my life to him... and I can never tell him.
Â© 2006 Jordanna Morgan - send feedback