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Chapter 1

Hands Are the Heart’s Landscape - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by Stella
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 1

(brief) author notes: in case you’re wondering, the title is a quote from pope john paul ii. i’m not catholic, but i thought it was too perfect to pass up. this is a little missing scene from “april witch” and should be read as such. it falls between the final chapter and the epilogue. i’d love to say that it’ll make sense on its own, but it probably won’t. i dedicate this story to neurotic temptress who wanted to know how the x-men find xavier. this story raises more problems than it solves.

random, unrelated tangent. i. love. berzerker. seriously. i have no idea why because his part hasn’t been huge so far, but i’m goin’ with it.

“Jean found him yesterday. ‘North,’ she says, ‘near the border.’” Scott reached out, as if he wanted ta grab my arm. He’d never had any patience with my tendency ta let my mind wander. Despite his determination at be a geek and an’ outcast, an’ despite his own intelligence, Scott never would let himself live inside his own head any longer than necessary. “Rogue, are you listening?”

“Ah heard you. What do ya want me ta do about it?”

Suddenly, he looked bashful. Ah think he even blushed a little. It was that same little boy look he used ta get around Jean. That look used ta burn me inside. He brushed at his bangs. “How fast can you fly?”

Ah considered him for a moment. He didn’t like askin’, but he needed ta do it. The good soldier. “Ah don’t know,” Ah told him honestly. “We haven’t exactly been in lab type conditions.” Ah raised my hands ta indicate the hotel room around us. Everyone else was in the room next door, watchin’ a movie Kurt an’ Evan had rented.

“Could you take a guess?” he prompted. “Please?”

“Why?” Ah snapped. “Why is it so damn important ta you? Ah fly, Ah’m strong, Ah’m pretty sure things don’t hurt me like they used to.” Some things. Ah missed Remy with a deep and persistent ache. Ah didn’t always notice it, but it was there, like a clock tickin’ in a crowded room. And the room was always crowded. The same cramped quarters Ah remembered from before the time in New Orleans. It was makin’ me crazy. And Ah knew Ah wasn’t bein’ fair ta Scott, but that didn’t mean Ah could stop myself.

“We need you to take Logan and scout ahead. Jean was able to determine the general area, but I don’t want the whole group going in until we know more about it.” Scott’s face looked pinched. He was makin’ himself sick with worry ‘bout Jean. She’d stretched herself too far, almost ta the point o’ nervous exhaustion.

“Where’s Logan?” Ah asked, feelin’ vaguely embarrassed. Ah wasn’t the only one with problems, an’ maybe mine weren’t so bad anyway. No one ever died of separation. Apology stung on the edge o’ my tongue, but Ah couldn’t get my lips ta move.

“Hey, Stripes.” Ah jumped, despite myself. Logan was leanin’ against the door frame. Who knows how long he’d been there. He held his body loose, but Ah could tell he was tense. Logan was almost always tense, the underlying anger made up his personality. He liked the open places an’ so Ah hadn’t seen him in the two days Ah’d been back. Kitty’d said somethin’ about him takin’ off for awhile, said that it was better not ta mention it. Right then, Ah was stupidly happy ta see him, maybe because he wasn’t the good soldier. He was like me. He slipped sometimes and Ah loved him for it. Of all the people in the team Ah loved him best.

“Ya been keepin’ yourself outta trouble?” Ah teased.

“Been bored outta my mind,” he growled, crossin’ his arms.

“This should help you out.” Scott flipped somethin’ the size of a cell phone in Logan’s direction. He snapped his hand out an’ caught it neatly.

“GPS?” There was no hidin’ the disgust in his voice an’ Logan wasn’t tryin’ particularly hard. Ah covered my mouth so they wouldn’t see me smilin’.

Scott looked at Logan in a way that made me wonder what had gone on between the two of ‘em while I’d been gone. “Use it,” he ordered curtly. “When you find him, send us the coordinates, that’s all.” He switched his gaze ta me. “Don’t try to do anything yourselves.”

“Domesticated!” Logan spat once Scott was outta the room. “They’re tryin’ to make me into a fuckin’ lap dog!” He slid a look in my direction and for a second Ah thought he was goin’ ta apologize for swearin’. That would’ve broken my heart because it would’ve meant that he really had been tamed. “Where’s the makeup?” was all he said.

