Chapter 1: Quitting Dr. Cartier
Quitting Dr. Cartier
It's the heart of an Alaskan winter, and there are no signs of life in the barren, snow-covered landscape. Mother Nature is sleeping, waiting for the faint whisper of spring.
For now, as the snow falls thick and heavy from the sky, springtime seems an almost impossible dream. All of the forest animals have wisely taken to their dens- nothing short of an emergency would cause any of them to leave their hideaways.
A black tailed deer bounds through the woods, the urgency of her pace speaking to her desperation. This is no leisurely prance through the forest.
Something is chasing her….
Seven Months Later
The sound of a familiar old truck approaching rouses the old man from the light dose he'd fallen into whilst doing a crossword puzzle. He glances at the clock above the mantle, visible from his worn old armchair, and frowns.
It's too early for Roxanne to be back yet, he muses to himself. Did Robert take the truck?
You'd think a man of one hundred and forty-six years of age would struggle to hear a vehicle from at least two miles down the road, but you'd be gravely mistaken.
This heightened sense of hearing is one of his many gifts, abilities handed down by his ancestors for uncountable generations. Enhanced senses of sight, hearing, and smell, speed, strength, agility, and of course his lengthy life span- all of these traits, and the strong instincts that come with them, have been part of his family for hundreds and hundreds of years.
"Feral mutants," his granddaughter once explained the phenomenon as. "The scientific world thinks this is a fairly new anomaly."
"How little the white man knows," the old man scoffed.
He may mock the white man occasionally- especially the racist hicks that make up the vast majority of the tiny town of Eagle Village- but his words usually hold little venom behind them. He cannot fully hate the race his grandchildren belong to.
The old man calls the twin boy and girl who've lived with him for over twenty years his grandchildren, but in truth there are no blood ties between them. Their family is based on a bond of love stronger than mere genetics. He raised Roxanne and Robert from infancy, when he found them abandoned in the woods many miles from town. It was easy to see why- their pointed, elven ears and little claws already marked them as different, as being like him. Though he was old, he couldn't bear to leave the tiny infants to a slow death in the snow, nor the hatred and disgust of a human orphanage. Instead he raised them as his own, giving them American sounding names and sending them to school in the next town over, in the hopes they wouldn't be associated with his reputation as Eagle Village's resident oddball.
His results were mixed, to put it lightly.
Right now the old man rises out of his chair with a little difficulty- his creaking bones protest at the action, and the sunken, worn out piece of furniture is loathe to let him go- but he manages it.
He catches sight of his reflection in the window as he shuffles to the door. Hair that was once thick and black is now wispy and white atop his wrinkled head. He left behind vanity much too long ago to feel self-conscious about it. He's pretty sure there aren't many centenarians who can claim to even look as alive as he does.
Roxanne has parked and hopped out of the truck by the time the old man reaches the front door and opens it. He can't help the pride that swells within his frail, sunken chest at the sight of his granddaughter, even as he takes in her dark expression and the scent of anger and- fear?- swirling around her.
His granddaughter is the apple of his eye, and has been since that day he found her and her brother as four month old infants in the forest. She's both beautiful and smart, and as fiery as her coppery red hair would suggest. He's proud of her accomplishments, of the fact that she graduated high school a year early with a full ride to Columbia and just completed a master's degree in biochemistry on the eve of her twenty-second birthday.
"Roxanne?" he asks. "What's wrong?"
Roxanne's lips curl back, revealing her dainty little fangs. "I quit Dr. Cartier's internship, Gramps," she explains, voice shaking. "I'm sorry."
Gramps doesn't bother to hide the disappointment he feels.
Roxanne has been gone at school down in New York for the better part of the past five years. When he saw the advertisement in the local paper for a laboratory assistant for Dr. Paul Cartier, a scientist who recently moved to the area, Gramps was thrilled to let Roxanne know about it. Knowing how much Gramps and Robert missed her, she turned down a position in California to return to Eagle Village following her graduation a mere three months ago. But now…
"What happened?" Gramps asks.
"Dr. Cartier, he- he tried to…."
The non-ending of her sentence, and the self-protective slump in her shoulders, speaks volumes.
Gramps suddenly feels about a hundred years younger, the old feral slumbering in his chest roaring back to life at the thought of anyone trying to hurt his cub. It doesn't matter that Roxanne is a grown woman in her own right and not his child by blood- a feral cares nothing for such pedantic logic. His cub has been threatened, and that is all that matters.
"He tried to what?" he demands. His demeanor has now completely shifted from a grandfatherly old man to a warrior ready to defend his own.
Roxanne winces- she's already regretting coming home like this, still gripped by her anger and other emotions. She should've gone elsewhere to cool down, knowing how Gramps would get too upset if he found out that Dr. Cartier tried to corner her in the lab and kiss her.
If she's honest with herself, today's events were simply the final straw on a growing pile for Roxanne to quit Dr. Cartier.
She'd thought him an odd duck from the moment she first met him (which is saying something, coming from her), but decided she could tolerate the awkward staring and nervous laughter. Scientists are weird as a general rule, and anyway- Roxanne knew how much it meant to Gramps for her to stay in Eagle Village. He wasn't doing so well, though he was too proud to admit it. She only knew from speaking to Robert about Gramps' true condition.
So she started to work for Dr. Cartier.
It was fine at first. He wanted her to reverse engineer some kind of compound, which was easy enough. When she asked what it was for he told her it was a mutation suppressing formula, which obviously gave her pause.
"It's for people who can't control their mutations," Dr. Cartier assured her, noting her alarm. Though Roxanne's mutation wasn't blatantly obvious- she was careful to hide her ears, fangs and claws from strangers- it was noticeable if one paid attention enough. The doctor knew what she was, she was sure, but her secret was safe with him. She could smell that the doctor was a mutant from the moment they met. "People who struggle and can perhaps be a danger to themselves or other people."
His expression when he said that made her uneasy, and she watched him carefully after that. His behavior started to become more erratic, and he refused to give her more meaningful tasks in regards to work. Dr. Cartier was hiding things from her, though she had only theories as to what.
And then he began to look at her differently.
Roxanne felt him intently watching her all the time, felt the animalistic desire in his gaze. Being a feral, she could smell that his thoughts were certainly not platonic in nature. As the days went by she could sense him fighting the urge to act on his impulses, which she was certainly grateful for. There was no chance of his ardor being reciprocated by her. Roxanne didn't consider herself a shallow woman, but being thought of as a sexual object by a squirrely- looking man old enough to be her father was definitely unwanted.
It all came to a head today, just three months after she began working for Dr. Cartier.
Roxanne was busy running a spectrophotometric assay when she became aware of his eyes on her. "Do you need something, Dr. Cartier?" she asked, masking her wariness with politeness.
He didn't answer at first. Instead he came closer, close enough that Roxanne could sense his intentions in his aura, sliding across her skin like slippery eels. The scent of his arousal tickled her nose unpleasantly. She tensed.
"N-no," he stuttered. The timidity in his voice didn't match what she sensed he was feeling. To her it seemed like there were two people in the room with her, two people in Dr. Cartier's body. One, an awkward scientist in his fifties.
And the other… a darkness she found deeply unsettling. Almost like Dr. Cartier was a new incarnation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Roxanne tried to ignore him behind her, but he came to stand right next to her on the bench. Her hyper-awareness made it easy to notice when he reached out- to touch her hair, she guessed.
Her hand darted up in that lightning fast way only a feral can move in, grabbing his wrist. "Please don't," she said, making her tone as assertive as she could considering her heart had just taken up residence in her throat.
Roxanne turned to face him, noting the changes just two months had wrought on him since they met. Dr. Cartier had lost weight, his skin becoming more pale and ashen and his behavior more unstable as the weeks passed.
But more worrisome at the moment- something dangerous and hungry was lurking behind his eyes, reacting to her distress with a sick pleasure. "And why not?" he asked, his voice suddenly almost a growl.
Roxanne stomped on her anxiety, choosing to react to this situation with righteous anger instead of more weakness. She had a feeling the ugliness in him would enjoy her fear, and she refused to indulge him. "I'm not interested in men old enough to be my father," she replied cooly. She flicked his hand away from her, fighting the urge to dig her claws into his flesh.
Dr. Cartier reached out and grabbed her arm in a vice-like grip that gave the lie to his apparent frailty. He started to pull her towards him, his eyes suddenly blood red, with cat-like pupils.
Roxanne's reaction was pure instinct- she grabbed the nearest glass beaker and smashed it against his head. When he released her arm she stomped on his instep for good measure before darting away from him.
"That's it," she snapped, though she was shaking like a leaf. "I quit. Don't ever come near me again. Mail me my last check."
And she turned on her heel and ran out of the lab, barely remembering to grab her things.
As she left, Roxanne could've sworn she saw white fur spouting out of Dr. Cartier's face.
"Don't worry about it," she declares to her grandfather now. "I took care of it."
The old man frowns. "Roxanne-"
"Seriously, Gramps, it's fine," she interjects. "Let's go inside."
Something in the air is making her disquiet grow. She doesn't want to be out in the open like this, not with her frail grandfather exposed. She can't hear anything out of the ordinary, but she still feels like they're being watched.
She's not wrong.
Chapter 2: Of Course It's a Bear
Of Course It's a Bear
Two Months Later
"I found a dead grizzly out by the point. Mauled to death by something, couldn't even skin it for anything."
Robert's ears- hidden by longish hair and a baseball cap- perk up just a bit. He pretends to be merely eating his lunch, but in reality he's listening to the two townies on the logging crew talking.
"Another grizzly, you think?"
"Nah," the first townie says. "Something bigger."
"Kodiak? Polar bear?"
The second man laughs. "Now you're just pulling my leg," he scoffs. "Ain't nothing out there bigger than a polar bear."
Privately, Robert has to agree. And besides, they're a bit too far south for polar bears.
Then an Inuit worker named Tarkik pipes in. "Could the Wendigo," he offers. It's hard to tell if he's being serious or not.
"What the hell is that?"
"An evil spirit that eats anything and everything it comes across," Tarkik explains, shrugging. "Including people."
The other workers scoff. "Load of bullshit, that is," one of them comments. "If it's a spirit, how's it supposed to eat anything, huh?"
And the two of them laugh, mumbling about "stupid Indian superstitions."
Their ridicule makes Robert feel uncomfortable, out of place. His red hair and pale face mark him as one of the white men, but his upbringing was among the Inuit people. He grew up listening to the legends these Americans scoff over.
At times like these he feels caught between the two worlds.
Tarkik casts an unreadable look Robert's way. Something about his expression forces him to speak. "The Inuits have been out here a lot longer than your kind have," Robert tells the other two. "They've seen more than you can imagine."
His hands twitch reflexively, their clawed tips carefully out of sight.
"Science is just starting to explain some of it. So maybe the Wendigo isn't as complete bullshit as you would think."
He's not really surprised that his coworkers don't take his opinion well. The rest of his lunch break is spent trying to ignore the townies jeering at him for being an Indian lover and a race traitor, for all that they know that he and his twin sister were raised by an Inuit man.
The white settlers have never liked the local Inuits, though, and especially not Gramps. He's been around so long that people have gotten very suspicious about him and the secret to his longevity. They like to make sly comments about the old man and his obviously white grandchildren, insinuating that the Inuits would steal white babies if they had half a chance. They do it just to be hurtful- to their knowledge, no one had ever actually made a complaint to the police or anything. Just idle, malicious gossip.
Robert experiences a fleeting feeling of bitterness, thinking about how lucky his sister is to have escaped from the vast majority of the hurtful comments. She's been gone for most of the past five years, off in New York with all of her fellow nerds. They're really accepting out there, with the X-Men and whatnot. Meanwhile, Robert's been stuck with the redneck idiots of backwoods Alaska.
Roxy drives Gramps' ancient old truck (upon which she had bestowed the name Goliath, for its size and bad attitude) to the job site come quitting time to pick him up.
"Hey," she says. "How'd it go?"
Robert shrugs. "Fine," he replies. "Same shit, different day. How's the old man?"
"Extra crotchety today," Roxy tells him, chuckling. "Something about his soap opera. He won't stop talking about it, but at the same time doesn't explain what's actually wrong."
"Joy," Robert mutters. "What time you working tonight?"
"Six to close," his twin says.
And then she sighs, suddenly pensive. He can sense the mild anxiety in her scent, see it in the way she hunches her shoulders over the steering wheel.
Robert waits- he has a feeling he's not going to like what's coming next.
"Speaking of work… I found a research position down in Anchorage. I could start in two weeks."
And there it is.
He knew it, he knew Roxy wouldn't be staying around here for long. She wants to live in the great wide world and ditch him to take care of Gramps and stay in this crappy town until the old man finally dies.
Resentful? Hell yeah, he's resentful.
It's not that Robert ever had any real aspirations of his own. He was never academically gifted- Roxy got all the brains- and their school didn't have a sports program, or even much of an art program. He probably wouldn't have been able to participate in football or track anyway, with his feral advantage, but the option would've been nice to have.
And Robert has always been rather short on options.
Roxy left while he was still in high school, graduating early and everything. She went to New York while he stayed behind in tiny, dull Eagle Village. Someone needed to take care of Gramps, to make sure the old man ate enough and didn't fall and break a hip or something. And that someone had to be Robert while she was gone.
When his twin came back he thought it would be better. Her job with Dr. Cartier would satisfy her need to do something nerdy, and together they would take care of the old man. They would both be stuck in this crappy town.
But then she quit the doctor, claiming he creeped her out and tried to kiss her. Robert wasn't all that surprised- Roxy has always been very pretty, and she should just expect to get hit on a lot. He didn't understand why Gramps and Roxy were so upset about what happened with Cartier, though he kept that opinion to himself.
Roxy gets more anxious in response to his sullen silence. She begins to babble, "it'll be great- we can get a house at the edge of town with Gramps, and you can get a job. I know you don't like logging, but there's tons of other things you could do. And-"
"Fat chance Gramps is going to want to move," Robert harshly interjects.
"Actually, I already talked to him," she replies, smiling nervously. "He was on board. I know, I'm surprised too. Isn't that great, though? We can get out of this town and-"
"So you two already decided this shit without me?" He can't keep the anger from his voice.
Roxy looks hurt. "It's not like that, Rob," she says. "I asked Gramps first because I didn't want to get your hopes up about leaving this place and then him shutting it down. That's what you want, right? To get out of Eagle Village?"
Robert scoffs. "And if Gramps had said no?"
"I would've flown up to see you guys on the weekends," she replies, her tone uncertain. She doesn't understand the point he's driving at, he can tell. "But it doesn't matter, does it? He agrees that we should all go."
"Of course he does," Robert mutters. "Anything for you, Roxanne."
Roxy recoils as if he slapped her. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Suddenly every jealous, poisonous thought Robert has ever had towards his sister spills out of his mouth, unbidden. "Just that Gramps thinks you're so damn perfect, Roxy. He'll do anything for you, he's so proud of you. That's all he ever talked about while you were gone, and guess who was taking care of him every day, huh? I never got any thanks for that. I've got nothing compared to my perfect sister. She's so fucking smart, and sweet, and pretty, no one ever really bothered her in school. And then you left me in this godforsaken town by myself with all these assholes who hate mutants-"
"But I'm trying to get us out of here," Roxy cuts in, her expression desperate. Her hazel eyes- identical to his own- are over bright from tears threatening to spill out. "I don't understand. I thought you wanted to leave here?"
Robert shakes his head.
She'll never understand his resentment, how bitter he is that she waltzed back in here like it was no big deal after abandoning him for the outside world. And even now, she's trying to drag him and Gramps along, taking them where they don't belong. Hours ago all he wanted was to get out of Eagle Village, but some perverse impulse has him digging in his heels now that a true opportunity is here.
"I don't get why you can't just go work for Cartier again," he announces stubbornly.
"I told you he tried to kiss me," Roxy replies, getting defensive in her own turn.
"So? So, I don't want to work in an environment like that. How would you feel if your boss tried to kiss you? Would you feel comfortable working there?"
He shrugs. "That's different. I wouldn't want to work with a homo, anyway."
Roxy shakes her head in disappointment. "A 'homo,' really? You sound just like the close-minded hicks you claim to hate in this town."
The injustice of her accusation burns in his chest. He has the urge to break something, to scratch and maim and destroy.
Without another word, he opens the truck door. In a stroke of luck, they were slowing down to turn onto the dirt road that leads to their cabin.
Roxy slams on the brakes. "What the hell, Rob?" she cries out.
He doesn't answer. He merely hops out and strides away into the woods, trying to outrun the violence and anger consuming his thoughts.
Robert ignores Roxy's pleas for him to come back. He can't hear Goliath's laboring old engine- or anything else- past the roaring in his ears as he stomps away.
He mutters to himself about her presumption, her abandonment of him and Gramps and pretending that it was ok. The nerve of her, to think that dangling a carrot like this would make up for the past five years.
A small, more sensible part of him speaks up at that moment. How was she supposed to know how upset you were about her leaving? You encouraged her to go, didn't you?
She should've just known, he argues with himself childishly. She's my twin. She's supposed to know this stuff.
But that's a sorry excuse, and he knows it.
His anger now dissipates almost immediately, quickly overtaken by contrition. Robert feels horrible for what he said to his sister, knowing full well she got teased plenty when they were younger. And worse- how he just shat all over the golden opportunity she tried to give him.
The chance for both of them to get out of here for good, and take the old man with them.
He owes Roxy an apology and he knows it.
Robert sighs and finally halts his angry stomping through the woods. Now that he's stopped moving he can sense the complete silence of the forest around him- a heavy, threatening silence, as if the very trees are holding their breath.
He smells it before he hears it.
The stench of rotting flesh reaches his nostrils, the odor making the bile rise in his throat. He hears the sound of heavy breathing, an odd wheezing in the chilly air. It's so quiet that were he not a feral, he wouldn't have heard it at all.
Great, he thinks sarcastically. A bear.
It's late autumn now, meaning the bears tend to be fat and slow as they get ready for hibernation. Not hungry and aggressive, the way they are in spring. It should be easy to scare this one off.
He starts walking again, slowly, trying to gauge the bear's level of interest in him. To his surprise- and mounting disquiet- the bear keeps right on following him, moving quietly through the snow.
Stalking him, Robert's starting to believe. The bear's steps are measured too carefully with his own, so they gain purchase with the ground at the same time as his, to be due to any other motivation.
This isn't normal bear behavior.
Tarkik and his Wendigo fleetingly passes through his mind, but he brushes off the thought with an audible scoff. As much as the Inuits may believe in evil forest spirits like that, Robert knows better.
This is just a bear. Of course it is.
Robert takes a deep breath and gets ready to yell to scare the bear off.
He turns to face it-
The Wendigo doesn't even give him a chance to scream.
Chapter 3: That's How People Die in Horror Movies
That's How People Die in Horror Movies
Roxanne waits in the truck for a good five minutes before she gives up and completes the drive home. This is the first time she and her brother have ever had an argument like this- since they were about ten years old or so, anyway- and she doesn't know what else to do.
"Where's Rob?" Gramps asks when she enters their cabin. He frowns when he sees the look on her face. "Roxanne, what-?"
She grimaces and goes over to collapse on the dilapidated sofa in their living room. "He jumped out of the car when I told him about the Anchorage job," she explains. "He was… he was mad that we talked it over and you agreed to go already. He-" She shakes her head and blinks back tears. "I had no idea how much he resented me for leaving you guys here to go to college. I knew he didn't like it, but I thought..."
Gramps waves off her despair. "Robert will get over it, Roxanne. He's used to being the decision-maker around here. Making the money and deciding how to spend it, taking care of this old man… Once he gets past that bit I'm sure he'll be thrilled to get out of here," the old man says, full of the confidence age brings.
"And you?" Roxanne asks. "Are you sure you're ok leaving here? I know how much this place means to you."
He shrugs. "It's been almost sixty-five years since I settled here in Eagle Village. Time is nigh to move on," he replies, chuckling. "And besides- where you two are, that's home for me."
Roxanne gives him a slightly watery smile. "Thanks, Gramps," she whispers.
He waves off her thanks and leaves her to her own devices- namely, cooking dinner.
It's autumn, which means the sun sets early here in Alaska. It's well towards dark by the time dinner is ready and the table is set.
And Robert still isn't back yet.
"I'm going to go look for Rob," Roxanne announces. "He got out at the top of the road, so he shouldn't be far."
Gramps looks uneasy.
"What?" she demands tartly. She mentally braces herself to hear some sort of comment about her feminine self traipsing around the woods at dusk.
"Something doesn't feel right," the old man mutters.
Roxanne rolls her eyes. "I'll take the shotgun, then."
She loads the old twelve gauge with a couple shells and stuffs a few in her pocket, just to be safe. She's a cautious woman- when she's thinking clearly, at least. She has to admit that in the heat of the moment she tends to act rather rashly.
Darkness is coming on fast by time she steps outside, but Roxanne can see just fine by the light of the stars and crescent moon. A perk of her mutation is excellent night vision.
Her steps are almost silent as she heads back to where Robert took off on her, another feral trait. She finds his trail easily in the snow and begins to follow it.
Moving through the forest like this is second nature to Roxanne. She grew up in these woods, learning from Gramps how to channel her feral instincts in ways that weren't destructive, the way their kind tended to be.
Robert seemed to think that everything came effortlessly to her, that it was easy for her to leave him and Gramps behind for New York. He had no idea how homesick she felt, so strongly that at times she wanted to just quit college and come back to them. No idea how much she struggled, a feral mutant in an oppressively big city, cut off from nature and surrounded by too many people. How out of place she felt, a girl with a white face who grew up with Inuit traditions. A mutant, surrounded by humans.
Apparently she shouldn't have hidden her true feelings from him that way. Perhaps then they wouldn't be at this pass now...
Stop ruminating and focus, she tells herself sternly, bringing the shotgun into a low ready position.
The forest at night is no place to daydream.
The deeper into the darkening woods Roxanne goes, the more wary she becomes. Her body begins to scream at her, louder and louder with every step she takes, to turn around and run back home.
She sets her teeth and pushes through it, until-
The scent of blood makes the very breath choke in her throat. The air is thick with it, a miasma that hangs in the air and threatens to suffocate her.
Roxanne steels herself, brings the shotgun to a high-ready position, and slinks forward to find what looks like a scene from a horror movie.
Blood, blood everywhere in the heavily disturbed snow, the vivid red painful to the eye even in the gathering darkness. It wouldn't take a medical professional to realize that the person whose blood this is has to be dead. The sheer volume can mean nothing else.
"No-" she gasps.
Roxanne looks around desperately, hoping against hope for some sign that this blood does not belong to her brother. That it belongs to some sort of animal that's been savaged by another. Not Robert, not Robert-
But then she spies the scraps of his jacket among the gore. And worse- one of his boots.
The sound she makes when she realizes her brother's dismembered foot is still in his boot is half-scream, and half-sob. She collapses to her knees in the snow as the tears sting her eyes, creating freezing trails down her cheeks.
"No," she moans, rocking back and forth. "No no no-"
But it doesn't take her long to realize that this is not the time and place to have a nervous breakdown. Whatever- be it man or beast- killed Robert may still be close by and decide that it wants dessert.
Her burst of good sense happens at a very fortuitous moment.
The smell hits her just as Roxanne gathers herself and rises to her feet, gun in hand. The stench of something foul and rotten carries to her even over the scent of her brother's blood. She quietens her sobs enough to hear the hoarse breathing of a large animal approaching, its footsteps crunching in the snow. It chuffs and wheezes softly in the silence.
She can't see much at this distance in the dark, but she can make out enough to see that this creature is white and massive- and definitely larger than any polar bear she's ever heard of.
Not a bear, no. But what exactly is it, then?
Roxanne shakes off the thought as unimportant at this juncture, especially considering that the creature has stopped moving and is now staring at her from several yards away. She can't see anything beyond its general size and color.
And also the blood red glitter of its eyes in the dark, staring right at her.
Instinctively, she bares her fangs at the thing, a snarl rising in her throat.
It's not a smart move, she'll admit.
The creature growls, takes a step forward-
Roxanne raises the shotgun up to her shoulder before the creature can take another step. The thing- monster, whatever- must understand what a firearm is, because it turns its head to dodge just as she gets a shot off.
It howls in fury and pain as the shell hits it in the neck- without its evasion she would've gotten it right between the eyes. The creature's agony increases when Roxanne shoots it again, this time in the shoulder as it turns in earnest to flee.
Should she feel bad about shooting an animal as it tries to run away? In any other situation she would say yes, but this isn't other situations. This is a girl trying to get vengeance for her brother, and there is no time for such notions as fair play.
Especially when the damn thing was looking at her like she was its next snack.
Rather than fumbling with reloading the shotgun, Roxanne takes off. She runs like the wind back home to the cabin without looking back once. She doesn't know if the creature is following her, but she sure as hell isn't going to risk tripping on a tree branch to check. That's how people die in horror movies.
She slams the door behind her and locks the deadbolt in place.
And then she sinks to the floor and begins to cry in earnest, finally giving in to her despair and terror in the safety of her home.
Her brother died angry with her, and now she'll never be able to make it right. It's her fault, her fault that he took off into the woods to get away from her like that, easy prey for whatever the hell that monster was.
"I'm sorry, Gramps," she whispers. "I'm so sorry."
Chapter 4: One Month Later
One Month Later
One Month Later
Winter grips the town of Eagle Village in earnest now, but life still goes on.
Roxanne and Gramps head up the main street- which is nothing more than a broad dirt road- at a measured pace, thanks to the sled Roxanne is pulling with a strap over her shoulder and the fact that a slow plod is pretty much the old man's top speed at this late stage of life.
"I could've done this alone, Gramps," she tells him. The sled and its cargo easily weigh over five hundred pounds, but she handles it without too much trouble. She's extraordinarily strong for her petite 5'4 frame, a perk of her mutation.
He gives her a reproving look. "You think I'm letting you walk to town alone after what happened to Robert? Carrying a bunch of bear bait?"
"The bears are sleeping for the winter."
"Nanooks aren't," he argues.
"There aren't any this far south of the Arctic Circle."
"Ah, but the Wendigo…"
He knows she doesn't believe him. She's spent too much time away in New York, learning all about the white man's science and forgetting the traditions she was raised with. It's made her sceptical, less accepting of the true magic of Earth Mother around them.
"If it wasn't Wendigo, what do you think you saw?"
"I don't know," she mutters. She won't say anything more, but Gramps wonders if she has some suspicions she doesn't care to share with him.
The thought of her keeping something from him makes him sad- more sad, even, than her lack of faith in the old stories she grew up with. There was a time when Roxanne kept no secrets from him, but he's afraid that era is now long past.
A silence falls between them as they slog along, nearly at their destination by now.
Their cargo today is a sledful of fish that Gramps hopes to sell to the proprietor of the only general store in town. They're good, fresh sockeye salmon, caught the traditional Inuit way.
Goliath the pickup truck would fit in out on main street, its rust bucket persona pretty much of a piece with the other cars on the side of the road. Most of them are gathered around the largest building in town, the bar Roxanne works at. Eagle Village isn't exactly what you'd call a posh area.
Gramps shuffles along beside Roxanne, knowing that if he offered to pull the sled she'd roll her eyes and shush him right away. She tends to treat him like a delicate old man, which isn't as terrible as it sounds. Not when your nursemaid is as pretty as his granddaughter.
As they pass the bar one of the townies comes out, drunkenly staggering to the edge of the porch. Gramps recognizes him as a man named Ethan, one of Robert's coworkers on the logging crew. To say he's not a very pleasant person would be an understatement.
The man unzips his pants and starts to urinate off the side of the porch into the snow. He grins stupidly as steam rises into the air.
Roxanne makes a disgusted sound.
"What you looking at, baby?" Ethan calls out to her, a grotesque leer on his face now that he's caught sight of the pretty female walking by.
The red haired girl tosses her head proudly. "I'm not sure. A baby worm, maybe?" she retorts.
Gramps chuckles at the outraged look on Ethan's face, though he inwardly has some reservations about pushing the townies too far. Their livelihood relies heavily on the tips Roxanne gets from working at the bar. She can't afford to alienate them all, no matter how crude and vile they are.
At that fortuitous moment the sheriff steps out of the courthouse across the street. He gives Ethan a no-nonsense look.
"Take it around back, Ethan," he says sharply.
"Just finishing up, Joe," the lumberjack replies, his tone slick with feigned innocence.
Sheriff Joe is obviously not convinced. He shakes his head as Ethan zips his pants before giving Gramps and Roxanne a kind smile. "Morning, Aklaq. Ms. Yazzie," he tells them each in turn, with a respectful tip of the hat to the young woman.
"Morning, sir," Roxanne says, with a close-lipped smile that is still lovely enough to turn the sheriff's head just a bit.
Gramps chuckles fondly and touches his floppy fisherman's cap in a jaunty salute. "Sheriff," he replies.
Under the sheriff's watchful eye they continue on to the store in safety. But Gramps can feel Ethan's baleful glare following their progress.
Ed Jones, the owner of the general store, is an old acquaintance of his. The man is in his seventies himself and knew Gramps as an old man even in Ed's own long-forgotten youth. If he has his suspicions about the reason for Gramps' longevity, he's kept it to himself.
"Mornin', Aklaq," Ed greets them. "And Ms. Yazzie, good to see you. You're as lovely as ever."
Roxanne laughs. "Mr. Jones, I saw you yesterday."
"When you're as old as I am, young lady, you savor every chance you get to see a pretty girl," Ed replies. "Now, what do we have today?"
"Couple hundred pounds of sockeye," Gramps explains proudly.
"Let me check the freezer." He steps over to the giant walk-in and takes stock. "That's a stroke of luck, I've only got one left. I'll take half of what you've got."
Gramps frowns in confusion. "This is my usual haul," he murmurs. "You've never had trouble taking it all before. And you know it's good fish."
Guilt flashes across Ed's face. He starts to mumble something about freezer space and food spoilage, but Gramps can sense more behind this half-hearted explanation.
"Please take all of it," the old man says. "I'll take whatever you can pay."
Ed looks to be at a loss for words for a moment. His gaze shifts from Gramps to Roxanne to the floor and back again. Finally, his sympathy and good will get the better of his reluctance.
"Alright, two hundred bucks," he announces finally.
"Three," Roxanne counters. "Gramps is no spring chicken, you know. Make his back pain worth it, Mr. Jones."
And then she gives him a devastatingly pretty, close-lipped smile as a finishing blow.
"Alright, deal." Ed chuckles, thoroughly vanquished. "Your girl drives a harder bargain than you do, Aklaq," he tells Gramps. "And she's not afraid to trade on your old age."
Gramps just laughs along with him.
They make small talk while Ed counts out the bills and Roxanne unloads the fish. She finishes quickly, and then she and Gramps make their exit.
Ed smiles as the pair leaves his store.
Aklaq was already a fixture in this town when Ed's family moved here, well over fifty years ago. Besides getting a little frailer, the old man hasn't changed much. He has his suspicions as to why, but he knows better than to say anything about it. The old man doesn't need the extra abuse from the townies around here.
Ed can still remember the first time Aklaq came into the store with his "grandchildren," over twenty years ago. They made quite an incongruous trio, the obviously white babies and the old Inuit man. He's never called him out on it, but he's sure that Aklaq found them abandoned in the woods somewhere and took them in. The redheaded twins looked like they could be Russian or French Canadian, but definitely not Inuit.
It didn't matter to those three, though. The twins were good kids, and grew up to be good people with the doting old man watching over them. It was a tragedy that Robert got mauled by a bear only a month ago.
Ed sighs and slowly bends over to check stock in his front case.
The bell attached to the entrance rings, announcing an arrival inside the store.
He rises, a ready smile on his face. "Forget something?" he asks, thinking it's the Yazzie's back again.
His smile vanishes when he spots Ethan and a couple other townies.
"I thought we agreed you were done trading with the savages," Ethan says, every word dripping with menace.
"That was before Aklaq lost Robert," Ed replies coldly.
It had been an easy promise to make back then, to appease the racist townies. He thought the Yazzie's were leaving town, and so they wouldn't be around to trade with anyway. But then Robert died, and they decided to stay. Ed felt obligated to help out his old friend, though he knew it was risking his business.
Ethan sniffs. "I don't remember any handouts when my old man lost the sawmill," he observes. He takes out a large knife and ostensibly begins to clean under his nails. "As I recall, you wouldn't even buy his furs… you said the Inuits made a better deal."
"That was a long time ago, Ethan," Ed tells him. He's wary, and rightfully so- he can tell Ethan is heavily buzzed from day-drinking, and he's not a smart man in the best of circumstances.
The townies sneer at him. One of them makes a seemingly-casual gesture that draws attention to the pistol tucked into the front of his pants.
"I think it's best if you took some time off… for their sake," Ethan announces.
Ed can sense the danger as all three of the men glare at him. But still, he can't help noting, "doesn't seem like you have a problem with Roxanne serving you beer all day. What's the difference?"
Ethan snorts. "I've got no problem with that little bitch serving me, no problem at all. One day I'll fix that smart mouth of hers, don't you worry about that."
Ed will worry plenty, thank you very much.
Ethan taps his knife against his lips, with murder lurking behind his eyes. "So what's it going to be, Jones?"
Ed swallows thickly, accepting defeat. "I'll close up when you leave."
Gramps and Roxanne have made their way out of town by the time Sheriff Joe catches up to them in his old brown SUV.
The man rolls down the driver's window. "Y'all want a lift?" he asks.
"Gramps would," Roxanne replies brightly.
Gramps gives her a reproving look. "I'm fine," he tells her. "Thanks for the offer, Sheriff."
"Take the ride, Gramps," Roxanne implores. "You're going to be grumpy and whining about your feet if you don't."
"So I'll whine about my feet," he grumps stubbornly. "What's wrong with that?"
"You're not the one who has to listen to it," his granddaughter retorts playfully. She sighs and turns to look at the sheriff. "Thank you, Sheriff, but it looks like neither of us can save the old man from himself."
The sheriff smiles, though there's still concern in his eyes. "In that case," he says, "I want you to have this." He holds a can of bear mace out the car window for Gramps to take. "Keep this with you. I don't want you venturing into the woods without it."
"Thank you," Gramps says politely, while Roxanne can't help thinking the gift is a little too on-the-nose.
They'd told everyone Robert died in a bear attack, though they both knew it wasn't true. The truth is, they still don't know what killed him.
After Roxanne got a hold of herself enough to describe what she'd seen to Gramps, the old man had insisted that the creature was the Wendigo of myth.
But Roxanne wasn't so easily convinced. Her scientific mind refused to accept the explanation of a legendary creature popping up randomly in their sleepy little town. There had to be some other answer out there.
The monster wasn't a polar bear, she was sure. It had been much too big, even while on all fours, and they were too far south. The eye color, that eerie blood-red, wasn't right either.
Something told her she'd seen those eyes before. It was the stuff of nightmares, yeah, but she didn't think that was why. Her intuition told her it had something to do with Dr. Cartier, but she wasn't sure enough to bring it up to Gramps. She didn't want the old man to do anything rash. And besides, she wasn't even sure enough herself.
So for now they were at a standstill, watching and waiting. Together they had decided to stay in Eagle Village, to protect the humans- especially the few Inuits left- as best they could from the creature.
As Professor Xavier, the leader of the X-Men, had said: it's the duty of the strong to protect the weak.
It's at that moment, as Gramps makes small talk with the sheriff, that Roxanne gets the distinct feeling that they are being watched. The hairs on the back of her neck stand up and a shiver runs down her spine.
Instinctively, she reaches down into the sled and pulls out the shotgun. She has it ready and aimed past the sheriff, into the woods, in the blink of an eye.
Sheriff Joe chuckles uneasily. Her blindingly fast movements clearly unnerved him a bit, and it doesn't help that the shotgun is aimed in his general direction, either.
"Roxanne?" Gramps probes.
She doesn't answer for a moment, watching the treeline through her scope. Her eyes may be playing tricks on her, but she senses movement in the undergrowth, heading away.
Roxanne relaxes and manages a sheepish smile for the sheriff. "Sorry," she mutters. "Nowadays I'm a little…"
He shakes his head. "I understand," he says gently, and she can tell he means it. "You sure you don't want a ride?"
"No, we'll be ok," Gramps assures him. "Thank you."
