Laura shakes him awake, and the sun is too bright, and everything hurts.
He groans. Laura’s crouched in the driver’s seat, staring patiently at him, waiting for him to get his bearings. They’re in the stolen Ford, it’s mid-morning, maybe, and he’s surprised he can move his toes. It hurts to move them, but his legs might take his weight.
“Where are we?” Logan rasps. His mouth feels like sandpaper.
“Eden,” Laura says, but the heaviness in her voice carries through even his pounding headache. Something’s wrong. Fuck. He hadn’t wanted to be right about this.
She clambers out of the vehicle, and after a while he manages to fall out after her. He’s long beyond caring about humiliation at this point. His left leg’s sort of okay, but his right is deeply fucked around the knee: an agony of torn muscles and tendons and a mess of tissue damage. It’s taking long enough to heal that his knee is actually swelling. The itching of deep healing is coming in, but it’s going to be too little, too late. His goddamn clone had got him a good one. He staggers forward on it anyway.
Laura’s waiting at the bottom of an incline so steep it may as well be a cliff. “Look.” She points up.
At the top of the cliff, there’s the very definite shape of a roofline standing out against the rocky horizon.
Huh. “How about that,” he murmurs. Fantasyland. Eden. Sort of. He trusts that she’s driven them to the right place. He just hadn’t expected there to be anything here. There clearly isn’t anyone here, anymore—he’s not seeing movement, or hearing anything other than the wind.
Laura stares upwards, calculating and assessing. Logan makes his own assessment of the cliff, and, well.
“I can’t climb that,” he says simply. She nods, still looking.
“I think un cabrestante.” She mimes turning a crank handle, and he shields his eyes and yeah, that looks like a pulley system.
She climbs the cliff face like she’s a damn spider monkey, if spider monkeys had retractable claws to punch handholds with. He bites back the urge to tell her to be careful, then realizes what he’s doing and shakes his head; he really has gotten too old.
The platform lowers, and he stares at it a while. Going ahead is a stupid idea, but… It’s real for her, Charles’s voice whispers in his head. Yeah. That’s a shitty reality to face up to alone.
Logan limps onto the platform, so they can both see. So he can see for Charles.
He’d been expecting nothing at all. This is worse. This is a cold campfire, but also things snatched from drawers, blankets and pillows still on the bunk beds, food still edible in the fridge, the power still on. The doors had been left open in the rush, but the dust has only just started to blow in. This is so much worse than if there’d been nothing at all.
He stands, swaying with exhaustion and self-recrimination near the still-humming fridge. If he’d gone to sleep earlier, if he’d been able to fix the Ford, if he’d gotten back to the Munson’s house faster, if, if… fuck. Maybe all the kids were walking into a death trap. He doubted it—the battle in the Munson’s front yard really had taken out a large chunk of Transigen’s fighting force. Not all of it—he wasn’t going to flatter himself that much—but a lot. Enough for a head start. And if they were halfway as resourceful as a group as Laura had been on her own…
She’s been making distressed sounds, little enraged whimpers that are getting steadily louder as she pokes around the room connecting the dots. He catches her eye and moves to take a step towards her, and his knee goes in a flare of agony, and he goes down with it, hard enough to crack a floorboard by the way it shifts under him. He lets the wall keep him sitting up.
There’s nothing he can do for her except open his eyes and witness the unsheathing of her claws and her first shriek. She goes for the nearest windows first, and their satisfying musical crash of breaking glass.
Very much like you. Charles’s voice in his head, and he can’t find it in him to smile, or to hurt any more than he already does. She moves on to smashing the furniture, still screaming. He lets his eyes drift closed again, until he feels the thudding vibrations that say she’s started tearing into the walls.
“Hey,” he says. When she doesn’t stop, he tries to struggle to his feet. “Hey.” She wheels around to face him, chest heaving. “Don’t,” he rasps. “Power cables in the walls. Getting electrocuted sucks.” She screeches at him, and he tries to take a step, and nope, sitting down again. The floorboards move again, creaking their own protest. She snarls at the sound, lashing out at the floor beside him, and they both see the package in the splintered mess at the same moment.
She snatches it up, and tosses it up and—
“NO,” he roars, and it’s just enough to freeze the downward swipe of her claws. The package hits the floor intact. “This could be useful,” he says. He has just enough energy to scoop it protectively into his lap, but there’s nothing left to figure out how to pick apart the tape. There’s a note stuck on it, written in careful, childish hand. She’s too far gone to see, probably, so he lifts it out of his lap, holds it at wavering arm’s length and squints at it. “We’re sorry. It wasn’t safe. Come if you can.”
She screams again, but it’s more like a wail this time.
Laura sways, and her legs fold, and then she’s crawling across the floor to him, heedless of the wood shards and splinters. She crawls into his lap like she has every right to be there, and he’s unprepared enough and tired enough that he doesn’t think to try and shove her off until she’s already clinging to his shirt and getting snot on his shoulder. He raises his non-trapped arm and pats her awkwardly on the back, but he's too exhausted to keep that up for long; he just rests it there while she sobs.
“Yeah,” he rasps. “I’m sorry, kid.”
Her weight makes it harder to breathe, but it already hurt to breathe, so he just sits there, taking shallow breaths and watching the black spots dance across his vision until she winds down into little hiccupping breaths of her own.
"Hey," he says, eventually. "We should see what they left you."
" ¡A la mierda! Joder a todos!!" She spits the words and doesn't move, still pressed against him. He doesn't have the strength to push her off, and the realization is a slow creep of somewhere between fear and relief.
"I don't know what you just said," he says. "But yeah, it sucks." She whines and clings harder against him. He winces. "My arm hurts," he admits. "And your present is digging into my stomach. You gotta move."
Laura grizzles under her breath, but she gets off him. She takes the package in one hand, extends the claws of her other enough for a useable blade, and scores through the tape across the top of the package and rips the rest of the way with her hands.