Ah touched my cheek. “Ah’m just outta the habit Ah guess. Kept gettin’ rained on.”

Ah caught a ghost of a smile at the corner o’ his mouth. “Ya really like this guy, huh Stripes?”

Ah knitted my hands together an’ looked down at ‘em. “Looks that way.”

My answer was met with a bark o’ laughter. “Ya don’t have to sound so disappointed.”

“Ah know, but the whole thing makes me feel...off...different. More different. Like everyone knows and they’re all lookin’ at me an’ waitin’ ta see what Ah do next.” Ah surprised myself with that one. People see me, they see the makeup an’ the clothes and they just assume. Eyes drop off my foundation. The curve o’ my eyeliner forms a slide for their stares. The whole thing with Remy had done more than take off the makeup, it had made me painfully visible ta anyone who bothered ta look.

Logan tucked the GPS display into his pocket. “Sometimes it’s good to shake things up. Do something unexpected. Just make sure it’s on your own terms. And don’t let that boy push ya around either. He looks like the type.”

“Not at all,” Ah assured him quickly.

“Hmmm,” he grunted. Then he seemed ta relax a bit. He patted his pocket. “We’d better get movin’ or it’ll be bad news for Shades’ blood pressure.”

They wrapped us up like Christmas presents. Clothes bought and borrowed. My feet swam in boots large in the ankle an’ small in the toe. Kitty lent me her favorite scarf--soft camel mohair. Jean, pale an’ weak from all her searching, touched my hand. Ah was shocked by how frail she felt. Like a little bird. Ray offered me his hat with an uncharacteristic amount o’ shyness. He pushed it into my hands, the material crumplin’ in my fingers.

“It’s lucky,” he mumbled. “My lucky hat. You can give it back when we see you up there.”

Ah smiled, even though Ah was anxious ta be on the way. Ah knew Scott probably wouldn’t let any o’ the new students come anyway. “Ah’ll see ya, Ray.” We were friends enough, as much as the punk and the goth could be friends. They were all lookin’ at me as if they could catch me with their eyes an’ keep me safe. Ah wanted ta tell ‘em that goin’ through all Ah had had made me strong, but Ah couldn’t find the right words an’ in the end Ah was too afraid that my voice would shake.

Ah was glad for the hat an’ the other wrappings the further north we got. It was a far cry from New Orleans an’ it made me wish for the sweet-scented warmth o’ the Café du Monde an’ the dark, vegetative tang o’ the river. Remy’s arms had been around me ‘till the last possible moment. Ah’d felt the weight o’ his body in my shoulders when his feet lifted from the ground. Or maybe it had been my arms that refused ta let go. Neither of us had been able ta look the other in the eye. The city lights had been brilliant through my tears. We hadn’t said goodbye, refusin’ ta believe that that’s what it was.

Logan lay quietly in my arms. There’d been a bit of a struggle about that and if Ah didn’t think he was incapable of it, Ah would’ve suspected he was sulkin’.

The smell o’ pine was in the air and, increasingly, snowflakes that never seemed ta settle. They scuttled across my vision like static.

“Put me down here,” Logan urged. “I smell somethin’.” Ah lowered him ta the ground and he motioned for me ta follow. Ah rose a little into the air an’ flew after him, not wantin’ ta leave more footprints than absolutely necessary. The quiet was unbelievable, as if my ears were packed with cotton. Logan’s feet crunched softly in the snow, but that was the only sound. He brought us ta the edge o’ the treeline an’ then plunged inside, weaving through the trees so fast Ah had trouble followin’. More than once Ah banged against a low-hangin’ branch, causin’ the piled snow ta fall with a muffled thump.

Logan led us to a cabin that might have been somethin’ out of a fairytale--all crooked angles. The roof was low and pitched steeply toward the ground. There was a blank, dead eyed look about it. One o’ the front windows was broken in so the house looked like it was winkin’.

“Are ya sure this is the place?” Ah whispered.

Logan inhaled deeply. “Yeah.” Ah knew what he was thinkin’ by the look in his eye. He had that wild edge. “You comin’ or what?”

Words crowded into my head so fast Ah couldn’t speak ‘em. It’s a good thing too, ‘cause Ah didn’t want ta disappoint him by bein’ boring. Ah didn’t want him ta think Ah was dull like all the others. “Yeah, okay,” Ah said, tryin’ ta cover the nervousness in my voice, tryin’ ta hide the unspoken questions: “What about the GPS? What about the others?”