The sheriff gives them one last look, nods, and leaves them to their long walk home.
Chapter 5: Hero Status
I want to note that I decided that Apocalypse took place about a year ago from this point, and that this story is set in about 1978. Why? Because I think the every-ten-years leap frog for four movies was silly. That's how you get people complaining about your main characters *cough* Hank, Charles, etc *cough* not aging properly. Peter was seriously almost 30 living in his mom's basement? And supposedly included with the young X-Men? That's weird. So yeah. Hank is 32, Charles is 43, Raven is 41, Peter is 21, Kurt is about 15, and the rest of the X-Men are 17-ish. I feel like this makes more sense.
Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!
Explosions rattle the interior of the school bus, alerting Raven Darkholme that all is not well outside.
Nervous chatter erupts between the elementary school students as they peer out the windows, watching people fleeing from some unseen aggression.
"Raven?" a mutant named Jubilee asks, her expression anxious.
Raven rises from her seat, tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder. "I'll check it out," she assures the girl. She approaches the bus driver, an older man in his fifties.
"Looks like we got company," the man tells her.
She glances back at the forty mutant children in her charge, and then out the windshield at the chaos in front of them. She swears under her breath and clicks the "X" transponder on her jacket collar.
Things outside are rapidly going awry.
Four metal attack-bots are moving through the streets of New York, right into Time Square. They have giant round bodies with laser cannons on every side. Each machine is supported by three retractable legs, like a tripod, which are equipped with giant tires.
The bots' progress is as inevitable as a tank, with no obstacle- certainly not cars or people- enough to deter them from their path.
"Looks like this field trip just went sideways in a hurry," Raven mutters to herself.
The lead attack-bot stops just shy of the school bus. Six men wearing all black repel from its hull carrying assault rifles.
Raven's blood goes cold when she sees the letters "F.O.H." written on their helmets.
A voice over a loud speaker booms out from the bot, "the Friends of Humanity ask that you exit the bus calmly with your hands up."
Jubilee comes to stand next to Raven and the driver. "What are we gonna do?"
Raven draws herself up to her full height and shifts into her natural blue form. "I'll handle this," she replies, completely self-assured.
She has good reason to be confident, she feels. After what happened in Washington DC back in 1973, Raven Darkholme became the most famous mutant in the world. Her blue face was everywhere, and she was viewed as a hero. God knows how much she didn't want that- there are some days she wishes she had shot Trask and been done with the whole thing.
Because somehow that day Raven became a symbol for a world she knows doesn't exist. A world where humans and mutants could coexist peacefully. It's an ideal she knows is complete bullshit. The humans still hate and fear mutants, they're just more polite about it now, most of the time.
And then Charles, Charles manipulated her and the whole situation to suit his own delusional ends. He got her to agree to stay to train the X-Men after what happened in Egypt, made her believe that they were going to be her team. That they would fight to protect mutants. And that wasn't true at all. They aren't hers, they're his, and the goal has always been to protect humans even though all it will take is one bad day for humanity to remember who the enemy is.
The other X-Men don't understand, none of them do. They look away uncomfortably when she reminds them of the truth, when she argues with Charles. They share his naivete, no matter how much they see to the contrary with their own eyes. Raven doesn't hide her feelings on the matter- she refuses to.
Not when she has to hide so much else about her real self, including her true face. Because even that has been stolen from her.
Her blue form, the one the world knows as a hero, now feels more like a mask than the blonde one she's perfected over the years. It's a separate entity from the real her, a symbol of Charles' impossible ideals. And she hates it. Maybe she even hates him just a bit, for not just allowing the public domain to take away her real face, but encouraging them to do so.
But right now, with forty mutant children relying on her to get them to safety from a group of mutant-hating bigots, she willingly steps out in her blue form. Even the Friends of Humanity have more sense than to attack the most famous mutant hero in the world. She's better than these fools could ever be.
Raven steps out of the bus with her hands in the air. She faces them defiantly. "What-?"
"It's her!" one of the soldiers cries out triumphantly.
He fires at Raven, as do the others.
She dives behind a van for cover, just in time to escape the hail of bullets aimed right for her. She's not fast enough, though- one hits her in the thigh, causing her blood to spray onto the street.
With her mind clouded with pain, it's easy for her to believe that she's hopelessly pinned down behind the van, helpless.
When the F.O.H. lobs a grenade at her, she can't do a thing.
Jubilee, seeing Raven's lifeless body hit the pavement, gathers her courage and steps out of the bus. She attacks the lead assault-bot with her firework powers to no effect.
The attack-bot takes aim at the bus-
And then a red plasma blast drills it dead-center, causing the tires to roll backwards several feet.
Cyclops, the leader of today's mission, spearheads the charge as the X-Men arrive on the scene.
"Fan out!" he orders the others- Jean, Storm, Beast, Quicksilver and Nightcrawler. "Beast, Nightcrawler- get the kids out of here!"
The X-Men do as he bid them, fighting as a well-oiled machine after over a year of training like this.
Beast makes a bee-line for the back of the bus while the others attack, with Nightcrawler close behind. He easily rips the back door off. "Everybody out!" he orders.
He starts helping the children hop off, shielding them with his body as much as he can while Nightcrawler teleports them away to a safer location in groups of four or five.
Though he's focused on his assigned task, he's also keeping an eye on the others. This is the first time Scott- Cyclops- has been in charge of a mission, and Beast wants it to be a success.
The X-Men acquit themselves well at first, but things take a turn for the worse when the F.O.H. brings in reinforcements.
Once the last of the children and Jubilee have reached safety both Beast and Nightcrawler join the fray in earnest. The two of them as well as Quicksilver focus on the soldiers, using their hand-to-hand abilities, while Jean, Cyclops and Storm use their long range capabilities to take out the robots.
With Quicksilver otherwise engaged, no one is able to reach a soldier aiming a shot at Storm fast enough. A yellow energy blast hits her in the back, causing her to fall from the sky onto a closed dumpster.
Dazed from the thirty foot fall, she rolls off the lid and onto the sidewalk. She's barely conscious as five F.O.H. soldiers sprint towards her.
Beast fights to get to her, but he knows he won't make it in time. "Cyclops!" he bellows out. "Help Storm!"
But Cyclops either doesn't hear him or ignores the directive, because at the moment another group of soldiers is assaulting Jean. He takes aim at the group approaching the able-bodied telekinetic mutant rather than his hard-pressed teammate on the ground.
The soldiers surround Storm as she looks up at them through a haze of pain and confusion, unable to get her bearings enough to fight back. They all aim their guns at her head-
"Simulation terminated," a cool female voice echoes through the room.
The bombed out city and destroyed cars disappear as the Danger Room session ends, revealing the stark white walls of the simulator.
Raven rises to her feet and approaches Storm, who is slow to sit up. "Are you alright?"
Storm nods, clutching her ribs. "Just- just give me a minute," she says, the words coming through her teeth.
With that assurance, Raven rounds on Scott. "What the hell was that about?" she snaps at him- yells at him, actually. "Jean was fine! Storm needed you, Beast told you to help her, and instead you let your emotions get the better of you. You chose your girlfriend over your teammates, let your dick do your thinking-"
Hank usually makes a point of not having open disagreements with Raven in front of the team, but this is a bridge too far for him. Scott is too much like his brother for screeching like a harpy at him to have any sort of positive effect. Actually, he'd be hard pressed to think that getting insulted and screamed at would be a proper learning technique for anyone.
"Raven, may I please have a word with you?" Hank interjects calmly.
She gives him an ugly look. "You got something to say, come out and say it in front of the team," she snarls.
He sighs. At least he tried, didn't he? "Fine. There's no need for you to scream at Scott like this. He's not deaf, and he knows he messed up. There's a difference between teaching and belittling, and-"
"I'm not here to coddle anyone, Hank," Raven retorts.
"I'm aware," Hank replies. "But-"
"This is my team, you have a problem with it-"
And that's where Hank loses his patience.
Her team? The X-Men, who fight to keep humanity safe from outside threats when he knows very well that she'd much rather leave them all to rot? The team that he secretly held out hope for for years, building a jet and a Danger Room for, in the hopes that one day Charles would come around? And she, just returned to Westchester after over a decade? Her team?
"You died about two seconds into the simulation because you believed your hero status would save you," Hank observes coldly. "If you're going to be overly critical to anyone, start with yourself. You think you're better than everyone, but you're not. You-"
Raven throws a punch at him, which he dodges easily. She quickly regroups, tries to punch him again-
And then she freezes in place.
Chapter 6: House of Cards
House of Cards
Hank stares at Raven's livid face with a sort of grim satisfaction. It felt surprisingly good to get that off his chest, to call Raven out on her obvious disdain for everyone here. Someoneneeded to say something, though he's sure no one ever expected it to be him, of all people.
How did they even get to this point?
He was thrilled when he found out Raven had agreed to stay after what happened in Egypt with En Sabah Nur. Even after she'd abandoned her bleeding brother on a beach in Cuba, and she'd left the two of them to deal with the mess she made at the White House, Hank had always carried a torch for her. He'd made Cerebro blue in her honor, for the love of science. He'd noted the pleased smile on her face when she found that out. Added to the fact that she'd agreed to stay in Westchester after Egypt, and it gave him hope that maybe... maybe he finally had a chance with the woman he'd loved for over a decade.
It took about three months for that hope to die, for him to realize that the Raven he loved was actually a cruel trick he'd played on himself for so many years.
There were little things at first- how blunt and curt she was with the mutant children who hero-worshiped her, like their admiration was a horrible burden that she couldn't be bothered to be gracious about. How she nitpicked at Charles, insisting that he send Moira away. She acted as if Charles' newfound happiness with his long lost love was a personal insult to her, and argued with him constantly about mutant-human relations. It made Hank wonder why she had consented to stay at all, if she didn't agree with their mission.
Her training tactics were unnecessarily cruel as well. He made excuses for her to himself at first- she knew how harsh the world outside Westchester was, and was trying to train the X-Men accordingly. She had no experience with children or teaching, and eventually she would get the hang of it.
But she didn't.
If anything, she got worse. Almost as if some sort of bitterness was gnawing away at her soul, consuming every bit of goodness left in her after years of hardship. Self-imposed, but still.
Hank had his suspicions about that, though he kept them to himself. He just thought that Kurt looked an awful lot like the teleporter Azazel, but with Raven's coloring. He was waiting for her to acknowledge the boy as her son, though she had yet to do so.
But Hank knew the truth. It was painful to see the proof that Raven had moved on so quickly after their brief romance staring out at him in Kurt's face, but of course Hank didn't hold that against the boy. He was a good kid, and if Hank had anything to say about it, he would be a great man.
As the weeks went by Hank had tried to speak to her, to build at least a friendship. Being near Raven, enjoying her company would have been enough. She knew how he felt, after all. He was still just as awkward as he was as a teenager, but no one could say Hank wasn't honest. By word and gesture, he let her know that he still cared.
But even the most casual of conversations went nowhere. She came to him with questions or tasks to complete, but never to just chat as friends. She never sought out his company for simple companionship, and after a while he felt like his own attempts to spark a rapport of any kind were both irksome and unwelcome in her eyes.
They just had nothing to talk about. Nothing in common. It was as if the only thing they had ever had in common was their own self-loathing when they were teenagers, and there was nothing left to share between them now. He tried to brush it aside, of course, but part of him wondered if this great love of his life was some sort of fiction of his own making.
And then came the morning after that confirmed it, and destroyed a love that had lasted over a decade.
Hank woke up in the middle of the night to find Raven in his bed- touching him, kissing him, telling him how to please her. His heart rejoiced- finally, finally she was responding to his feelings, allowing him to love her the way he'd always dreamed of. He worshiped her body with his as they embraced in both their human and mutant forms until an exhausted, satisfied sleep took them both.
"I love you, Raven," Hank told her in the morning. "You must know, I've always loved you."
"Yeah," she replied, her tone offhand.
He tentatively reached out to stroke her scales, trying to convey that he had learned from his mistakes. He loved her, no matter what her form. "I was hoping, now that you're back-"
"Stop, Hank," Raven interjected, with an impatient sigh. "Don't ruin this."
"'Ruin this?'" he repeated. "What exactly was 'this?'"
She shrugged. "Just sex."
Again, her blase attitude wounded him. Despite his scientific mind, Hank was- and still is- a hopeless romantic at heart.
"So you came to me like this, knowing how I feel about you, but not wanting anything more than sex?" he asked slowly. "Did it occur to you how that would affect me?"
Raven shrugged again. "I thought you'd just be happy for the sex, honestly. God knows you needed to get laid. And a girl has needs, you know."
And with that, like a house of cards, every illusion he'd ever had about this woman came crashing down. Its brittle scaffolding and the shaky basis of a teenage infatuation could not withstand even the smallest breath of realism.
In that moment Hank realized exactly what their relationship was.
Every excuse he'd ever made for her fell apart at the seams, the mask revealed and the harsh reality finally staring him in the face. Hers was a pretty face he fell for, the first girl to ever look at his mutation with anything but disgust. Back when they first met he thought their shared self-loathing was a sign of several things in common, but no. They both converted oxygen into carbon dioxide, and now there was a shared genetic link between them. But that was it. Their world views were poles apart, and always would be. Hank had made up a person to go with her pretty mask, and that individual had never existed at all.
He'd waited so long, loved that fictitious version of her so much, when in truth he'd ceased to truly matter to Raven the moment she decided she didn't need him to make a serum for her anymore.
Bizarrely, he started to laugh, even as his heart was breaking.
"Well isn't this a perfect microcosm for our relationship," he observes, sitting up in bed.
Raven frowns. "What do you mean?"
"I mean just that. This is a textbook example of the nature of our relationship," Hank replies. "You wanted sex, and I gave it to you because I'm a sucker for you and I always have been. I give, you take. That's how we are. Do you realize that you have yet to have a conversation with me since you got back just for the companionship of it? Because you haven't. No, you only ever come to me when you need something, and I always give it to you."
"I- I didn't know you felt that way," she said lamely, but without much conviction. She mostly just seemed shocked that he had called her out so blatantly on her manipulative behavior. Hank, Charles, Erik- none of them ever held Raven accountable for the nonsense she pulled with impunity, so this was certainly a new experience for her.
"Yes, you did."
Raven grits her teeth. "Alright, yeah, I did."
Hank nodded, his expression pained. Knowing the truth and hearing it admitted aloud were two very different things.
He had a feeling he knew where this impulse had come from. After being a lone wolf for so long, Raven was finding it difficult to adjust to life in Westchester, being on a team. So much here was an unknown, but not with him. She sought control in some aspect of her life, and she knew where to go to find it. She knew her power over him, her ability to make him dance to her tune as soon as she snapped her fingers.
Well, no more.
Hank wanted more than that. He deserved more than being strung along like this.
Sometimes self-respect is one of the most painful lessons to learn.
"Please leave," Hank told her. "And don't come to me like this again."
Since that morning nine months ago Hank has maintained a polite distance from her. He quietly mourned the woman he'd loved, a woman who never truly existed, and moved on. He pined and longed for her no more, bringing a lightness to his spirit he'd never truly felt before.
It was actually easy, once Hank stopped trying to force things, to coexist with Raven. She certainly didn't think she needed to change, so he adapted accordingly. His assessment of their relationship had been completely accurate, and once he accepted that his life was much simpler.
But today she had gone too far in her belittling tirade against Scott, forcing him to finally speak up and turn her ire towards himself instead.
"Are you eavesdropping, Charles?" he asks aloud now, looking at Raven's frozen face. Hank knows the telepath will be "listening," inevitably drawn by the sounds of conflict among his X-Men.
Actually, that was Jean, Charles' voice mentally replies.
Hank glances over at Jean, who gives him a slight nod.
"Thanks," he tells her. He glances around at the other X-Men. "I think we're done here, don't you?"
"Uh, yeah," Peter agrees. "Talk about uncomfortable, man."
The team is already almost to the door before Jean finally unfreezes Raven, which makes a statement in itself, Hank privately believes.
The shapeshifter's wild punch hits nothing. Her confusion over her predicament is quickly replaced with anger.
"Charles!" she yells at the ceiling, utterly infuriated.
Hank is quite happy to escape the impending familial explosion.
Chapter 7: Bad Precedents
Hank shakes his head at Raven's nonsense and excuses himself to go to his lab. Once there he injects himself with his mutation-suppressing serum, returning to his human form.
Slipping on his glasses, he finds it easy to lose himself in his work. It's a relief to forget about Raven's anger, at least for a while.
It's still his favorite place, but he's come a long way from the shy young man who rarely ventured from his laboratory, who hid behind science as a substitute for human interaction. Dr. Hank McCoy is now a teacher, finding joy and fulfillment in molding young minds. His missions with the X-Men also bring him a sense of purpose as they improve the lives of humans and mutants everywhere.
For a man who grew used to eking joy out of the tiniest of things after Cuba, who stared into the darkness and still found reasons to hope, this is a good life. Hank has many things to be thankful for after everything he's gone through. Even with Raven's continued borderline-antagonistic presence, he is content.
Content to teach, to fight as an X-Man, and (most especially) to throw himself into research in his lab. Some people go on all-night benders on drugs and alcohol. Hank does it with science.
He can easily spend hours down here, from dawn until dusk and far beyond, with only coffee and the occasional Twinkie to sustain him as he chugs away happily on whatever project is his current focus.
This is one of those times.
Hank is so submerged in his latest experiment that he doesn't even notice Charles and Moira enter the laboratory.
"Hank," Moira calls to him, amused. "It's six-thirty."
He blinks, puzzled. "I haven't missed dinner, have I?"
"It's six-thirty in the morning, Hank," Charles chides him. "Did you ever go to bed last night?"
Hank shrugs. "No," he admits sheepishly. "I guess not. In my defense, at least it's Saturday."
The bald man can't seem to decide whether he wants to be exasperated or amused by his wayward old friend. But the moment passes quickly as he gets to the business at hand. "There's a tsunami headed for the west coast of Africa. I'm sending the team to help evacuate. It should take at least three days, possibly more."
Hank nods in understanding. "I'll go suit up."
"There's no need," Charles tells him quickly. "I'd prefer… I'd prefer if you stayed behind this time."
Moira watches with sympathy as several emotions flash across Hank's face in quick succession. Confusion, anger, and hurt, finally followed by a sort of bitter resignation.
"I see," he murmurs, his voice curiously detached in order to remain calm. "So Raven threw a tantrum, did she?"
Privately, Moira feels he hit it right on the nose.
"No," Charles says quickly. "She told me what happened last night-"
"And have you heard anyone else's side of the story?"
"Yes, I have," his mentor replies. "And while I appreciate you standing up for your teammates, I can't condone having such a heated exchange between you and Raven in front of the others. You need to present a united-"
Hank chuckles bitterly. "Charles, I tried to ask her to speak in private. She refused. What else was I to do?"
Charles deflates slightly, having his shaky logic turned to shreds so easily.
Moira can't help feeling rather exasperated with him, though she loves him more than anything save her son. Charles never wants to displease anyone, especially those he loves, and that's what gets him into trouble so often.
He has a special soft spot for Raven. No matter what she's done, how much she's changed, Charles can only see her as the girl he took in and cherished as a sister for almost twenty years. He always fights the hardest and suffers the most for those who deserve it the least.
When he realizes he won't be able to guilt Hank into anything, Charles tries a more direct approach. "Hank, please sit this one out, for my sake. Give Raven time to cool off. I- I don't want to lose her again," her husband quietly pleads.
Moira inwardly sighs, remembering what happened last night after the incident in the Danger Room. Raven came to their room- throwing Moira a filthy look but otherwise ignoring her, as usual- and complained to Charles about Hank interfering with her training methods. A quick mental exchange with Jean provided Charles with a more balanced view of what occurred, but his attempts to reason with his sister only infuriated her more.
He finally agreed to take Hank off of missions, at least for now.
Moira disagreed with the decision, and let him know as soon as his sister made her huffy exit.
"You can't take one of your senior leaders off the team because Raven's throwing a fit," Moira told him. "It sets a bad precedent."
He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Yes, I know," he agreed. "But Moira… I don't want to lose her again. I don't think she fully understands how much I want her to stay, to have my sister back. And you heard her, she was threatening to leave. We need to give her more time. She doesn't know how to act when the whole world isn't out to get her. Once she realizes that she's safe she'll be much less defensive and more open to criticism."
Moira shook her head. "I highly doubt it. When has your sister ever admitted that she was wrong?"
Cuba… The White House… Raven had never expressed anything remotely resembling remorse for her actions, not even for leaving her brother bleeding on a foreign beach. Even after she found out about the massive depression Charles fell into following her abandonment of him, she merely expressed disgust for Hank's enabling and Charles' weakness. Certainly not guilt for the part she played in any of it.
Moira would have dearly loved to wring the woman's neck for that, until she turned blue even in her human form.
"Darling, please," Charles whispered, and she melted into the intensity of his pure azure gaze. "Please, just trust me in this."
"Ok," Moira agreed. Because really, how could she resist the man she loves in all his noble intentions?
"And you're willing to sideline me for her sake," Hank sighs now. And while he looks wounded that Charles would pick Raven's feelings over his, he doesn't seem surprised.
"Relax, Charles," the younger man says impatiently. "I'm not her. I'm not going anywhere."
"Thank you," Charles tells him, with a sincerity that can't be doubted. "Hank- I won't forget this."
And neither will Hank, Moira privately adds.
But their friendship can withstand this. It's withstood far too much for something like this to topple it, she knows.
Hank nods and turns away, effectively ending the conversation. "Please excuse me," he mutters. "I have work to do."
"Not too much, now," Moira reminds him as she and Charles turn to go.
He thinks it's a joke, but she means every word. Charles has her now, to make sure he doesn't overwork himself and drive himself into the ground. To bring him back down to earth when necessary.
Hank needs someone like that, too.
Sleep finally begins to pull at Hank's senses at midday, a sign that he needs a break. Rather than taking a nap and messing up his sleep schedule even further, he decides to walk down the long, winding drive to the end of the property and get the mail.
The air outside is brisk and chilly, though the sun is shining and the sky is clear. The school grounds are covered in a fresh snowfall, casting everything in a silent, eerie beauty.
Hank takes in the understated elegance around him as he walks, even while making a mental note to get the driveway re-salted soon.
And then he chuckles to himself for having such a prosaic thought in the midst of his admiration for Mother Nature's artistry.
A loud rumble gets his attention.
He turns to see the Blackbird rising out of the basketball court, his own creation taking off without him. He can't stop the bitter laugh that escapes him as the jet zooms away at supersonic speed. It's a cover for the resentment he feels.
Hank is sure that Charles will be in Cerebro directing operations for a bit, which means it's safe to step into his office and drop off the mail. He'd rather not speak to him just now.
Once in Charles' study Hank begins to sort through the large pile of mail. Most of it is for Charles, but one thick manila envelope addressed to himself catches his eye.
The penmanship is poor, as if written in a trembling hand. Red-brown drops that can only be blood spatter across the front.
The return address is in Alaska, the sender a Dr. Paul Cartier.
"Student loans again?" a voice suddenly asks.
Hank jumps- Charles is right behind him. He'd been so lost in thought he hadn't noticed.
"I liked it better when you had the squeaky chair," he comments dryly. He's not afraid to let the other man know how bitter he still is from this morning.
"I liked it better when I could walk," Charles ripostes, which Hank must concede is a very valid point. "I'm sorry again for pulling you out like this, Hank, but-"
Hank isn't in the mood to listen to the other man talk himself in circles, trying to convince them both that having Raven here is really for the best.
Instead he opens the letter from Dr. Cartier and takes a look.
If the writing on the envelope is bad, the missive itself is practically illegible.
Your serum has provided more opportunities than I could have imagined. However, I-"
Here it was an indecipherable scribble.
"I fear that soon I will lose myself completely. Perhaps I'm already too far gone. I live with the guilt of what I've done to her every day. But my actions are my own, and you bear no guilt for them."
The letter was signed as simply, "Cartier."
"Is something wrong, Hank?" Charles queries. "You look troubled."
"This isn't right," Hank mutters, shaking his head. "Come with me."
Chapter 8: Into the Setting Sun
Into the Setting Sun
He leads the way back down to his lab, where he digs out all of the letters he's previously received from Dr. Cartier, as well as a VHS tape.
"Do you think someone else could have written this letter?" he asks Charles, handing over the newest and an older one from the same address.
The older letters could've been written by a calligrapher, the penmanship is so precise and perfect. It's worlds apart from the letter he just received.
Hank doesn't understand. With the serum he sent, Dr. Cartier should've been gaining a handle on his mutation, not getting worse. What words he could read in this last letter seemed to speak to a devastating hopelessness that worries him deeply.
"It certainly looks different. Who is Dr. Paul Cartier?" Charles asks.
In answer Hank slides the tape into the television he has in his lab.
"He's like me," he whispers.
Dr. Paul Cartier, a rather rabbity-looking man in his fifties, appears on the screen. He sits in a chair in what is obviously a small laboratory of some kind.
"Dr. McCoy, thank you for giving me a moment of your time. My name is Dr. Paul Cartier. I apologize for not delivering this speech in person, but I find seclusion to be the best alternative to my… condition." He calmly takes a drink of water. "I was first made aware of my mutation when my wife and I were running late for a benefit. She took a sharp corner and our tires lost traction. The vehicle careened off an embankment. We both survived the impact, but the physical trauma triggered my mutation. My mind blurred as I became this voracious creature. I wasn't completely present, only fragments of details remain… but, I remember my wife's screams. She screamed as the white beast ate her."
Charles shudders, obviously thinking of his Moira.
"When I came to, I was covered in blood. No clothes, no trace of Nora. Not even her bones, Dr. McCoy. I couldn't even bury my wife. I had to file a missing persons report." He scoffs in self-disgust. "The depravity of my actions haunts me every second that I'm awake. I fear that I might transform again. I've seen you on the news, in your blue form. I suspect that you have another, less conspicuous form, and from that I can only assume that we suffer from a similar condition." He picks up a box full of ice, in which rests a smaller container. "I'm mailing a blood sample for you to study. I don't have a telephone, but my return address is included with this recording. I hope that you can help me, Dr. McCoy. Because hope is all that I have left."
And with that, the recording ends.
"Why didn't you tell me about this, Hank?" Charles asks.
Hank shrugs, unrepentant for his lack of transparency. "I didn't know I needed permission to help someone, Charles, and you tend to have a larger picture in view these days than a single man. How could I not have some compassion for him? I remember what it was like, when I transformed that very first time. While I can't say I ever had any cannibalistic urges, I can at least sympathize with his destructive impulses," he replies, thinking of the number he pulled on his lab the night he became Beast. The night before Cuba. "My mutation-suppression serum is compatible with his condition. I hoped to help Dr. Cartier find peace, to give him hope."
His mentor nods slowly, and Hank can tell he now understands. "How often are you shipping the serum?"
"I only sent one dose. Paul has his own lab, he synthesizes it there."
"I see," Charles murmurs, thoughtful. He peruses the last letter again. "This was post-marked almost a month ago. He doesn't seem to have found the peace you hoped for him, has he? Perhaps it's time I check on Dr. Cartier."
Together they head down to Cerebro through the sleek bluish white walkways of the school's extensive basement. The doors slide open after scanning Charles' retinas.
"You said Eagle Village?" Charles asks as he rolls down the walkway in the center of the room. His words echo through the cavernous space. "Alaska?"
"Yes," Hank replies. "Near the Canadian border."
Charles nods and slides on the headgear.
Hank feels a swell of pride as Cerebro comes to life- though the feeling, he must admit, is slightly tempered by wariness. He has yet to forget how En Sabh Nur was able to reach through Cerebro and bring his attack to the school.
But Charles is comfortable using the machine, and that's enough for Hank.
Back when he was with the CIA he'd built his original prototype on a whim, thinking there was very little chance of it actually being used for anything.
And then Charles came along, with his telepathic abilities and his enthusiastic encouragement of all of Hank's pie-in-the-sky projects. Not only did he support Hank's scientific ambitions, he also whole-heartedly accepted the young man as a mutant and urged him to come to terms with his powers. Small wonder that the young scientist was so willing to follow "Professor X"- he'd never had such acceptance from anyone.
Charles made him feel like he was serving a greater purpose than anything he'd been doing at the CIA, with Cerebro being utilized in a way he'd barely dared to dream of. It was a tool to be used to find people who needed help around the world. To Hank there was no higher calling than that, helping others.
And right now there was a man out there, a man like him, who needed their help.
Hank watches as Charles scans the wilderness of Alaska, noting the flashes of trees and small cabins dotted across the landscape.
"I can't find him," Charles murmurs. "I'm widening my search."
With a small flash, the projection expands to fill Cerebro's entirety. Tiny red pinpricks of light populate a map of the world, showing every mutant currently in existence.
Hank becomes a little disoriented as Charles begins to rapidly scan through the minds of every mutant on the planet. The images flash too rapidly for him to make sense of them- he can only imagine the concentration it takes for Charles to do this, the power.
But after several minutes his mentor lets out a laborious sigh and the slew of images ceases. He removes the helmet and turns to Hank, forlorn.
"I'm sorry, Hank. He's gone."
"What do you mean he's 'gone?'"
"His mind is no longer active," Charles explains.
"What if he's changed again?" Hank asks. "You said previously that I was difficult to read at first, and it was only over time that you were able to familiarize yourself with the way my mind worked after I became Beast."
The other man nods thoughtfully. "We've been together so long I'd almost forgotten," he admits. "After all these years the presence of your mind is a comforting echo, something I only notice and miss when it's not nearby."
"I'm touched," Hank observes dryly. "But Paul-"
"I suppose his animal mind could be beyond my ability to recognize, especially if he's very far gone," Charles concedes. "But I'm afraid it's far more likely that he's either dead or unconscious."
The thought decides Hank instantly on what he has to do.
"I'm going up there," he announces.
He heads for Cerebro's exit, already making a mental checklist of what he needs to do. He's vaguely aware of Charles following him.
"Do you really think it's wise to rush off without the other X-Men?"
"If someone's attacked Paul, he needs help," Hank replies.
Charles is not convinced. "What if you're right about the transformation?"
"I'll plan accordingly."
Hank makes his way into his lab and busily readies the supplies he believes he'll need, placing everything into a large titanium container to take with him. It has a refrigerated section and even a gun case, an all-purpose piece of luggage if there ever was one. He designed it himself.
He loads four blood bags into the refrigerated portion, just in case Paul needs a transfusion.
It's a special type of blood, one that Hank carefully developed after Logan's time with them back in 1973. With the voluntary donation the feral mutant gave him, Hank was able to create a synthetic environment that tricked Logan's erythrocytes into regenerating themselves to stay at a constant volume. They never die, and they never run out.
Now the X-Mansion is always equipped with blood that has superhuman healing abilities. It's one of the inventions that Hank is most proud of.
And speaking of inventions-
Charles recognizes the next device that Hank loads up immediately. "I see you've finished the hypersonic transmitter," he observes.
Hank nods. "At thirty thousand hertz, it's above the human hearing range, but within that of most animals."
"And what happens when you get his attention?" Charles asks.
Hank loads a small vial of a green liquid into a silver rifle, readying it to be put into the gun case. "Mutation suppressing darts. They're released upon impact."
His mentor nods, his expression resigned. He can't come up with an argument now that he's seen how prepared Hank is. "I'll ready the spare jet."
Within two hours Hank is climbing into the much smaller X-Jet they keep in reserve. It's perhaps one third of the size of the Blackbird, and much less suited for combat. It can only carry a pilot, a copilot and two passengers.
As Hank settles into the cockpit Charles' voice echoes in his mind. Be sure and speak with the old man and his granddaughter who live in the cabin outside the edge of town. Out of everyone in Eagle Village, those were the only two whose minds I couldn't truly enter.
Telepaths? Hank thinks back.
No, something else… actually, now I wonder if perhaps they're like you and Dr. Cartier. It would explain why I couldn't read them so easily. They may know something about Dr. Cartier, if they're ferals, too.
Hank nods through the cockpit window at Charles, who gives him a wave from his watchful spot on the tarmac.
The jet rises as the roof opens, and then Hank takes flight into the setting sun.
Chapter 9: Where the Sun Never Rises
Where the Sun Never Rises
Roxanne yawns behind Goliath's steering wheel and sternly reminds herself to stay awake until she gets back to the house.
It's almost three in the morning, and she just finished work at the bar. Her only goal right now is to go home and get a few hours of sleep before the lunch shift.
She's been working doubles lately, to make up for the loss of Robert's salary with the logging company, and it's starting to wear her down a bit. Thankfully she has tomorrow night- or is it tonight?- and the next morning off. She plans on spending it in bed, or maybe on the couch watching television with Gramps. They'll both be watching it through their eyelids, but still-
Roxanne senses motion in the woods with her peripheral vision. She glances in her rear view as she drives by, expecting a deer to go bounding across the road behind her.
Imagine her surprise when a naked man stumbles out of the forest and collapses in the road.
"Jesus," Roxanne hisses, slamming on the brakes.
She debates whether she should keep on driving for a moment- what kind of crazy person is running around naked in the middle of an Alaskan winter?- but her sense of compassion quickly overwhelms her caution.
Roxanne may be a charitable soul, but she's not stupid. She leaves the truck running and grabs her trusty twelve gauge as a precaution. Ever since Robert died she's taken to carrying it with her wherever she goes, just in case.
"Hey," she calls out, approaching the man slowly with her shotgun in a low ready position. "Are you alright?"
The man is shaking- from cold or something else, she doesn't know- as he hunches over on all fours. He turns to look at her with a wild-eyed stare-
Roxanne recognizes him instantly. She almost drops her gun in shock. "Dr. Cartier? Oh my goodness, what are you doing out here?"
Despite what happened between them before, she can't just ignore his current plight. She rushes over, noting his unkempt, haggard appearance. His graying hair is matted, his beard long and full of god-knows-what.
A chill passes over her as she realizes he's covered in blood.
"Are you hurt, Doctor?" she asks, pushing past her fear. She takes off her coat and puts it on him in an attempt to cover his nakedness, ignoring the horrible smell emanating from him.
He smells rather… rotten. Almost like-
"R-roxanne," he whispers, finally speaking. He reaches out to touch her, but Roxanne flinches away. She can see dried blood under his fingernails, and it scares her.
He smiles bitterly at her muted rejection.
"Doctor… Paul. Are you alright?" she repeats. "What's going on?"
He shudders, and she could almost swear that a ripple of- something- travels along his spine. Almost like something is trying to burst out of his skin.
"Get away from me, Roxanne," Dr. Cartier says sternly. "Your brother- I'll hurt you, too."
"I said get away!" he snarls, baring his teeth at her.
Roxanne jumps back. The cold steel of her shotgun suddenly feels very reassuring in her hands.
Another shudder passes over Dr. Cartier. He groans, as if torn by some inner struggle.
At that moment a huge bull moose walks out of the woods several yards away. It's easily the biggest moose Roxanne has ever seen, almost eight feet tall at the shoulder.
Any hopes that it would cross the road without noticing them vanish immediately when Dr. Cartier makes a strangled half-moan, half-growling sound that makes the hairs on the back of Roxanne's neck stand on end.
The moose turns towards the sound and lowers his antlers into an attacking stance when he sees the two puny-looking humans in front of him. It's the mating season, the time of year when moose are at their most aggressive.
He huffs, his breath making clouds of mist in the air, and begins to paw at the ground in preparation to charge.
"Shit," Roxanne whispers.
She begins to raise her shotgun-
Dr. Cartier growls, another shudder passing over him.
Before her horrified eyes, his body sprouts white fur and becomes utterly massive. Bigger than a grizzly, or a polar bear, bigger than the moose in front of them. Roxanne stumbles backwards, barely keeping a hold of her gun.
It's the Wendigo.
A creature of myth has come to life right in front of her. For a moment she freezes, her brain unable to process the impossibility before her.
The Wendigo lets out a roar of challenge that vibrates deep in her chest and hurts her ears. It launches itself at the moose with a savagery unmatched by any animal she's ever heard of.
The sound goads her into action. Roxanne makes a run for her truck, choking back a scream as she escapes from the monstrous scene behind her.
Her foot is on the gas before she even shuts the door.
She drives like the devil himself is chasing her, and is out of the truck and into the house quicker than a flash when she finally reaches home.