An envelope falls free, and Logan knows that shape. He knows that smell even, as he opens it and thumbs over the notes. Thousands of dollars, at least. Wedged in with the cash is a different sort of useful—a car key. All it needs to be is not reported stolen, and they have themselves a far more useful vehicle. He lays the key on the floorboards between them.
There’s something else, wrapped in paper that she’s fumbling through tearing off. A bottle of something luridly green, and a syringe to go with it. Her eyes light up. Ah. Shit.
“¡Esto es bueno!” she says.
“No,” he says, shaking his head for emphasis. “No bueno, bad.”
“Yes!” she says. “They give it to us when we fight—makes us stronger. It will help you heal.”
“Nope,” he says. “This has been around for years.” He remembers it all too well. It had made the participants of Project X feel like they were gods, let them throw tanks around, and then it dropped them dead of heart attacks or strokes, or both. “New formula, maybe, but it’s still same shit, different day. It’ll drive you crazy, then it’ll kill you. Seriously.”
She all but pouts at him, but doesn’t push it. He surveys their gifts.
“Hey,” he says, holding up the envelope of cash. “They loved you a whole lot to leave this behind, never mind a vehicle and the serum.” She’s shifting from pouting to about to cry again, and shit, shit that wasn’t what he wanted at all.
“I know they left, but I think they thought they had to go. Maybe they didn’t know about …” He’s not quite got words for what happened on the Munson’s front lawn. “We did good, okay? We did real fucking good, but maybe they didn’t know Pierce is dead, or any of it.” He hopes whatever intel they were using to get across the border was better. He really hopes they made it. “You gotta put these things to good use, ok?”
She’s hugging herself, but she sniffs and nods, and that’s plenty.
“Okay,” he says, and tries to think.
“When you took me to urgent care,” he starts carefully. “Did you bring anything with us?”
She stares searchingly at him. “I bring two bags,” she says, holding up two fingers. She mimes her backpack, and then, thank fuck, mimes swinging a duffel by her side. “I bring two bags with us. Everything in your pockets, they give to me.”
The earnest concentration on her face makes his chest ache. “Good girl. Good fucking work, kid.” They smile at each other, his exhausted, hers tremulous. “Okay, in the duffel bag, under all my clothes and shit, there’s a zip pocket at one end, down low. That’s got a cell phone in it. Can you go get me that phone?” Maybe it’s dead by now. Maybe … fuck knows.
She doesn’t want to leave him. There’s a wariness and fear creeping into her expression that says he’s sending her away, and she knows it. Shit.
“Laura,” he says, levelly. She makes a panicked whimper and starts shaking her head. “Hey, no, it’s okay,” he manages. He wishes he could hug her again. “I’m not going to die in the next ten minutes.” But he’s not entirely sure that’s true; even with her off his chest, the black spots are still floating in his vision. “There’s a number in the phone,” he says. “Call it, wait through the message, and then talk, okay?”
She whines, her eyes filling with tears again. Shit. “Laura -” She snarls, grabs the bottle from the floor, and shakes it in his face.
“I give you this,” she spits. “I give you this, then I go and get the phone, and you call.”
He looks at her, and he can feel, under all the frustration, a tiny glow of admiration. “Do you even know how?”
She does. They haggle over the amount: “Hell no, half that. This isn’t going to turn me into the Hulk, is it?” She rolls her eyes at him and sticks him, carefully and intently and well.
“Thank you,” he says, sincerely. “Now you go get the bag, yeah?”
She barely shakes her head at him, and just stares. Whatever. The moment stretches. “it’s working,” he starts to lie, and then—Oh.
He’d never taken heroin—none that worked on him, anyway—but this must be something of what it’s like. This slow, rising warmth that unlocks his shoulders and loosens his chest. He takes a slow, careful deep breath. It rattles on the way out, but the cough stays at bay.
Laura smiles barely perceptibly, nods to herself, and goes off to get the phone.
By the time she gets back, Logan has made it to his feet, walked across the room, and is sitting at the table. He hasn’t dared test it further than that. It’s a poison, not some fucking miracle cure. The phone is still in his bag, and it has enough charge—that’s miracle enough for now.
There’s no reception inside, of course there’s not. But if it’s bad news, she probably doesn’t need to be around to hear it, anyway. He hands her the car key from the gift package. “Go find this for us, yeah?” She’s aware she’s being sent away, but she’s more amenable once he stands up. Not entirely steady on his feet, but he can fake it enough.
He limps away from the building and hits call.
“Your call could not be connected, please check the number and try again.” He scuffs his boot against a rock, waiting it out. “Your call could not be connected, please check the number and try again.” After the third iteration, there’s only the empty hum of an open line. He clears his throat.
“I’m calling for Kate,” he says. “It’s Steve.” Kate isn’t her name, either. He waits through more silence, and then a click, and then the line starts to ring. “Thank fuck,” he breathes, entirely involuntarily.
He breathes, listening to the silence stretch and stretch. It's barely any effort to bring in each inhale and that's... that's something. He's several steps into anxious pacing before he realizes he's doing it. His knee burns deep, still, but he's not trying to protect it, not worried that it’s going to crumple under him.
This is... this is dangerous. He could get too used to this.
There is another click on the line, and he freezes.
"Steve," Kate says. She sounds surprised, and none too pleased about it. "I thought we were square, Steve. I found you that land in Mexico, and we were done. Hell," she says, and she almost laughs. "I thought you were dead, til I heard all that chatter at the border."
"What chatter?" he asks.
"Satellites all turned, off schedule and in weird directions," she says, casually. "Neat little blind spot corridor across the border. Took them hours to turn them back, and there was nothing to see once they did." There's a speculative smirk in her voice now. "You didn't have anything to do with that, did you?"
"No," he says, and tries not to let his exhale shake too much. "Not as such."
"Pity," she sniffs. "It was nice work."
He lets the silence build -- she always was more likely to help when she was curious.
“The grapevine said you were very dead, Steve. DNA and everything.”
He grimaces. “Let’s call it complicated.”
“One decapitation by car door is plenty complicated,” she says. “That was quite some mess someone left on that front lawn.”