Ah went around back while Logan took the front. He wanted me ta wait ‘till he broke the door down then come in like the cavalry. An’ so Ah waited, listenin’ ta the wind ruffle through the pine needles. Faintly, Ah heard somethin’ that could’ve been footfalls, the sound o’ someone’s feet breakin’ through the crisp upper layer o’ snow. Ah shivered an’ told myself it was just my imagination. Then the sound of splinterin’ wood an’ Logan’s frustrated shout. Ah touched the latch, it was cold in my hand and the metal bit into my skin. The door was open an’ swung silently back on well-oiled hinges.

Seemed ta be the kitchen Ah was in. Faded linoleum an’ rag rugs, a wood-burnin’ stove, but Ah was more interested in the body on the floor. My heart felt like it had stopped. It was the professor. Ah opened my mouth an’ tried ta call for Logan, but all that came out was a feeble squeak. Part o’ me, the cowardly part, wanted ta run back out into the snow. Ah didn’t want ta touch the professor, as if whatever had put him on the floor was somethin’ that could be passed on ta me. It was hard, seein’ him like that. Ah was used ta him bein’ strong for all of us. It had never occurred ta me that he might ever need help, need my help.

Ah pushed myself forward and knelt down, gently rollin’ his head sideways. There was some kinda collar around his neck, just like he was a dog or somethin’. That shocked me for a moment, but then Ah pressed my fingers ta his neck, hard so Ah could feel through the gloves. His pulse was faint an’ fluttery. Ah sighed deeply. At least he wasn’t dead.

“Logan!” Ah’d finally found my voice. He hurried in from the other room.

“Look’s like someone’s been livin’ here...holy shit.” He’d caught sight o’ the professor.

“Ah’m not sure what ta do.”

Logan knelt beside me and gingerly felt along the professor’s limbs. “Besides the obvious--exhaustion and starvation--his right leg is broken. I need you to hold him steady while I set it.”

“Okay.” Ah struggled outta some of my bulky clothes: coat, gloves an’ scarf. Ah kept Ray’s hat on, figurin’ we needed some good luck about then.

“Hold him here.” Logan pointed at the professor’s side. “Try an’ keep him as still as you can.” For a moment, his determined look softened. “I’ll make it quick as I can, Chuck.” He glanced at me. “Ready?”

Ah adjusted my grip. My palms were sweatin’. “Ready.”

“On the count o’ three. One...Two...”

There was somethin’ off, but Ah couldn’t place it.

“Three.” Logan pulled up on the professor’s leg, there was a sickening snap an’ the professor’s body twisted under my hands. Ah caught hold o’ him, fingers scramblin’ an’ that’s when Ah realized what had been wrong all along. My hands, my skin had been touchin’ the professor’s. His shirt had bunched up at the sides. Ah jerked my hands away, stared at ‘em as if they were someone else’s. There’d been no familiar pull o’ powers, so what did it mean?

“Damn thing doesn’t get a signal in here,” Logan observed, breakin’ into my thoughts. He was holdin’ the GPS display an’ shakin’ it.

“You’re gonna break it!” Ah protested. “Why don’t ya just take it outside. Ah’ll be okay in here with the professor.”

Ah needed time ta think. Logan nodded curtly an’ left. Ah found a length o’ stiff wire in one o’ the kitchen drawers an’ used it ta pick the lock on the collar. The collar was made of a dull silvery metal, light, almost like aluminum. Dozens o’ tiny linked pieces made it flexible, good for any neck, Ah figured with a grim smile. Ah wondered if Logan had seen it. Ah shrugged back into my coat an’ dropped the collar in my pocket.

Right then, Logan came back inside. “They should be on their way,” he announced. “How’s Chuck?”

We both looked down at him. He was just as still as before.

“You stay with him,” Ah urged. “Ah’ll keep watch for the others.”

“Whatever you say, Stripes.”

“We’re gonna find the person that did this ta him.”

“I’ve got a couple ideas.” Logan’s claws extended halfway.

Ah put on my gloves an’ Kitty’s scarf again an’ walked outta the cabin. Ah could feel the collar bangin’ softly against my hip.

Ah needed time ta think.


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