"Jesus," she gasps, sinking to the floor in the living room. She's still clutching the shotgun- right now she's not sure if she'll ever let it go. Not after what she just saw.
Dr. Cartier is the creature who killed her brother. A Wendigo, a consumer of human flesh in the Inuit legends of old.
Another grotesque howl rips through the darkness outside, sending a shiver down her spine.
It sounds like Wendigo has finished the moose and already found other prey. Nothing can sate its blood lust, not even human flesh.
Roxanne's teeth start to chatter, fear gripping her heart even though she knows the creature is a long way off by now. The monster is outside somewhere, on the hunt in the darkness.
Like a frightened child, Roxanne runs to her bedroom and buries herself under the covers, still wearing her clothes from work.
She hides under the comforter and waits for morning to come.
The sun never really comes up during the winter in Alaska, but Ethan makes use of what little light he has to work with. It's his day off, and he's spending it hunting for the ultimate trophy in these parts: a full grown grizzly bear.
He moves quietly through the snow, carrying his high powered rifle. He's looking for a sign of his prey, a hint for him to follow.
"There you are," he mutters to himself, catching sight of large paw prints in the snow.
He grins with grim satisfaction. He'll have a nice pelt out of this thing soon enough, and he's already looking forward to the money that will bring in when he sells it.
He'll have to go to the next town over to sell the pelt, because Jones has closed his store like a good boy. Since he'd rather trade with the cheap-ass Indians instead of decent white people, the way he should, Jones needed to learn a lesson. Maybe a couple more weeks of zero profits would teach it to him.
Ethan continues up a snowy hill, following the tracks. He reaches the crest of the hill-
"Mother of God," he whispers.
Gallons of blood cover the frozen ground, still vivid and fresh in the snow. Two grizzlies lie on their stomachs, nose to nose, with pieces of bone sticking out of their fur.
Ethan's jaw drops- he can't look away from the gory mess in front of him.
What kind of monster could do this? Not one, but two grizzlies?
He's not sure he wants to know.
Just then a branch snaps in the distance.
Ethan raises his rifle, ready to shoot anything that moves right now. He breathes heavily, on the verge of hyperventilating from the tension in the air.
And Ethan isn't going to hang around waiting for trouble to find him. He lowers his weapons and jogs away, back to town. A shock like this deserves to be nursed with a beer.
Hank had heard, of course, that the sun never truly rises during an Alaskan winter, but it's wholly another thing to experience for himself. It's slightly disorienting for it to be eight o'clock in the morning with the sun not even a blip on the horizon.
He unpacks his supplies from the X-Jet after landing in a small clearing near the town. He finds it difficult to move in his heavy winter clothing, but manages to load his large titanium case on a sled.
Hank then drags his sled in the direction of the tiny town of Eagle Village. He passes a building marked "Jones' General Store" that has chains on its front doors. "Temporarily Closed," a sign on the door says.
The town proper only has one street, which makes it easy for him to locate the tiny motel next to the town's bar. Hank is sure the proximity between the two has something to do with making it easy for illicit trysts to occur.
He enters the motel and approaches a rather bored-looking receptionist. She's blonde and has so much AquaNet in her hair Hank is sure there's a hole in the ozone that's completely thanks to her.
"Good morning," he says. "I'd like a room for the night, please."
"It's thirty a night or eighty for the week," the receptionist replies, with a vacant expression. Perhaps the excessive hair spray fried her brain cells.
"I'll take a week, then. Is cash alright?"
"Sure," she says, shrugging.
The transaction is completed quickly, which is just as well. Hank's been awake for well over two days now and would like nothing more than to sleep for a few hours before he begins his search.
His room, he quickly discovers, leaves much to be desired. Its tiny window has numerous cracks and the heater sputters loudly, as if it's ready to give up the ghost at any moment. The bed does not look promising at all- he can see the lumps from the doorway.
Hank sighs. "I think I got overcharged," he mutters to himself. But with no other options he stows his equipment in the far corner and shrugs off his heavy winter jacket.
The bed is as uncomfortable as he feared, but he's so exhausted he falls asleep in minutes.
Chapter 10: The Hunt Begins
The Hunt Begins
It's about two o'clock in the afternoon when he wakes up- according to his custom-made X-watch, at least. There's a faint lightening of the sky outside, but otherwise no hint that it's actually daytime.
Hank decides that his first step should be a trip to Paul's house, located on the outskirts of town. It's about three mile's walk, but he makes it quickly.
He approaches the house from the dirt road, noting the metal fence covered in lightning bolt symbols surrounding the two story house. There's a "No Trespassing" sign with claw marks attached to the electric fence. The large black mailbox that reads "Dr. Paul Cartier" is full of mail when Hank opens it.
That seems like a bad sign.
He skirts around the fence, looking for any signs of life in the house. He finds none- though he does see a giant section of the fence missing around the back. It's almost as if an eight foot tall monster ran through it...
Well that's disconcerting.
He walks through the opening up to the back door, which looks brand new. It's out of place compared to the rest of the house.
Hank knocks on the door. "Paul, it's Hank McCoy. Are you there?" he calls loudly.
He tries the doorknob to find it locked.
With a sigh he heads around to the front door. This door is also new, its chip-free and unweathered paint a stark contrast to the faded wooden siding.
Hank touches the doorknob-
The electric shock is sharp enough that he's not willing to try it again any time soon. "Must not be my day," he mutters to himself.
He appears to have reached a dead end in this particular avenue of investigation with a rather depressing quickness.
Hank sighs, taking a look around.
He sees smoke rising over the treeline to the east, away from town. He recalls Charles telling him about an old man and his granddaughter living on the edge of Eagle Village, and decides it's worth a shot.
Hank uses the smoke as a compass to pick his way through the forest, thanking his feral nature for the ability to move through the trees with relative ease.
Soon enough a log cabin comes within view, nestled in a decent-sized clearing among the snow-covered pines. Whoever lives in the little house obviously cares for the place. Hank notices pretty wind chimes hanging from the porch, the carefully kept walkway leading from the dirt driveway. The windows are covered with gauzy white curtains and there are stained glass cutouts in the shape of stars hung on the panes. It's a picturesque image of backwoods living.
Before Hank can reach the edge of the treeline to the cabin's clearing he spots a pine tree with missing bark. Curious, he takes a closer look.
The ground is heavily disturbed in front of the tree, so much so that he can't make out any distinct prints. What is clear, though, are four horizontal gashes cut deep in the tree's flesh. Claw marks, he realizes immediately. This little field trip is already yielding some clues.
A strand of white hair hangs from the bark, another possible lead. Hank plucks it off and places it in a small vial he carried in his bulky jacket. He has a portable DNA analyzer back at the motel.
Thus armed, Hank approaches the cabin's porch and knocks on the door.
No answer, though a pair of suspicious dark brown eyes set in a wizened old face peep out at him between the curtains of the front window.
"Hello," Hank tells the eyes, trying to look friendly. He remembers what Charles said, about the old man likely being a feral. "I just wanted to ask a few questions, if that's alright?"
Aklaq examines the stranger's appearance through the window curtains. The man is tall, his heavy winter clothes look brand new, and he seems to be in his mid to late twenties. His glasses and quirky eyebrows give him a bookish, inquisitive air, and his smooth white skin seems to indicate that he's used to being indoors more than out. Nothing at all like the bearded men of the backwoods out here. Aklaq marks him immediately as a squishy soft city-slicker for sure. An outsider, not to be trusted.
He opens the door just a crack. "Who are you?" he asks gruffly.
The white man doesn't seem offended by the rudeness. "I'm Dr. Hank McCoy. What's your name?"
"Aklaq Yazzie. This is private property, you know. What do you want?"
"I'm trying to locate a colleague of mine, Dr. Paul Cartier," Hank explains.
Aklaq scowls at him.
Roxanne told him what had happened to her when he woke up this morning, what she'd discovered on her way home. He had then chastised her for taking so many risks. How would he survive her loss as well as Robert's? He can't bear to lose her too, and it sounds like she came much too close to death last night at the hands of the Wendigo.
Solving the mystery of his grandson's death has not brought the old man the closure he yearned for. An animal attack he could forgive, but Robert was murdered so violently by one of his own kind. Now Aklaq wants revenge against the creature who killed him and left them only bits and pieces to bury.
And now here's this man, claiming to be a colleague of the monster who savagely murdered his grandson. It's everything the old man can do to not reach out and pummel this white boy for his buddy's sins against him and his.
"What do you want with him?" Aklaq demands.
"Do you know him?"
Aklaq glares at him, stone-faced.
"I'm afraid he's in trouble, Mr. Yazzie," Hank adds, pleading. "Do you know where I could find him?"
"Try his house."
"No one's home."
"Sounds like you're out of luck then, Dr. McCoy," Aklaq tells him. He begins to shut the door.
"I saw some strange claw marks on a tree at the edge of this clearing, Mr. Yazzie," Hank says quickly.
This makes the old man pause.
The Wendigo, so close to his house? Perhaps the monster followed Roxanne home last night, after her encounter with it in the road. That wouldn't really surprise him. He suspects that Paul Cartier has always had some sort of obsession with Roxanne, starting from back when she worked for him. Cartier's unhealthy fixation led to him trying to kiss her and Roxanne quitting because she couldn't bear to be in his unnerving presence anymore. It seems that nothing has changed in regards to the man's feelings.
Aklaq doesn't like the idea of the Wendigo watching them from the trees, waiting to snatch his granddaughter up in order to gratify his sick intentions. Not one bit.
It reinforces in his own mind that the creature needs to be killed before it can take her from him, the same way it took Robert.
The pointed reference to the claw marks tells Aklaq that this Hank fellow knows exactly what Dr. Paul Cartier is. And he wants to help the monster. The old man's distrust towards the white boy deepens even further.
Aklaq scoffs. "This is bear country, Dr. McCoy."
"I found a white hair."
"Nanook," the old man retorts sharply.
"This far south?" Hank presses.
Aklaq can't help being slightly impressed by the man knowing that. Most people from the Lower 48 think that Alaska is crawling with polar bears, no matter how far south of the Arctic Circle.
But he's not impressed enough to budge.
He shrugs. "I don't know what to tell you, boy," he says stubbornly. "Good luck now. And best not linger in town. They don't like outsiders here."
And then he shuts the door in the white boy's face.
Hank exhales in frustration.
The old man knows more than he's telling, that he can tell for sure. It's unfortunate that he's not willing to share.
With that avenue closed, Hank heads back to town to regroup and think of something else. But first, he decides, it's time for sustenance. The long walks through the snowy woods have made him hungry, and he heads into the motel's office with purpose.
"Excuse me," he says to the receptionist. "Is there a restaurant around here?"
She blinks owlishly at him. "There's a bar next door," she tells him, and her expression makes it obvious that she believes he has some sort of mental deficiency for asking. No other answer seems to be forthcoming, so Hank guesses that will have to do.
He leaves the motel and walks next door to the seedy-looking bar. A quick glance around makes him realize it's actually the largest building in the town. He privately surmises that this says something rather telling about the inhabitants of Eagle Village's priorities.
The bar's interior is not as bad as the gruff outward facade implied. The floor is clean and the air does not have that rancid, old-vomit smell that seems part and parcel with small town dive bars. There's a faint hint of cigarette smoke, but it's not overwhelming. So far the place has already exceeded Hank's rather dismal expectations, to his relief.
There's one man sitting by himself across the room and a trio of what Hank guesses are would-be hunters seated a few tables over, but otherwise the bar is empty. It's the lull between the lunch rush and happy hour.
"Please Seat Yourself," a sign just inside the door reads.
Hank slips off his coat and takes a seat at a small table near the bar. He takes a moment to peruse the menu stuck between the condiments and the napkin dispenser. It doesn't take him long- the repertoire isn't exactly extensive here, but he supposes that's to be expected.
"Good afternoon," a feminine voice says next to his shoulder.
He startles slightly- he hadn't heard anyone approaching. He quickly turns to look at the waitress that sneaked up on him-
Oh my stars and garters.
Chapter 11: Nice to Meet You
Nice to Meet You
In this moment Hank feels like a teenager all over again, a horribly awkward teenager who trips all over himself around a lovely woman. His stomach does a back flip and his mouth goes dry as soon as he sets eyes on the waitress.
Long coppery red hair, gently curled, frames her face and tumbles down almost to her waist in waves. Her eyes are hazel, tawny brown around the pupil and forest green around the edges, and framed with thick, long lashes. Her face is angular, yet also soft somehow, with a darling nose and luscious red lips.
She's absolutely gorgeous.
And she's also speaking to him while he stares at her like an idiot.
"-Roxanne, and I'll be serving you today," she says. "Can I start you off with a drink?"
Hank blinks, the words processing a beat too late. "I'll have a Coke, please."
Roxanne's smile, though it isn't wide enough to show her teeth, is absolutely breath-taking. Her eyes sparkle down at him in self-amusement. It makes him wonder what her private joke is- is she laughing at him?
"One Coke, coming up. Are you ready to order, or do you need another minute?" she asks.
"I'm ready," Hank replies, more coherent this time.
He orders a cheeseburger and fries and watches Roxanne sashay away to put the ticket in.
She moves with the grace of a dancer, he notes, rather mesmerized. Her legs are long, despite her height of 5'4 or so, her waist small and trim. Hank would be lying if he claimed to not notice her well-formed womanly curves, perfectly in proportion with the rest of her hourglass frame. He is a male, after all.
Roxanne's steps are silent as she approaches him again with his drink- no wonder she was able to sneak up on him. She serves him his Coke promptly and assures him his food will be ready soon, with another lovely, close-lipped smile.
Hank watches her surreptitiously as she checks on her other tables.
"Another pop, Sheriff?" she quietly asks the man sitting alone, sitting a full cup of soda down for him.
"Thanks, Ms. Yazzie," he replies. "You're my favorite waitress."
Her laugh carries over to Hank and makes his fingers and toes tingle. He has to sternly remind himself that the last time he was so immediately smitten with a pretty woman it did not end well.
The name 'Yazzie' catches his attention, though. Could this woman be related to the old man who shut him down so thoroughly only an hour ago? The granddaughter Charles mentioned? They certainly don't look alike- Roxanne is a Caucasian redhead, while Aklaq was definitely Native American. He doesn't know if Yazzie is a common surname up here or not.
His ruminations are suddenly cut short. "Hey, waitress!" one of the men at the other table calls out obnoxiously. "Another beer over here!"
Hank can't help noticing that the beer mug in the man's hand is still over half-full. The man downs it quickly and slams the glass on the table with a loud clatter.
"Coming right up," Roxanne tells him, her close-lipped smile now rather forced. She swiftly supplies the man with a new beer from the bar. "Here you go. Everyone good here?" she asks the table in general.
"Could use some more wings," the rude man says. "Get on that, missy."
And he smacks the woman on her behind.
Roxanne freezes for a moment, obviously shocked that someone would dare to touch her that way. Hank, meanwhile, is silently horrified and indignant on her behalf.
In that moment Roxanne is so utterly furious that she doesn't give a thought to losing tips, or possibly getting fired. She just wants to teach this sack of crap a lesson in manners.
She snatches the fresh beer off the table and pours it on the man's head.
"Hey!" he sputters. "What the hell?"
"Aw, it sucks when people do things to you without your consent, doesn't it?" Roxanne snarls, barely remembering to not show her fangs. "What makes you think that it's ok to touch another person like that, huh? I'm done serving you. Pay your tab and get the hell out of here!"
"I ain't paying shit!" the man retorts, and his buddies pipe in to agree. "You just assaulted me with a drink! I'll have your job for that, bitch!"
"Sheriff?" Roxanne asks loudly. "What'd you see?"
Sheriff Joe folds his hands on the table in front of him in a very magisterial pose. He seems to enjoy the men's cowed expressions, now that they realize the town sheriff just witnessed the entire exchange. "I saw that man lay hands on you, forcing you to defend yourself," he replies serenely. "You boys best pay your bill and get out of here before I do something about it."
Roxanne pulls their tab from her apron and tallies in the beer she just poured on the asshole, just to be spiteful.
"And tip your waitress," Sheriff Joe adds.
The troublemakers quickly take their leave after that, muttering curses under their breath the whole while. They actually do leave a tip, to Roxanne's pleasant surprise.
"Thank you, Sheriff," she tells the older man. "I appreciate it."
The sheriff waves off her thanks. "They deserved that, and more."
"Yeah, but still- your meal's on me today," Roxanne says.
"I appreciate the kindness, but I can't do that to you," he replies. He reaches for his wallet and pulls out enough cash to cover his tab, plus tip, and rises from his seat. "I'm going to go make sure those out-of-town boys don't do anything stupid. You take care."
"You too, sir."
She quickly busses both dirty tables and brings the dishes back to the kitchen, wanting a moment to compose herself. She's still livid, despite Sheriff Joe's support.
"Order up!" the cook says, placing a plate of burger and fries up in the window. He catches sight of her expression and asks in Inupiatun, "are you alright, Roxy?"
"I'm fine, Siluk, thank you," she replies in the same language. "Just some rude outsiders."
Siluk rolls his eyes. "Can't say much better about the folks who live here, either. Stupid white people."
Roxanne laughs bitterly. "You realize I'm white too, Siluk?"
"Nah," he scoffs. "You're one of us, Roxy."
She giggles, though she's actually rather touched to be counted as Inuit.
Siluk may say otherwise, but Roxanne knows she doesn't belong up here serving rednecks alcohol and taking their abuse. She wants to get out of Eagle Village and actually use the degrees she worked so hard for. Otherwise all the time she spent away from Robert and Gramps feels like it was a waste.
Gramps did not take her news well this morning. He raged and vowed revenge on Dr. Cartier, though Roxanne doesn't see the point. For one, how is a frail old man going to take on an eight foot tall monster? And more importantly- it's not like killing Paul would bring Robert back from the dead.
Roxanne pastes a careful, close-lipped smile on her face and brings out her remaining customer's order.
"Here you go," she says, and if she's lacking her usual verve, who can blame her? "Is there anything else I can get you?"
"No, thank you," the man replies, with a small smile. But then a little furrow appears between his rather quirky eyebrows. "Are you alright, ma'am?"
"Oh, yes. I'm fine, thank you," Roxanne assures him, with a more genuine smile this time. It's nice of him to ask her, a complete stranger. "Just out of towners being jerks."
He winces in sympathy.
He's actually quite handsome, she thinks. Short brown hair, big blue eyes behind black-framed glasses, high cheekbones and a defined jaw. Neither scrawny nor overly musclebound- a happy medium, she feels. He's a little nerdy-looking, but definitely cute.
Something compels her to continue speaking to him- she has no other customers to take care of, and there are worse ways to kill time than talking to cute boys while getting paid for it. "You're not from around here, either," she comments. It's a statement of fact, not a question.
His eyebrows go up. "No, I'm not," he agrees. "How'd you know?"
"Several reasons," she replies, with a careful, teasing smile. She doesn't want to accidentally show her fangs. "For one thing, I know everyone around here. Curse of being a bartender in a small town. And then your clothes look straight out of a JC Penney catalog, and you also asked for a 'Coke.' That's a Lower 48 thing. We call it 'pop' up here."
The man laughs. "I seem to have given myself away completely, then," he notes.
He has a nice laugh. It's right on par with how nice his smile is.
"Just a bit. But what brings you to Eagle Village, Mr. JC Penney?" Roxanne asks. "Hunting?"
"Of a sort," he replies. "And my name is Hank."
"Nice to meet you, Hank," she says. It would be polite to offer a handshake now, but she doesn't out of habit. She clips her claws before every shift but still fears someone noticing how fast her nails grow out, always within mere hours.
"You too, Roxanne."
"Just- a word of advice," she adds, knowing she should leave him to his meal at this point. "Don't go into the woods alone, ok? It's dangerous."
Something flashes across Hank's face. He looks like he wants to ask more questions, but is unsure if he should.
"Duly noted," he says finally. "Thank you, Roxanne."
"You're welcome," Roxanne replies. She gives him a small smile and turns back to her other work.
She busies herself with refilling napkin containers and various other little chores, readying for happy hour to start.
Hank finishes eating, and she comes over to clear his table. "Have a nice day," she tells him brightly, gathering up his plate.
He looks confused. "My check?"
"No charge for you today. It was nice of you to ask if I was alright. It made me feel better," Roxanne replies. "A wise man once said, 'kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.'"
His expression is pensive for a moment. "Blaise Pascal?" he guesses.
She's so shocked her mouth almost drops open. "Yes, actually," she says. "No one has ever guessed that before."
Privately, she thinks that her suspicions of his nerdiness are now completely confirmed. But she's mostly just impressed.
"That's very kind of you, but I insist on paying," Hank tells her.
His sleeve rolls up slightly as he reaches for the wallet in his back pocket, revealing a strange watch. It's shaped like an X and has several buttons on it. Roxanne feels like she's seen the motif before.
Her intuition flares, the dots connecting rapidly in her intelligent mind.
Roxanne takes the careful inhale needed to confirm her first suspicion- yes, this man is indeed a mutant.
"You're an X-Man," she murmurs.
Hank looks at her sharply. "Yes. How-?"
"Your watch," she explains. "And I can smell you're a mutant."
His eyebrows raise. "Smell?"
Roxanne's cheeks dimple adorably as she gives him a full smile, revealing dainty little fangs. "Yes," she replies. "Smell."
She's even more beautiful when she truly smiles, something that Hank didn't think was possible. His answering grin is rather fatuous, he's sure.
"You said your name is Hank. Does that mean you're Dr. Hank McCoy?" she asks, becoming more serious.
A couple of new customers come in through the front door at that moment.
"I'll be right with you," Roxanne calls over to them. But then her voice drops to a whisper as she tells Hank, "I think I know why you're here, and I might be able to help you. My shift is over in two hours. May I see you after?"
Hank nods, barely suppressing his eagerness. "Yes, please," he says, because he really does need all the help he can get. And he also certainly wouldn't mind seeing her again. "Thank you." He pulls money out of his wallet, enough to cover his bill and a two hundred percent tip. "Keep the change."
He leaves the bar with the intention of going to his motel room to while away the time. He steps off the bar's porch-
A gunshot echoes from the forest.
Hank spins towards the noise, automatically on high alert. He can see birds a short distance away flying out of the trees, but nothing else emerges from the woods.
"You'll get used to that," a gruff male voice says.
Chapter 12: Seeing Is Believing
Seeing Is Believing
Hank turns to his left and sees a scarred up older man sitting on the back of a pickup truck whittling wood.
The man has horrible posture, hunched over with hands so shaky Hank fears for his fingers in such close proximity to the whittling knife. He appears to be middle-aged, though he's wearing a cheap hat that covers his forehead and eyes. A wooden cane rests beside his left leg.
"Excuse me?" Hank says.
"You ain't from around here, are ya?" the man asks.
His clothes must really stand out in this town, as Roxanne said. "No," Hank agrees. "Just passing through."
He turns to go back to the motel.
"I saw you lookin' around earlier," the man comments. "You lookin' for what killed that boy?"
This, of course, catches Hank's attention. "Someone died?"
The man shrugs. "Robert Yazzie. Presumed dead, anyway- they couldn't find much of a body left behind. Just a piece or two. Seems to me that's why you're here."
"And who told you about that?"
"No one 'told me' anything," the man retorts. "I use my ears." He tilts his cap, revealing rather milky-colored eyes. His forehead has deep scars that cross his eye sockets, an indication of what caused his sight to fail. "They're pretty much all I got left."
Hank feels a surge of pity towards this man- but also curiosity. He's obviously a local, and after speaking with Aklaq Yazzie earlier Hank is surprised that he's willing to share information with an outsider.
"What else have you heard?" he asks.
"I know its name," the scarred man replies. He puts a wad of tobacco in his mouth. "The Inuits call it Wendigo, the cannibal spirit of the forest. They say it travels through whispers in the night air, hunting for fresh meat."
"You believe that?" Hank is understandably incredulous.
The man fully lifts his hat, exposing the scars completely. They resemble a giant animal's claw.
"Seeing is believing."
"You've seen it?"
"Yeah," the man says, spitting on the ground. "I'll never forget that smell. Rotten, like death. And the noise-"
He makes a wheezing, chuffing noise, followed by a strangled- sounding howl that curdles the blood.
"Good thing I wasn't worth eating. Not like Yazzie," he adds, with a sinister laugh.
Hank recoils from him, unable to find humor in the death of a young man. And the name Yazzie again- was the boy who died related to Roxanne?
"Thank you for your help," he manages to tell the man politely, before turning for the motel again.
"Careful, or it'll catch your scent, boy!" the man calls after him. And he makes that horrible howling noise again.
Hank pointedly ignores him.
He enters the motel's office to find two men standing there chatting up the inane-mannered receptionist.
"You hear about the cage fighter over in Laughlin City, Ethan?" one asks the other.
"Guy won ten matches in a row."
"Horse shit, Darrell."
"That's what they're saying," Darrell retorts, shrugging.
"Well, that ain't as good as my story," Ethan boasts. He puffs out his chest and gives the receptionist a meaningful look.
Hank lingers, curious.
"I found two dead grizzlies out in the woods this morning. Looked like a horror movie scene, blood everywhere. Something killed them both, something huge."
"There's no way that happened," Darrell scoffs.
"I'm tellin' ya, it happened," Ethan argues. "Two dead bears, practically nose to nose."
"You were drunk," the other man accuses.
"It was early this morning. I was tipsy at best. I know what I saw."
"And where was this?" Hank interjects himself into the conversation.
The two men look over at him, sizing him up.
"One of our guests," the receptionist says suddenly. Her dazed voice gives the impression that she just now caught up to the rest of the conversation.
"Whatever you're selling, we don't want it," Darrell finally announces, his face twisting in a sneer.
Aklaq Yazzie wasn't kidding about the locals not liking outsiders, Hank grimly realizes.
"I'm no salesman, but I'd be very interested to see what you saw," he implores.
"See, he believes me," Ethan says proudly.
Darrell rolls his eyes.
"Could you take me to the bears?"
"For thirty bucks, sure," Ethan replies.
Hank pulls out his wallet to check his cash reserves. "I've got twenty."
"Great," Hank says. "Just give me one moment, I'll be right back."
"Sure thing, slick."
Hank hurries to his room and pulls out his sample collection kit from among his supplies. Its exterior vaguely resembles an overly-sophisticated lunch box. Before leaving the room he remembers to add the white hair he picked up outside Aklaq Yazzie's house to the kit, stowing it more securely.
"Alright, I'm ready," he announces when he re-enters the office.
"Great. Let's go, slick. I want to hurry up and get back to the bar."
Ethan leads the way through the woods, carrying a high powered rifle, while Hank follows close behind with his kit. The little tease of sunlight they had earlier is long gone at this point, and the falling twilight feels rather oppressive.
"You brought all that junk and no rifle?" Ethan asks incredulously.
Hank shrugs. "I guess I'm old fashioned."
His guide snorts. "This is old fashioned," he argues smugly, patting his own gun. "That shit's not going to protect you if we run into whatever got those bears."
Hank can't argue that, so he stays silent.
They don't go far- just a ridge above the road a few hundred yards past the town proper. Hank privately thinks that the distance between the cluster of buildings and here is much too insufficient to be possibly shooting off firearms, but he keeps that opinion to himself.
"It's right over the top of this hill," Ethan tells him. "In a small clearing."
But when they crest the hill and reach the clearing, the bears are gone.
"What the hell?"
Hank spies two thick trails of blood leading out of the clearing. "It looks like something moved them," he comments.
"What the hell kind of animal can move two bears?"
"One that's bigger," Hank replies dryly. He kneels down in the snow with the blood trails on either side of him. He murmurs, "it used the corpses to cover its tracks."
He opens his collection kit and takes out one of the sample cartridges. He slides the collection port into the bloody snow. The device beeps when its clear plastic tip turns red. Hank ejects the plastic tip full of blood into a vial and stores it next to the hair he collected earlier. He then repeats the process with the other blood trail.
Something catches his eye before he can rise to his feet. He notices tiny red specks in the otherwise blood-free area between the two trails. Compared to the older blood of the thick blood streaks, these little dots are bright red- possibly fresher. Hank carefully collects a sample of it before finally standing.
"We should follow the trail," he says- to no one, he realizes immediately.
Ethan is long gone.
"Or not," he snorts. "Flower of bravery, that one."
With a sigh, Hank begins to follow the blood trail. It leads rather directly to a quickly moving stream. The blood ends at the water's edge.
Whatever did this knew not only to hide its tracks as it dragged its prey, but also to head straight for water to further disguise its trail.
Hank stands there for a long moment, considering his next move. He's just decided to head back to meet Roxanne when he gets the sense that something is watching him.
He holds his breath, listening closely.
After what that creepy scarred up man told him earlier he's not sure if he can trust his ears, because right now he could swear that he hears something wheezing over the sound of rushing water.
The change into his Beast form ripples over him, almost unbidden. He's close to needing another dose of his meds, and his feral instincts, usually repressed in his human form, have broken free in response to the heightened sense of danger nearby and the waning amount of suppressing serum in his veins.
A gunshot rips through the air.
Hank instinctively drops to the ground, but the shot was not meant for him.
A split second later a hair-raising howl echoes through the woods, not twenty yards from where he crouches. As he rises to his feet he sees an enormous white creature running away on all fours.
But who fired the shot?
To be cautious he hides behind a large pine tree and listens, afraid that some hunter might consider his pelt a good replacement for the fleeing white creature.
Quiet footsteps approach through the snow, so feather soft that if he were in his human form he wouldn't hear them at all.
"Hank?" Roxanne calls out in a carrying whisper.
With a sigh of relief Hank steps out from behind the tree to see that she is his rescuer, if the shotgun in her hands is any indication.
His relief vanishes in an instant when Roxanne puts the weapon to her shoulder and aims right at him.
"Hey!" Hank exclaims, hands raised in surrender. "It's ok, it's just me, Hank."
The redheaded girl lowers her shotgun, though her expression is still wary. "Sorry," she says. "But lately I've been a little trigger happy when it comes to tall furry things in the woods. Can you blame me?"
"No," he replies. "I can't. That creature just now-?"
"Wendigo," Roxanne tells him, with a solemn nod. "Dr. Paul Cartier, that was. But not anymore."
"Are you certain?"
"I'm very certain. I saw Dr. Cartier come out of the woods early this morning, covered in blood, and then turn into that thing with my own two eyes."
The confirmation of his theory gives him little satisfaction, knowing there's a large animal out there with a thirst for human blood and no control over itself.
And it's wounded, too. That might make it even more dangerous out of desperation.
Hank sighs. "Do you think he'll die from his wound?"
"I doubt it," Roxanne says briskly. "That's the third shell I've put in him. Can we walk and talk, Hank? It's really not safe to linger. I told you not to come out here alone, didn't I?"
Hank catches up to her so they can walk through the woods together. "Technically I didn't come out here alone. I had one of the locals, Ethan, lead me to some dead bears he found. He got cold feet, I guess."
"Ethan's a jerk," Roxanne mutters. "He probably left you out here for fun."
"That thought crossed my mind, yes," Hank agrees. He stops walking when they reach the crest of the hill that leads back down to the road. "Which reminds me- thank you, Roxanne, for saving me back there."
Her grin makes his stomach flip flop. "You're just lucky I cut out of work twenty minutes early," she tells him, chuckling. "But, um, is there a way we can make you slightly less conspicuous before we get down to the road?"
He shakes himself. "Yes, of course," he says. "Just a moment."
Hank always has a couple of syringes of his mutation suppressing serum on him for emergency situations. The habit certainly saved him at the White House several years ago, when he fought against the Sentinels, and he's never seen any reason to discontinue it.
He removes his jacket and injects himself with practiced hands. Within a minute his blue fur is shrinking back into his skin.
"You're the one who sent the mutation suppressing serum to Dr. Cartier," Roxanne murmurs, understanding dawning on her gorgeous face.
Chapter 13: Making Connections
"Yes," Hank replies. "How-?"
"I was his assistant," Roxanne explains, turning away and heading down the hill. Hank follows. "I originally had a job lined up in California, after I graduated college, but then Gramps told me about a scientist who had recently moved to town and put out a listing for a lab assistant. I took it because I missed home, and I knew home missed me."
"Would Gramps happen to be Aklaq Yazzie?"
"Yeah," Roxanne replies, surprised. "How'd you know?"
"I met him today while I was trying to follow some leads. He didn't like me very much," Hank wryly recalls.
"Sorry about that. Gramps doesn't trust outsiders," she says, shaking her head. "I'll talk to him, don't worry."
Somehow Hank rather doubts that she'll make much headway on that front. The old man struck him as quite stubborn earlier. But then, he's been wrong before.
"So you came home to Eagle Village to be Paul's lab assistant. What happened after that?"
"He asked me to reverse engineer this compound. He told me it was a mutation suppressing serum. I was obviously a little concerned, but he assured me it was for people who needed help controlling their mutations, that were dangerous to themselves and other people. So I did what he asked. And then… Then things started to get weird. Dr. Cartier started keeping things from me, projects he was working on. He began acting very erratically, almost like he was fighting something within himself."
"It was something… dark. And it was growing stronger, I could feel it. He started watching me in a way that made me extremely uncomfortable, with this hungry look in his eyes. One day he approached me while I was working and I told him in no uncertain terms that I wasn't interested in him like that. He grabbed me, which of course really freaked me out, and the sickness in him seemed to enjoy that. I panicked, and then, well-"
"And then…?" Hank prompts.
"And then I smashed a beaker on his head," Roxanne replies sheepishly. "And quit on the spot. Two months later the Wendigo killed my twin brother. We didn't- there wasn't even much left to bury. Just a couple pieces."
Hank stops walking, so Roxanne does too. They're on the edge of town, close enough that they can hear the loud music playing at the bar.
"I'm so sorry, Roxanne," Hank whispers. He hesitates for a moment, and then reaches out to lay a gentle hand on her shoulder. She can feel the warmth of his skin even through the thick material of her jacket.
She smiles bitterly, the better to hide the tears suddenly stinging in her eyes. "We were going to get out of here, you know. It was our chance to start over. I lined up a job in Anchorage, convinced Gramps to leave here- that was a miracle all on its own, trust me," she says, with a brittle little laugh. "I thought Robert would be thrilled when I told him. Me and him, we've always been a little stuck between the two worlds out here. Inuit by tradition, white by birth. But he was mad that I set it all up without talking to him. The things he said that night- and then he walked off and-"
Roxanne rubs a hand across her eyes, hoping that her mascara doesn't make a run for it. She takes a deep, calming breath. "Excuse me," she mutters, fighting to keep her tone even as she looks up into Hank's big blue eyes. "I didn't mean to go completely sob story on you."
He shakes his head. "I understand. I really do, Roxanne," he murmurs, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze.
And then snatching his hand back, like he thinks it's a little weird that he'd been touching her during her whole little maudlin tale. His expression startles her into a laugh.
He grins sheepishly for a moment before becoming serious again. "Paul needs help, Roxanne."
Roxanne lets out a long, deep exhale. "I get why you're saying that, Hank. I get that you're an X-Man, and you're supposed to help people and stuff, but I don't know if you can in this situation. He might be beyond help. Completely lost to the monster inside."
"You saw me earlier. Am I a monster?" Hank asks sadly.
She scoffs. "Of course not. No more than I am," she replies sharply. "It's not about looks, it's about actions. Controlling our instincts."
"Sometimes it's not always so easy."
"Sometimes the fact that something is not easy makes it more valuable," Roxanne retorts.
Hank chuckles softly. "I suppose you're not wrong," he murmurs. "But back to the issue at hand. Do you know who Professor Xavier is?"
"The Professor is the most powerful telepath I know. He tried to read Paul's mind before I came here, but it's gone. Paul has no control over this creature right now. Maybe, if I can figure out how he got to this point, I can help him. That way he won't be a danger to anyone else, or himself."
She hesitates for a moment, torn between warring emotions.
Part of her feels like Dr. Cartier can go to hell for what he did to her brother. She doesn't feel the need for revenge, but she also doesn't see why she should lift a finger to help the monster, either.
But another, more humane part of her feels pity for the man. Can he hold the blame for something he had no control over? And wasn't the reason she stayed here in Eagle Village to help keep the people safe?
"Alright," Roxanne says. "I'll help you. What's your plan?"
"I think I'll go back to Paul's house and break in."
"Or we could just use my key."