He closes his eyes. “Charles is dead.”
“Figured as much,” Kate says shortly. “He wasn’t going to last long without you.”
This time the silence is purely because his throat is closed up and his chest hurts. Fuck everything. She picks up the bone, anyway.
“Those kids at the border cross, were they yours? Are you starting up another school?”
“I’m not that person anymore.”
“No? Then what are you doing, calling me up long after we got square?”
"It's not for me," he says.
She doesn't say anything to that, but she hasn't hung up on him, either.
He sobers, and wets his lips in the dry air. "She's eleven," he says. "She's got nowhere safe in America, and I am too fucked up to help her."
“Eleven?” Kate echoes sharply. “That means custody papers, Steve. And someone turning up as her foster parent, or long-lost aunt or whatever.”
“She’s really, really not going to need much.” He snorts. “You probably don’t even have to get her a driver. Just get her over the border into Canada and point her in the right direction.”
Her silence this time is contemplative.
“And you don’t want anything?”
“I want a drink,” he says firmly. “I want an open tab, and somewhere to curl up in, and I’m good.” Somewhere to curl up and die is the unstated silence between them.
Kate sighs. “Fine, whatever.”
“I’m...” his throat betrays him, worse than any cough—it closes up on him, chokes him. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save him.”
“Charles was dying,” she says, shortly. “You’re dying. We’re all fucking dying. Let’s give the eleven year olds a fighting chance to take over everything we fucked up.”
“I’ll drink to that,” he says fervently. He hears her start typing, and then she sighs.
“I can do it for you, maybe...” She taps some more. “Keep this number,” she says, distractedly. “Don’t tell me precisely, obviously, but where are you?”
Heh “Right on the border, actually, near all that fancy satellite work.”
She inhales sharply. “What the fuck? That place is going to be crawling with ICE and any number of government fucks. Get out of there, you idiot.” She hangs up on him.
“Bye to you, too,” he mutters, but he starts moving nonetheless. There’s the revving of an engine, and he’s halfway lunging for cover before he sees it’s Laura behind the wheel of the Land Rover rounding the building. Dark green, dusty, and utterly anonymous, he hopes. Laura gets out, leaving the engine running and the door hanging open.
She meets him at the front of the car.
“I’ve got a contact,” he says. “She can get you into Canada. But it’s gonna take a bit of time, maybe.” She looks at him, back to the occasional steady blink, but he knows enough now to see her fear and uncertainty; she’s clenching her jacket cuffs, looking at him, but it’s at his eyebrows, or his ear, never actually quite making eye contact.
“It’s okay,” he says. “I think they made it across the border just fine.” He fucking hopes. “She can get you in touch with them.” That earns him a flicker of actual eye contact. She nods, tightly.
“¿Estás bien para conducir?” she asks.
“What?” Snapping at her isn’t helping anything, but damn. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
She sighs, points at him, and then mimes moving a steering wheel. “Vroom, vroom?” she says, eyebrows raised. Oh. Okay.
“Yeah, I can drive,” he says. He thinks. It’s auto transmission, small mercies. He gets in, adjusts the seat, slams the door, puts his hands on the wheel and—panics. Panicking is stupid, it’s a waste of fucking time, but apparently he’s going to do it anyway. Fine. He sits and stares through the grimy windshield, and fights to breathe, fights to breathe, fights to breathe.
“¿Qué pasa?” She’s frozen half way through putting her belt on.
His breath shudders out of him. “I’m okay,” he says, and his voice cracks. Because that right there is the fucking problem. He feels okay. Actually okay. He’s tired, and sore, but he does not, right in this moment, hurt. He can breathe okay, and his head isn’t pounding, and there isn’t that gnawing agony in his bones that says he’s dying.
He feels okay. And that feeling is entirely reliant on a very finite amount of green serum that would, in fact, kill him itself if he took it for long enough.
He has a reprieve, is what he’s got, and that’s more terrifying than dying, by far.
Laura’s staring at him in alarm.
“I’m okay,” he mutters, and tries to focus on driving instead.
They go southwest until it feels like enough, until no one was going to be able to easily draw a connection between Eden and … wherever they are now. Somewhere in southeastern Montana. The vehicle handles well, and it’s been meticulously maintained—no wrappers on the floor, nothing personal in the glove box. He wonders if any of the nurses had made it as far as Eden, or if it had been the kids alone. He’s impressed with their opsec, either way.
He’s had a shot of serum, plus however long he’d spent passed out on the drive into North Dakota, and he’s holding up pretty well. Laura, on the other hand... When her head knocks against the glass and she jerks awake for the second time, he nudges her shoulder.
“You can go sleep in the back, if you want.”
She shakes her head. “Not safe without a seat belt.”
Logan blinks. “You criticising my driving, here?”
“You should always wear your seat belt.” And she might not be criticizing his driving, but she’s sure as hell being pointed about his lack of safety rules. He barks out a laugh, and then he actually thinks about what she said.
“That was Gabriela who taught you that, wasn’t it?” Laura shrugs.
“Look,” Logan says. “She taught you good things, and she worried about you. But seat belts aren’t really something we need to worry about, you know? Well, definitely not you.” Laura shrugs again, singularly unconvinced. “Was it Gabriela who taught you to drive?” he hazards.
That earns him a raised eyebrow and a Look. “Nobody taught me to drive. There’s a key, and go pedal and a stop pedal, and lights for night.”
“...And all the road rules?” he says. Because she’s not wrong, but damn if he’s going to be shown up by an eleven year old when it came to driving.
“Gabriela talked about those,” Laura allows. Logan chuckles, somewhere between respect and disbelief, because, well, she had in fact saved his ass twice now from the driver’s seat. “You’re something else, kid,” he says, grinning. She keeps her head turned to stare out the window, but her shoulders relax, just a little.
Logan passes over his jacket, and she dozes against the window for the next few hours. When she wakes, it’s with that distinctive squirm that has him scanning the horizon for a gas station.