"You have a key?"
"Yeah," she replies. "I forgot to leave it when I quit and was obviously hesitant on going back over there to return it."
"I'll take a stroke of luck where I can," Hank says. "If I could borrow it-"
Roxanne frowns. "'Borrow it?' You're not borrowing anything, I'm coming with you."
"Roxanne, it's not safe."
Her eyebrows shoot up. "Excuse me, but who just saved your furry blue butt from being a Wendigo snack?" she argues. "I'm the only person who's faced that thing more than once and lived to tell about it." She steps closer to Hank and taps a finger against his chest. "You want my key, I'm coming with you. Or you could try to break in the back door, since the front's electrified. But I'm warning you, it's booby-trapped, too. Your choice."
Hank is silent for a moment before letting out a sigh of defeat. "Fine," he concedes.
"Perfect," Roxanne says brightly. Her hand hasn't moved. "You're a smart man, Dr. McCoy. I knew you'd see reason."
He chuckles reluctantly. "Has anyone ever told you that you are utterly impossible?" he asks, but his eyes are dancing with amusement.
Suddenly, as she stares into those soulful baby blues, Roxanne is hyper-aware of how close she's standing to him. She's enticed by his scent- a warm, earthy, masculine aroma- and the memory of how nice it felt for him to touch her a few minutes ago. She likes the way his eyes light up when he talks, and she wonders if his lips are as soft as they look, if-
She sternly tells herself to snap out of it. She's known this guy for a grand total of five seconds, and they have a monster deal with. This is no time for romantic entanglements.
And yet- at that moment she hears Hank's breath catch, sees his gaze drift down to her lips. It seems like the feeling might be mutual.
There will be no smooching here, she tells herself. We have a job to do.
Roxanne gives him a coy grin and steps back. "Every damn day," she replies, with a playful toss of her head that makes Hank laugh and breaks the tense moment. "Would you like to come have dinner at my house? Or do you have something to snack on in your fancy lunchbox, there?"
"It's a sample collection kit for my genetic sequencer," Hank explains. "Though I must admit, the samples I've collected are rather redundant, thanks to your assistance."
"Where's your genetic sequencer? New York?"
"I have a portable one in my motel room."
"Wow! Can I see?" Roxanne asks eagerly. And then she realizes how forward she's being, between the dinner invitations and asking this man to take her to his room. "I mean-"
Roxanne looks uncomfortable, as if she's suddenly self-conscious. "I swear I don't throw around dinner invitations and stuff like this on a usual basis," she mutters, her cheeks flushing a beautiful rose color.
"I didn't get that impression at all," Hank assures her. "I'd love for you to see it. You mentioned graduating from college, what degree-?"
They make a strange pair walking down the street- Hank, in his expensive winter gear and carrying his scientific collection case, and Roxanne, with her shotgun and faded clothes. But neither of them particularly care.
Roxanne tells him how she finished high school early and went to Columbia on a full ride scholarship. She graduated earlier in the year with a Master's Degree in biochemistry. In turn he tells her about graduating from Harvard and his various Ph.D.'s.
"You got your first Ph.D. at fifteen?" she asks, laughing. "How old are you now?"
"I just turned thirty-two in October," he replies. Though he dreads the answer, he poses the same question to her. "And you?"
"Twenty-three," Roxanne tells him, and he feels ashamed of his furtive disappointment.
He's too old for her, he realizes now, and he's sure she feels the same way. It's disheartening, because Hank thought there was a moment between them earlier, a moment where Roxanne- lovely, clever Roxanne- was tempted to kiss him.
Now he wonders if he imagined it, and he feels guilty for wanting such a thing in the first place. So much has happened to this young woman in the past few months. He should be trying to help her find closure, not fantasizing about how soft and luscious her lips look.
Her next sentence catches his curiosity, making him forget his guilt and dismay.
"We always celebrate our birthday on the autumn equinox," she adds. "Gramps picked it."
She nods. "Yeah. See, Gramps was out in the woods one night during the dead of winter and found my brother and I left out in the snow to die. The doctor reckoned us to be about four months old at the time. We were these little feral babies, already had claws and pointed ears, and they figure that's why someone ditched us. Gramps may seem tough, but he's actually a big softy. Rather than sending us to an orphanage or something, he brought us up as his own."
"You obviously love him very much," Hank notes. "I can hear it in your voice."
Roxanne smiles fondly. "Robert and that old geezer are the only family I've ever known," she agrees.
At this point they reach the motel.
Hank opens the office door for her and notes the empty desk- the receptionist must be on break at the moment. He leads Roxanne through to his room. "Please excuse the horrible state of this room," he warns her as he pulls out the key.
She giggles. "Wait, are you telling me this isn't the Hilton?" she teases.
"Far from it," Hank agrees, laughing as well.
He holds the door for her before quickly putting down his case and pulling the gene sequencer out of his titanium storage container.
"What else you got in there?" Roxanne asks curiously.
"A bit of everything," he admits. "Anything from mutation suppressing darts to donor units of blood. I like to be prepared for all eventualities."
"Hmm. By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail," she muses.
Hank thinks for a moment. "Benjamin Franklin?" he guesses.
"It is indeed," she replies, with a laugh of delight that makes his heart trip all over itself.
Flustered, he focuses on loading samples into the sequencer, which begins to softly whirl as it performs its chemical analysis.
"Sequencing complete," the machine's small screen reads.
Samples one and two were from the heavy blood trails. Unsurprisingly, they came back as grizzly bears. The third and fourth, the samples from the mysterious Wendigo, read as unknown.
"Unknown- identical to Sample Four," the third slot says. The fourth reads the reverse.
"This is amazing," Roxanne murmurs. "DNA analysis that took only two minutes? Where'd you get this thing?"
"I made it," Hank explains, both bashful and proud all at once.
"You're incredible," she tells him. The compliment makes his ears turn pink- he just hopes Roxanne doesn't notice. "Where'd you get the Wendigo samples?"
"There was a tiny bit of blood splatter between the bear trails. I think perhaps one of the grizzlies clawed him," he says. "The hair I got from a tree outside your house."
"My house?" Roxanne repeats, alarmed. A shudder passes over her as she glances towards the window and the darkness outside. "Um- shall we head out, now?"
"Let's," Hank agrees. He can tell she's thinking of her grandfather, home alone with the Wendigo outside.
But Hank highly suspects that the old man is safe as long as he remains indoors. Call it a gut instinct, but the circumstances that led Roxanne to quit working for Paul and her repeated run-ins with the Wendigo give Hank the distinct impression that the creature is not watching their house for Mr. Yazzie's sake.
It wants something- someone- else.
Chapter 14: Kids These Days
Kids These Days
Once they leave the motel Roxanne leads him to an ancient old pickup truck around the back of the bar. Hank surmises the color used to be red at some point. Possibly, anyway- it's difficult to tell any more, the paint is so rusted off.
"This is Goliath," she says grandly. "Hop in."
"Goliath?" Hank asks after they've both settled themselves on the wide bench seat in the cab. The interior is obviously old, but also well-cared for and meticulously clean.
"Yes," Roxanne replies as the engine roars to life. "He's big, mean, and once died from a stone caught in his intake. So his name is Goliath."
Hank chuckles, appreciating the biblical reference.
He likes the way this woman thinks.
The sound of the old pickup truck approaching from down the road rouses Gramps fully awake from watching television through his eyelids.
He notes the time and frowns up at the clock on the mantle, wondering what kept Roxanne at the bar so late. Perhaps her replacement was running behind.
The truck stops in front of the house.
Gramps clambers out of his armchair so he can watch Roxanne get out of the truck. After what that McCoy man said about finding the Wendigo's hair so close to their house he won't be at ease until she's inside.
Unfortunately his old bones are so stiff from sitting down for such a long time that he's barely gotten to his feet before he hears both truck doors shut.
Then the front door opens, revealing a safe-and-sound Roxanne. "I'm home, Gramps," she says, setting her shotgun down next to the door. "And I brought a guest."
Coming in behind her is none other than Dr. Hank McCoy, the nosy, Wendigo-helping city-slicker.
Gramps plops back down in his chair. "I'm not in the mood for entertaining pasty white boys," he mutters sourly.
His granddaughter rolls her eyes and comes over to kiss him on the forehead in greeting. "Be nice," she tells him sternly.
Gramps ignores her. He's too busy shooting daggers with his eyes at the tall white man standing awkwardly by the door.
"Nice to see you again, Mr. Yazzie," McCoy offers politely.
Gramps grunts. The feeling isn't mutual.
"Hank is an X-Man, Gramps," Roxanne says, giving the old man a reproving look. "I told him about Dr. Cartier, what he's done. Hank wants to help us."
"Help us, or help him?"
"From my perspective there's no distinction between the two," McCoy replies. "The end result is the same, making sure Paul is no longer a danger to himself or anyone else. That's the goal, Mr. Yazzie. To keep people safe."
The boy casts furtive eyes on Roxanne before squarely meeting Gramps' gaze with his own. It would seem that McCoy has already realized that Roxanne might be under especial threat from the Wendigo. The old man glowers at him, not liking the pointed reminder that his precious granddaughter is probably in danger.
"I see," he mutters sullenly.
Roxanne snorts. "That's as good as we're going to get from him right now," she tells Hank. "Do you like salmon?"
"Salmon is fine," the boy replies.
"Please take off your jacket and have a seat, then. Dinner will be ready soon."
"You're not going to ask what I want?" Gramps gripes.
"Nope. You'll eat what I make you, you crotchety old man," Roxanne retorts peevishly.
Bizarrely, her waspishness makes his cantankerous attitude melt just a bit. His granddaughter is rarely truly cross with him, even on the days he's grouchy from his joints aching and the catch of the day being low. Her present break in good humor makes him feel a little ashamed of himself.
Her frustration with his inhospitable attitude makes him realize that she truly believes that this Dr. McCoy intends to help them. And Gramps has always trusted his granddaughter's instincts. He can't stop now.
He lets out an irritated sigh and resolves to be more agreeable, for her sake.
McCoy hangs his jacket by the door and hesitantly sits on the couch across the small living space from the old man, looking very much like he's regretting his acceptance of Roxanne's dinner invitation. "Your home is lovely," the boy offers, with the resigned air of someone who thinks they're just going to get a grunt as an answer but is determined to be polite anyway.
"It is," Gramps agrees proudly. "I've worked really hard on the place."
Hank's eyebrows lift just slightly, but otherwise he gives no other sign of surprise over the old man's apparent about-face. "How long have you lived here for?"
Gramps whistles and ponders that for a moment. "Gotta be over sixty-five years, now."
"So you were a young man, then."
He chuckles. "I wouldn't say that. It may be hard to believe, Dr. McCoy, but I've been around since before Seward's Folly."
McCoy's eyes go wide. "Then I must say, you look remarkably well for your age, Mr. Yazzie."
Roxanne pokes her head into the living room. "How do broccoli and mashed potatoes to go with the salmon sound, Gramps?"
The old man purses his lips at her. The message could not be more transparent- he's being rewarded for being nice to their guest.
He wishes that he could muster the will power to think of some snappy retort, but he can't. Roxanne makes some amazing mashed potatoes, and he's hungry from napping all day. His appetite has had a habit of coming and going lately, so it's best to take advantage while it lasts.
"That's fine," he huffs, crossing his arms. "Can we have some biscuits, too?"
"Anything for you, old man," Roxanne replies sweetly. She giggles and looks across the room at McCoy. She gives him a wink and disappears back into the kitchen.
The young man bites back an amused smile. "It was very kind of your granddaughter to invite me here, Mr. Yazzie," he says quickly, to hide his mirth at his host's expense. "It's a trait she gets from you, I think. She told me about the circumstances that brought her into your care."
If it were anyone else saying these things to him Gramps would write them off as trying to butter him up for something. False flattery, a feigned politeness.
But something about the younger man's eyes seems to scream such sincerity that he can't help believing the boy. Now that he's stopped being so prejudicial he senses in McCoy a strong determination to do the right thing, even to his own detriment. An admirable trait, considering how rare it is in today's world.
He softens towards the young doctor just a bit more.
They chat together amiably enough until Roxanne comes back to tell them that dinner is ready. She approaches Gramps to help him up, as is her usual, but Hank gets there first.
"Need a hand, sir?" he asks calmly.
"Sure," Gramps replies. He takes the proffered white hand with his weathered brown one and allows the young man to help him to his feet. McCoy's grip is stronger than his nerdy exterior would imply, and yet also gentle somehow. His hands are those of a healer.
Gramps might even start to like him, at this rate.
Hank hands him into the dining area of the kitchen and helps him settle at the scratched and chipped old table. He looks puzzled for a moment when Gramps and Roxanne both bow their heads, but quickly follows suit.
"Thank you, Great Spirit, for the food we are about to receive..." Gramps begins. "...May you bless the hands that made it, and provide guidance to Robert's spirit on his travels in the next world," he murmurs, before lifting his head.
Roxanne also resumes an upright position. And then-
"Amen," Hank mumbles.
He opens his eyes and looks around at the other two, heat rising in his cheeks. "Oh. Do we not do that here?"
Roxanne giggles outright at his confusion. "Relax," she assures him. She reaches out and pats his arm. "You're fine."
Her reassurance doesn't seem to help much. If anything, Hank merely seems more flustered over her touching him.
Gramps' eyes narrow slightly, taking it all in.
He doesn't contribute much to the dinner conversation, instead choosing to listen to the other two chat animatedly about various topics. The boy has a deep love for science and learning, a passion he shares with Roxanne. Gramps notes the way McCoy's eyes light up when he looks at his granddaughter, how he hangs on her every word and gesture.
It doesn't take long for the perceptive old man to come to the conclusion that the young doctor is rapidly developing a crush on Roxanne- and that the feelings are mutual.
He can't even recall the last time he saw such a constant smile on his granddaughter's face, not even before Robert died. Her laughter fills his old heart with joy. It's something he hadn't realized he was missing until it finally returned.
Part of Gramps wants to have a stern talking-to with the young man over this- his Roxanne will be sad when McCoy leaves in a few days, and he wants to protect her from the disappointment. As any good father figure would, he feels.
But another piece of the old man is fine with this innocent flirting- if you could call it flirting, anyway. The boy is much too awkward for anyone to accuse him of being a ladies' man. Actually, he thinks that perhaps McCoy's developing feelings for Roxanne might end up being a good thing. It means that Hank won't hesitate to protect his granddaughter, should the occasion arise.
"Well, I'm going back to my chair," Gramps announces after a while of listening to them and sitting at the table full of dirty dishes, the meal long over.
"Do you need help, sir?" Hank asks.
"No, I got it. Thanks," the old man replies, rising to his feet with difficulty.
"I better get these dishes done," Roxanne murmurs.
"Sure. I'll wash, you dry," she agrees, smiling at the young man.
McCoy looks much too thrilled to be doing an inane household chore. Gramps coughs pointedly, wiping the goofy smile off the boy's face.
Kids these days, the old man thinks grimly.
Chapter 15: A Bit of a Crush
A Bit of a Crush
They speak in whispers as they do the dishes, so as to not disturb the old man in the living room. By the time they're done he's snoring in his chair.
"Come on," Roxanne whispers, gesturing towards a hallway off the living space. "We can talk in here without bothering him."
Hank realizes as soon as he walks through the doorway she leads him to that this is her bedroom. Not only is her scent- warm and sweet, a heady aroma- extremely concentrated in here, something about the space just seems to fit what he knows of her personality.
The walls are log paneling, like the rest of the house. On the south side of the room there's a window large enough for a window seat, and on the adjoining wall there's a small gas-powered fireplace to make up for the cabin's lack of central heating. The pine wood floor is covered by a thick gray rug to take away some of the chill, and the bedding on the white wooden double bed is sky blue. The wooden ceiling is invisible because it's covered by a piece of dark cloth that has constellations painted on it. With a brief survey Hank can tell the stars are actually accurate to a summer's night sky. For furniture, besides the bed there is a nightstand, dresser, desk, and a severely overstuffed bookcase. Everything is neat and tidy without seeming neurotically clean.
"Have a seat," Roxanne offers, gesturing vaguely. She busies herself with lighting the fireplace because it's chilly in here compared to the rest of the house.
Rather than agonizing over where to sit, Hank drifts over to the bookcase set next to the window seat. He's itching to know what books she's read, what stories are in her mind. It's an eclectic mixture- everything from Jane Austen and F. Scott Fitzgerald to Faulkner and Shakespeare to Rousseau and Aristotle. She has a variety ranging from classic British literature and philosophy to Romantic poetry and Greek epics.
A woman after my own heart.
"I think you need another bookcase," Hank tells her, noting the way her worn old books are both placed vertically and squeezed horizontally to fill every available space.
"Yeah," she agrees sheepishly. "Maybe one day, when I can afford it. Until then, I'll stuff that thing until it falls apart."
As she stands up he joins her in front of the fireplace, the better to warm his hands after being in this rather frigid room. He gestures to a small painting hung above the mantle, no bigger than an eight by ten, that depicts a pair of swans. "Did you paint that?"
Roxanne shakes her head. "My brother did," she explains, smiling. "He said they're pretty and bad-tempered, like I am."
Hank snorts. "Pretty, yes. Very much so," he murmurs. "But bad-tempered? Not you."
And then he realizes what he just said and blushes madly. For her part, that lovely rose color is back in her cheeks and Hank can't help feeling proud of himself for putting it there.
"Thank you. That's sweet of you to say," she tells him, giving him a bashful smile that makes him feel like he missed a step going downstairs. She turns back to the painting. "He was good, wasn't he?"
"Yes," Hank agrees. "Did he ever try for art school or anything?"
"No," Roxanne replies. "He didn't believe in art being a job. He didn't think he would like it as much if he had to make a living doing it. It makes sense, in a way."
She pauses and glances over at the window seat.
"Any other time I'd say let's sit over there, but I'm kinda nervous about a Wendigo peeping on us through the curtains," she sheepishly admits.
"I understand," Hank assures her, and he sits himself down on the floor in front of the fireplace. It's a respectful and responsible choice, he feels, because if he sat down on her bed he's afraid he would overheat and melt from self-consciousness for the presumption. "This is fine."
"Hold on," Roxanne says brightly. "You just gave me an idea."
She disappears through the doorway, momentarily leaving him alone in her room. He wonders if he should feel strangely about being in here, because he doesn't. Nervous excitement, yes, but not discomfort. He hasn't been in a woman's bedroom in years. Not since Raven's the night before Cuba. And yet this feels oddly natural, to be here with Roxanne.
Within a minute she returns, holding the fixings for s'mores.
Hank thought it to himself before, but now he'll say it aloud. "I like the way you think, Roxanne."
She giggles and plops down next to him. "Just don't tell Gramps I stole his marshmallows."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
Together they make s'mores and talk for several hours, well into the wee hours of the morning. There's nary an awkward silence between them as they get to know each other, discovering the many things they have in common.
He's beginning to get a better picture of this woman's character as they confide in one another. Abandoned as a baby for being a mutant, raised in an ancient culture that her own race derided, torn between love and duty for the home of her childhood and the science she loves, and then having lost her twin brother on top of it all…
Many people would have sunk into bitterness long before now, but not Roxanne. He admires her spirit, undimmed by hardship and loss. She's playful and funny without being mean or glib, and extremely intelligent to boot.
He's putting himself in danger, emotionally-speaking, and he knows it.
But he finds that with her, he doesn't mind a bit.
"I better drive you back to the motel before it gets to the witching hour," Roxanne comments eventually. God knows she doesn't want Hank to go, but she also really doesn't want to run into Paul again.
"I suppose that would be for the best," Hank agrees.
He rises to his feet and offers a hand up, ever the gentleman. She doesn't need the assistance but takes it anyway, just for the little thrill of electricity that runs from his fingers to hers as they touch.
Hank holds onto her hand for about three seconds too long before he blinks and freaks himself out again. Roxanne laughs and pats his arm to show him no offense was taken. Actually, she finds his awkwardness to be rather endearing.
She leads the way out of her room into the main area, where Gramps still sits in his chair, snoring away. She leans down and kisses him on the forehead. "I'll be back in half an hour, Gramps," she says, though she knows he's probably too far asleep to hear her.
Grabbing the shotgun on her way out is second nature at this point. Of course Hank, with his sharp eyes, notices immediately.
"You take your shotgun everywhere you go?" he asks after they're in Goliath and on their way.
Roxanne nods. "Ever since I found what was left of Robert in the woods," she replies. "I don't feel safe without it anymore."
"This may be an intrusive question, but why didn't you leave Eagle Village after your brother died? You mentioned having a job in Anchorage, what made you decide not to take it?"
"For the longest time we didn't actually know what killed Robert. I only found that out last night," she explains. "Gramps was convinced that it was some sort of evil spirit, a real Wendigo. And I had some strong suspicions about Paul, of course, but no way of knowing if I was right. Either way, it didn't feel right to leave here, knowing there was something out there that could hurt more people. It's like what your Professor said when he did that brain broadcast or whatever last year- 'those who are strong, protect those who are weak.'"
Hank's silence following her explanation makes her a little anxious. She glances over at him, wondering if she said something to upset him-
He's smiling at her.
He coughs and shakes his head quickly. "Nothing," he replies. "Just- I meant what I said earlier. I like the way you think, Roxanne."
Roxanne smiles at him but hopes he can't see how much she's blushing in the dark. It's the curse of being a redhead, there's no hiding when she's embarrassed or flattered because her blazing cheeks give her away.
A silence falls between them now, but it doesn't feel awkward or empty. It's a companionable silence, Roxanne thinks. Neither of them feels the need to fill the stillness with mindless chatter, instead choosing to just enjoy the warmth of each other's presence in the moment. But on the flip side, the conversations they had tonight were... the only word she can think of to describe it all is epic.
She has to admit- she may be developing a bit of a crush on this Dr. Hank McCoy fellow.
"What time do you want me to pick you up in the morning?" Roxanne asks as she pulls up to the motel.
"You don't have to do that," Hank assures her. "I can walk..."
The words fade under the intensity of the redheaded girl's withering stare.
"Or you can pick me up at nine or so?"
Her frown morphs immediately into a stunning smile in response to his reasonableness. Hank likens it to the sun coming out from behind the clouds, achingly lovely and bright.
"Sounds great," Roxanne agrees. "I'll see you then."
She hesitates, and then leans across the expanse of the bench seat between them to kiss him on the cheek.
The sensation of her satiny lips on his skin feels like an electric shock, causing his skin to tingle like she's burning him. He can feel the heat rising in his face before Roxanne even pulls away.
"Good night, Hank," she whispers, with a shy little smile that threatens to melt him into a puddle on the truck cab's floor.
"Good night, Roxanne," he replies breathlessly.
He's tempted- so very tempted- to close the distance between them and kiss her, but his nerve fails him.
A kiss on the cheek can be a friendly gesture, he reasons sadly. It doesn't mean she wants me like that. And besides, we only just met…
Again, it's a struggle in the face of the attraction he feels towards this woman to remember how badly he got burned by his instant infatuation with Raven so many years ago. His brain tells him he needs to be more cautious, lest his heart get trampled into the dirt again. He's older now, wiser. He should know better than to feel like this.
Should, being the operative word.
On impulse he reaches up and brushes Roxanne's hair back from her face. Her skin is soft and warm, like a flower petal, and she's as beautiful as an elven princess with her pointed ears. He hates that she has to hide such a lovely, unique part of herself.
"Drive home safe," Hank murmurs.
As he gets out of the truck he wonders if Roxanne's expression is truly hopeful, or if it's just wishful thinking on his part.
Chapter 16: A Real Jewel
A Real Jewel
In the morning, after showering and shaving in the motel room's frigid little bathroom stall (the water heater appears to be broken, because of course it is), Hank decides it's time to give Charles an update. He presses the "X" symbol on his watch and waits, knowing that the blinking white light means it's transmitting a signal to the telepath telling him to contact Hank.
Within ten minutes Charles' image appears in the motel room with Hank, sitting across the rickety little table from him like they're about to have tea together. In reality the telepath is in Cerebro, thousands of miles away.
"You rang, Hank?"
"Yes," Hank replies. "I just wanted to give you an update. It looks like I was right about Paul. He's alive, but not his human self."
"Have you seen the creature he's become?" Charles asks, eyebrows raised.
"Not up close yet, but I caught a glimpse as it ran away," is the reply. "I also got a hair, and some blood near a pair of slaughtered grizzly bears."
"A pair, is it? Can you kill a grizzly bear, Hank? Or a pair of them?"
Hank glares at him. "Are you trying to be funny, Charles?"
"No, I'm merely trying to gauge your ability to defend yourself, should your plan go awry," Charles replies primly.
"It won't come to that."
"I wish I shared your certainty. Any luck with the townspeople?"
"I met with the old man you mentioned, but he was less than receptive at first. His granddaughter, though…" Hank can't hide the rising flush in his face, or his smile. "Roxanne. She figured out who I was in about two seconds and offered to help me. She's-"
Amazing. Beautiful, intelligent, funny, sweet-
"She was Paul's lab assistant for a while. She's going to help me gain access to his house today," Hank explains. "She's also pretty handy with a shotgun, so there's that."
"I see," Charles murmurs, eyeing his friend closely.
"I don't like this, Hank. Just you and a shotgun-wielding lab assistant against a cannibalistic beast?"
"Roxanne is much more than that," Hank argues. "She's very intelligent- she graduated summa cum laude with a Master's in biochemistry from Columbia, which should tell you something. Actually, she gave me a few ideas that I want to pursue when I get back to my lab. And she also has strong feral abilities and instincts as well. She's very intuitive because of them, but also extremely clever. And so very kind. I've never met anyone like-"
Charles raises his eyebrows.
Hank coughs and looks away from the telepath's probing stare. "I mean- you shouldn't underestimate Roxanne as an asset," he mutters. "She's already faced this creature more than once, and she even saved my life from him yesterday."
"It seems like you're quite taken with this woman," Charles comments snidely.
Hank's definitely blushing now, he can feel it. He can't deny the truth in Charles' statement, but he also won't confirm it because he whole-heartedly believes the telepath should mind his own business in this instance.
Charles changes the subject when he realizes he won't get any response from the younger man. "I still wish the team were there with you," his mentor mutters.
"I'll be fine without them. Especially Raven and her temper tantrums," Hank retorts, letting his lingering bitterness bleed through.
Charles' expression becomes pained. "I suppose you're not wrong on that last bit," he admits, and it makes Hank wonder what exactly is going on with the team out in Africa. The older man sighs. "I'll check in later."
And he vanishes into thin air.
Hank lets out a long exhale of irritation. He wishes Charles had been a little bit more forthcoming about the team than just that cryptic little parting shot.
He leans back against his chair and notes the time- almost nine o'clock. A little thrill goes through him, knowing that in a few minutes he'll see Roxanne again. He tells himself he shouldn't be this enthralled by someone he's only known for a day, but he feels it all the same.
As he rises from his chair he absently pats the refrigeration unit full of Logan's blood inside his titanium case. "Hopefully I won't need you," he murmurs.
Hank is waiting for them outside when Roxanne pulls Goliath up to the motel. His eyebrows raise slightly when he sees Gramps inside, silently asking the question with his eyes as he scoots into the cab with them. Gramps looks quite pleased with himself between them in the middle seat.
"He insisted on coming," Roxanne explains, rolling her eyes.
"Are you sure you're up to this, Mr. Yazzie?" Hank asks gently. "We don't know what we're walking into over there."
"All the more reason to come with you," the old man replies, arms crossed stubbornly. "To protect my granddaughter from the Wendigo. I can't lose her, too."
Roxanne sighs. "When he says it like that I can't be mad at him, you know?" she tells Hank, speaking over the old man's head.
The scientist's laugh gives her little butterflies in her stomach.
"Here," Gramps says, breaking into the moment. He shoves a paper bag and an insulated coffee thermos with a lid at Hank. "We brought you hot chocolate and donuts."
"You're too kind. Thank you," Hank says, awkwardly taking the items- the poor thing really is too tall to be squished into the truck's cab like this. He gingerly reaches into the bag to pull a donut out and take a bite. "Wow- nice and fresh. And delicious, too. Where'd you get these?"
"Roxanne made them," Gramps replies proudly. "Beautiful, smart, and a great cook. My granddaughter's a real jewel, Hank."
"She is," Hank agrees, his voice soft.
Roxanne can feel his gaze on her as she pointedly looks out the windshield. The memory of Hank's obvious admiration as he touched her face while they said goodbye last night is still fresh in her mind. If she looks at him right now she's sure she's going to start blushing like an idiot, and that just won't do.
"Enough with the false flattery, both of you," she scolds, grinning.
Her laughing mood vanishes rather abruptly as soon as they come into view of Dr. Cartier's house. She hasn't been back here since the day she quit, having no desire to see Paul again after his inappropriate behavior towards her. And then the man killed her brother.
So really, she feels her nonexistent desire to return to this place is completely understandable.
"Ready?" Hank asks her after he helps Gramps from the car.
"As ready as I'm going to be," Roxanne replies grimly. She pulls her key out of her jeans pocket. "Let's go."
Her head is on a swivel now that they're out of the safety of the truck. She feels exposed, out of place here on the Wendigo's turf. She can sense him in the very earth, as if his darkness is soaked into the soil.
"This way," Hank says. He leads them around the back, shivering slightly as he shifts into his Beast form. He ushers them through a large hole torn out of the backyard fence.
"That's new," she mutters, gripping her shotgun tighter.
She barely wants to let go of it long enough to unlock the door and type in the access code, but she does. Her hand reaches for the doorknob-
A clawed blue hand gently touches her wrist.
Roxanne glances up at Hank, noting the concern in his sunset-colored eyes. "If there's anything behind that door, I'd rather have myself meet it before you," he murmurs.
She vacillates between taking offense or being flattered, and finally settles on flattered. "Chivalry isn't dead, huh?" she teases.
"Not with me, it isn't," Hank replies. His grin reveals his fangs, but Roxanne isn't afraid of the huge feral male in front of her. She thinks he's actually rather... cuddly looking. But still handsome, in a unique way. "And besides- your grandfather would skin me alive if I let something happen to you."
"He's not wrong," Gramps agrees, nodding sagely.
"Alright then," Roxanne says, stepping back. She lifts her shotgun into position on her shoulder. "Lead the way, Beastie Boy."
Hank gives her an exasperated look, but squares his (broad, muscular- not that she notices or anything) shoulders and opens the door. He steps inside and then motions them to follow behind him.
Roxanne and Gramps step into the dirty kitchen with trepidation. The soiled dishes on the counter have a trail of ants, and she spies mouse droppings across the stove. Otherwise, there's no signs of life.
"Wait here," Hank tells them. He disappears through the doorway to search the rest of the house while the other two tensely wait. He returns just as Roxanne starts to get anxious. "No one's home."
"Let's start in the lab, then," she says, though she's dreading going back in there.
Sure enough, her skin begins to crawl the moment she steps into Dr. Cartier's cluttered laboratory. Not even the familiarity of the work stations and equipment is enough to ease her mind.
"You alright, Roxanne?" Gramps asks, concerned. Her discomfort must be showing in her expression.
"Not really," she whispers. She searches for the words to explain what she's feeling. "Can you feel it? It feels like… it feels like a soul died in here."
Her grandfather nods grimly.
By unspoken agreement they fan out and begin to search the lab. Within minutes Roxanne finds a small case and a VHS tape with a note attached. It reads, "For Hank."
"Hank," she says, holding them out for him. She gestures towards the television next to Dr. Cartier's desk.
Hank takes the tape, eyeing it warily. "If you need to step out-" he begins.
Roxanne shakes her head. "I'm fine," she assures him, setting down her shotgun. "Gramps?"
Gramps pointedly sits himself down in the desk chair, clutching his cane in both hands.
"Go ahead and play it."
Chapter 17: The Descent
Hank puts the tape in the VHS player and comes to stand next to Roxanne. She takes a little strength from his solid, calming presence at her side.
Dr. Cartier appears on the television screen, sitting in his lab. He stares into the video camera and says, "This will serve as entry one in my video log. I plan to chronicle the effectiveness of Dr. McCoy's mutation suppression serum. I begin by saying that I fear I must break my original intention to remain in isolation. I know it may be dangerous, but I feel that avoiding all contact with people is making my condition worse. As if I'm losing my humanity. I hired a lab assistant for the dual purpose of helping me reverse engineer the serum, and also for companionship. I'll meet her for the first time tomorrow."
He picks up the remote and clicks "stop."
Roxanne shivers as static fills the screen for a few seconds. She had no idea how much danger she had been in from the very first moment she met Dr. Cartier. How could he think it wise to have another person around when he wasn't sure of his control over the monster?
"Entry number two. It's been two weeks since my first entry. Two weeks since Roxanne started working for me. Roxanne…" He smiles. "She's the brightest, most gifted young woman I've ever met. Her spirit is warm and kind. I already feel more human around her." He bites his lip, his expression suddenly rather guilty. "I know I shouldn't say this about a girl less than half my age, but she has to be one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen. I know I shouldn't be, but I'm quite taken with her."
Hank casts a furtive glance her way, as if he's wondering whether he should have her leave the room after all.
"Entry number three. One and a half months since I started taking Dr. McCoy's serum. I've found that long term usage leads to bouts of depression and mood swings. Although without a control group, I can't be sure that it's not just me. I will of course continue treatment and hope for the best."
The next entry:
Dr. Cartier's appearance is slightly more disheveled this time. "I started working on something I don't think Roxanne will approve of. Roxanne… She's so strong for such a young woman. Very principled. I don't think she will like this little project of mine. I'm a little- I'm a little frightened of how I feel when she's here, lately. Something about her makes my alter ego more... active."
More static. And then:
Dr. Cartier's posture is slumped, defeated. "Today was rough," is all he says. "Something is wrong. What entry is this? I don't remember."
The next entry:
"Roxanne quit today," he tells the camera. He grabs at his hair and pulls at it until he winces from the pain. "Why did I do that? I didn't mean to scare her- but part of me enjoyed seeing her afraid. She could sense it, too. And now… now she's gone. My only link to humanity. What will I do now?"
The next time Dr. Cartier appears on screen he is standing in front of a giant metal cage. "I've constructed this cage to hold the beast once I transform," he says. "I plan on studying the effects of the mutation inducing compound I developed from Dr. McCoy's serum on my alter ego." He holds up a small case filled with orange vials. "I will inject three vials and record the result."
The static clears to show the doctor in tattered clothes, breathing heavily. The entire lab behind him is a wreck, like a tornado ripped through it.
"I got out of the cage," he explains, with a nervous chuckle. He picks up the small case filled with his orange steroid compound and opens it to show the camera. His hands are shaking ever so slightly. "Three vials made my head cloudy, but I was still present. I must say, it was quite a rush. Being free of my memories, running through the snow."
A half-crazed smile comes to his face, so unsettling it makes a chill run down Roxanne's spine.
"I plan on using four vials next time…"
In the next entry Dr. Cartier's expression is reminiscent of a man who has seen the inside of Hell itself. His left hand firmly grasps his right wrist in a fruitless attempt to inhibit the visible tremors, the incessant shaking.
"This is my final entry. I hope that you will be the one to find this, Dr. McCoy. If not, I hope that you see it one day." He takes a deep breath. "I am the Wendigo monster, the eater of human flesh. I- I'm…" He hangs his head for a moment. "Please tell Roxanne I'm so sorry."
Roxanne doesn't realize that her hands are trembling until Hank reaches out and takes one in his warm, firm grasp. He gives a gentle squeeze, an offer of silent comfort. She grips onto his hand like it's a life line while tears run down her face.
"No amount of medication is going to change what I've done," Paul says. "I can't escape it. As long as I'm human, I'll carry this… burden with me. But to be the animal, Hank, it's something to aspire to. No fear of judgment, no second guessing, just one central idea. Survival."
He holds up a bloody knife.
"I've found that death will not come to me. Trust me, I've tried. The only way to escape, my only remaining option is to accept my genetics, Hank. If God has a plan, I've been ignoring it for far too long." He looks straight into the camera. "I know this must come as a shock to you, hearing that your serum was used improperly. I hope in time you can forgive me."
Dr. Cartier struggles to hold back tears.
"I'm ready, Hank… I'm ready to live without this guilt, my regrets. Can you imagine that, Hank? No regrets." He picks up a small case, the same one Roxanne found with the VHS tape. "I've left this case for you. It holds the remaining doses of my compound. You can study it or destroy it, but I implore you to consider giving it a try. These woods are big enough for the both of us. Why not embrace your true self? Don't fight nature, Hank." His smile is truly chilling. "Nature always wins…"
Hank stares at the screen, now frozen on Paul's face. He can't shake the horror of what he just saw, a first-hand chronicle of the doctor's descent into madness.
He's torn between pity and disgust towards the man. Paul had reached a point where he no longer wanted to live, with becoming an animal his only escape from the terrible things he'd done. His own instincts had begun his destruction from the inside, a piteous circumstance. And yet- how much of this madness was self-inflicted, from the man's experiments on himself? What sickness within drove him to give the monster more and more power over his thoughts and actions? Paul was like a man in a sinking boat poking more holes in the hull, and Hank feels both compassion and revulsion in equal measure.
Roxanne squeezes his hand- he can tell she feels the same way.
Gramps, apparently, is on a completely different wavelength.
"Well, this is the answer, boy," he announces. He reaches out and opens the case Roxanne left on the desk, revealing vials full of orange liquid. "Fight fire with fire."
Hank steps backwards, gripping Roxanne's hand tighter. "I don't want to be like him, Mr. Yazzie. I don't want to lose control like he did," he says, shaking his head furiously.
"On the video, he said that he could still think clearly with three injections," the old man argues. "You could try using two."
"Even if this is Dr. Cartier's compound, there's no way of knowing if it's the same concentration," Hank retorts. "For all I know, he's doubled or tripled the potency."
"Do you trust him?"
"No, I don't trust him! That man took my serum and turned it into a weapon," the younger man replies, utterly guilt-stricken. "The deaths he's caused, your grandson, that's on me." He turns to Roxanne, still holding her hand. "Your brother, Roxanne- I'm so sorry."
She shakes her head. "Hank, that wasn't your fault," she tells him, her voice firm despite how shaken she looks after seeing Paul's video. "None of this is."
"How can you say that?" Hank tries to turn away from her, but Roxanne places her other hand on his arm and won't let him. He could break her grasp if he truly wanted to, but hates the thought of possibly hurting her. "Because of me, he's become even more dangerous."
"You were only trying to help him," she argues. "How were you supposed to know he would take your gift and twist it into something evil?"
"You should use his compound against him," Gramps interjects stubbornly.
"And what if I'm just as dangerous as he is?" Hank snaps. "I could kill people, Mr. Yazzie!"
"You couldn't do that, Hank-"
"You don't know that!" Hank snarls, baring his fangs at the old man.
He makes no threatening move, but the harshness in his voice and the implications of what he said still startle Roxanne into releasing his hand and jumping backwards, away from him.
The sight of her big hazel eyes watching him with wariness- almost fear- makes him immediately regret his outburst.
Hank resists the urge to reach for her, afraid of how the action would be received. "I'm sorry- I didn't mean to frighten you, Roxanne," he tells her, hoping she can hear how sincere he is.
She nods shortly. "I know you didn't," she says, still a little tense. He has a feeling that's more from the strain of the situation than because of him, but perhaps that's only wishful thinking. He hates the thought of Roxanne being afraid of him.
Hank takes a deep breath, trying to marshal his emotions. "Mr. Yazzie, you don't know what a struggle it is for me sometimes, to control myself. You-"
Gramps suddenly rises to his feet, surprising the other two with his spurt of mobility. He draws his hunched over shoulders back as far as they can go. "Boy, I'm a hundred and forty-six years old," he declares. "I've seen a lot of people in my time, a lot of ferals. I know what the hell I'm talking about when I say that I know your type, and you're not going to lose your damn head."
The old man turns to his granddaughter, still watching the argument with caution in her eyes.
"Roxanne, I've always taught you to listen to your instincts," he says to her. "What are they saying now?"
She frowns at her grandfather, but after a long pause to gather her thoughts she replies, "they're saying that a man who's fought so long and hard to help people the way Hank has isn't just going to go off the deep end." She glances at Hank. "That he's a good person, and he has a good heart."
"See?" Gramps says triumphantly, as if that settled everything.
And then he walks out of the lab, shuffling along as straight-backed and proud as he's able.
Roxanne follows him- but before she leaves she reaches out and places her palm on Hank's chest. Right over his heart.
Hank gently takes her wrist and holds it there, letting her warmth seep into his skin through his shirt and fur. "What do you think I should do, Roxanne?" he asks.
"Whatever you think is right," she replies. "My gut instinct is saying to trust you, and I'm going to listen to it." She gives him a sad little smile. "That's all I know how to do."
Roxanne stands on tiptoe and kisses him on the cheek- again, the contact of her lips against his skin makes it feel like an electric shock is sticking his feet to the floor.
Then she exits as well, grabbing her shotgun on the way out. This leaves Hank in the empty lab, staring at Dr. Paul Cartier's frozen face on the television screen.
With a sigh, the blue feral picks up the little container holding the inducing serum and places it in his pocket before turning to leave. His instincts are at war with his higher brain function, but one thing he does know for a fact- a just-in-case contingency never hurt anyone.
Chapter 18: Inside and Out
Inside and Out
Hank injects himself with his suppressing serum before getting into the truck, where Roxanne and Gramps are already waiting.
The trio is silent as Roxanne drives them back to the cabin, their destination chosen by unspoken agreement.
"Are sandwiches alright for lunch?" she asks the other two when they pull up in front of the house.
"Thanks, but I'm going to take a nap in my room," Gramps replies.
"You're not hungry?"
"Definitely not. I'm too tired."
Roxanne is immediately on alert, noting through her peripheral vision how exhausted he indeed looks after their adventure at Dr. Cartier's house.
Her grandfather has been declining over the past few months, and it feels like the descent is getting exponentially worse as time passes. Losing Robert took so much out of him, accelerating the nosedive in his health. He hasn't been fishing in weeks- today was actually the first time he's left the house since their last trip to Mr. Jones' store, over a week ago. And now, after barely any exertion, he's too tired to eat.
There have always been two constants in Roxanne's life: Robert and Gramps. Robert is gone now, killed so unfairly in the prime of his life. The thought of losing Gramps- that pillar of strength and wisdom, the only parental figure she's ever known- terrifies her in unspeakable ways. Roxanne knows the old man will pass on one day, but she isn't ready to lose him.
But then, who ever really is ready to lose the ones they love?
Hank helps the old man out of the truck once they reach the house, and then patiently assists him inside and to his room. Once he's deposited his charge in bed he follows Roxanne into the kitchen.
"Is- is he truly over a hundred years old?" Hank hesitantly asks as the young woman busies herself with making lunch for them both.
She shrugs, staring into the refrigerator with undue focus. "I'm assuming so," she replies, keeping her voice even. She knows what he's driving at, and she doesn't like it. "He's always looked the same for as long as I can remember- old, but still strong and active. It's only in the past few years that he's started slowing down."
"Perhaps a trip to the doctor-?"
Roxanne cuts across him. "Roast beef ok with you?"
Hank pauses for a moment before answering. "That's fine, thank you."
She starts pulling stuff out of the refrigerator, letting the mundane activity be an outlet for her anxiety. "The old codger won't go to the doctor, I've tried," she explains briskly, using so much force she's practically throwing the sandwich ingredients on the counter. "He doesn't trust the white man's medicine, and even if he did, he claims to know exactly what's wrong."
"Which is what?"
"'There's nothing wrong with me except I'm old. I'm a hundred and forty-six, dammit, it's only natural,'" Roxanne replies, with such a credible imitation of the old man's voice that Hank has to snort back laughter. She shakes her head. "Stubborn old man."
"He loves you," Hank murmurs. "Very much."
She gives him a small smile. "Yes," she agrees. "I know. But- I just lost Robert. If I lose Gramps too…"
Hank nods. "I understand, Roxanne. I really do."
Roxanne looks at him, noting the compassion in his gaze. She senses it around this man, along with a burning desire to do what is right. She knows Gramps perceives it too- otherwise he wouldn't have brought up the idea of Hank using Paul's inducing serum.
"I know you do," she whispers. "I can feel it."
Hank smiles shyly and takes their plates when she's done making their sandwiches. "Where to?" he asks.
To his surprise Roxanne leads him to her bedroom once more. "I don't want to wake up Gramps," she explains quietly as she shuts the door behind them.
Hank nods in understanding and makes to sit on the floor again, but she makes an impatient noise.
"I don't want to be too forward," he says defensively, heat rising in his face.
"You're not," Roxanne retorts, plopping down on her bed. "My butt didn't appreciate sitting on the floor for hours last night."
Hank doesn't know how to respond to that comment- what does one say when a woman refers to her assets, so to speak, in such a way?
He perches on the side, not wanting to seem too eager or anything, and searches for something to say in order to draw attention away from his awkwardness. "I like your comforter," he offers, cursing his social ineptitude.
Roxanne looks very much like she wants to laugh at him, biting her lip to stop herself. "Thank you," she replies. "Blue is my favorite color, you know."
"You have good taste."
At that comment she can't help giggling. A lovely smile lights up her beautiful face, and Hank is glad he was able to put it there, after her earlier anxiety over Gramps.
His own responding grin vanishes with her next question, coming a few minutes of sandwich-eating later. "Have you always been like that? Blue, I mean, without your serum?"
Hank looks away from her, unable to hide his dismay. Her innocent question has brought up ghosts long dead and buried. But something inside him wants to confide in Roxanne, wants her to understand him.
"No," he replies quietly. "I used to essentially look like this-"
He gestures to himself.
"-Generally underwhelming and human, except with huge prehensile feet. Growing up, I always felt like a freak because of them, though it seems ridiculous now. I promised myself I would find a cure, a way to change my appearance without losing my abilities. I developed a serum that I thought would help me, but I miscalculated somewhere. My 'cure' triggered a second mutation instead. Not only did I become the blue creature you saw earlier, I also had this new, feral side of my personality emerge."
He swallows painfully.
"I'd always feared that deep down I was a beast, less than human somehow. My feet were a manifestation of it. I felt that if I could just make my appearance normal, that… it would fix me, I suppose. That it would change my inner self, too. But then my serum backfired, and I've always wondered if my exterior changed to match the monster inside, instead of the other way around. The instincts, my feral nature- my serum brought that out of me. That side of my personality scared me. It still does. It took me a while, but several years ago I developed the mutation suppressing formula that I use now to allow me to function in public. Without it, I revert back to my feral, monstrous form."
Roxanne doesn't say anything for a very long time- so long, in fact, that Hank is tempted to excuse himself and leave. He over-shared, it seems. He scared her away with his talk of his inner beast, and-
"Why do you think being a feral automatically makes you a monster somehow?" she asks. She looks genuinely puzzled. "Do you think I'm a monster?"
"No, of course not," he replies quickly. "You could never be. But me…."
Understanding flashes across her face. "You know," she says, "among my people- the Inuit, I mean- ferals are highly respected and valued by the tribe. Their hunting skills bring in food, their protective instincts and strength keep the tribe safe, and their long lifespans help keep our traditions alive." She looks at Hank steadily. "Maybe it was how I was raised, but we view it as a gift, not a curse."
"Does that mean you've never struggled with it?" he asks her. "The instincts, the physical aspects of your mutation?"
She shrugs. "I grew up appreciating what it is to be a feral. Our perceptions are much more vivid than a normal human's. Our intuition is powerful, as are our emotions." She then smiles bitterly. "That being said, my birth parents abandoned me to die for my physical mutations, so make of that what you will."
Hank winces in sympathy.
His own parents emotionally neglected him because of the shame they felt over his mutation. When he was a child his mother took him to prayer meetings in useless attempts to "fix" him, assuring him that God had done this to him for a reason. His own father could barely even stand to look at Hank, thanks to the guilt he felt over his accident at the nuclear power plant where he worked and its effects on his son.
Hank grew up knowing he was broken, knowing that his parents would never accept him because of his mutation. His quest for their approval helped lead to his failed experiment on himself. But at least they didn't leave him to die somewhere.
He can only imagine what kind of effect that knowledge had on Roxanne as a child.
"That's their loss, Roxanne," he tells her, and he hopes she can hear how much he means it. "It truly is. They'll never know what an intelligent, kind woman you became in spite of them."
She casts her eyes down and smiles shyly, revealing her cute little fangs. As before, her smile does all sorts of strange things to his insides. Far from detracting from her beauty, her feral attributes only make her all the more striking.
"Thank you," she murmurs. "That's very kind of you to say."
On impulse Hank reaches out and softly touches her face, tucking a lock of hair back behind the elven point of her ear. His fingers then trail down to her cheek and gently lift her face, so those gorgeous hazel eyes meet his gaze.
"I mean every word," he assures her. "You're beautiful, Roxanne. Inside and out."
She places her hand- with its dainty little claws- over his and holds it against her face. "So are you," she replies.
The sincerity in her eyes is undeniable. She truly thinks that of him, Hank McCoy, the awkward scientist who fears he's a monster, who never says the right thing and highly suspects that he'll grow old and die alone.
Roxanne is making him question so many things he thought he knew about himself, holding up a mirror to make him realize that perhaps he was wrong about his mutation, his curse. Far from being troubled by this shift in world view, he finds that for what could be the first time in his life, he feels true hope for himself.
And it's all thanks to her.
The urge to kiss Roxanne is growing stronger by the second, overwhelming all sense of caution and reason. Hank finds he can't resist it, even if he wanted to.
He leans in fractionally-
Chapter 19: The Plan
A single tap on the door is the only warning they get before it swings open, just enough time for Hank to snatch his hand away from her face before Gramps shuffles his way in.
"Have you two come up with a plan on what we're doing next, or have you just been flirting this whole time?" the old man asks, still crabby from his nap.
Roxanne glances over at Hank, noting his guilty expression and flushed face. She's sure she's not much better.
And Gramps' discerning eyes see it all. "Uh huh," he mutters. He seems torn between holding onto his grumpiness and amusement at their expense.
Hank clears his throat. "I already have a plan," he announces quietly. "I need to go back to the motel, though."
Roxanne rises to her feet. "I'll drive you back," she says.
"And I'll come too," Gramps adds.
She rolls her eyes. "Of course you will," she mutters. "Gramps, you've already done a lot today. Are you sure-?"
"I'm fine, Roxanne. Now come on, we're burning what little daylight we have for the day," the old man says, in a tone that brooks no further argument.
So it is that the three of them pile into Goliath and head back into the town. When they arrive back at the motel they leave Gramps in the car for a moment to grab some of Hank's equipment from his room.
"Roxanne?" Kayla, the receptionist, raises her eyebrows at the sight of the redheaded girl stepping through the door that Hank opens for her. "What are you doing here?"
"Just helping out my friend, Kayla," Roxanne replies warily. She's known Kayla for years and never particularly liked the woman because of her vapid, shallow, gossip-mongering ways.
Something tells her nothing good will come of Kayla seeing her with Hank.
"Old friend of yours?" Hank asks once they're in the safety of his room.
Roxanne shakes her head. "Not really," she admits. "Not even in high school. She has a thing for Ethan, if that gives you any indication about her."
Hank busies himself with gathering equipment while she eagerly waits. She only has a billion questions about what his plan is, but realizes it would be easier to wait until they're back with Gramps to save him the trouble of explaining twice.
Once he declares himself satisfied they carry a few boxes from his giant titanium case out to Goliath, under Kayla's hazy, watchful eyes. He then directs Roxanne to drive to the outskirts of town, near where they saw the Wendigo the day before.
"Alright, Hank," Gramps says at this point, when the truck stops and the other two hop out. The old man perches on the edge of the seat. "What's your plan?"
"I have a hypersonic transmitter that creates sound at a range above human hearing, but still audible to most animals," Hank explains, arranging his supplies. "It's likely to draw in the Wendigo where I want him so I can shoot him."
"Shoot him with what?"
Hank opens a long metal canister, revealing what appears to be a tranquilizer rifle. He picks it up and shows them the chamber. It contains a massive dart filled with a green liquid.
Roxanne immediately recognizes the compound from working with it in Dr. Cartier's lab. "Your mutation suppressing serum?"
Gramps suddenly lets out an angry snarl. "You're going to shoot him with more serum? Isn't that what got us into this damn mess? Why not just kill him?" he demands.
"Cartier wants to die anyway," Gramps snaps, with a vehemence that gives the lie to his age. "I want that monster dead for what he did to my grandson! He doesn't deserve-"
The old man's diatribe cuts off when he begins to gasp for air.
"Gramps!" Roxanne darts over to his side, but all she can do is hover helplessly while her grandfather goes into a full-blown coughing fit. Specks of blood appear on his chin, and his lips take on a hint of blue.
Hank grabs something from one of his boxes. "Mr. Yazzie, put this in your mouth," he orders, joining Roxanne in front of the old man. He holds out a lozenge of some kind. "It's like a cough drop, but stronger."
Gramps does as he's told without arguing for once- Roxanne realizes that just goes to show how much pain he's in. She waits tensely, scared and unable to do anything to help the only family she has left in the world.
Thankfully whatever Hank gave him works almost immediately, calming his spasming airways. The cyanotic hue leaves his lips and he's able to take deep, oxygenating inhales.
"Gramps?" she asks hopefully, after giving him a couple minutes to catch his breath.
"'M fine," he whispers, his voice hoarse from coughing.
Roxanne lets out a sigh of relief, closing her eyes and offering up a silent prayer of thanks to the Great Spirit. She leans down and kisses the old man on his wrinkled forehead.
Then she turns to Hank. "Thank you, Hank," she tells him sincerely.
After a moment's hesitation she slips her hands around his waist for a hug, a further expression of gratitude and relief. He returns the gesture, wrapping his arms around her and holding her close.
Roxanne lets out a little sigh of contentment. She definitely likes being in Hank's embrace, how safe and warm she feels right now. His arms are strong around her, and her head, pressed to his chest, tucks under his chin in just the right way. It's perfect.
"No problem," Hank replies belatedly, squeezing her gently.
After a minute she reluctantly lets go, recalling herself to the situation at hand- namely, Gramps sitting there watching them both with raised eyebrows despite his obvious exhaustion.
"Ok," she announces, her face warming. "Gramps, you stay in the car with the heater going while Hank and I set up. I want to get you back home before I have to be at work tonight."
Gramps scowls at her, but surprisingly doesn't argue. Again, she sees it as a sign of how tired and worn out the old man feels.
It takes her a few minutes to shake off her fear for her grandfather's condition.
"What exactly are we going to do?" she asks Hank as they walk a short distance away, motion detectors, nails, and hammer in hand. They left the serum rifle and the hypersonic transmitter back at the truck with Gramps for now.
"I'm going to nail up these motion sensors around the area so I can see the Wendigo coming after I turn on the sound device," he explains. "I have a digital display to watch for him that I'll have with me when the time comes. That way I'll be ready for him."
"Alright then," Roxanne mutters. "Let's get this done with so we can get Gramps back to the house."
They would've covered more ground in a hurry if they split up, but both of them are reluctant to do so in the present circumstances. Roxanne instead chooses to carry supplies and keep watch with her shotgun while Hank nails the sensors to tree trunks and light poles both on the road and in the woods.
"I think we're set," he announces finally. "Let's get back to the truck. I'll take my rifle and the transmitter and set up out here, in the middle of the sensors."
Roxanne is unconvinced, and it apparently shows.
"Roxanne? What's wrong?" Hank asks.
"I don't like that you're going to be out here by yourself with just that serum rifle to protect you," she tells him. "Paul's not the only thing out in these woods that can mess you up." She hands him her shotgun. "Here, take this with you tonight. Just in case."
He hesitates. "Roxanne-"
"Hank, it's fine. I'll be safe in the bar, remember? And when my shift's over I'll come get you out here. Hopefully you'll have Paul with you and we can figure out what to do with him, right?"
"Right," Hank agrees, though he doesn't seem so confident. She has a feeling it's because of her grandfather's undimmed desire to kill Dr. Cartier. For all Gramps' usually playful demeanor, underneath it all he is still a feral. A feral wanting revenge for the death of his cub, not matter what the cost. The instincts are always there, below the surface.
Hank's not wrong to worry- she's worrying plenty as well.
But Roxanne knows that the first step is getting their hands on the Wendigo. They're work out the other details later.
They head back to Goliath so Hank can grab his most important tools- the serum rifle and his hypersonic transmitter.
He notes how alert Gramps now is sitting in the truck's cab as he grabs his things, but doesn't think much of it. The lozenge Hank gave him included a mild stimulant.
"Mr. Yazzie, you should get some rest," he tells the old man.
Gramps nods. "I will," he promises. "Take care of yourself, Hank. Don't be afraid to go for the shotgun first."
Something in his expression seems rather odd, but Hank brushes it off as conflicting emotions over this whole situation. He loads himself up with the shotgun, serum rifle case, and his hypersonic transmitter before turning to Roxanne.
"I'll see you later. Be safe, Roxanne."
She rolls her eyes. "You be safe, Hank," she playfully retorts. "I'm just dealing with drunk townies tonight. You're out here trying to lure in a cannibalistic beast."
Hank laughs at the absurdity of it all. "When you put it that way…"
Roxanne giggles and stands on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. Again, the sensation of her lips on his skin feels like an electric shock- but in the best kind of way.
"I'll see you later, Hank. Take care."
After a short hike Hank sets up his hypersonic transmitter a few hundred yards away from town. When full darkness falls he will easily see the lights from the bar and even hear the music carrying to him in the still night air.
He turns the signal strength on the transmitter to ten percent to start with. "Alright. Let's see if I can get your attention without pissing off every dog and cat in town," he murmurs.
And then he waits.
Chapter 20: The Trouble Starts
The Trouble Starts
It's not long before full dark is upon him, and with it comes a significant drop in temperature. The air becomes more and more frigid with each hour that passes.
I should've brought gloves. And a hat. And a space heater, he muses to himself. Maybe a tent and a sleeping bag, too. For all my talk of being prepared for everything I certainly failed on this one.
Despite his inner grumblings Hank remains at his post, rubbing his hands and shivering against the cold but not taking his eyes off the radar screen. About two hours in he bumps the signal strength up to twenty-five percent, to no avail.
After over six hours in freezing temperatures Hank decides that he's earned himself a break. He can see the lights of the packed bar down the road and can hear people laughing inside.
Roxanne is in there, he knows.
I think I could use a bathroom break and a chance to regain feeling in my hands, he tells himself innocently. And perhaps check in with her, too.
With that decided, he turns the hypersonic transmitter back down to zero and jogs to the bar down the road.
He reaches it right after Ethan and another townie that Hank doesn't recognize pull up in a ramshackle old Ford and get out of their vehicle.
Ethan laughs meanly when he sees Hank approaching. "There's the great bear hunter," he crows.
"He don't look like a hunter," his companion mutters, loud enough for Hank to hear.
Ethan guffaws and jocularly hits Hank on the back, but the gesture is more forceful than friendly.
Hank restrains himself from shoving the man, merely giving him a withering glare instead. He doesn't appreciate the clowning around when this man ditched him in the woods so callously.
"How'd you fare out there, slick?"
"The trail went cold," Hank replies stiffly. A lie, but Ethan doesn't deserve the truth anyway.
"Probably for the best."
Ethan heads for the bar, but his friend's feet remain firmly planted on the ground. He scowls at Hank, who doesn't flinch one bit. The feral is not one to be easily intimidated, and certainly not by a man such as this.
"Come on Dave, Charlie's waiting," Ethan calls, breaking into the developing staring contest.
The other man- Dave, apparently- snorts and heads inside as well. Hank follows, not bothering to gloat over such a minor victory.
There's a man standing in the bar's foyer with a collection jar, a doorman of sorts. Dave whispers something to the man as he and Ethan pass, otherwise unmolested.
The other man grins. "Hey, stranger," he calls when Hank tries to go by him as well. "Five dollar cover."
"I just need to use the restroom," Hank tells him politely.
"Still five dollars," the man retorts.
Hank pays him, though he's starting to feel rather exasperated over the obviously unfair treatment he's receiving.
When he turns to continue on his way the other man grabs him by the shoulder. It takes a great deal of patience not to whirl around and punch this obnoxiously handsy individual in the face.
"What's your problem?" Hank demands.
"Let's see some ID."
Grinding his teeth to hold back a snarl of irritation, Hank digs through his wallet and shows the man his New York driver's license.
Finally satisfied, the doorman lets him go.
Hank weaves through the crowd towards the back, looking for Roxanne as he goes. With his height he's able to see over the heads of most of the other patrons with relative ease.
His heart skips a beat when he catches a glimpse of her behind the bar. A smile comes to his face, unbidden, and the majority of his irritation immediately vanishes at just the sight of her.
He's drawn to her like a siren song, his need to use the restroom temporarily forgotten. He approaches the bar and scoots over to a sparsely populated area of the space.
Roxanne is too busy to notice him at first. She pulls beers with a furrowed brow and cashes out a few patrons before finally becoming aware of his presence on the more deserted part of the bar.
Her smile, he believes, could easily light up New York City. "Hi, Hank," she says brightly.
"Hello," he replies, grinning like an idiot.
"Is everything ok out there?"
He shrugs. "No luck so far," he admits. "I thought I'd come in here and use the restroom, thaw out a bit, and…" His grin turns sheepish. "And see you for a moment."
She ducks her head shyly, but Hank can tell she's pleased.
"How's it going?"
Roxanne shrugs. "Good trade tonight," she says, "but my head hurts like you wouldn't believe."
She nods. "Yeah, I think so."
"I'm sorry," Hank tells her sincerely. He didn't take into account how sensitive her feral hearing abilities are when he conceived of this plan. "I turned it off to come in here, though. Hopefully that will give you a break."
Meanwhile, a man dressed in faded clothes and hiding his face under a baseball cap sneaks up to Hank's equipment down the road.
There's no sign of the shaking in his hands that Hank had witnessed the day before, nor his supposed blindness, as the man reaches out and turns the dial from "zero" to "one hundred percent" on the hypersonic transmitter.
Dogs begin to bark within the town in response to the sound suddenly assaulting their sensitive ears.
Roxanne winces. "Are you sure?" she asks, pinching the bridge of her nose. "It feels like my head is hurting worse."
"I'll go check it out," Hank assures her. "Let me use the restroom and I'll head right back."
She nods, now closing her eyes against the pain. "Take care, Hank."
"I will," he says, before hurrying away from the bar. He hates that this plan is causing her pain.
He heads for the back bathroom corridor where- it figures- there is only a single stall restroom for each gender and an emergency exit door. He knocks on the closed men's room door.
"Hold your horses!" a man shouts from inside.
I give up, Hank thinks, fully exasperated. I'm just going to find a tree outside.
The man outside cleans off the frosted over radar screen, waiting for a response. A bite on the metaphorical auditory lure, so to speak.
There's nothing for a long moment, and then-
Something big appears on the edge of the radar.
Out in the forest, one of the motion sensors stuck on a tree begins to blink…
Hank returns to the bar's main area. He feels a headache of his own developing, courtesy of the blaring country music assaulting him from every direction thanks to the multiple speakers set near the ceiling. It's definitely time to take his leave.
As if to emphasize the point, one of the bar patrons spills beer on Hank's jacket as he passes by.
"Damn," he mutters.
He heads for the front door with more purpose now, only to find the way blocked by none other than Ethan and Dave.
Oh look, he thinks to himself sardonically. My new best friends.
"What's your hurry, stranger?" Dave asks, with an unpleasant grin.
The dot on the radar screen moves closer.
Beep… beep… beep… beep…
The sounds come faster as the creature closes in, until the watching man decides it's getting too close for comfort.
He runs away with much more finesse than one would expect for his appearance, clutching his fake cane. He gets into a sleek black car that would most definitely look out of place in Eagle Village and drives away.
Seconds later, the giant claws of the Wendigo smash through the hypersonic transmitter, the source of the agitating noise that drew it here.
The beeping stops, but now the trouble is just beginning.
The Wendigo hears the loud noises of oblivious prey coming from the bright lights down the road. Lots of prey, unaware and all together. Easy pickings for Wendigo. It's a chance too good to ignore.
He heads for what will surely be a feast.
"I need to piss," Hank replies bluntly, immediately on guard.
Ethan points in the opposite direction of the door. "The bathroom's that way, slick."
Dave now invades Hank's personal space- he's much shorter than the feral man, but also much more muscular. "Your license says you're a Yankee," Dave observes- apparently his buddy the doorman gave him the intel. "What you doin' this far North?"
"It's a personal matter."
"Most folks don't find the snow to their liking," Ethan notes.
"I'm not most people," Hank retorts impatiently.
He glances over at the bar, searching for Roxanne. He can tell she's still in a lot of pain- maybe even worse than before, if the sickly paleness of her face is any indication. It makes him even more anxious to return to his equipment and see what on earth is going on out there.
As if sensing his eyes on her, Roxanne looks up and meets his gaze from across the room. Her small smile of reassurance turns to alarm when she sees who he's talking to.
Ethan sees the silent exchange and scowls. "You-"
Suddenly the music stops and the lights go out.
"Dammit Charlie, you kicked the breaker!" Ethan calls out into the dark.
"I did not!" another man shouts.
This can't be good, Hank thinks grimly.
A sound as loud as thunder comes from the back of the building, where the bathrooms are.
Hank runs towards the disturbance, fighting through the crowd milling about obliviously. This X-Man's first instinct is to always run towards the source of trouble in order to protect innocent civilians.
The impact is so hard the doors shake and the windows rattle in their frames.
"I said it's occupied!" the man in the bathroom grouches.
Hank arrives at the back door just as something kicks it down. The emergency door drills Hank, knocking him through the women's bathroom door. He smacks his head, hard, on the cold tile floor.
Thoroughly dazed, he hears the Wendigo give a roar.
Chapter 21: An Easy Midnight Snack
An Easy Midnight Snack
Roxanne anxiously watches Hank head for the back, where the thunderous sounds are coming from. She's not sure if she should leave her post at the bar to help or not, if that would attract undue attention-
And then there's a loud crash, like a door being kicked in. The sound of a huge animal roaring is almost immediately drowned out by the screams of the townies inside the bar.
The Wendigo storms into the room, snarling and raging as it begins to wreak utter havoc. The monster is over nine feet tall and covered in white fur, and with its crouched back legs and long front limbs it vaguely remind her of a gorilla. A gorilla with a long, fang-filled snout and blood red eyes.
It bellows at the townsfolk and starts to throw people and tables around like they're toys, sending glass smashing to the floor from spilled beer bottles and plates with both the human projectiles and its long, lashing tail.
Of all the times not to have my shotgun, Roxanne thinks, horrified over the scene unfolding before her. She only has a Bowie knife and a baseball bat behind the bar for dealing with unruly drunks.
People race for the front door, a mass hysteria that causes a bottleneck at the escape route. It makes easy pickings for the Wendigo. He grabs two more men and tosses them across the room as if they're rag dolls, howling all the while.
Roxanne doesn't know what to do. She just knows she has to do something.
On impulse she grabs the Bowie knife and clears the bar in a single leap. She then jumps on a table and uses the extra elevation to launch herself at the Wendigo's wide back.
The monster shrieks with agony as the knife sinks into its flesh. Roxanne quickly uses the blade as a handhold to crawl up to the Wendigo's neck, stabbing it repeatedly in the process while it claws and twists to get the painful nuisance off its back. She holds on through this horrible parody of a mechanical bull ride through sheer grit.
Once in place, she raises the knife to stab it between the shoulder blades, aiming for its spinal cord-
The Wendigo manages to grab her by the foot and throws her across the room with a triumphant snarl.
Roxanne twists in mid-air and lands cat-like on her feet, still holding the Bowie knife. She has to immediately dodge the table the Wendigo throws at her.
She bares her fangs and snarls at the monster, her fear momentarily eclipsed by her rage. There's an unpleasant, painful tingling between her knuckles and along her forearms, but she ignores the sensation in favor of keeping her attention on the more imminent danger.
The creature bellows in response to her snarl and snatches a man out of the bottlenecked crowd to sling at her, forcing her to duck. Before she can recover, the Wendigo makes a leap for her-
Hank, in his blue feral form, slams into the monster from the side with a roar.
He uses the element of surprise to his advantage, savagely clawing the Wendigo despite the creature's significantly superior size. His sharp teeth bite into the flesh of its arm.
The monster howls in pain. Its free hand slugs Hank in the face, sending him flying across the room.
In their confusion, the townspeople attack him.
"Get the freak!" Ethan screams.
Beer bottles and chairs fly at Hank, while the real enemy- the Wendigo- escapes back through the rear exit. The monster clearly got more than the easy midnight snack it was hoping for when it came in here.
Hank jumps to his feet and dodges one attacking townie, tossing him across the room.
Dave races at him with a knife, ready to slash him, but before the man gets much closer one of his legs gives out and he half-crumples to the floor.
The reason why is clear a second later when Roxanne pops up in between the man and Hank- she'd stealthily baseball slid in beside the attacker and punched him in the back of his knee. Now she front kicks him so hard he slams into Ethan.
When she turns to Hank- breasts heaving, cheeks flushed and eyes glittering from the exertion- he can't help being stuck by how devastatingly beautiful she is, standing there in all her feral glory.
His inner Beast enjoys seeing her like this. He enjoys it very much.
A bloodcurdling howl carries to them from outside, interrupting Hank's private rhapsody of tribute to her raw, untamed beauty.
He knows he should follow the Wendigo, but he's afraid to leave Roxanne here with these angry townspeople. Even now Dave and Ethan are struggling to their feet, spitting mad over her treatment of them.
Wordlessly, Hank reaches out and touches her hair, a gentle caress.
"Go," Roxanne urges him. "I'll be fine. Be careful."
With that, he jumps through the nearest window and takes off after the Wendigo. People flee from him as he races along on all fours through the snow.
He reaches his equipment and notes its destroyed state with dismay.
So much for my hypersonic transmitter, he thinks bitterly.
He grabs the canister holding his serum rifle and flips it open.
"No, no!" he gasps, finding it empty. "Dammit, Mr. Yazzie!"
The old man's strange behavior and furtive glances earlier suddenly make perfect sense. He took the serum rifle and hid it- probably under the seat in the truck's cab- in the hopes that Hank would be forced to kill the Wendigo.
With no other options, Hank slings the strap of Roxanne's shotgun over his shoulder and takes off into the woods on all fours, following the fresh trail of paw prints.
He races between the trees at full speed, hoping to catch up to the monster. He lost precious time by not being able to retrieve his serum rifle right away. His eyes are locked on the ground, following the white creature's paw prints.
Suddenly the trail ends.
Hank skids to a halt and jumps up onto two feet. His eyes scan the woods, looking for a hint of where the monster went in the barren landscape.
His gaze alights on a huge chunk of bark missing on a tree to his right. It's easily twenty feet off the ground. A glance to his left shows another similarly afflicted tree.
He backs up to get a running start and then leaps up into the first tree. He kicks off and jumps to the next one, again and again as he follows this new twist in the Wendigo's trail, flying through the trees.
Eventually Hank lands on the bank of a fast moving stream- a larger flow of water than the one the Wendigo's tracks disappeared into yesterday. He spots four large paw prints headed for the creek but none on the other side.
The Wendigo's trail is cold.
Hank searches the surrounding forest from his vantage point. The sound of rushing water makes it hard to hear.
A tree branch loudly snaps in the woods behind him.
He whirls around, bringing the shotgun up into a shooting position. He lets out a low growl, exposing his fangs as he peers into the darkness.
But turning his back to the water was a mistake.
By the time Hank senses movement behind him, the Wendigo has already emerged from the creek and grabbed him by the ankles.
It jerks the blue feral's feet from out underneath him, causing his stomach to slam into the ground. The shotgun tumbles uselessly out of Hank's grip as he's forced to dig his claws into the stream's bank, lest he get thrown into the air.
The Wendigo tugs, but Hank holds fast. He knows that the monster will send him flying if it gets half a chance. If only he could get his hands on the shotgun again, he might be able to-
The creature snarls in frustration and gives an almighty jerk.
Hank's claws wrench out of the ground, holding clumps of frozen dirt.
The last thing he's aware of is a tree trunk rapidly approaching his face as he flies through the air.
And then all he knows is darkness.
The blue creature hits the tree face-first. Its body slides down the trunk, and it doesn't move.