Small mercies, they don’t have to wait long. He gets out of the car with her, and is following behind her before he realizes what he’s doing, remembers that she’s not Charles. He hadn’t thought he’d miss it, but here he is, standing in the middle of a dusty gas station parking lot, chest aching, sinuses clogging. Fucking hell. She’s paused, and is looking up at him like he’s as weird as he feels. Goddamnit. He swipes his nose and diverts to the convenience store, instead.
“Want anything?” he asks, pointing. She shakes her head, and keeps moving for the other side of the parking lot and the restrooms. Fair enough.
Logan buys jerky and chocolate and coffee. It’s dim inside the store, but blindingly bright as he steps outside, so he hears the male voices—and tenses, his hackles rising—a moment before he can actually see anything.
There’s three guys—late teens, probably, but the sort of build that says they work out too much, and badly at that—strolling towards the restrooms. Laura has emerged from the women’s. The wind is against him, he can’t hear what they’re saying, but the way their swagger and bravado shift when they see her...
Laura twigs half a second later. They’re lightly herding her against the wall, and fuck. Fuck. This is in full view of a major highway, middle of the goddamn day, and she’s not even looking for him, she’s dropping into stance, sizing each of them up, and—
“No,” Logan shouts. He drops the coffee and lunges forward. The middle of the three is turning, realizing Logan’s barreling towards them, and is just starting to shift tack. The guy—the kid, he can’t be more than seventeen and has a peach-fuzz worth of beard —is raising his hands deferentially.
“Hey man, she yours?” Peach fuzz is turning his back on Laura, and she’s baring her teeth, perfectly balanced and dropping to spring—“Hold,” Logan roars, throwing himself into the last few strides, and she flinches up slightly, just enough—
“We didn’t know, dude, it’s cool, we—” Logan punches the guy in the face. Bare knuckles to nose, and Logan’s fingers can’t break, but it stings, crunching the kid’s nose across his face. The kid goes down hard, splayed out cold on the tarmac.
“Fuck,” someone shouts. The other boys are starting to back up, too, only just realizing how south things have gone.
“C’mere,” Logan says, and reaches out his unbloodied hand. “Let’s go.” She’s snarling with each breath, still holding stance, flicking her gaze from each of them as they start dragging their buddy back to their car. Her nostrils are flaring with each inhale—she’s noting their scent, half considering going after them anyway. “Not here,” he growls. “Stand down.” She straightens up, but he doesn’t dare turn his back on her. He grabs her wrist and pulls her away. “You okay?”
She nods, and pulls free of him to tighten her backpack, still trotting beside him.
“The fuck, man?” It’s a frightened, overwhelmed question from the cashier, who’s now standing in the doorway, phone clutched in one hand. “I’m calling the police!”
Logan feels abruptly exhausted. “Don’t bother. There’s gonna be nothing to see. We’re all leaving.” The idiots are in their car, revving the engine and burning rubber. Laura’s shedding adrenaline by charging ahead and, blessedly, getting in the passenger side. “It’s all fine,” Logan says. “It was just a disagreement.”
And thank fuck, thank fuck, that’s all it had been. He gets into the Land Rover, and she’s sitting in the passenger seat, her eyes wild and alive, and he gets it: the adrenaline still surging from the close call. He allows them the luxury of a few seconds grinning at each other like maniacs, and then he gets them the hell out of dodge.
It’s mid-afternoon when Laura tugs on his sleeve.
“You should rest,” she says.
He snorts involuntarily. “Rest isn’t going to fix me, kid.”
“If you don’t rest, then I should drive.”
And ... okay, point. “That’s only something you can do in emergencies, okay? People aren’t used to seeing kids driving anywhere. It’ll draw attention.”
She shrugs, clearly skeptical, but doesn’t push it.
He pulls them over in the next town they come to. The second building along is a bar, and he takes a breath, turns his back on it and looks around, trying to think as far as the next few … days? Weeks? That in itself is makes it hard to plan, but basics first: a change of clothes, something to eat, somewhere to sleep. Also... he pats his shirt pocket and grimaces. A new just-as-essential to add to the list.
He finds them a drug store, and she spots the racks of sunglasses immediately. “Hey.” He snags her lightly by the back of her jacket and passes her a twenty. “Spend it wisely, yeah?” She takes it without taking her eyes off the rack on the other side of the store. He lets her go, and uses the diversion to discreetly buy himself a new pair of reading glasses—his own had vanished somewhere between the Munsons’ and Eden.
Laura joins him at the counter with a pair of sunglasses, a little plastic pony, potato chips, gum, chocolate, and all up, way more than $20 worth of things. Logan considers trying to get her to put some of it—any of it—back, grits his teeth, and pulls out another $20.
They find a thrift store, and Logan’s first thought stepping inside is shit, because the aisles are too narrow, and then he has to just stand in the doorway and rasp a few agonizing breaths, because it doesn’t matter that the aisles are too narrow for Charles’s chair. Fuck.
He forces himself forward, and nudges Laura towards the kids’ section.
“We’re looking for clothes—jeans, shirts, shorts maybe.” She nods, slightly uncertainly. “And bring them to me when you’re ready—we need to pay for this stuff, okay?” She nods again. She reluctantly peels away from him, but does start poking through the racks. He nearly goes with her, but she did well enough in the casino, and it’s not like he knows what he’s doing when it comes to kids sizes.
He grabs a pair of jeans and two shirts of his own, and takes them to the counter. Laura’s still deep in the racks.
“She’s got all your looks, doesn’t she?” The woman behind the counter looks at least fifty, and has a kindly smile. She taps her own mouth. “Right down to the little scowl.” They both look at Laura, who is indeed scowling lightly as she paws through the racks some distance away.
“Yeah, well. Her mom...” Logan has no idea how to finish that. “It’s been hard,” he says, because goddamn has that been the truth, but the woman crumples somewhere between horror and sympathy. Oh. Huh.
“Do you... what do eleven year olds even like?” he asks, because that sort of social embarrassment is an exploitable resource.
“Horses,” she says promptly. “My nieces are crazy about them still.” She picks out a handful of short novels from the overflowing bookshelves, and he spies the bundles of comics on the bottom shelf. Her eyebrow raise suggests eleven-year-old girls should not like super hero comics, and he has no idea if Laura still does—being abandoned could do that to a kid, he imagines—but he buys them despite the doubt on so many fronts.
He gets the woman to bag the books and the comics, and they’re tucked away under his new clothes before Laura makes it to the counter. She dumps a collection of shirts and jeans onto the counter, and it’ll do. He pays for the lot, and they head back out into the world.
It doesn’t take all that long for them to find the sort of motel Logan likes: rundown enough to not look at his ID too closely, at least two good exit points, and—a new criteria, but an important one...
He’s standing out back of the motel, blank wall on one side, cracked and weed-strewn asphalt under his feet, and no overlooking windows from adjoining buildings, either. It might have been overflow parking, long since abandoned. But now, for the next few days, at least until Kate’s text comes in...
He beckons her over, and she navigates the cracks cautiously but willingly.
“Okay,” he says, trying to rally his thoughts and his body. It’s been a while since he’s needed to use either like this. “You did good back there, not stabbing those guys.”
“They were bad men,” she says, immediately.
He rolls his neck, rotates his wrists, testing his joints and tensing his muscles. They’ll hold. If they don’t, the double dose of serum that he’d snuck in the motel bathroom will carry him through.
“Yes,” he says. “They were bad men. But...” The whole concepts of justice and courts of law are too big for right now. “But it was broad daylight, and there were way too many witnesses with cell phones, so you definitely shouldn’t have stabbed them. But.” He raises his hand against her objection. “You do this right, and next time I’ll let you do the punching, how about that?”
That gets her interest. “When you’re in Canada, you gotta start acting like a regular person, okay? You gotta blend in and keep a low profile.” In his head, his past self is laughing at him. All of the damn X-Men are laughing at him. He ignores them. “Claws are only for life and death. And for when most other people can’t see you.” A much closer-to-the-present self is pointing out that he should have stabbed those water company guys back on the Munsons’ farm. Then maybe they would have made it back to the house earlier. Maybe...
He grits his teeth. “Once you find your friends, you can do whatever you want around them. But any time you’re around regular people, you’re going to have to act like a regular kid, just one that’s very good at martial arts.” She’s looking less and less convinced. He raises a finger. “That’s where the punching people comes in.” She brightens considerably. He crouches down so they’re more or less eye level. She’s glaring, as always, but there’s a determined set to her expression that he really likes.
“No claws,” he warns. “But I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”
She’s fast. She drives a punch up from her hip, throwing her weight behind it, and he barely has time to turn his head. She’s closer than he thought she’d get; her knuckles graze his cheekbone. If she’d had her claws out, he’d be dead. As it is, she gets him a glancing, stinging blow that makes his eyes water. He blinks hard. She’s biting her lip, somewhere between worried and excited.
“Good,” he says sincerely. Her face lights up, and he finds himself grinning back at her. “That’s a really good start, but you gotta learn how to punch through things when your range is only as long as your knuckles, not your claws, right?”
“Si,” she says, and readies her hands into perfect, little fists. He straightens up, braces his feet, and drops into stance. “Come at me, kid.”
He regrets everything. He orders them pizza as reward for an excellent session of her beating him up, and also because he’s not sure he can walk upright.
He opens the top box and, in the time it takes him to do that and lift the first slice out of the box, she’s appeared by his side and is grabbing her own. He grins, but refrains from saying anything. Two slices in, and she slides the second box out from under the first and hoards it on her bed. He’s good with that.
He’s starting to feel satiated one pizza in, and she’s visibly relaxed. Now’s a good a time as any. “I got you something, if you want.” He’s kept the books wrapped in the bottom of his duffel, and he digs it up and hands the plastic bag over. She peers in curiously, and then up ends the bag on the bed. She eyes the comics warily—he’d half expected that. And stares avidly at the covers on the horse books, drinking in the smiling white faces and the majestic horses. She doesn’t open them, or turn them over to read the blurbs. She goes back to the comics again, burned, but called still, apparently.
She opens the first one, and her eyes slowly light up, but... but. Her eyes aren't tracking across the page. He watches a while longer, and then clears his throat.
“Hey,” he says. “Do you know how to read?”
She flinches a little and then straightens up defiantly. “Si,” she says. “En español. Muy bien.”
Ah. “What about English?” he asks, as gently as he knows how.
“Enough,” she says shortly.
Enough. Enough to be able to follow a map to drive through North Dakota. But not enough to be able to read a book for a middle schooler. And if Transigen’s dream soldier had been X-24, wheeled out as needed, and put back in a box when all was done... Shit.
It’s not like he’s ever taught anyone this stuff, but well, he knows how to read. He snags a random comic from her pile, takes his new glasses from his shirt pocket, and settles in on his bed like he’s actually interested. Laura eyes him with great suspicion. He pats the bed next to him. “Wanna come up?”
She’s across the gap between their beds like a shot. She lifts his arm and nestles herself against his side. He blinks down at her. Gabriela again, maybe, shining through. He clears his throat, and runs his finger along the cover text. “This one’s Uncanny 121, The battle begins...” She watches along intently, page after awkward page, until half way through the comic, her head starts resting heavier against his chest and her breathing slows into sleep. The TV remote is on the other nightstand. He leans across, slowly and carefully, and she grumbles inarticulately and he freezes.
He sighs, and finishes the comic in silence instead. It’s still bullshit.
He’s starting to hurt somewhat less at the end of each sparring session. She’s getting much better, and he’s catching up enough that she may as well be retraining him. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t ache like a sonofabitch, though. They share pizza, and she flips through TV channel after TV channel. Thirty seconds of the news, two minutes of some soap, ten excruciating minutes of non-stop, avidly watched infomercials, until he growls at her and she flips it back to the soap.
He glances around for a distraction, any distraction, and sees the notification light flashing softly on the phone.