Wendigo cautiously approaches the beast. He picks it up by its ankles, noting how limp it is. He claws its chest, getting no reaction other than blood spurting from the wounds.
Should he eat it?
This beast doesn't really smell like prey, but its hot blood is pouring out, drenching the snow, and that makes Wendigo's mouth water.
Yes, he thinks he will eat it.
He opens his mouth to take a bite-
Rifle rounds drill the tree behind Wendigo, and he snarls.
He remembers that sound, the pain that comes when those things pierce his flesh. Like when the girl with the red hair hurt him.
That sound means something, has something to do with the girl. He watches the girl all the time, through the windows in her house, outside, everywhere. He wants to be near her, though he doesn't know why. Is she prey? Prey shouldn't be able to hurt Wendigo, but she did, with the stick she always has in her hands.
Maybe she is not prey to eat. Maybe she is prey of a different kind.
Maybe that sound right now is her.
Wendigo would like to find out.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Wendigo lets out a roar. He flings the blue beast away from him, into the rocks of the creek. Within seconds the current takes the body and washes it downstream.
He turns towards the source of the shots and runs away.
Hank, still unconscious, hits the rocks with a brutal impact and lays there for a moment before the stream's current catches hold of his body enough to wash him in.
The jolt provided by the freezing water is enough to bring Hank back to some semblance of consciousness. He sputters and coughs, fighting to get his mouth above the water's surface while still getting bashed about by the rocks and current.
Finally, he manages to snag onto a large rock with his paw.
It's not much, but it's enough.
Hank manages to pull himself onto the rock, wincing as he does. There isn't a single spot on his battered body that doesn't scream in protest with every movement.
It's an unimaginable struggle to get himself on the shore, but he's finally able to drag himself up onto the bank and into the snow. He notices the blood gushing from his chest and knows he's running out of time.
He hits the X-button on his watch and rolls over onto his back, hoping help will find him before it's too late.
The last thought that occurs to him before he loses consciousness is that if he dies, he really hopes Roxanne is spared the horror of finding his body.
Chapter 22: Roxy to the Rescue
Roxy to the Rescue
"What the hell was that about?" Ethan snaps. He steps forward, purposely invading Roxanne's personal space. "Why'd you attack us?"
Roxanne is in no mood to be easily intimidated. She just took on a Wendigo and survived, for crying out loud. A stupid townie isn't going to scare her.
"That blue guy was trying to help us, you idiot," she retorts, clutching her Bowie knife close.
"Oh yeah? How do you know?" Dave demands. "Did you have a conversation with him or something?"
Something about Dave's expression tells her that he definitely suspects who the blue creature was. She's not sure how to throw off his suspicions, but she has to give it her best shot.
"Of course not," Roxanne replies, tossing her head dismissively. "Didn't you notice how he attacked that white monster who was throwing people around like toys? Or were you too busy with your thumb up your ass?"
"Uh huh," Dave snorts. He's not convinced, not at all. "Any idea where that nerdy guy went?"
"What nerdy guy?" she asks innocently.
"The tall one you were making googly eyes at earlier," Ethan snidely supplies. "From out of town."
Roxanne shrugs nonchalantly. "No idea."
The two men watch her suspiciously, but she maintains her poker face. She can't give anything away, or she'll put Gramps and Hank in danger. Who knows- maybe their very lives depend on her keeping her cool right now.
"And where did you learn those moves?" Dave asks, eyes narrowed.
"I saw you jump on that white monster's back," he says.
"I took gymnastics while I was in New York," she replies. It's a stretch, she knows, but it's the only thing she can think of that even halfway explains her abilities. "Not bad, am I?"
Dave stares her down, but Roxanne manages to not flinch. That weird itching feeling between her knuckles is happening again, and it's a struggle not to let the discomfort show on her face.
"Come on, Ethan," he says finally. "Let's go hunt those fuckers down."
Roxanne lets out an explosive breath after the two townies stalk out. She has a feeling this was only a minor reprieve from judgement day by the likes of Dave and Ethan- she's afraid of what will come next on that front.
She goes to the broken window and peers out to see most of the town's menfolk gathering in front of the courthouse with their hunting rifles. It doesn't take a genius to realize they intend to go hunt the Wendigo and Beast.
Roxanne shivers- she hopes Hank stays safe out there.
She stands there watching the street long after the men leave, listening to the gunshots echoing through the trees. She's scared that any one of those shots could be aimed at the man she… cares very much about. They haven't known each other long, but Roxanne feels comfortable saying that, at least.
Finally she turns to face the ruins of the completely destroyed bar. Not a single table or chair left upright, shattered glass all over the floor, broken windows and a hole in the wall...
"I think this means I'm out of a job," she mutters to herself.
"While concerning, we'll have to address that issue at another time," an English-accented male voice says from only a few feet behind her.
Roxanne lets out a rather undignified squawk as she turns and throws her Bowie knife at the intruder- she didn't hear anyone come in.
Because no one had come in.
Her knife passes harmlessly through the mental image being broadcast into her mind from thousands of miles away. Encountering no real obstacle, it sticks in the wall beyond.
Roxanne recognizes the man in front of her instantly, though he's not in the wheelchair she's seen him in on television. He's completely bald and has piercing blue eyes set in a kindly-looking face, but right now he seems worried.
"I suppose I deserved that, trying to sneak up on a feral," he observes dryly.
"Professor Charles Xavier?" she asks incredulously.
"At your service," he replies, his accent clipped and precise. He seems unsure of how to proceed.
Suddenly she knows why Professor X is talking to her without another word from him. She can sense it settling in her bones, this feeling that all is not well.
"Where is he?" she demands, fear gripping her heart. "Please tell me he's not dead."
"No, but he will be soon if he doesn't get help."
Roxanne strides past Xavier's image to grab her knife out of the wall and then pulls her truck keys out of her pocket. "Where is he?"
"It may be dangerous-"
"I don't care, sir," she replies, in a tone that says she means business. "Just tell me where he is and what I need to do to save him."
The Professor first directs her to get the titanium case from Hank's motel room. She easily kicks the door down and throws everything the scientist brought with him in the box before dragging it outside and throwing it in her truck's bed.
When Roxanne hops into Goliath Xavier suddenly appears in the passenger seat next to her. It's an odd sensation to see and speak to someone she knows isn't there- she can't smell him or sense him in any other way- but she doesn't have any time to appreciate the paradox.
"That way," he says, pointing in the direction of Hank's equipment set up down the road.
Roxanne floors it.
"What happened to him, Professor?" she asks anxiously.
Xavier quickly explains that the Wendigo was able to get the jump on Hank, knock him out, savagely claw him and throw him into a creek where he almost drowned.
"It's still out there, Roxanne," the Professor cautions. "As are the men hunting it."
"It's a good thing I'll have a telepath looking out for me then, isn't it?" Roxanne retorts primly.
He chuckles. "I can see why Hank likes you," he murmurs.
This catches her attention. "He told you about me?"
Xavier, maddeningly, doesn't answer. "Stop here," he orders quickly. It's a spot just past Hank's equipment, which now lays in pieces.
Roxanne slams on the brakes so hard something rolls out from beneath the seat and bumps her feet. She glances down to see Hank's serum rifle on the truck cab's floor.
"Goddammit, Gramps," she snarls under her breath. She makes a mental note to wring the old man's neck later.
She hops out of the truck and grabs some bandages from Hank's case to stuff into her pockets. Then she finds the fresh tracks leading up the ridge into the woods and takes off running, fueled by a desperate desire to save her… friend.
Roxanne can't see the Professor anymore, but she knows he's still nearby, watching. When the tracks disappear from the ground he assures her she's still going in the right direction.
"Turn south," his voice in her head says eventually, when she reaches the creek. Roxanne notes the disturbance in the snow, in the soil of the creek bank. She also retrieves her shotgun. "He's downstream of here."
Finally, finally, she spots a blue figure laying in a pool of red in the snow. There's also a thick trail of blood leading from the creek to the body.
"Hank!" she cries out.
Roxanne kneels at his side, noting the purplish bruising on his blue skin, the deep lacerations on his chest still sullenly oozing blood. These she quickly bandages, trying to stabilize him enough to get him home.
"You'll be ok," she whispers, kissing his forehead. "I've got you, Hank."
Then she carefully sets him in a fireman's lift over her shoulders and starts walking back to Goliath as quickly as she can. She sends up a thankful prayer to the Great Spirit for her feral strength and speed, which enabled her to help this man.
"Keep an eye out, Professor," Roxanne says aloud. "I can't reach my gun like this."
It seems like an eternity before she reaches the truck again- she nearly cries in relief at the sight of it. Hank weighs well over two hundred pounds in this form, outweighing her petite frame by triple digits, and awkwardly carrying him like this for over three miles has certainly been a strain.
Roxanne lays him in the truck bed as gently as she can and drives like a bat out of hell back to the cabin.
"I told your grandfather we were coming," Xavier's image tells her as they pull up. "He tried to hit me with the fireplace poker when I appeared."
Roxanne giggle has an edge to it, but who can blame her? "Must be a family trait," she mutters.
Under Professor X's watchful eyes and occasional guidance, Roxanne carries Hank to her bed and works furiously to save him over the next several hours.
She's too focused on helping him to be embarrassed about cutting off all of his clothes down to his boxers, though she's sure she'll feel shy about that later. She injects him with his mutation suppressing serum and then wishes she didn't, seeing how much of his body is covered in bruises. She sets up a transfusion using one of the blood bags Hank had with him in his titanium box, cleans his wounds, and changes out his bandages. At Xavier's direction she gives him a second blood bag.
"What now?" Gramps asks gruffly, once the second infusion is over.
"Now we wait," the Professor replies.
"Will he be ok?"
"Yes, I think so," Xavier says. "Roxanne, be a love and lift that bandage for me."
She does as he bids her, revealing signs of healing instead of a gaping open wound. She would almost believe that Hank never got clawed tonight if she hadn't seen the hideous injuries with her own eyes.
"Is that his healing factor?" Roxanne asks softly.
"No, it's from the blood you gave him," Xavier replies. "The feral it's from has the most advanced healing abilities I've ever seen. Which reminds me- I need to be off. I'll check back in a few hours, but until then, let Hank sleep."
"Thank you, my dear," the Professor tells her sincerely. "You saved my best friend's life. That's not something I'll easily forget."
She gives him a jaunty little mock-salute and a weak smile.
As soon as Xavier's image disappears Roxanne collapses to her knees at Hank's bedside and allows herself a few tears.
They are tears of relief, and of joy. She saved Hank, she saved this man in the way she couldn't save her brother. She can't bring Robert back from the dead, but at least this man won't be joining him. And for that, she's incredibly thankful.
"Roxanne?" Gramps asks, his concern evident.
"I'm fine," she assures him, wiping her eyes. "I'm just- I'm so glad he's going to be ok."
Her grandfather lowers his head. "I have a confession to make," he murmurs. His expression openly proclaims his guilt.
"I know what you did already," Roxanne says sharply. "How could you do that, Gramps? You might've gotten Hank killed!"
"I know," the old man mutters miserably, clutching at his cane. "I just- I hate the idea of that monster running free after what he did to Robert. But I realize now that my revenge isn't worth getting someone else killed. I'm sorry."
Roxanne shakes her head. "Don't apologize to me," she scolds. "Apologize to Hank when he wakes up."
"I will," Gramps assures her. "But you deserve an apology, too. I know you're sweet on him, and you could've lost him because of me."
She can't think of anything to say, though she's sure the flush in her cheeks is expressing plenty on her behalf. She avoids the old man's eyes and fusses with Hank's blankets, smoothing a stubborn lock of hair on his forehead.
"Do you forgive me?" he asks tentatively. When Roxanne glances over she sees that he looks like a chastised child. If she hadn't already forgiven him, she would've right then for that expression alone.
"Of course I do, you silly old man," she huffs. The rebuke is softened by a smile. "But please don't do this again."
"I won't," he promises.
"Good. Now go lie down, Gramps," Roxanne tells him. She goes over and kisses him on the forehead. "You scared me earlier. Between you and Hank, a couple years got knocked off my life today."
Gramps chuckles, but obediently shuffles out of the room.
Roxanne sighs and settles down to keep watch over her patient.
Chapter 23: Alive
Hank opens his eyes to see a star-covered ceiling and smiles just a bit when he realizes what he's looking at, where he's at.
He's alive, and so very grateful to be here.
It's a rather strange feeling for him, the sense of hope and gratitude that washes over him right now, looking up at that ceiling.
Though certainly never suicidal, he's spent most of his life feeling rather ambivalent in the matter of his own life and death. Hank knows he'd be missed if he died on a mission, for example, and there are people he cares about who would be left behind. But there's no one person who would be irrevocably wounded by his passing, no one he'd give anything to see one last time in the event of his own death.
His feelings on the matter have now decidedly changed.
Now he finds himself possessed by a strong, unequivocal desire to live. He has someone to live for, a person he would move heaven and earth to see again for the simple promise of what happiness tomorrow could bring between them, the joy she gives him now. He's thankful to have the chance to still be near her, the woman who makes him feel so much hope. She makes him dare to dream.
Before he met her he was simply content. Content to be in his lab, using his gifts to help others and protect his friends. But she makes him want more than mere contentment. She makes him yearn for true happiness- and what's more, she makes him feel like such ecstatic heights are actually possible for him.
It would take nothing short of a miracle to provoke such a sea change in this lonely Beast's heart.
And he's currently laying in that miracle's bed.
Hank turns his head and sees Roxanne sitting on the floor, leaning against the window seat a few feet away. She's fast asleep, a soft little snore escaping through her parted lips, with her head tilted back towards the ceiling. It's not a particularly lady-like position, but he finds it to be absolutely adorable.
His grin gets wider.
He looks around to take stock of his circumstances- the simple movement hurts far more than it normally would, but that doesn't surprise him. Every inch of his body is sore and aching, even laying in Roxanne's soft bed.
But at least he's not dead. This pain is far, far more preferable.
He notes that he's naked except for his boxers and a bandage on his arm. He spies empty blood bags and used tubing on the bedside table- Roxanne must have given him an infusion of Logan's blood.
How did she even find him and bring him back here? He was miles from the road, and he had chased the Wendigo through the trees. The trail should have been lost at that point.
Hank braces himself and gingerly sits up. It doesn't hurt nearly as much as he expected, which is a pleasant surprise. He surmises that it's been a few hours since he received Logan's blood, giving the healing liquid time to do its work. There's a faint lightening in the otherwise darkened sky outside, so he judges it to be near mid-day in this blasted Alaskan winter.
His movements, however careful, disturb Roxanne. Her eyelids flutter, her adorable snores cutting off as she blinks awake and lifts her head to face forward. She focuses on him with sleepy eyes.
Her smile when she sees he's sitting up is pure sunlight, Hank feels.
"Hank," she whispers, springing to her feet. She raises her hands as if to hug him, but then hesitates. "Do you feel as shitty as you look right now?"
"Probably," he admits sheepishly.
"I'll skip the hug then," Roxanne says. She tentatively sits next to him on the bed and takes one of his hands in both of hers, squeezing gently. "Does that hurt?"
"No," Hank chuckles, returning the pressure. "Far from it."
Her eyes light up at the sound of his laugh, however subdued it was. He notices the paleness of her face, the shadows under her eyes as she looks at him. It was a long night for Roxanne, he can tell.
"Thank you, Roxanne. You saved my life, again," he murmurs. "That's twice now."
"I'm not keeping count. But if we are, let's not go for three," she teases, only half-joking.
"I'm amenable to that," Hank agrees dryly. "But- how did you find me? The trail-?"
"Professor X found me at the bar," she explains. "And-"
"-And then she threw a knife at me," a familiar voice finishes for her.
Roxanne startles with a squeak of surprise. Her shifting of the bed makes Hank grunt with pain when he gets jostled in the process.
"Oh God- Hank, I'm so sorry," she exclaims, hands hovering and frozen over him with uncertainty. He can tell she doesn't want to risk hurting him further.
"You're fine," he assures her. He takes her hands in his once more and turns to the projected mental image of the Professor, who's been watching the whole exchange with no small amount of amusement. "Hello, Charles."
"Hello, Hank," his friend replies. "It's good to see you awake." And then, to Roxanne, "sorry, darling. You get used to me dropping in like this. Isn't that right, Hank?"
"Eventually," Hank mutters under his breath.
Roxanne gives him a small smile.
"So what happened while I was out?"
"Well, as your lovely friend-" Charles puts an undue amount of emphasis on the word, with a knowing look in his eyes. "-Was saying, after I got your signal I found Roxanne. She knew immediately that you needed help. I directed her to get your things from your motel and then showed her where to find you. She carried you for over three miles through the snow and then performed two infusions on you. I must say, her phlebotomy technique was near perfect for this being her first time doing such a thing. You would've been impressed."
"I'm sure," Hank agrees, to which Roxanne snorts.
"Right," she mutters sarcastically. "I'm a regular Florence Nightingale. Jesus, Hank, I thought I was going to skewer your arm."
"I lived, didn't I? That's certainly a good start," he argues.
Her laugh brings a grin to Hank's face as he watches her. He loves hearing her laugh, the way his very cells light up from hearing it-
"Right, then," Charles says briskly, interrupting the moment. "I'll spare you the Q and A on what happened, seeing as I've already viewed your memories."
"It wasn't pretty."
"I'd say that's putting it mildly. Get some rest, Hank," Charles orders. "Let your pretty nurse take care of you. I'll be in touch."
Charles disappears, leaving an awkward silence in the wake of his insinuation.
"I'll go make you some tea," Roxanne announces, attempting to rise to her feet.
Hank squeezes her hands. "There's no need," he says quickly. He doesn't want her to leave him, to lose the chance to touch her soft skin in favor of a silly tea mug.
She settles back on the bed, unsure. He can feel the warmth of her thigh against his own even through the thick comforter covering him, the strength of her hands in his.
Some daring impulse makes him reach up and brush her hair back behind her ear again, relishing the little thrill he gets from touching her like this. He lets his hand linger this time, cupping her face gently.
"You were amazing last night, Roxanne. I saw you take on the Wendigo and those townies. And then you saved me again," he tells her. He shakes his head. "I don't know how I'll ever repay you for what you've done for me."
"Don't die," she replies. "That would be a good start."
She turns her face into his palm a little and closes her eyes, as if savoring his touch. In that small action Hank can see how frightened she was, how much she cares for him already. Perhaps the strength of her feelings even matches his own, though it's rather difficult for him to imagine after a lifetime of believing himself inadequate and unlovable.
In this moment he doesn't care that they've known each other for a mere two days, or that the last time he fell for someone so quickly it ended disastrously for him. He just knows that he feels an undeniable connection to this woman, the kind of bond he suspects some people go their entire lives without experiencing.
And it only grows stronger and stronger with each passing moment.
Does she feel it, the attraction between them?
"Hmm?" The look she gives him with those gorgeous hazel eyes pierces right through him, to his very soul. Her lips part, lush and inviting.
"M-may I kiss you?"
Roxanne's breath catches, her expression shyly hopeful. She smiles just a little and nods, her eyes closing when Hank leans in.
He knows he's a goner the moment their lips touch. Hers are soft and warm and vibrantly alive, and Hank can taste their sweetness as her mouth moves with his. He easily forgets about how much his body aches, instead reveling in the sensations washing over him now. Her scent, her taste, the way her fangs brush his lips and her tongue teases his-
It's both exquisitely passionate and so very sweet. This is the sort of kiss that sears the soul and leaves a man forever changed. Roxanne is a dream come true, and this Beast wants nothing more than to worship at his Beauty's feet.
They're both breathing hard when they finally come up for air, a match for their racing heartbeats.
"I think that was worth almost dying," Hank says, still breathless. His thumb tenderly caresses her cheek.
Roxanne giggles and rubs her nose against his, a feline gesture of affection that makes him smile.
As she tentatively snuggles up against him on the bed Hank wonders if the world looks a little bit brighter to everyone right now, or if it's actually just him.
Chapter 24: Enter the Wolverine
Enter the Wolverine
A large crowd surrounds a metal cage at the center of a room in Laughlin City, Yukon Territory, Canada. The room is a bar, because where else would the Wolverine be?
Thick cigar smoke hangs in the air, further darkening an already poorly-lit interior and making the atmosphere rather suffocating in the close crush of people.
The crowd cheers and boos as the Wolverine's next contender steps into the cage. It's hard to say how many want the reigning champion to stay unbeaten and how many would love to see him get his face bashed in.
Wolverine doesn't care either way.
The new guy doesn't look phased when the bar's manager locks the cage door behind him, even though now there's no escape. He bounces on his feet, full of energy.
"Come on, let's go!" he says.
Wolverine glances over his shoulder at the young brute and quickly decides this guy has more tattoos than sense.
"What are you waiting for?" the man shouts. He moves towards the center of the ring and throws several shadow jabs, trying to get his opponent's attention.
Wolverine turns around fully and takes a long drag of his cigar. "Easy kid, you'll get your shot," he drawls. "Just let me finish my cigar first."
This guy's not having it though.
He reaches out and bats the cigar out of Wolverine's hand before jumping back, out of range. His triumphant, shit-eating grin makes the Wolverine's blood boil.
"Come on!" the man jeers. "Fight me already!"
Wolverine growls, hazel eyes narrowed. "You're gonna regret you did that, kid," he swears, every word dripping with menace. "That's a promise."
He cracks his neck and starts walking towards his opponent, ready to beat this upstart's ass-
"Logan…" a voice whispers in his head.
The feral mutant freezes in his tracks. Where the hell did that come from?
"You don't remember me, but I need your help," the voice says. It's crazy, but Wolverine- Logan- swears he's heard it before. And how does this voice know his name?
Wolverine searches the room or the source of the voice, but the noises of the shouting crowd all blur together.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
His ears pick up three quick steps, right before he dodges a wild haymaker from the pissant he's supposed to be fighting.
The wild punch's momentum carries the young brute past the Wolverine, who then kicks him right in the ass. It sends the kid flying face-first into the cage wall.
The crowd laughs at him, making him even more pissed off and desperate.
Meanwhile, Wolverine still searches the crowd, looking for the voice's source.
"I'm not there, I'm in New York," the voice explains.
"How?" Wolverine whispers.
"I'm a mutant like you, Logan, and I need your help."
His opponent has recovered at this point and goes on a fresh attack.
Wolverine blocks two punches and kicks his opponent in the stomach. The kid slides across the cage floor on his ass.
"I'm kinda in the middle of something, bub," he snarls under his breath.
There are more laughs from the crowd at the kid's expense. Some of the patrons start clanging beer bottles against the cage, a further irritation.
"I'm afraid this takes precedence," the voice replies. It's a male, with a crisp hoity-toity English accent.
The young brute leaps to his feet. "Is that all you know how to do? Kick like a girl?" he taunts.
That was the exact wrong thing to say in these circumstances.
Wolverine locks eyes with his opponent and roars as he leaps onto him, sending him crashing to the floor. He's on the kid before he can react and delivers a series of jaw shattering punches to the guy's face. The brute lies helpless on the cage floor, unable to fend off the assault.
A bell rings, ending the fight- or more accurately, the beat down. A few cheers are heard, but the rest are loud boos.
"Next time at least make it a fight!" one guy shouts through the cage bars.
"You volunteering?" Wolverine snarls.
The man furiously shakes his head, thoroughly chastened.
Wolverine shrugs and grabs his shirt and jacket. The adamantium claws on his right hand shoot out as he slices the lock right off the cage door.
He kicks the cage open and retracts his claws, ready to leave.
The patrons shout obscenities as he walks past them. They're upset by his dominance in the ring, an ascendancy that started the moment he set foot in Laughlin City. Several beer bottles fly towards him, thrown in anger and frustration. He ducks the projectiles, and then-
A cacophony of thuds is heard as the entire room of spectators drop to the ground, unconscious.
"Is that better?" the voice asks.
"Not bad," Wolverine admits.
He heads for the exit as a side door opens.
A middle-aged janitor enters the bar with a broom. Eyes wide with shock, he looks at the knocked out crowd, and then at Wolverine.
"Sorry about the mess."
The janitor looks utterly perplexed as Wolverine walks by.
The feral mutant heads out to his truck and throws his things into the truck's floorboards before climbing into the driver's seat.
"Drive northwest," the voice instructs.
"Listen, bub, I'm not doing shit until you tell me what's going on," Wolverine snaps.
"A mutual friend of ours is in danger."
The feral scoffs. "I don't have friends," he retorts.
"You did, before you lost your memory."
A stream of images and feelings flash through his mind- being underwater and feeling like his very bones were on fire, a man in a military uniform grinning sadistically, and his own screams of pain…
Wolverine snaps out of it, his breath coming in gasps between his teeth.
"I'll explain on the way," the voice assures him.
Wolverine- Logan- pauses, thinking over his options.
It doesn't take him long to decide to go along with this faceless voice. This man might hold the key to regaining his memories, some understanding of his past. He doesn't remember anything past a year ago, when he woke up with in a forest with metal claws. How did that happen? It wouldn't hurt to find out.
And besides, it's not like he was doing anything important in Laughlin City anyway.
The bookies will probably rejoice when he's gone.
Logan nods and attempts to start his car.
Of course it doesn't.
"You any good with cars?" he asks aloud.
"Not in the slightest." The voice sounds slightly amused.
Logan pumps the gas pedal as he turns the key. With a reluctant whine, the truck finally starts and he's able to take off down the road.
"Let's start with January 1973."
It's mid-morning, and Darrell and his pack of hunters have all the sunlight they're going to get on this outing, thanks to the Alaskan winter.
The five of them- four males, and one female- walk shoulder to shoulder through the forest in search of the Wendigo. They're all armed with machine guns and rifles, ready for action.
The lone female hunter suddenly points to the right and the groups stops.
There are massive claw marks visible on the tree she's pointing to. Their heads tilt back as they follow a trail of gouges that continue up the tree with their eyes.
The hunters raise their rifles-
Bang! Bang! Bang!
They fire at the top of the tree, trying to flush the monster out. Thick branches fall as bullets decimate the tree limbs, but at first there's no signs of life- or death- from the hidden treetop.
A massive white creature leaps out of the tree, flying through the air to grab onto another thick tree trunk.
The hunters scramble after it, firing all the while, as the Wendigo evades them in the trees.
This monster is clever, and knows exactly what it's doing.
One hunter has to stop to reload, followed by another. And then two more.
Only one hunter still has the ammunition to fire, but he quickly runs out as well.
The sound might as well be a dinner bell.
The Wendigo roars in triumph as the hunters scramble to reload their weapons. Darrell gives up immediately and simply runs for his life.
But it's no use.
The creature leaps down from the tree and slaughters the female and three of the male hunters. Blood flies everywhere, painting the snow red.
Then it turns for Darrell, still desperately trying to flee.
The man looks back at the monster and screams in terror, right before he stumbles and falls. His attempt to regain his feet is futile- the last thing he sees is the Wendigo's wide open maw coming right for his face.
It's early afternoon by the time Gramps wakes up, and yet he still feels tired.
So, so very tired.
That coughing fit earlier took a lot out of him, more than he would like to admit.
Still, he makes the effort to get out of bed and go check on Hank. He owes the young man that much, after his meddling earlier had such disastrous effects.
He feels guilty for the moment of blindness, the way he allowed his thoughts and actions to be clouded by the thirst for revenge. Nobody's perfect, but his folly nearly got an earnest young man killed, a young man who means quite a lot to his granddaughter. He would've never forgiven himself for hurting her in such a way, let alone for simply having Hank's blood on his hands for the boy's own sake.
Next time it'll be his own life he's risking to finish that monster, and no one else's.
Gramps doesn't knock on Roxanne's door for fear of waking the convalescent patient out of his healing sleep. Instead he quietly peeks inside to see the state of things.
He can't help chuckling to himself about what he finds.
Hank is slumped against the headboard, fast asleep, with Roxanne tucked under his arm. It's evident that she's sleeping too, with her head pillowed on the young man's bare chest. One of her hands is right over his heart.
The circumstances seem completely innocent- Roxanne is fully clothed and laying on top of the blankets that cover Hank- so Gramps can't find a reason to be mad about some sort of shenanigans going on under his roof.
Actually, he's rather glad for this growing closeness between his granddaughter and the young doctor. Despite his initial misgivings over Hank's motives, it quickly became obvious that the boy was nothing but sincere. He's just the right kind of man for a girl like Roxanne.
And he came along at just the right time.
Gramps can feel it, can sense death coming for him sooner rather than later. The end is near and fast approaching. His health has been on a rapid decline over the past month. Ever since they lost Robert he's felt the time slipping between his fingers. He fought it for as long as he could, knowing he needed to hang on for Roxanne's sake, but even a feral like himself can't live forever.
Hank will take care of her now. Gramps is confident that when his time inevitably comes, Hank will be there to support her through the loss.
Call it instinct or intuition, sometimes an old man just knows.
Chapter 25: Premonitions
A rabid mob gathers inside the bar's ruins, despite its gutted interior. The bar is the biggest building in town, the old meeting place for anything and everything. Sometimes old habits are hard to break.
The crowd consists of almost all of the white inhabitants of Eagle Village save perhaps Sheriff Joe, Mr. Jones, Roxanne, and a few children. No liquor is flowing, but the tensions are impossibly high. The townspeople are armed with an assortment of rifles, shotguns, and pistols.
Ethan flirts with Kayla the motel receptionist, his chest puffed up with pride as he boasts about what he's going to do to the monsters. She watches him with as much interest as she can muster in her vapid, stupid gaze.
Dave suddenly races into the bar, almost completely out of breath. "They're dead!" he blurts out loudly.
A hush falls over the crowd.
"Who's dead?" Ethan demands.
"Darrell, Sheila, that thing got the whole group!" Dave replies, wild-eyed and angry.
The noise level raises in response to this revelation. The people of Eagle Village are horrified over what befell their comrades and everyone is scared that the same fate awaits them.
Everyone, that is, except for the scarred up older man who spoke to Hank the day he arrived. He alone remains tranquil- pleased, even, with the current state of agitation among the townsfolk.
"Everybody calm down, we don't need to go hunting for that freak. We know where he is," Ethan assures the crowd. He gestures to Kayla, who steps forward proudly.
This is her moment- all eyes are finally on her.
"Yesterday I saw Roxanne Yazzie go with 'it' into 'its' room. They looked very friendly with each other," Kayla announces dramatically. And as if this blackening of Roxanne's name wasn't enough, the big-haired young woman adds, "and late last night I saw her kick in the door of its room and carry a huge metal case out that was twice her size."
Dave cottons on immediately. He looks around at his fellow townspeople and loudly asks, "does that seem normal to any of you?"
There are shouts of disgust from the crowd, a rising crescendo of disapproval.
"I knew there was something strange about her, her and the old man-"
"Town weirdos, they don't deserve to be here-"
"No wonder she ended up with the Indians-"
"She's one of them-"
"That bitch is a mutant! And she's housing the animal that killed our friends!" Ethan shouts, adding to the growing frenzy. "Her and that old Indian are freaks, too!"
The crowd roars in agreement. Their hatred and fear is at a fever pitch and only growing in intensity.
"If you harbor a fugitive in this town, you're just as guilty as they are!" Ethan calls out.
The response from the crowd is a collective, "yeah!"
"How much blood has to be spilled before we do something about it?"
"No more!" Dave replies loudly.
"Tonight, we take the fight to them!"
The crowd shouts and screams their agreement, their hysteria at a breaking point.
And all of their rage is aimed at the unsuspecting mutants down the road.
Roxanne wakes up in the late afternoon with that tired feeling one gets from sleeping in for too long. She groggily raises her head-
And smiles at the sight of the man whose chest she was just using as a pillow.
Hank's face is rather more drawn and pale than she would like, a stark contrast to the dark stubble growing on his face and chin. She likes him clean-shaven, but has to admit that this man makes a five o'clock shadow look damn good.
Even when he's recovering from severe blood loss.
She snuggles back against his chest for a moment, remembering the kiss they shared and smiling even wider. She recalls how his lips felt on hers, the way his hand cradled her face like it was something precious. The very air seemed to hum with electricity, a tangible manifestation of the connection between them.
Despite her stern warnings to herself to not get involved with this man, Roxanne can't bring herself to feel anything but happy while laying next to him. They've only known each other two days, but there's no denying that there's something between them, something drawing them together like magnets.
Eventually she rouses herself enough to move- she's never been one to simply lay in bed all day, no matter how good the company. She needs to check on Gramps, and it wouldn't hurt to get some food in Hank to help him recover from his injuries.
Roxanne attempts to slip out from his arm-
Only to find herself pulled more tightly against his side. She yelps in surprise and then laughs after catching sight of Hank's sleepy, disgruntled expression over her attempted escape.
"I'm just going to go make some dinner," she explains through her giggles.
"I'm not hungry," Hank stubbornly says. He's still holding her close.
Before she can reply his stomach growls- and loudly, too.
"Uh huh," Roxanne retorts sarcastically, trying to keep a straight face. "I don't think your stomach got the memo."
He grins sheepishly at her.
She laughs and leans up to kiss him, a lingering meeting of lips that leaves them both a little breathless before she pulls away.
"Go take a shower, Hank," she instructs firmly. "The hot water will do you good."
"So bossy," he murmurs, amused. "Is this how you treat your grandfather?"
"Sometimes," Roxanne replies, "when he's being stubborn. Now do as you're told."
"Will you be staying here tonight?" she asks rather hesitantly.
He sits up a little straighter. "I'd like that, if you'll have me," he tells her.
Roxanne nods. "I feel safer when you're here," she says, a faint blush rising in her cheeks. "And it's probably better if you stay, anyway. I kinda busted down your hotel door when I got your stuff. Kayla's not going to be happy when she finds that."
"I put your things in Robert's room," she explains. She offers him her hand. "Come on, I'll show you."
Hank doesn't seem surprised that her invitation to stay at the cabin doesn't include sleeping in her bed again. He probably knows that they shouldn't test the bounds of propriety much farther than they already have.
Roxanne can't help surreptitiously admiring him as he slowly rises to his feet. Yes, he's covered in horrible looking bruises, but that doesn't mask the subtle definition of his muscles or make him any less of a treat to look at. Hank hides a lot underneath his shirts.
"Here you go," she says, trying to ignore her rising blush as she gestures to Robert's door. "And I'll get you a towel for the bathroom before I start dinner."
Once Hank is situated with the shower she goes to knock on Gramps' door.
"Come in," her grandfather says.
Roxanne finds the old man sitting up in his bed looking at an old photo album. "Hey, Gramps. How are you feeling?" she asks, crossing the room to kiss him on the forehead.
"Tired from napping all day," he replies facetiously. He gestures towards the door. "Hank taking a shower?"
"Yeah. I'm going to make some dinner. We don't have much meat left except trout, I'm afraid, because Mr. Jones hasn't reopened," Roxanne explains.
The old man shrugs. "That's fine by me."
She touches the photo album perched on his lap. "Feeling nostalgic today?"
"Mmm. Feeling my age, is more like it."
A shiver of fear passes over Roxanne. "Nonsense," she retorts, trying to keep the nerves from her voice. She doesn't like talking about old age because the topic that looms behind it is always death. And she can't think about that right now, not her beloved grandfather dying. "You're going to live forever, Gramps."
He chuckles. "We're not supposed to live forever, Roxanne. Not even ferals," he murmurs. "When the time comes, I'll be ready to go. This world is only one step in our spirits' journeys, and I feel like I've done what I was meant to do in this one."
She shakes her head furiously, a denial of his fatalistic words. "Why does that sound like a goodbye?" she demands. "Is this about your coughing fit earlier? Is there something you're not telling me?"
"No, child," Gramps assures her. "This is nothing that you don't know already, if you're being honest with yourself. We both know I'm fading fast."
"Only because you're too damn stubborn to go to the doctor," Roxanne mutters fiercely.
The old man shrugs, unperturbed. "I don't want to go out wasting away in some hospital bed. I want my death to have… meaning, I suppose."
"Of course it will have meaning," she says, kneeling next to his bed. "Gramps- you're the only family I've got. You mean the world to me, and losing you-" She has to dash away the tears that start to well up in her eyes. "I don't understand how you can talk about this so calmly. I can't lose you, Gramps, not you and Robert-"
"No parent should have to bury their child," Gramps interjects. "Let alone a grandchild in the prime of his life. It's not the natural order of things. I should've died before either of you, that's how it's supposed to be. But I want you to know that the two of you… of my long life, you and Robert are what I'm most proud of. My jewels, both of you. Just remember that, Roxanne. When I go, I'll be content."