Fuck. He’d furtively checked the phone on an hourly basis at the beginning, hoping for a reprieve. Now, he stares at it on the nightstand, and can’t bring himself to touch it Fuck. There’s only one person it can be—everyone else who had this number is dead. He takes his glasses from the nightstand and puts them on. Laura is still watching the TV, seemingly entranced. He slides his hand over, palms the phone, brings it over next to his hip, and touches the screen to wake it. Text message.
Happy birthday! it says. Your present’s in Havre, 3rd&3rd, PO Box 742, code 45 96 33, from Wed
It’s Monday night. Havre’s a leisurely day’s drive; it’s not like they’re going to need to rush, but the itch to move, to get Laura as close as he can, as soon as he can, is biting hard. Logan’s trying not to let himself think any further or more deeply than that, but something must seep through—he’s peripherally aware of Laura muting the TV and turning towards him.
“¿Qué pasa?” She asks, very softly.
The only way out is through, Logan thinks, and passes her the phone in silence. She takes it, looks at the message, and nods tightly. This is what you wanted, he reminds himself savagely. What she wants, too. He opens his mouth to say something, anything, but nothing comes. She puts down the phone, slides off her bed, digs something out of her bag, and crawls in next to him. It’s one of the horse books from the thrift.
They’ve been holding sparring sessions and reading sessions in equal measure, and she’s been stubbornly trying these on her own. Laura pushes the book at him now, and Logan puts her arm around her, opens the book, clears his throat, and starts to read.
Logan wakes to the not-dark of the motel room, not at all sure why he’s tense. They’d read two chapters, then he’d coaxed her to her own bed, but that had only granted him—he glances at the nightstand clock—about an hour’s sleep.
In the next bed, Laura whines, and Logan’s hackles raise in instinctive, sympathetic alarm. He turns on the light. She’s curled on her side facing him, her face mostly obscured by her hair, and she’s twitching in her sleep, her whimpers shifting into tiny snarls.
“Yeah.” He slides out of bed and over to hers. “You tell 'em.” Her fists are clenched near her face, and he winces a little—he’s trashed more than a few rooms, coming up out of nightmares. “Laura,” he calls. She mutters indistinctly. “Wake up, kid.” She mutters slightly more clearly, in Spanish. “Hey,” he says softly, nearly smiling. “It’s okay, you’re d--”
She wakes with a sharp gasp, scrabbling a little, nostrils flaring. “Hey, it’s cool,” he murmurs. “I know. You’re okay.” Her mouth twists, somewhere between rage and misery, her breathing hitching in her chest. She gulps, and then the words spill out of her, between dry sobs. It’s a hard little litany: names, he realizes after a moment.
"...Riza," she's muttering. "Gabriela, Nate, Charles..."
Logan grimaces. He liked her other list of names a lot better. "Hey—”
Her face contorts with angry grief. "Christina, Carlos, Riza, Gabriela, Nate, Charles, you."
Logan goes still. He doesn’t dare touch her like this. He sits down slowly on his bed, instead.
"Yeah," he says. "Yeah. People leave. People die. And it sucks so fucking much. But there's good bits, okay? There's still good bits."
Laura hiccups, her face working as she drags in a breath, and then another. She draws her knees up to her chin and wraps her arms around her shins. She’s shifting from miserably angry into something far more intent and focused. Listening.
"Y'gotta...You gotta take the hit and keep going." He trails off. "Yeah," he mutters, and scrubs his hands over his beard and up his face into his hair. “I’m so not the sort of person to be preaching this shit. Sorry.”
“You weren’t going on,” she says, swiping her nose on her forearm. “You were going to kill yourself.”
He freezes, his hands still gripping his scalp. It’s his turn to stare.
“Charles said,” she says. “Charles says you were living for him. And now he’s gone.”
“But I’m still here,” he counters, trying to salvage his argument.
“But now you can’t leave,” she says. She’s straightening up, getting herself back under control, even as he feels his own slipping.
“What?” he snaps. “You think I’m staying alive for you, now?” She shakes her head, almost placidly, and that should have tipped him off. “Because I’m fucking not, all right? I could—”
“I took your bullet,” she says. “Charles said I should stop you, so I took the bullet. Everything in your pockets, the clinic gave to me.”
“What the fuck?” Horror is a creeping up into his chest. His jacket is in his clothes pile on the floor. He is not debasing himself by scrambling to check that pocket. “That’s mine. How fucking dare—. I need that.” The thought of death from actual adamantium poisoning—hours, days of steadily worsening agony... “What the fuck did you do with it?”
“I hid it,” she says. “While you were in the clinic.”
He’s trying to think through the panic. Her backpack, his bag, somewhere in the room...
“Because Charles asked me to stop you, and I said yes. And because Gabriela said that money was probably no good for you. It was just what she had. That you were maybe not a good person anymore, and I should find something that would work.”
Her voice is level, calm, like she’s not gutting him with her words. Then she gets worse.
“Gabriela was wrong,” she says. “You are good still.”
“I...what?” The panic is morphing into something like hysteria, his heart pounding painfully fast. “Kid, whatever it was that Charles put in your head, I am not whoever it is you think I am.”
“You did not have to stay with me, but you are here,” she says. “Charles said you are very good, and that you care too much, and he was right.”
“I care about that damn bullet,” he snaps. But he hasn’t checked that pocket since the clinic, apparently.
Laura unfolds and reaches for her jacket, the one they bought at the casino, and squeezes along the hemline. The bullet pops into her palm. She puts it on the nightstand between their beds.
“I took it, in case things went wrong in Eden,” she says. “Things went wrong, but you have not left me behind. You can take it, if you still want it.”
Logan stares at the bullet. He cannot bring himself to look at her.
“Fuck this. I’m going out,” he manages. He makes it as far as the bar a block away, makes it through the door, before duty pulls tight. He buys a bottle of whiskey and gets drunk under a tree across the road from the motel instead, where he can watch their motel room door. He raises the bottle to Charles, to Caliban, to Will, Kathryn, and Nate Munson, to Gabriela, to each and every one in Westchester; he is sorry, he is sorry, he is sorry for living where they had died.