Roxanne nods for lack of any other reaction.
She still wants to argue with him, but what's the point in that? Death is inevitable, and no amount of words can change his fading health. Does she want to make Gramps feel bad for leaving her, or does she want him to exit this world at peace? It's not even a real question.
"That's my girl," Gramps says proudly, noting the acceptance in her expression. He then reaches into the photo album for something. "I wanted to make sure you saw this before I go."
She starts to stand up, shaking her head. "You can show me tomorrow," she replies briskly.
"Or I could show you today," he retorts. "Didn't you learn anything from Robert dying, Roxanne? You should never leave for tomorrow what should be said today."
This, of course, hits too close to the mark to be ignored.
She kneels back down and glares at the old man, who just laughs at her pique. He pulls out an old gold locket and holds it up for her to take.
"Where's this from?" she asks, examining the necklace. It's tarnished and fragile, hung on a delicate chain. There are initials engraved on it: "R.V." and "J.H." Inside the locket is a tiny etching of a rose.
"It was in your blankets the night I found you and Robert," Gramps explains. "I don't know whose initials those are, and to be honest, I never bothered to find out. At first I had my hands full with a pair of babies, and then later… Later it didn't seem to matter. You two were mine, and whoever left you could go to hell for all I cared. But I thought I should give this to you, just in case you ever felt like tracking down your real parents."
Roxanne frowns at him. "You are my real parent," she replies firmly. "But thank you." She rises to her feet and kisses the old man on the forehead. "I'm going to make dinner. Do you want to go watch television?"
"That sounds nice."
She helps the old man out to the living room before going to place the locket in her bedroom. For a moment she stands there holding it in her hand, wondering why it was left with her and Robert. Whoever abandoned them in the freezing snow obviously didn't care whether they lived or died- why leave a piece of jewelry with them?
While she feels curious- a symptom of her intelligent, active mind- to know the meaning behind the locket, she has no true burning desire to find out. As she told Gramps, he is the only parent figure she will ever hold dear.
The biological parents who left her and her brother to die mean less than nothing to her. Except for a few self-conscious moments during childhood she has never really felt their absence, having grown up with the old man's love and support. The reason for their abandonment was obvious, she felt, with her and Robert's feral attributes being evident from infancy. It used to hurt, knowing that apparently parental love had less weight than racial disgust, but it's such an old wound it ceased to truly pain her a long time ago.
Much more distressing to her is the fact that Gramps seems ready to die. She wonders what brought on this certainty of death's approach. Was it his coughing fit earlier, or some sort of premonition?
Whatever the reason, she resolves to keep a close eye on the old man, lest he feel the need to do something heroic and hasten his own end.
Chapter 26: Future Plans
Hank takes a steamy hot shower, allowing the water to soothe the ache in his abused muscles. A glance in the mirror before he stepped into the water stream showed that he's still heavily bruised, so he's sure that this soreness will linger for a few days.
After shaving and rinsing out his hair he gets out and dries off with the towel Roxanne so graciously provided him with before then dressing in a fresh set of clothes.
On the bathroom sink sits his X-watch, along with the little case that holds the vials of Dr. Cartier's inducing compound. He eyes it warily, considering his options.
Should he use the serum?
Yes, the Wendigo beat him badly last night, but Hank still hesitates to go down that road. Not out of some sense of misplaced nobility or pride, but out of fear of what he would become. Despite Mr. Yazzie and Roxanne's reassurances, he's afraid of what darkness the steroid compound could bring forth from within him. Better to heal up and regroup instead.
The unexpected voice startles him slightly, though he already knows who it is. Hank turns to Charles' image, standing in the empty shower, and scowls. "In the bathroom, Charles?" he chides. "Really?"
"Would you rather it be Roxanne surprising you?" the bald man teases, with a knowing grin.
Hank's face turns red hot as he struggles to maintain his dignity. "That's neither here nor there," he retorts stiffly. "Is there a reason you're dropping in at such an awkward time?"
"Yes," Charles replies. "I do apologize, but I'm coordinating a lot here and this is the only moment I could spare. I wanted to let you know that I have assistance on the way, and the X-Men will be there first thing in the morning."
Something within Hank relaxes, hearing that reinforcements are en route. In the morning the X-Men will be here to help him with the Wendigo, and there will be no need to agonize over using Cartier's serum. "That's good news," he says.
"How are you feeling?"
"Sore, but better," Hank tells him. "Thank you."
Charles nods, an amused sparkle now coming to his eye. "I'm sure Roxanne is happy to know that her efforts to save you worked," he observes.
The feral mutant says nothing. He merely eyes the other man suspiciously, waiting for him to get to the point. Why so much innuendo about Roxanne?
"I can see why you trust her, Hank," Charles says. "She's quite good in a crisis. And very smart. She has a Master's Degree in physics, yes?"
"Biochemistry," Hank replies warily. Now he thinks he knows what Charles is driving at, but barely dares to hope.
"So much the better. Perhaps… perhaps you should ask her to join our school? I've been wanting to offer some upper level genetics classes. If she took over the chemistry courses, that would free you up to teach them," his mentor muses. His next words are dripping with feigned innocence. "That is, only if you wouldn't mind having her come."
Hope now bubbles up in Hank's chest, rapidly expanding outward in a supernova of joy.
Roxanne coming to Westchester? Roxanne being able to share her love of science with others, perhaps even helping him in the lab? Being able to see her every day, to explore this budding connection between them?
The thought has already occurred to him, of course. He's sure Roxanne- intelligent, warm-natured, and no-nonsense Roxanne- would make an amazing teacher. He just hasn't been sure how to approach Charles about the topic without it seeming like he's only trying to get his crush a job. He's glad Charles recognized Roxanne's worth without him needing to say anything.
Hank doesn't bother to hide his grin. "I wouldn't mind at all," he replies. "I'll ask her."
"Wonderful," Charles says. "Now- take care, Hank, and we'll see you in the morning."
He blinks out of sight, leaving Hank in a much more sanguine state of mind than before.
The feral man picks up the case of Dr. Cartier's compound and tosses it in the trash can with a sigh of relief. He's glad he doesn't have to agonize over whether to use it anymore.
He steps out of the bathroom, leaving his X-watch on the counter.
"Hey, Hank," Mr. Yazzie says, sitting in his dilapidated old armchair. "How are you feeling?"
"Much better, thank you," Hank replies.
"Dinner's in ten minutes!" Roxanne calls from the kitchen.
"What are we having?"
"Trout and roasted potatoes," Mr. Yazzie tells him. "Today was supposed to be grocery day, so I'm afraid we're running low on supplies at the moment."
"I saw that the general store was closed when I came into town," Hank comments.
The old man nods. "It's been closed for over a week now."
"Any idea why?"
Roxanne appears in the doorway to the kitchen. "I overheard Ethan bragging to Dave and Charlie in the bar the other day," she says bitterly, leaning against the doorjamb. "Him and a couple buddies threatened Mr. Jones into closing up shop for trading with us and the other Inuits."
Mr. Yazzie scowls over this piece of unwelcome news. From Hank's point of view, it seems like the Yazzie's presence in Eagle Village is becoming more and more untenable as the townspeople grow bolder with their bigotry.
It seems as good a time as any for him to bring up the Professor's proposal, but the old man speaks before he can.
"Hank- I wanted to tell you I'm sorry for hiding your rifle," Mr. Yazzie tells him. Apparently the wrongs of the townspeople against him have brought up reminders of his own sins. "I was so focused on getting my revenge that I wasn't thinking about what harm it could bring to you."
"I understand, Mr. Yazzie," Hank assures him. He glances at Roxanne, noting the fondness with which she regards them both. "Let's just do our best to avoid such circumstances in the future, shall we?"
The old man chuckles his agreement before becoming serious once more. "What are we going to do about the Wendigo now?"
"He's still healing, Gramps-" Roxanne interjects.
"And that monster is out there, getting bolder," Mr. Yazzie retorts. He looks at Hank expectantly.
"I spoke to Charles a few minutes ago," Hank tells them both. "The rest of the X-Men should be here by morning."
Roxanne perks up at this. "It'll be nice to meet your friends," she murmurs, eyes shining.
"They're going to love you, Roxanne," Hank assures her. He means it, too. It's hard to imagine anyone not loving her. "Actually-"
He gathers his courage.
"Charles wanted to know if you would consider becoming a teacher at our school. With your degrees we could easily get you certified, and I'd love to have your expertise in the lab with me. Not as an assistant, but as my partner. Together we could-"
Hank stops there, for fear of his blabbering scaring her off.
"I'd love to," Roxanne says softly, after a long moment's thought. His heart soars, only to plummet with her next words. "But I need to stay with Gramps."
"You're welcome as well, sir," Hank adds hastily. He looks over at the old man, who's watching them both with intense focus.
Mr. Yazzie shakes his head slowly, his expression genuinely regretful. "New York's too far for me, boy," he murmurs. "Too much of my heart is in the Alaskan woods. But Roxanne, you should go."
"I can't leave you, Gramps," she says firmly. "And don't pretend like you'd be fine without me, because we both know that's not true."
It hurts to watch the disappointment in Hank's face, to see how much he wanted her to come back to New York with him only to have those hopes dashed.
But Roxanne has a feeling it barely holds a candle to her own dismay.
What a wonderful opportunity to be forced to turn down! The chance to be among her own kind, to touch the lives of other mutants. To help Hank with all the experiments he told her about- to actually be with him.
It pains her to give it up, but she knows it's the right thing to do. Her duty lies with Gramps, no matter how hard the stubborn old man tries to change her mind.
Even now, the old man opens his mouth to protest-
"I understand," Hank murmurs, cutting off the brewing argument. His expression becomes tentatively hopeful once more. "But in that case… may I come see you sometimes?"
"Sometimes?" She barely dares to hope.
"Well, I'll come every weekend if you'll let me," he clarifies, cheeks reddening adorably. He quickly adds, "and only if it's alright with you, Mr. Yazzie."
"That's fine," the old man says, with a sly grin.
Roxanne tries to keep her composure, but her smile and the fiery heat in her face immediately give her away.
The thought of Hank wanting to pursue this fledgling relationship between them pleases her immensely. He even thinks it's worth the trouble of flying all the way across the country for every weekend. If that's not caring, she doesn't know what is.
"I would love that," she tells him honestly.
Hank lets out an explosive sigh of relief, which makes Gramps laugh at him.
"Oh, hush," she scolds the old man, and she stomps back into the kitchen rather than dealing with the old man's teasing.
Thankfully dinner is so close to being done that she doesn't have to feel guilty for abandoning Hank to the old man. Gramps is also wise enough to take heed of the warning flash in her eyes and keeps his more jocular thoughts to himself at the table.
As before, Hank helps her with the dishes after Gramps hobbles his way back to the living room. She likes the way it feels for them to stand so close together, with their arms touching companionably. His presence actually makes the menial chore rather enjoyable.
"Thank you," she whispers to him as soon as they're nominally alone. "For being so understanding. About me staying here and everything."
Hank shakes his head. "Of course."
She snorts. "There's no 'of course' about that, Hank," she quietly argues. "You're saying you're willing to fly fourteen hours every weekend just to hang out with me."
"Yes, but-" He reaches out and tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. "You're worth it."
"Are you sure? This won't be easy," she replies incredulously.
"'Sometimes the fact that something is not easy makes it more valuable,'" Hank tells her, with an endearing little grin.
Those are the exact words Roxanne said to him the other day. She's surprised he recalled what she said to him so clearly, and also quite flattered that he thought her words were worth remembering.
She shyly casts her head down and looks up at Hank through her eyelashes, enjoying the way she can stop his breathing with just a glance.
"May I kiss you?" he asks softly, just as Roxanne says, "kiss me."
They both laugh, turning towards each other to share in one another's mirth. It feels so natural for her to step into his embrace, to place her hands against his chest while his slip around her waist.
"Great minds…" Hank murmurs. His smile and those soulful blue eyes make her absolutely melt.
And then he leans down to kiss her, his hands moving to hold her close. She reaches up and threads her claws through his hair, adoring the way he shivers and clutches her body against his. Their lips immediately fall into a slow, sensual rhythm that leaves her quivering all over inside.
A girl could definitely get used to being kissed like this, Roxanne thinks when he finally breaks away from her mouth and lays a sweet kiss on her forehead.
She can sense that he's holding back a bit, but she doesn't mind. To be honest, so is she. Neither of them wants to risk ruining this by rushing headlong into anything- especially with her grandfather in the next room. For now she's perfectly content to memorize the texture of his lips and the taste of his mouth without the need for more.
Hank smiles down at her like she's some sort of miracle, as unworthy as she is of such praise. But the look in his eyes in unmistakable.
Something tells her that to be loved by this man is to be both treasured and adored. Who wouldn't want such a thing?
She's looking forward to what the future holds for them.
Chapter 27: Dark Side
After they finish the dishes Roxanne leads him by the hand back into the living room, where Mr. Yazzie is watching Happy Days in his old armchair. She pulls Hank down to sit on the sofa with her and then scoots over until she's snuggled against his chest, her feet tucked neatly underneath her.
Hank tentatively puts his arm around her, casting a furtive glance towards her grandfather to gauge his reaction. The old man notices the canoodling but makes no other response besides smirking in amusement.
This allows Hank to relax just a little. He knows Mr. Yazzie's approval is vital to being allowed to see Roxanne, and he wants to stay in the old man's good graces.
They make quite a domestic little trio, tranquilly gathered around the television in the dark. Considering the past couple days, Hank privately muses that the three of them needed an evening to recharge.
Eventually Mr. Yazzie rises slowly to his feet. "Well I'm going to bed," he announces. He gives the pair on the sofa a sly grin. "So if you do anything, just keep it quiet, alright?"
"Gramps!" Roxanne scolds, even while her face flushes red over the innuendo. Hank is sure he's not any better.
The old man chuckles like a mischievous school boy as he shuffles his way towards his bedroom-
Their peace is blown apart when a flaming arrow flies through the cabin's front window and hits Mr. Yazzie's thigh with a sickening crunch.
The old man lets out a strangled yell as he collapses to the ground. His skin makes a stomach-turning sizzling sound.
"Gramps!" Roxanne cries out. She springs off the couch, rushing to her grandfather's aid.
Hank picks up the sofa with a grunt and shoves it against the broken window. His quick thinking is rewarded by several thuds- more arrows, harmlessly drilling the couch rather than their flesh.
Mr. Yazzie lets out a helpless moan as Roxanne scrambles to stop the bleeding. She snaps off the shaft of the arrow and stuffs a wad of tissues against the wound.
If only I could get to Hank's supplies, she thinks helplessly.
She glances over her shoulder to see that Hank is currently barricading the window and unable to really assist.
Before her horrified eyes, someone breaks another window and sticks the barrel of a rifle inside the house. It aims right for her and Gramps.
The gun is only five feet away from him. He's able to grab the barrel and shove it toward the ceiling before-
The firearm blows a gaping hole in the roof.
Hank gives a powerful jerk and disarms the individual holding it outside. The rifle slides across the floor.
Roxanne rips off her flannel shirt, leaving her only in her short-sleeved tee. She's too hopped up on adrenaline to feel the frigid air coming in through the broken windows as she uses the flannel to make a tourniquet.
Gramps cries out in agony as she ties it off.
"I'm sorry! Sorry!" she exclaims, helpless to stop his pain.
A broad, musclebound behemoth of a man barrels through one of the broken windows and immediately runs at Hank with a long Bowie knife.
The feral man, still bruised and recovering from his bout with the Wendigo, has no time to do anything except brace himself for impact.
This violent stranger slams into Hank, brutally knocking him into the wall. The townie grapples with the X-Man, who tries valiantly to fend him off as best he can in his current state.
"Roxanne, help Hank!" Gramps growls through his teeth.
Roxanne turns to see Hank fighting against Eric, a 6'6 townie who has biceps bigger than her thighs. Hank is no match for him in his battered condition.
Thinking quickly, she races into the kitchen and grabs her favorite cast iron skillet.
By the time she makes it back into the living room Eric has sunk his knife deep into Hank's shoulder. Blood gushes out as Hank groans in pain.
Roxanne slams the skillet against Eric's head with as much strength as she can muster.
He immediately collapses to the floor like a marionette with cut strings. His blood pools on the ground and part of his skull looks like it caved in from the blow. He twitches slightly, obviously in his death throes, but Roxanne has no time to think about the enormity of what she just did.
Hank grimaces as he pulls the knife out of his flesh. He grits his teeth, panting against the pain. Roxanne reaches out to help staunch the bleeding, but he shakes his head furiously. "Gramps," he gasps. "Help- him."
When he begins to stumble towards the old man Roxanne slips herself under his uninjured shoulder, steadying his steps. Her nose quickly fills with the acrid stench of blood and smoke-
She glances up at the hole in the roof and sees the flickering of flames.
"Shit," she hisses. "Fire!"
Outside, Ethan watches from a safe distance away with a deep level of satisfaction as the old log cabin quickly catches ablaze. An archer peppers the house with flaming arrows to the roof and side of the dwelling.
Serves that little bitch right, he thinks. She's worse than an Indian lover. She's fucking a goddamn monster! Shit, she's not even human!
"Send them in," Ethan orders grimly.
Numerous hunters armed with high powered rifles and shotguns surround the burning house, ready to begin the next assault.
Smoke rises in the living room, choking them all and making it almost impossible to see. Unfortunately the bedrooms already appear to be ablaze, if the smoke billowing out from Robert's room is any indication. That means there's no way of retrieving the remaining bags of Logan's blood, if they're even still intact.
And even if Hank could reach them for another life-saving infusion, it wouldn't help him in fending off the raging townspeople…
However much he dreads it, he truly has only one remaining option.
"Stay low, I'll be back!" he tells Roxanne, currently crouched at her grandfather's side once more.
Hank leans in and kisses her fiercely, just in case he doesn't get another chance. Who knows what will happen to him now?
"Stay here, Roxanne," he pleads, before turning away.
He stumbles through the hallway as quickly as he can, clutching his injured shoulder.
Boom! Bang! Crack!
Bullets fly through the wood both in front of and behind him- it's only a miracle that he makes it through unscathed. He slides into the bathroom on his knees. He reaches for his X-watch on the sink, hoping to send out a distress call-
A stray bullet destroys the watch.
Hank drops to his stomach, barely avoiding a fresh onslaught of rounds.
With no other choice, he knocks over the bathroom trash and digs out the case of Cartier's serum, pulling out two of the little vials. He removes the tip from one of them, exposing its tiny needle.
I hope they were right about me, he thinks, desperate and on the brink. Otherwise…
And then he shoves the needle into his bleeding shoulder.
Orange liquid is injected straight into his bloodstream, searing his veins so painfully he has to bite back a scream. Grinding his teeth, he injects the second vial into his leg.
The agony is such that he can't even pull himself upright. He tries to stand but falls to his knees, forcing himself to crawl back to Roxanne and Gramps in the living room.
Roxanne covers her grandfather's body with her own, trying to protect him from the spray of bullets and the nauseous fumes choking the air. Their enemies probably want to smoke them out so they can shoot them outside, like foxes flushed from their den, but she won't give the bastards that satisfaction.
She spots Hank crawling back towards them, slowly, as if every movement is a monumental effort. He looks deathly ill, his skin taking on a greenish hue, and there's a trail of blood behind him on the floor.
He collapses less than ten feet away from her. A rapidly expanding pool of blood blooms underneath him.
"Oh, God," Roxanne whispers. She scrambles over to the fallen man and turns him face up. "Hank?" she cries out frantically, shaking him. "Hank, please, can you hear me?"
The rise and fall of his chest is barely perceptible anymore. "I'll- draw them away," he gasps, almost inaudibly. "Get Gramps out."
He stops breathing.
"Hank!" she shrieks. She cradles his face in her hands and presses a kiss to his lips, but Hank doesn't respond.
All the hopes of the good times they were supposed to have together, the love that might have grown between them, vanishes in an instant as yet another person Roxanne cares about goes where she can't follow.
A pair of townies wielding shotguns kick in the front door, leaving Roxanne no time to grieve what could have been. The would-be hunters see Hank's body on the floor and visibly relax at the lack of signs of life.
Roxanne springs backward, ready to protect Gramps.
"Looks like Eric got the freak," one comments to the other. "Before it got him."
"Too bad he didn't have time to finish the job," the second man says, gesturing towards Roxanne. She can't remember their names, but she knows she's seen them around town, at the bar before.
And now they want to kill her.
She bares her fangs at them and lets out the most savage snarl she's ever made.
Right now she would happily rip these men limb from limb and use their blood as finger paints. She's never felt such thought-consuming fury, a rage she can taste on her tongue and feel roaring through her veins.
That burning is back in her hands, worse than before when she faced the Wendigo. Now the pain radiates from her forearms, intensifying as it travels between her fingers.
"Why the hell are you doing this to us?" she demands. "We've never hurt anyone!"
"Like hell you haven't," the first hunter retorts. "Bringing in that freak."
He pulls out a long hunting knife.
"You brought this on yourself, darling," he says, with a sickening grin. "You and your old man gotta pay the price."
Something inside Roxanne snaps.
The dark side of her nature, that inner animal which every feral possesses, comes surging forward in response to these men threatening the person she loves most in this world. Gramps always told her to not be afraid of this part of herself, to trust her instincts to know the time and place to bring forth that feral side.
She chooses to embrace it now.
Roxanne growls, poised on the balls of her feet and ready to pounce. Her fists clench against the ache in her hands, willing the burn to go away so she can fight for her grandfather's life-
In a short burst of searing pain, claws shoot out from her hands.
Chapter 28: Predator/Prey
"What the fuck is that?"
It's a valid question, Roxanne thinks, rather dazed.
She looks down at her hands, wondering at the extra digits protruding from between her knuckles. Three on each hand, about nine inches long. They look like they're made of... bone.
"That's disgusting," the hunter without the knife jeers.
Roxanne bares her fangs at him and growls, rather offended even if it is the truth. She's a little grossed out herself. It seems very unsanitary to her scientific mind.
What's happening to me? she wonders, fighting off a growing sense of panic.
But she doesn't have time to ponder this new development.
One of the hunters begins to raise his shotgun-
Over on the floor, unnoticed by the others, Hank begins to breathe again.
The green hue of his skin turns blue as the transformation starts…
Roxanne reacts on instinct.
She jumps up, sticking her new claws into the ceiling to use as leverage to kick both hunters in the face. Then she hops down and locks her new bone claws around the rifle barrel, wrenching it downwards so she can punch- and stab- one man straight in the chest with her other hand.
The other hunter raises his knife, poised to make a downward arc. Roxanne darts in under his guard and impales his wrist with her left hand before delivering a powerful uppercut to the man's gut with her right.
Both hunters collapse, clutching futilely at their wounds. They'll die without some sort of medical treatment, but Roxanne is fresh out of pity for monsters like these.
The smell of their blood in the air mixes with the suffocating smoke.
She turns to Gramps, desperate to get him out of here-
Dave kneels beside him, holding Gramps by his wispy white hair with a huge hunting knife pressed to his throat. The hunter grins maliciously as the old man gives a helpless gurgle, too weak from blood loss and the smoke to struggle.
"Nice trick, bitch," Dave taunts. He obviously came in through the kitchen door. "But it ain't gonna save your old man now."
Roxanne snarls and clenches her fists, her desperation making her rage all the more acute-
Dave's face suddenly goes chalk-white, his focus trained on something behind her. He immediately drops Gramps and scoots backward into the kitchen, too frightened to regain his footing.
She's suddenly aware of a huge presence looming over her. It's silent, like a predator on the verge of a kill.
Roxanne is too afraid to turn around- or even breathe, for that matter. She freezes, waiting for the creature to make a move and wondering if she's its prey.
With a fierce growl the creature darts around her, so close it ruffles her hair. She knows a moment of fear for Gramps, but the dark blue creature pounces straight on Dave and flings him across the kitchen so hard the man's neck snaps with an audible crack!
His prey disposed of, the Beast rises to his full height and turns around to look at her.
She knows this massive creature is Hank, obviously altered because of the steroid compound he felt forced to use in order to save them.
It's a drastic change. Whereas before she thought his feral form to be almost cuddly-looking, this new iteration is decidedly not.
He's huge, about eight feet tall now and almost twice as broad as he was previously. His fur is darker, his fangs longer, and his eyes burn like orange furnaces out of his face.
Beast takes a step towards her.
Roxanne stays frozen, unsure of how much of Hank is still in there. Despite her previous confidence in him, there's a difference between a hypothetical situation and having a ginormous, fanged creature staring you down.
How much control does Hank have over the Beast? Will he lose himself just like Paul did-?
She starts to hyperventilate as the Beast comes closer. His steps are slow- a stalking predator, or is he trying not to be intimidating?
If so, he's seriously failing, Roxanne thinks dryly, even though she's too terrified to move.
He stops in front of her, less than a foot away. She has to lean back quite a bit to see his face now, he's so much taller. His eyes are unreadable to her.
Beast raises his hand, and by some miracle she stops herself from flinching at the sudden movement. His hands are easily large enough to squish her whole head like a water balloon.
But he doesn't do that.
Instead, he reaches out to gently tuck a lock of hair behind her ear. His huge, clawed fingers are infinitely tender as they skim across her cheek.
It's such a familiar gesture that she knows that this is Hank, this is truly Hank.
She lets out an explosive breath- half sigh of relief, half hysterical giggle.
Oh, thank God. My boyfriend doesn't want to eat me. I knew it, I knew it.
But now isn't the time to gloat about being right.
Roxanne turns her face into his palm and closes her eyes momentarily. Beast lets out a soft little grunt and leans down to affectionately nudge her forehead with his.
And then he turns and jumps through a window.
His body is too big to fit through the window, meaning he ends up destroying most of the wall instead of jumping cleanly through.
Oops. In my defense, the house is on fire anyway, he thinks. And then he marvels that he's able to think like that at all.
The clarity of his own thoughts astounds Hank.
He was terrified that he wouldn't be able to control his bestial side under the influence of Paul's inducing compound, but it seems his fears were completely unfounded. His control is not complete by any means- his feral side is much stronger and more present than he's ever experienced before- but he definitely has one hand firmly on the metaphorical steering wheel of his own mind.
The Beast is there within him, eager to destroy the evil men who attacked his girl and the frail old man whose only crime was to harbor an outsider in this town. He is the predator, and these townies are his prey.
Hank lets the Beast have his way.
Hank/Beast leaps away from the house, his powerful legs carrying him forty feet in a single bound. A hunter aims his rifle at him, but it's too late. Hank/Beast lands on top of him, crushing his body under his feet.
"Shoot it!" Hank/Beast vaguely recognizes the voice as Ethan's, ordering his many cronies to open fire.
He roars as bullets pepper the nearby snow, aimed at him. He gallops along on all fours and picks up a heavy rock to hurl at a hunter.
The rock drills the hunter in the stomach. He groans as it knocks him back ten feet, into another man. The impact sends them both to the ground.
One of their guns goes off accidentally- it hits another hunter in the leg. The unfortunate soul drops to his knees, a rather girlish shriek rising in his throat.
Hank/Beast scoops this man off the ground and uses him as a human shield, sinking his claws into the man's back to hold him as he sprints towards another would-be hunter. His shield catches another bullet before he finally reaches the shooter. He grabs the man by the throat and decides that two shields are better than one.
Roxanne carries Gramps out through the hole in the wall, taking care not to poke him with her new claws. She puts him in Goliath, hoping the old tank of a truck will help keep him safe.
"Stay with me, Gramps," she orders when she lays him on the wide bench seat.
"I'm tryin'," he assures her, but she's not sure if his efforts will make any difference. His face is ashen and pale under the russet color of his skin, and his voice sounds like he's been gargling rocks. He gestures towards her hands. "That's… new."
"I know," Roxanne agrees. "Do you have any idea-?"
The old man shakes his head.
She stares down at her hands, half-hoping an answer will magically appear out of thin air. What prompted this? Is it a secondary mutation, triggered by the stress of what just happened? Or something else? But more importantly-
Am I stuck like this forever?
It's enough of a chore to clip her overly long fingernails every day, but this? She's going to need hedge trimmers to cut through the thick bone of these claws, and that promises to be painful. Will she have to do it every day?
Roxanne takes a deep breath, willing her body to obey her.
Come on, she tells herself. You can do this.
At a thought, the claws retreat back into the skin between her knuckles with a rather unnerving squelching sound. A drop of blood forms at each wound.
She concentrates for a moment, and the claws shoot back out. It hurts as they rip through her skin, but she does her best to ignore the pain. After a few repetitions of this she feels certain that bringing forth these bone claws will be as easy as moving her big toe.
Except with a lot more pain and blood loss involved.
Her healing factor is decently advanced, but it's still going to be a good five minutes before the holes left from the claws fully-
There's barely enough time for her blood to well up before the gashes from her claws completely mend. The healing is almost instantaneous, it's so fast.
What the hell?
She's never been able to heal that quickly before. Why-?
A fresh barrage of bullets gets Roxanne's attention then, breaking into her musings and forcing her into a crouch. The shots are not meant for them, however. All of the fire is concentrated on Hank- Beast, whatever.
From her position she watches Hank run across the landscape carrying two men as human shields to catch the bullets meant for him.
But behind him trails another hunter, with a perfect shot at the feral's back.
"Shit," she whispers.
She grabs her trusty shotgun from the truck's cab and aims just as the hunter raises his rifle to his shoulder, preparing to shoot.
Roxanne fires first.
She nails him with a head shot. The hunter instantly drops dead.
And there's more where he came from.
"Stay in there, Gramps," she tells the old man, with a vicious smile. "It's rabbit season."
She shuts the door against his protests and runs back into the burning house to grab the high powered rifles off the corpses inside.
After all, it's not like they're going to be using them anymore.
And then Roxanne settles down to give Hank some cover- and pick off some townies.
Chapter 29: Flipping the Switch
Flipping the Switch
Two hunters stand side by side, firing their pump action shotguns.
They unload on Hank/Beast, who's using his human shields as protection while he runs up on them.
Boom! Boom! Click!
One of them runs out of ammunition.
The other hunter keeps on firing, even as Hank/Beast gains on them both. "Hurry up!" he screams, as his compatriot struggles to reload and drops a shell in the snow.
He bends down to pick it up-
A loud roar tells the man he's run out of time. He looks up-
"Oh, fuck," he whispers.
Hank/Beast sails towards the hunters through the air, his jumps so long it's almost like he's flying. He kicks both men solidly in the chest. When he lands on top of them, they're both instantly crushed.
A fresh assault of bullets grabs his attention. He turns to see who's shooting at him this time and bares his impressive set of fangs at the hunter.
He takes a step forward-
The man collapses, his brains spraying out of his head. He's dead before he hits the snow.
Hank/Beast looks around, trying to find the source of the helpful gunshot. He spots Roxanne, his Roxanne, shooting from cover next to her grandfather's truck and his heart swells with both pride and adoration for his…
Mate, the Beast within him promptly supplies.
Don't be inappropriate, his more human side scolds. But it's difficult to ignore the decidedly possessive way the Beast views the feral girl, now that that part of himself is more present.
Shaking himself, he struggles to focus back on the task at hand. He notes a trio of oncoming snowmobiles driven by armed men.
One of the shells hits his shoulder, causing him to roar with pain and fury.
Hank/Beast grabs the rifle from the man his mate (no, Roxanne, why does the Beast keep insisting like this?) just killed and hurls it like a javelin at the left snowmobile.
It drills the driver right in the face. The man rolls off the snowmobile and the vehicle slows to a stop.
The remaining two snowmobiles zoom towards Hank/Beast, their automatic rifles firing in an onslaught of bullets.
He lifts a corpse off the ground and twirls the body in the air in order to fling it at the right snowmobile. The dead human spins with a circular rotation, like a deadly helicopter blade.
The driver swerves to avoid the speeding body, slamming his vehicle into the other snowmobile. Both spin out of control. The first collides with a tree, instantly killing the driver. The other crashes into a rock.
The would-be hunter flies into the air from the impact. He lands on his back and groans with pain.
He can do nothing when the beast appears above him, a deep blue mass in the dark flying straight for his face. He screams and futilely lifts his hands to protect himself from the creature's enraged descent, but it's useless.
Hank/Beast lands on the man, crushing him beneath his clawed hand-feet.
His ears perk at the sound of yet another engine revving. He turns to see a Jeep driving straight towards Roxanne, bathing her in the headlight's glow. Clearly, the driver intends to crush her between his own vehicle and Goliath.
Roxanne hears an engine approaching and catches sight of movement in her peripheral vision.
A Jeep is headed straight for her, its headlights obnoxiously bright in the darkness. Fighting the urge to panic, she squints against the blinding light and carefully takes aim.
She shoots out both front tires, hoping to make the driver spin out.
The Jeep swerves wildly, but after a moment it regains some semblance of control and continues its direct path right towards her. By now it's only thirty feet away.
She flings open the truck door. "Move over, Gramps!" she cries out urgently.
Gramps obliges, although with quite a bit of difficulty.
She jumps into Goliath's driver's seat and attempts to start the truck- she doesn't like her chances of trying to outrun that Jeep while carrying Gramps, and leaving him behind is not an option.
The engine is completely dead. These hunters prepared well, and obviously disabled Goliath at some point before they began their assault on the house.
"Get out of here, Roxanne," Gramps croaks.
"No," she snarls stubbornly.
Instead she straps the old man in with a seat belt and shields his body with hers, bracing for impact on the far side of the truck's cab.
Come on, you big tank, she tells the faithful old truck. Don't let me down.
She is Mate.
MUST SAVE MATE.
The sight of Roxanne, the woman his inner Beast apparently views as his mate, in mortal danger is enough to shut off Hank's higher brain function. It's so thorough it's as if a switch gets flipped in his own head.
Whereas before he felt that he had the ability to rein in and be semi-reasonable with his actions, now he effectively loses that capacity. Beast takes complete control of the metaphorical steering wheel, leaving his more conscious self reeling and helpless to stop him.
Beast roars, proclaiming his righteous wrath towards the individuals who intend to hurt his mate. He grabs a snowmobile and hurls it at the Jeep, now less than ten feet away from colliding with Goliath and the mutants hiding inside.
The snowmobile hits the Jeep squarely in the side, almost knocking the top-heavy vehicle over. Somehow it regains traction and shoots out at an odd angle to rather harmlessly glance the truck's front driver's side wheel well, rather than hitting the cab door full speed.
To Beast's hypersensitive instincts, even touching the vehicle she's in is equable to attacking his mate herself, and he reacts accordingly, with unrepentant rage.
He jumps across the clearing in two leaps, landing next to the crashed Jeep. He peers in at the cowering men inside and roars his fury at them for daring to strike the vehicle his mate was in.
The smell of urine and the pitiful wails the men make is quite satisfying, but not enough to sate his blood lust and need for vengeance.
"Jesus," Roxanne whispers.
She and Gramps watch through Goliath's windshield as the blue beast picks up the Jeep and begins folding it into a metal cube, with the hunters still inside.
"That's a little… excessive, isn't it? Do you think we should be worried?"
Gramps shakes his head. "No. To him this is-" He has to draw in a ragged-sounding breath. "- justified. They tried to hurt his mate," he explains calmly.
The old man's chuckle becomes a hacking cough. "His mate," he gasps out. Roxanne reaches for him, but he waves away her concern. "Like it or not- when he's like that-" He gestures out the windshield. "That's how he sees you. His inner feral has- recognized you as his mate. From now on- he'll protect you with everything- he's got."
Roxanne is utterly nonplussed. This is not the time to start talking about such hokey foolishness, in her opinion.
Gramps grins impishly, though he's still struggling with his breathing. "Come on, Roxanne," he teases. "I thought you were- a romantic."
Across the property, Ethan watches in stunned horror as the blue monster turns Terry's Jeep into a compact metal cube, like a junkyard machine.
Blue lights now flash in the distance, accompanied by the sound of a police siren.
It's Sheriff Joe, coming at the eleventh hour.
Ethan isn't scared, but most of the remaining hunters take off when they realize the fuzz is here. They don't want the Sheriff to catch sight of their faces- once this is all over he's sure to call in reinforcements from the Alaska State Troopers and hunt down the guilty parties involved.