When he can bear to go back into the room, the bullet is still on the nightstand. She is curled up with her back to the room, sleeping or pretending to sleep. He picks up the bullet. He doesn’t want it anymore, and the realization makes the bullet that much heavier to hold; he doesn’t want it, but he’s probably going to need it, so he reluctantly takes it and puts it back in the jacket pocket, next to the few remaining doses of serum.
He hopes she gets more sleep than he ends up getting that night.
They pack up and leave at first light, in the sort of silence that had laid heavy over them on the drive north. Charles had known how to break this sort of silence, even when she’d been mute, but Logan doesn’t have those damn skills, and he can’t bear the thought of their final day in the car being like this.
He lasts half an hour on the road, and then he spies the diner sign, and well. Mostly he just wants out of the car, but he figures food isn’t going to make things any worse
They’re early enough that the place is utterly empty when they step inside, although there’s a radio playing, and he can make out muffled voices coming from out the back. Laura chooses them a booth and wedges herself in one corner. Logan looks around for a bell to ring, trying to hear if the waitresses are actually coming out, and he realizes about the time that Laura starts sitting up, her eyes widening, that it’s not just the kitchen doors that are making the voices indistinct to him, it’s that these women aren’t speaking English.
The waitress emerges, tossing a parting, laughing shot over her shoulder in Spanish, and then turns her smile on Logan: “Oh, hey there. How you doing this morning?”
She brings them menus, and water for the table, and Laura is just about vibrating out of her seat with intensity.
“Hola,” Laura says, before either the waitress or Logan can get a word in. “Mi nombre es Laura, y este es mi padre...” Laura rattles on at a speed way above Logan’s competency level, but he doubts he could have heard anything after that, anyway. My dad. It’s doing something to his chest, and his throat. The waitress’s nametag says Isabella, and Logan is already planning five different ways to end her if she even halfway crushes the gleam in Laura’s eyes.
Isabella beams at Laura, though. “¡Hola! Soy Isabella...” And Logan starts to relax. He has enough time to worry, briefly, if Laura is spilling far too much, and then he realizes Laura is deep into ordering, for both of them, and that’s a whole other can of Interesting. He pats his empty shirt pocket at the same moment he remembers his glasses are in their case in the car, and curses silently. He’s too sore to want to go and get them, not that he’s telling Laura that.
“Is that what you actually want, sir?” Isabella is better at hiding her smirk, and much, much better at deadpan.
He turns to Laura. “What’d you order me?” He tries to make it a stern glare, but she’s beaming at him, her delight unfazed, and secrets too well-kept.
“Can I at least get a coffee?” He turns his own pleading to Isabella.
Isabella raises an eyebrow at Laura: “¿Qué piensas? ¿Puede tener uno?”
Laura puts on an air of thinking about it.
“Café,” she pronounces slowly and clearly, and looks at him expectantly, and oh, he’s going to kill her.
“Café,” he says.
“Leche? Azúcar?” Isabella asks, pen raised expectantly, oh so professionally.
“No,” he says, and tries to remember his colors. Negro?” he asks, hopefully, and glances at Laura to check. “Si?”
Laura nods, indulgently, but her eyebrows raise, too. “¿Modales?” she adds, and he doesn’t know the word, but he knows that tone, a hundred long-suffering mothers, and he really will kill her any minute now. “Por favor,” he relents. “And gracias.”
Isabella beams at him. “You’re welcome, honey.”
Laura’s clung to her menu, and keeps pouring over it, whispering the words under her breath in English, and pride wells up in him, intense and painful.
Isabella brings out their plates, and she puts waffles and pancakes in front of Laura and… a kids meal, complete with cardboard crown, down in front of Logan. “As ordered,” Isabella says with a flourish. Laura is cackling with delight. He should be pissed off, but he can’t…he can’t begrudge her any of this.
He musters as much deadpan dignity as he can, puts on the hat, takes the baby fork and the blunt baby knife and starts eating. He’s rewarded with her damn near bouncing in her seat. He fights to keep his own grin down, and she settles eventually. Then she tears off a piece of waffle and starts eating it with her fingers. He snorts, but, well, a week of eating pizza in a motel room hasn’t exactly set her up for good habits.
“Okay,” he says. “You get to teach me Spanish, if I get to teach you table modales, si?” It’s her turn to look indignant. “Part of blending in,” he adds softly, and she relents.
“Fork,” he says, holding it up slightly. “Knife.” He turns his hands up so he can show her how he closes his grip around each of them. She’s a quick learner. Of course she is, but he’s surprised at her deftness all the same.
“Also,” he says. He points to her plate. “Pancakes and sugar are good quick calorie fix, but that burns fast. You need proteins and fats—proper breakfast food.” She smirks at him. “You can’t be us and be vegetarian, you’d starve. Healing takes energy; our bodies are bastards like that.”
“Bastidos,” she whispers, clearly enjoying the shape of the word in her mouth.
“Like that,” he says. “So, teach me how to order us full breakfasts in Spanish, yeah?”
The delight of breakfast carries them through the next few hours. They play Yo espío up through the state. He learns the words Vacas, montaña, caballos, oveja and Havre appears in the distance far, far too soon.
He books them into the cheapest motel they come across, pays for the night, and then sneaks most of the remaining cash into her backpack when she’s in the bathroom. They last less than half an hour in the room before they’re at each other’s throats, and head out in silent, tense consensus. He drives them into the middle of town, and he’s sore still, but not sore enough to skip out on doing a walk-by of the post office, just in case. It’s an entirely average post office; the U-shaped lobby of boxes is entirely visible from the street, but that’s fine.
Two blocks down is a convenience store, and out front is one of the rocking rides, in this case a pink horse. Logan digs out all his change, and eases himself gratefully onto a nearby bench. He’s so fucking tired. He lets his eyes slip closed. Breathing is starting to feel like an immense, painful effort. Laura’s half way through her second ride when he realizes he doesn’t think he can stand up. He tries to force a deep breath, and it forces back out of him as a wrenching, agonizing cough.
He has time for a moment of self-loathing—it’s been less than a week and he’s gotten that slack, dropped his guard so much that he’d forgotten what it felt like to be dying—and then he’s slumping sideways. His heartbeat is thunderingly fast, and the pain radiating out from his chest really is amazingly bad. He’s pretty sure that thin, whooping noise is in fact him trying to breathe.
“¡Papá!” Laura shrieks.
He rouses himself enough to get an eye open. She’s leaning over him, her eyes huge with fear. The serum is back in their room, which is a drive away, and they’re drawing worried looks from passers-by. He cannot die out here in the open, not where the cops and child protection and everyone will be immediately involved. If he dies back in the motel, she’ll gain a little wiggle room. He gets himself the fuck up.
He’s not as bad as he looks, seems to be the consensus of their onlookers. How could he be, if he can walk with the support of a little girl?
He’s got his arm braced across her shoulders, his left leg is fucking gone, and she’s taking damn near all of his weight with each step. By the time they make it into the car, his vision is blurring, blackening at the edges, and he needs to be able to drive away and ow, motherfucker—
She’s pricked him in the side with the very tips of her claws.
“I can’t see,” he whispers.
“I can,” she murmurs. “Go back now.” He forces his feet to work the pedals, and her hand is next to his on the wheel, guiding them onto the road.
He wakes, and everything aches. It means he’s not dead, but the sheer amount of pain he’s in is making that a questionable victory. Sitting up is too hard; he raises his head and peers around.
Laura’s sitting at the end of his bed, watching him. She’s silent, and still. Her eyes are still red rimmed, even though he feels like he’s been out for both hours and nowhere near long enough.
“Where is the rest of it?” She’s holding the near-empty serum vial in her lap. Fuck.
He looks further afield, for backup, for a meteor, for a goddamn glass of water. None of those things are forthcoming.
“I—” The cough rips out of his chest and throat. She flinches, hard, but holds position. When he can catch his breath, he forces himself to sit up enough to slump against the headboard. “I took it when we sparred,” he rasps. “You deserve someone who can keep up with you.” He feels the smile ghost over his lips. “You’re very good, you know.”
Her eyes are filling with tears, and it’s like being back in Eden, except this time he can open his arms and hug her properly as she cries.
“Hey,” he whispers. He strokes her hair until her sobs finally ease. “Hey. You’ve done so good. And you’re going to get to go to Canada, and be with your friends, and you’re going to do the most amazing things.” She does not ask what he’s going to do; she’s pressed up against his right side, and they can both feel the bullet in his jacket pocket.
“I’m okay,” he says to that silence. “I’m glad I could get you this far.” He kisses the top of her head. “I’m so proud of you.”
She gives him another half-dose, which keeps the worst of the pain away, but doesn’t touch the fatigue. He sleeps the afternoon away, wakes when she rouses him to drink water, and then sleeps again.
He wakes with the dawn. Laura is curled up against his back, snoring lightly. He feels well enough to get up, but holds still, letting her sleep. He flexes his hands, gently. The agony of his adamantium claws is there if he lets himself pay too much attention to it. The fatigue is in his bones, too—he suspects he’s never unsheathing his claws again. He’s okay with that.
“No more guns in this valley, kid,” he says softly.
By the time they get him up and in the car, it’s well into morning. The post box lobby is open, but blessedly deserted. He stares at the walls of boxes, momentarily overwhelmed, and fumbles for the phone in his bag.
“Seven-four-two,” Laura says in a tiny voice, and points to it. Logan stops and stares at her, then at the box. The digital display is grimy with age; even putting his glasses on doesn’t help much with legibility.
“You remember the code, too?” He’s only half kidding.
“45 96 33,” she whispers. The numbers on the pad are faded, and his hands are shaking so badly he mispunches the code twice. Maybe the code’s wrong, maybe —
The lock clicks, and the door swings open. There’s a white envelope in there, curved to fit the narrow space.
Logan takes it out and there’s maybe something passport-sized. For all he knows, it’s a book of jokes, and all this has been for nothing.. He tears one end of the envelope and it’s a passport-looking thing and something wrapped in paper. He takes out the passport and fumbles his way through the first few blank pages, creasing a few—there’s a US-entry stamp, and there’s—there’s...
Howlett, Laura Grace
Place of birth: Ottawa, ON
He realizes his free hand is rubbing his mouth, forces himself to stop. Kate had done a good job on the photo. It’s Laura’s X-23 photo, photoshopped in front of a booth background, but it’s the same blank, withdrawn stare. He wonders if he ever looked like that.
He passes it to her in silence. She takes it, hesitantly. “It’s a passport,” he says, suddenly not sure if she even knows what they’re for. “It’ll get you into Canada without having to sneak across. It’ll let you stay forever.” He can’t bear to look at her—he stares back into the envelope instead.
He tips the rest of the envelope’s contents into his palm. It’s another passport, he knows by feel, even as the paper comes loose. Canadian, issued eight years ago, and scuffed like it had seen actual use. He’s genuinely impressed. He even looks younger in the photo, although he’d been much, much younger eight years ago. It’s riddled with stamps and stains, and held a very different life to the Howlett, James that he’d actually been.
He unfolds the note: Get out of my country, it reads. There’s another set of coordinates, these ones over the border. Go start another school.
“Huh,” he murmurs, but his breath betrays him with a hitch. “How about that.”
Laura chews on her bottom lip as she reads the note. She looks up at him.
“Please,” she whispers. “Come with me.”
He can’t find the words. It’s too big an idea, too much of a reprieve, and still so tenuous and fragile and so fraught... “They’ll have more serum,” she says.
He grimaces. “That stuff can’t keep me alive forever,” he says.
She nods. She slips her hand into his, and holds on. “Come with me, anyway.”
He stares down at the passport. Canada. Home. He looks down at their hands, and then makes himself meet Laura’s gaze. She’s not the only one with tears shining in her eyes.
“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, okay. Let’s do that.”
He limps out into the sunlight with her. Turns out they’ve got a ways to go, yet.