The Sheriff's headlights land on the monster, standing in front of the burning cabin. The creature blinks against the lights and roars before disappearing into the woods.
"Where are you going?" Ethan calls out to his troops, scurrying through the trees to their trucks. "Fucking cowards."
He looks back at the remaining two men standing their ground behind him, two souls too brave to run away. Sam and Russell, a couple of younger guys from the logging crew.
"You with me?" he asks.
They nod grimly.
Ethan and the two hunters race into the woods after the monster.
Beast runs on all fours, moving deep into the forest. A bullet drills the tree bark to his left, forcing him to veer right. The hunters are still after him.
He runs faster, leaping over a fallen log and soaring through the air. Whilst still airborne he kicks off a thick tree trunk and sails thirty feet to his right, making his trail nearly impossible for a normal human to track.
Beast lands near a giant shale rock. It's tall and wide- decent cover from the hunters.
He leans against the flat side of the rock, breathing fast and struggling to recover from the strain of fighting while wounded.
A fierce internal battle wages within him as he looks up at the night stars. Bright moonlight bathes the trees while his feral brain fights to maintain control over his more human self.
The Beast doesn't want to cede control. He enjoys being in charge, being able to act on his blood lust without feeling any weak human emotions of guilt or remorse. Those men deserved what they got, and he's not interested in feeling pity for them.
He rubs his stinging right shoulder, noting the small smear of blood on his paw with a small whine.
We need to-
He shakes his head, not letting his human side gain a foothold in the moment of weakness. He'll be completely healed up in a few minutes, anyway.
A branch snaps behind him.
Beast perks up, his head slowly rising above the rock. His eyes scan the trees for movement.
A bush rustles to his right.
He picks up a loose rock and hurls it at the bush, causing a skunk to sprint out. Beast snorts, disgusted with himself for being spooked by such an insignificant animal.
But then a loud howl permeates the night air.
Beast looks in every direction, searching for the source. He remembers that sound.
The Wendigo is coming.
Chapter 30: Who Are You?
Who Are You?
Gramps watches as Sheriff Joe's SUV pulls up in front of the burning cabin. The brave man exits the vehicle with his gun drawn and runs towards the broken wall.
"Aklaq? Ms. Yazzie?" he calls out.
Roxanne opens Goliath's driver's side door. "Right here, Sheriff," she says.
Sheriff Joe spins around and lowers his weapon when he sees who it is. "Roxanne," he gasps. "What happened?"
"A bunch of men attacked us and tried to burn us alive," she replies, gritting her teeth. Gramps is sure she'd like to break down and have a good cry right about now, but she's too proud to give in to the impulse.
"Are you hurt?"
"I'm not, but Gramps is hurt really bad," Roxanne explains. "He took an arrow to the leg, and all that smoke-"
"I'm fine," Gramps says stubbornly.
She glares over her shoulder at him. "The hell you are, Gramps," she scolds. "You look like death warmed over right now."
He crosses his arms over his chest and tries to glower at her. The effect is ruined when he starts coughing, to his profound embarrassment.
"Here, Aklaq," Sheriff Joe says, "let's get you in my car. I'll take you to the hospital."
The old man is too busy hacking up a lung to protest.
Roxanne hops out of the truck and goes around to his side. She scoops him up easily- earning herself a rather askance look from the sheriff- and carries him over to the SUV.
"Go- help Hank," Gramps manages to whisper when she settles him down in the back seat. "He needs you."
"So do you," she retorts.
What a stubborn child, he gripes to himself.
But to be fair, he knows exactly where she got that particular personality trait from. She's going to give Hank a very interesting life if the boy lives through this.
"Roxanne Alasie Yazzie, go help your mate," he orders, as sternly as he can in the present circumstances.
She recoils a little. "Fine. I will, if you stop saying that word," she replies, arms crossed.
Gramps bites back a grin.
Watching the big blue feral interact with Roxanne earlier, his instinctual reaction to her being in danger, was all the old man needed to see. Their instant attraction towards each other now makes perfect sense to him.
Hank and Roxanne are mates, and their bond is unbreakable. It's why they're subconsciously drawn towards one another even if they don't realize why just yet- though now that the Beast inside of Hank has fully recognized that Roxanne is his mate it's probably only a matter of time. Both Hank and his granddaughter- with all their scientific skepticism- will probably deny it for a while, but the old feral already senses the truth.
It would be incredibly amusing to watch the two intellectuals struggle against their feral impulses- that certainly would provide plenty of entertainment for this old man- but it would also be nice to witness their eventual happiness when they come to understand the depths of their bond.
If only he would be around to see them realize it.
"Fine," he says. "Now go. I love you, Roxanne."
She frowns, searching his face for a moment. "I love you too, Gramps," she whispers.
With a kiss to the old man's forehead, she takes off into the woods. She's so quick she's merely a redheaded blur flying over the snow.
Sheriff Joe stares after her for a long moment, his mouth agape in astonishment over Roxanne's speed. Gramps has to force back another grin when Joe finally shakes himself and opens up the driver's side door. "Alright, Aklaq, let's get you to the hospital," he announces.
"Thanks, Joe, but I'm not- going to any damn hospital," Gramps tells the other man. "Do me a favor and grab the rifle under the truck seat."
The Sheriff opens his mouth to protest, but the old man waves him off.
"Please, Joe. I've got a job to do."
Beast's eyes dart in every direction, searching for the source of the howl.
He doesn't see the Wendigo's monstrous form flying towards his back. Its sharp claws are at the ready, fully prepared to tear the blue mutant to shreds.
A brownish blur tackles Beast from the side, knocking him out of the way of the Wendigo's attack.
The Wendigo lands on the rock, its claws cutting into the shale right where Beast's head was only a moment before.
Wendigo shakes his head and chuffs in disappointed rage.
But before he can regroup for a fresh attack a soft thud gets his attention. He looks down to see a small, lobulated ball at his feet. The size and shape sparks something in his memory, reaching beyond the animal.
Grenade hurt Wendigo.
The monster jumps just in time, right before the grenade detonates.
A bloom of dust billows out behind Beast and Wolverine as they tumble down a steep slope.
Wolverine's adamantium claws shoot out of his hands. He uses them to stab the frozen ground and halt his undignified fall down the hill.
Beast has no such advantage. His descent is stopped only when he slams into a tree so hard the bark cracks. He immediately jumps up and takes an aggressive stance towards the approaching stranger- another feral male, automatically assumed to be a threat.
Logan walks towards him slowly, trying to telegraph his friendly intentions to the huge blue Beast in front of him. "Easy fella," he says, trying to sound reassuring but failing rather badly at it. He's not exactly a soothing individual and he knows it.
Beast growls, still too caught up in his primal rage to listen to reason. The blue creature circles Wolverine, preparing to strike.
The feral man retracts his claws and raises his hands in a peaceful gesture. "Charles, a little help?"
Beast growls at the sound of his voice, displaying his fangs.
Hank, can you hear me? The voice in his mind is distorted, unclear.
Beast shakes his head, trying to shake off his bewilderment. What's going on?
Your mind is fragmented, but I can still see you, my friend.
He knows this voice, he's sure of it. But from where? Why is this so confusing?
The human within him knows. He tries to use the Beast's perplexity to his advantage, fighting to regain control.
Ah, good. You're already on your way.
"Jesus, Professor," Roxanne squeaks, ducking reflexively. She's following Hank's trail through the forest, though it's difficult because she can tell he went up into the trees at some point. "You've gotta stop doing that to me."
What's wrong? Is Hank alright? She asks the question mentally to save her breath for running.
Physically, more or less. But mentally he's struggling to regain control of himself. When he saw you in danger….
Beast took over.
Yes, exactly. I'm hoping that seeing you will bring him back to his senses.
Roxanne winces- she's afraid the Professor's faith in her influence is rather misplaced, but she knows she has to try. How close?
Over that ridge. Mind the drop, Roxanne.
The sound of Beast howling floats to her in the darkness. The confusion and despair in his voice tears at her heart.
I'm coming, Hank.
She reaches the top of the ridge and jumps.
His mate suddenly appears in front of him, landing from above with a cat-like grace that makes his heart glow with admiration. His severe distress vanishes in an instant at just the sight of her. Surely his mate will help him understand what's going on, what that voice was and who this strange feral man is.
"Hello, Hank," she says cautiously.
Hank. She says your name is Hank. That means it must be, right?
His mate hesitates, and then steps closer- close enough to touch. He purrs and reaches out to gently caress her beautiful, delicate face with his paw.
"Do you know my name?" she asks.
She is Mate. Mate, the Beast says stubbornly.
But she has a name. Her name is Roxanne, his more human side argues.
Roxanne. The Beast decides he likes that name, because it means her.
"Roxanne," he replies aloud, his voice grumbly and deep.
Her smile pierces the Beast right through his heart, like the silver bullet of legend. His control slips, the other side of himself gaining more of a grip on their shared psyche.
This is Beauty, taming her Beast.
"That's right. And your name is Hank," she murmurs. She reaches up and places her tiny hand over his huge paw, holding it to her face. "Come back to me, Hank. I know you're in there."
Yes, you are. I can see you, Hank, a male voice says inside his head. It's the same one as before, familiar but not his own.
Something else snaps into place.
Yes, Hank. It's me. Clear your mind, my friend. Breathe. You're in control.
Beast closes his eyes and takes several deep breaths. Inch by inch, the feral gives way to his more conscious self.
When he reopens his eyes he's come back to himself once more. He smiles down at Roxanne, who's looking up at him with luminous hazel eyes.
She lets out a relieved chuckle. "There you are," she whispers. "Hi, Hank."
A flock of birds flies overhead, putting the Wolverine on alert. His hazel eyes search the trees, and he carefully sniffs the air.
The Wendigo is close.
"Anytime now, kid," Logan says gruffly.
The redheaded girl who dropped in on them- the kid's girlfriend, apparently- whirls around with a growl of surprise. She bares her dainty fangs and brings both of her hands up to her chest.
Both fists clench, and sets of three bone claws shoot out from between her knuckles.
Well ain't that a familiar sight.
Logan blinks, completely shocked.
"Who the hell are you?" the girl demands. She's very pretty- beautiful, even- and distinctly feminine, despite the way she's currently glowering at him.
"I could ask you the same thing, princess," he retorts. His surprise makes him even more surly than usual.
"Logan?" The question comes from Beast.
"Yeah, kid. Logan," he says. "And she is…?"
"Roxanne Yazzie," the girl replies. Delicate eyebrows pucker in confusion over large hazel eyes. They're the same damn color as his own, he realizes immediately.
Logan shakes his head, deeply unsettled.
Those eyes, those claws… is this a crazy coincidence, or something more?
Seriously, what are the odds? He finds himself searching her features for something familiar, wondering if it'll spark a memory or something. Nothing of the kind is forthcoming, but for some reason he can't shake the feeling that he knows this girl somehow.
Charles? What the hell is this?
I don't know, my friend. I'm just as shocked as you are.
Somehow Logan highly doubts that.
Chapter 31: The Wendigo Returns
The Wendigo Returns
Across the hill, Ethan grins.
He has both the blue monster and that mutant bitch in his sights, right next to each other. It's fucking perfect, an even better chance than the one he took with the grenade a few minutes ago.
"Now I got you," he mutters. He raises his high powered rifle to his shoulder, already looking forward to bragging to Sam and Russell that he's the one that got the freak.
He peers through the scope and aims right at the monster's chest, ready to shoot-
Suddenly, hot breath fogs up the scope.
His head turns slowly to the left.
A huge, white monster is right beside him. It roars in triumph- its huge, clawed paw already reaching for its prey-
The snow stains red with his blood.
The sound of a human scream and a monstrous roar filter down to them through the trees. It's not far off at all, and puts all three ferals on alert.
Logan appears to shake himself. "We good?"
Hank nods. "We're good. It's nice to see you again, Logan," he says, but Roxanne doesn't look so sure. He puts his paw on her shoulder, trying to silently reassure her.
He notes the bone claws protruding from between her knuckles and wonders when that happened. Was it a secondary mutation that lay dormant within her until it was triggered by all the stress of this day? It must be.
Hank can't help thinking that Roxanne's claws look very, very much like Logan's did in 1973. It's a mutation he's never seen before, save for the gruff feral man. And now her.
There's a thread of thought there, one he knows he'll have to pursue, but he's not even sure where to begin.
The Wendigo howls again in the distance.
Logan sniffs the air. "Follow me," he says.
Hank steps after him, but Roxanne remains frozen in place. "It's alright, Roxanne," he tells her quietly. "He's a friend."
And possibly your father, he silently adds.
There, he thought the word. It makes the concept seem much more real, though the implications are still unexplored.
Roxanne nods silently and tags along next to him, her steps silent in the snow.
Logan leads them to the edge of the treeline of a large open field. Nothing moves in the wide, snow-covered expanse.
Roxanne shivers. He knows her cold tolerance is much greater than a human's, but the temperature is well below zero right now on her bare skin. Small wonder that she's cold.
Hank wraps his arm around her, hoping his fur will warm her somewhat.
"Ain't it a little cold for short sleeves?" Logan asks sardonically.
Roxanne grimaces and casts her eyes down- she seems unable to formulate a response to the man's derision. Hank feels obligated to defend her.
"She used her shirt to tie off a tourniquet on her grandfather's leg, and then her house caught on fire, Logan," he explains quietly.
The gruff older feral looks rather chastised, to Hank's amazement. Logan isn't usually a particularly apologetic person. He must have his own suspicions about Roxanne's identity, then. She's the only one left in the dark.
Roxanne sniffs the air, lifting her head the same way Logan did to smell only moments ago. Hank tells himself to not make assumptions with no proof, but really, when seeing them next to each other it's hard not to see a resemblance. It's especially evident in their hazel eyes, their cheekbones, and the way their brows pucker so similarly when they're concentrating.
"He's close," Roxanne whispers.
"So what's the plan?" Hank asks hopefully.
"Kill it and go inside," Logan replies, putting the kibosh on any hopes of a refined strategy- or mercy, for that matter. "It's too damn cold out here for your little girlfriend."
This time Roxanne scowls, her lips curling back a little to reveal her fangs in response to the man's rudeness.
"I wish we could save him," Hank murmurs remorsefully.
"He doesn't seem too interested in saving us," Logan retorts. He walks out into the clearing.
"Logan, what are you doing?"
Wolverine's adamantium blades shoot out of his hands. He clangs his claws together and screams out a warrior's cry.
An answering demonic roar comes from the distant tree line.
"Now we're talking."
Roxanne is extremely thankful for Hank's arm around her in that moment- otherwise she's afraid she would fall over, seeing the feral man's claws shoot out of his hands. They're metal, but the similarity to her own is striking.
She glances down at her hands, and then up at Hank. Despite the distortion in his features, she can sense the understanding and concern in his gaze as he looks down at her. "Is- is he-?"
"It's a distinct possibility," Hank murmurs. "His claws are rather unique. I've never seen another mutation quite like it."
Roxanne wishes she were anywhere but here right now. Preferably somewhere safe and quiet, so she could take the time to process this information.
That brusque, gruff man out there could be her biological father. A feral. A fellow mutant, with his own physical mutations.
The concept stands everything she thought she knew about her own history on its head.
There's no time to think about anything else, though, because the distant bushes are shaking. She can hear footfalls getting louder and louder.
Something is coming.
"Come on you bastard," Logan mutters.
Rather than the Wendigo he called for, a grizzly bear emerges and races towards the feral man.
The man braces for the speeding bear, raising his fists in a defensive posture. He's so completely focused on the enemy in front of him that he doesn't notice what else is coming for him.
"On your left!" Roxanne calls out.
But it's too late.
By the time Logan reacts, the Wendigo has jumped out of the forest and slammed right into him. They slide on the snow covered ground for a good thirty feet.
"Please, stay here," Hank tells her desperately. "Please."
Roxanne nods, eyes wide. She's too much of a realist to have an inflated measure of her ability to hold her own out there.
With one last gentle caress, Hank races towards the grappling combatants.
Hank leaps into the air, trying to use the elevation to his advantage.
Unfortunately, the Wendigo sees him coming and backhands him so hard he goes flying. He collides with the stampeding grizzly with a loud thud! The furious bear bites into the back of his neck, sending searing pain through his body.
Hank roars and fights to pull the bear's jaws apart.
Meanwhile, the Wendigo claws at Logan's face. His attack is relentless, tearing the flesh off the man's arms when he raises them to block the vicious assault. Sparks fly as the monster's claws scrape against his adamantium skeleton.
Then the Wendigo picks him up and sends him flying.
Roxanne watches the fight from the tree line, her heart in her throat. She feels completely helpless, but also knows if two feral males like Hank and Logan are having trouble fighting that monster, she doesn't stand a chance. She's not strong enough, too small, and even with her claws-
Two hunters step out of the woods only five yards or so away from her. She recognizes them from town- Sam and Russell, a pair of troublemakers if there ever was. They were in her graduating class and come to the bar several times a week to ogle her whenever she wears a low cut shirt.
And yet here they are, part of a lynch mob that tried to kill her and Gramps.
It burns in her soul, knowing that the men she's served drinks to for months, who worked beside Robert for years and have been her neighbors her entire life have acted with so much violence towards her family.
They can't stay here. She'll tie the old man up and drag him out of Alaska if she has to, but as soon as this is over with she's taking Gramps and leaving Eagle Village for good.
Meanwhile, the two men raise their rifles, aiming for the battling ferals.
"Hey!" Roxanne calls out, trying to get their attention.
Russell turns his head in her direction and grins when he sees who it is. "Look! It's her!" he tells Sam, nudging his buddy.
He makes to swing around and aim for her instead, but she's too fast for him.
Roxanne springs towards them, a single leap that carries her right over to her targets. She hits Russell in his chest with both feet and pushes him into Sam, then kicks off and does a flip in midair to land in a crouch.
Before either man can recover she wrestles Russell's rifle away and kicks him in the head so hard he immediately goes limp. She uses the butt of the rifle to dispose of Sam in the same way.
Roxanne grabs Sam's rifle and slings it over her shoulder while keeping Russell's in her hands. She prudently grabs the hunters' spare ammunition as well, letting her claws recede once more to give herself more dexterity.
After loading up she turns around, with the Wendigo now in her sights.
Hank growls as he finally pries the angry grizzly's jaws apart. He regains his feet just in time to see the Wendigo racing towards him. He jumps straight up, avoiding the dive the Wendigo makes for him.
Wendigo tackles the bear as Hank lands on the monster's back. He's momentarily thankful for the stupid grizzly bear when it bites into Wendigo's knee, an added distraction while he claws at the creature's throat.
Unfortunately the monster manages to quickly grab the bear and snap its neck, tossing the corpse away with impunity.
The moment of misdirection provided by the grizzly allows Logan to slide in and slice through the back of the Wendigo's leg. Its tendons snap and the creature drops to its knees.
Logan roars as he stabs the monster's chest. It swipes at the feral man's head, but he ducks and manages to deliver a flurry of claw-punches. The Wendigo howls in pain and frustration, unable to fend off both of its attackers-
The sound of a gunshot echoes through the clearing, carrying even over the monster's roar.
The Wendigo slumps over, lifeless.
Hank cautiously hops off the creature's back and notes the gunshot wound right between its eyes. He glances up to see Roxanne standing twenty yards or so away, one rifle still at the ready in her hands and another slung over her shoulder.
"Nice shot," he says. He quickly jogs over to her and notes Logan trailing along behind him at a more measured pace.
She nods grimly, finally lowering the rifle when Hank reaches her side.
"Not bad," Logan comments begrudgingly.
Roxanne gives him a sideways glance. "'Thank you for the crumbs from your table, Mrs. Dives,'" she mutters, mostly to herself.
Hank chuckles, an odd sound to even his own ears thanks to his current monstrous form. "Rhett Butler, Gone with the Wind."
Her pleased smile gives the big blue Beast butterflies. Who would've thought it possible?
Logan seems unimpressed by the exchange between the pair. He shrugs and points a thumb over his shoulder at the Wendigo's body. "That's all yours, bub," he says gruffly.
Hank frowns and opens his mouth to reply-
Roxanne inhales sharply and brings her rifle back into position. "Shit," she whispers.
A quick glance over is all the explanation Hank needs.
Chapter 32: Can't Be Saved
Can't Be Saved
The Wendigo staggers to its feet, its wounds healing before his flabbergasted eyes. As it returns to a standing position he sees the rifle slug push itself out of the monster's head and fall harmlessly into the snow.
"Logan…" Hank says nervously.
Logan turns around and sees the fresh horror before them all. "You gotta be fucking kidding me," he mutters. Privately, Hank feels that statement just about sums it up. "Well, shit."
Roxanne shoots the monster again, but it's onto her game now and manages to dodge the head shot, taking the hit in its side. It bellows its fury at her, preparing to spring-
She shoots it again. And then a few more times.
Logan looks at Hank. "Throw me at its head," he orders, as Roxanne switches to her other rifle.
"So I can cut it off," the older feral replies impatiently, his voice loud thanks to the gunshots.
Hank glances from Logan to the Wendigo, currently roaring in anger while Roxanne peppers it with slugs. The shots only seem to enrage it further, though the creature is obviously hesitant to come any closer.
"You sure about this?"
"No, but your girlfriend's cold and about to run out of ammo. Throw me."
Hank has doubts about the wisdom of this plan, but he still grabs the other man's ankles and hurls him at the Wendigo.
Logan leads with his claws as he soars through the air, ready to strike-
The Wendigo ducks, and Logan continues to fly far into the forest. The sound of trees cracking in the distance carry to them as the momentum takes him far, far away.
"I think I over did it on that one," Hank murmurs dryly to himself.
"I'm out," Roxanne whispers.
The Wendigo crouches several yards away, its tail thrashing erratically and its blood red eyes darting back and forth between her and Hank. Saliva hangs off of its fangs in ropes, its breath expelling in clouds of smoke as it growls at them both. It paws at the ground with razor sharp claws, as if preparing to charge now that the barrage of shotgun shells has stopped.
Roxanne drops the now-useless rifle to the ground and releases her own claws, holding her clenched fists at the ready down at her sides. She bares her fangs and snarls at the creature.
The monster seems to smile, its gaze now boring into hers. Roxanne defiantly refuses to look away or even blink, disdaining to show any signs of weakness to this wretch who killed her brother.
Hank edges himself in front of her, drawing the creature's attention away from the feral female. "Paul, this has to stop," he says calmly. "Please… it doesn't have to come to this."
The Wendigo gives no sign of comprehension whatsoever. Instead it just roars to express its ire towards the big blue feral.
Roxanne is afraid of what the outcome of the brewing fight will be, of whether Hank will survive it without Logan here to help. Is there a way to stop this battle to the death?
Suddenly she remembers the hungry way Paul used to look at her, back when she worked for him, the attraction he had for her that made her feel so uncomfortable. She wonders if she should try to use that to her advantage here, if the man beneath the monster still feels the same way.
She figures it's worth a try- she has to try to avert the fight before it starts again, if possible.
Roxanne steps out from behind Hank and says, "Paul, please. This isn't you."
The Wendigo snorts in confusion- but at least he doesn't immediately attack.
She presses her smidgen of advantage, stepping closer. She retracts her claws and holds her hands out, trying to look inviting.
Hank stiffens, a soft whine escaping his throat at the sight of her moving into a sort of no-man's-land between the two males. Roxanne knows she needs to be careful, lest the Beast regain control of Hank at the sight of her in danger.
Oh, and she also doesn't want to get eaten. Obviously.
"Do you remember me, Dr. Cartier?" she asks. "It's me, Roxanne. Your- your friend."
He doesn't like that word. He bares his fangs again, a low growl starting in his throat.
Roxanne freezes in terror, her mouth suddenly going bone dry. But she still presses on, past her fear. "Paul, please," she pleads. "I'm sorry I couldn't care for you the way you wanted, but you don't have to be this way. You have to stop, Paul. Please."
The Wendigo cocks its head at her, as if considering her words. She takes a few slow, careful paces forward, holding out her hand.
One step, and another- by now she's closer to the Wendigo than she is to Hank.
Hank makes the same distressed, anxious sound low in his throat once more.
To be honest he's only vaguely aware that he's doing it- he's much too focused on Roxanne's dangerous position to truly notice any errant noises he's making.
Roxanne is now closer to the Wendigo than she is to him. "Paul-" she says, speaking in her sweet, clear voice. "Please-"
The Wendigo suddenly lets out a triumphant roar and springs towards her, his arm outstretched to snatch Roxanne up.
Hank doesn't need Beast to take control of his thoughts this time. His rage towards the Wendigo and his fear for the redheaded woman's safety are entirely his own, and he reacts accordingly.
He leaps at the Wendigo, the power carrying him well over Roxanne's head while she ducks to evade the white monster and his reaching claws. Hank grabs onto the Wendigo's head with his hand-feet as his momentum carries him over the creature and then does a front-flip, flinging the creature far, far away.
Once the monster is out of sight Hank turns back to Roxanne, currently crouched in the snow. She's shaking- from the cold or adrenaline, he can't tell. He wouldn't blame her for either, to be truthful.
"Are you still Hank?" she asks, her teeth chattering slightly.
He fights the urge to roll his eyes. After all, it is a valid question, considering what happened earlier when he saw her in danger.
"I am," he replies. He bends down and helps her to her feet. His paw is so massive that her little hand almost seems lost in it.
"Well that was a complete failure," Roxanne mutters bitterly as she brushes the snow off her pants.
"But it was a valiant effort, Roxanne," Hank tells her. "It was worth a try. At least now… now we know he can't be reached."
She nods grimly.
"I don't relish the thought of killing yet another sentient being tonight," he murmurs. The deaths on his hands from this night are completely against his own code of ethics, and he'll have to come to terms with that at some point. "Let's get this over with. Want a ride?"
He kneels down and gestures to his back.
Roxanne eyes him with wary amusement. "Screw it. Sure, why not?"
She hops on, and they race off into the darkness.
A large white shape goes crashing through the tree canopy parallel to the road, accompanied by a loud, bloodcurdling howl.
"There it is," Aklaq announces triumphantly, pointing out the SUV's window.
"What on earth was that?" Sheriff Joe exclaims, clutching his steering wheel.
"The monster that killed my grandson," the old man replies, his expression darkening. His triumph has already turned to his plans for vengeance. "Keep going straight, Joe."
The sheriff turns to eye him incredulously in the back seat. "You want me to follow that thing?"
"And what exactly do you think is going to happen when we catch up to it, Aklaq?"
The old feral pats the serum rifle in his lap. "I'll take care of business," he explains, full of confidence. "I want you to stay in the car- when we find it, Joe. It's too dangerous."
He wants to protect the kindly human, but he has another motive. He's not sure if the town sheriff can be trusted not to shoot at any and all furry creatures they'll find out in the woods tonight, including a certain blue one. And in that situation his Roxanne could easily get caught in the crossfire, a terrifying notion in itself.
"Going in alone? This sounds like a suicide mission, Aklaq," Joe notes. "You can barely walk. And it sounds like you're about to hack up a lung at any minute. How about we stop at the county hosp-?"
"No," Aklaq interjects obstinately. "No hospital. If I die, it's because- the Great Spirit wills it. Please, Joe. Let an old man have his choice."
The sheriff is quiet for a very long time before finally shaking his head. "I can't, Aklaq," he says firmly. "I'm sorry, but I won't-"
Aklaq sighs. He had a feeling it would come to this, though he certainly hoped it wouldn't. But he's a stubborn man, a stubborn man who's willing to do anything to defeat the monstrous Wendigo.
Gritting his teeth, he flings open the car door and does a tuck-and-roll to soften his landing in the snow on the side of the road.
He's vaguely aware of the SUV's tires squealing and Sheriff Joe's exclamations of surprise, but he pays the other man no mind. Aklaq is already up and moving, the serum rifle clutched in his hands, before the car even comes to a full stop.
To say that he's running would be an exaggeration, because he most certainly is not. There's a possibly-poisoned arrowhead still buried in his leg, and he inhaled a lot of smoke earlier. Combined with his advanced old age and the fact that he just jumped out of a moving vehicle, Aklaq isn't winning a foot race any time soon.
But still he plods on, letting his feral abilities carry him through the snow-covered woods with a quickness that surprises even himself.
He'll be there at the final showdown with the Wendigo, even if it kills him.
Chapter 33: What Goes Up
What Goes Up
The Wolverine is airborne for so long it almost feels like he's flying, even as he crashes into several trees. The momentum from Beast's throw and his own adamantium skeleton combine to make the obstacles' effects negligible.
But as the old adage goes, what goes up must eventually come down.
He finally slams into the metal siding of a building and slides down to land on the ground in an undignified heap. He regains his footing and turns around to glare at the offending wall. What the hell is a building doing out in the middle of nowhere?
It's a sawmill, he then realizes, taking note of the tall stacks of logs and heavy machinery surrounding the property. There's a large loading area to his right, a place for trucks to back into the mill and get loaded up.
Logan's various cuts and bruises from his tree top foray have already healed by the time he finishes his survey.
A large, hairy white creature flies out of the woods and soars right into the sawmill through the truck loading area. The monster lands inside with a loud crash, followed by numerous metal clangs.
The sawmill's machinery creaks back to life.
Logan watches the conveyor belt carry logs into the facility. He can hear loud buzzing sounds from the saws as they cut through the wood.
"Perfect," he mutters. A physical fight and heavy machinery- what could possibly go wrong?
He enters the building cautiously, on high alert. The loud noises and the movement from the conveyor belts are distracting, making it difficult to track the monster.
Logan spots drops of fresh blood on the sawdust-covered floor. He follows the trail around a corner-
The Wendigo leaps down from a stack of logs behind him and wraps a metal chain around the feral's neck. It digs its foot into Logan's back, tugging at the chain with all its considerable strength in the hopes of choking the man to death.
But it's not that easy to kill the Wolverine.
Logan's hand reaches up and his adamantium claws slice right through the chain. He swings wildly at the creature as he turns towards it, but the Wendigo easily leaps backwards far enough to dodge the strike.
It grabs a huge log and throws it at Logan, forcing him to jump up to avoid the impact. He pushes off the log in mid-air and comes flying right at the Wendigo. The monster raises its forearms to protect its face and gets six foot-long claws straight through his flesh and out the other sides for the effort.
Wendigo howls as Logan kicks off its chest, freeing his claws. The monster leaps onto a moving conveyor belt, apparently giving ground before the Wolverine's assault.
Logan doesn't realize it's a ruse until a split second too late.
He jumps up to follow the monster onto the conveyor belt, but the Wendigo is ready for him. While he's still airborne it slams a log into his chest, knocking him onto his back. He lands with his arms pinned by his sides, trapped beneath the log with the Wendigo pressing down on him. It opens its mouth in a vicious grin, saliva dripping from its fangs and onto Logan's face.
"Well that's disgusting," he mutters, struggling to get free.
The monster pulls his arm back to strike-
Hank runs on all fours as he follows the sounds of buzzing saws and loud roars echoing through the otherwise tranquil forest. He can feel Roxanne's arms around his neck and her legs hugging the sides of his chest. He likes her being so close, the way her head is tucked against his.
"We should do this again sometime," she tells him, her voice soft and sweet over the sound of the air rushing by his ears. "When we're not on a monster-hunting mission, I mean. We should run together just for the fun of it."
The thought of future plans together makes him smile, even as he runs through the pitch blackness of the forest in search of a cannibalistic monster.
Finally he spots a soft glow of light up ahead, and he knows they're close. An old sawmill looms out of the darkness.
Hank sprints into the building, entering through the loading bay. He immediately catches sight of Logan trapped beneath a large log, with the Wendigo sitting on it and poised to strike.
"Beast!" the feral man calls out, eager for rescue.
To add to the Wolverine's perilous circumstances, the conveyor belt he's on is quickly moving towards a large, buzzing saw.
Oh my stars and garters.
Roxanne slips off Hank's back as soon as they enter the building, wanting nothing more than to stay out of the way of this fight.
She watches as Hank grabs a forklift with ease and throws it straight at the Wendigo, knocking the monster off the conveyor belt and sending it tumbling across the room. He leaps up onto the belt to join Logan.
"Get this thing off me!" Logan gripes.
Hank bends down to lift the heavy log off of him-
The forklift crashes into Hank this time, sending him flying. The Wendigo bellows in triumph over its revenge, the insult repaid.
Logan exhales in frustration, still stuck under the massive log and rapidly approaching the saw. "Goddammit."
Roxanne kneels behind a control panel while the Wendigo leaps over the conveyor belt and grabs a rather dazed-looking Hank.
It throws the blue mutant across the building and follows after him, leaving Logan unmolested- but still very trapped on the conveyor belt, and now a mere foot away from being sliced in half.
With the Wendigo occupied, Roxanne feels safe enough to actually do something. She hops over the control panel she hid behind and quickly locates the emergency stop button.
The conveyor belt grinds to a halt with only inches to spare before the feral man got an even stranger haircut than he already has.
Logan lets out an audible sigh of relief. "Thanks," he says gruffly, glancing over at her.
She nods and casts her eyes down. She's not really sure how to act around this man who may or may not be her father.
That's not important right now, she tells herself sternly.
Now that the more imminent danger has been neutralized, Roxanne grabs a couple errant two by fours and jumps up onto the conveyor belt. She throws one piece down to use as a pivot point and jams the other under the log as a lever. Her goal is to lift the log enough that Logan can free his hands and shove it fully off of himself.
She pushes down with all her might and barely succeeds in budging the massive log a couple inches. She growls and tries again.
"Come on, girl," Logan grumps. He probably means to be encouraging, but both his abrasive tone and his word choice grate on her nerves. Her timidness is gone in an instant as something inside her snaps.
"My name is Roxanne," she retorts. "Not 'girl.' Call me that again and I'll turn the damn saw back on."
She doesn't mean it, of course, and she regrets her uncharacteristic outburst immediately. The stress of the night and this man's surly attitude are no reason for her to stoop to his grumpy level.
Logan looks rather astonished. "Alright, then. Roxanne, keep goin'," he mutters. "Please."
Roxanne grits her teeth and continues the struggle.
Meanwhile, Hank grapples with the Wendigo high up in the building's rafters. He's out-sized and not as strong as the white creature, but has a slight edge on speed and agility that he presses to his advantage.
He lands several blows in succession, forcing the monster to give ground. The Wendigo leaps backwards onto another structural beam. Hank follows-
The creature claws at the beam and uses it as leverage to swing his body around and drill Hank right in the chest with his back feet. The blue mutant fails to find purchase with the scaffolding and plummets several yards.
He lands on a massive conveyor belt, large enough to carry entire trees through the mill. It's easily eighty feet above the ground and the end overlooks a giant industrial-sized wood mulcher. Ahead of him logs fall straight down into it to their splintered demise.
The Wendigo lands a few yards behind him on the belt. Hank leaps to his feet and spins around just in time to brace himself and catch the tree trunk the monster has picked up and is trying to squash him with.
It's a battle of pure strength, one that Hank doubts he can win. The Wendigo merely needs to keep him occupied until the conveyor belt carries him into the waiting oblivion of the wood chipper.
The monster howls, its mouth salivating as it snaps at Hank's paws. The X-Man is forced to constantly move his hands in evasion, an added concern while he fights to keep the tree from pinning him.
Aklaq follows the sounds of monstrous roars and loud machinery carrying through the trees, thankful that Sheriff Joe declined to follow him. His whole body screams at him to lay down and rest, to give in to his injuries and old age, but he still presses on. By the time he reaches the old sawmill he's shaking with exhaustion and barely able to breathe.
He quickly takes stock of the current circumstances once he's inside. He spots Roxanne trying to lift a gigantic log off of a strange man and sees Hank battling the Wendigo up above. It looks like he arrived just in time.
"Roxanne!" he calls out, as loud as his failing lungs will allow.
She turns at the sound of his voice. "Gramps!" she shouts, horrified. "What the hell are you doing here?"
He grins, though he's sure he looks pretty green around the gills right now. "I brought you a present," he explains. He holds up the serum rifle.
Roxanne looks up at the ceiling, like she's praying for patience.
"Catch!" Gramps says, tossing the rifle up to her. She easily grabs it out of the air.
"Be right back," his granddaughter tells the stranger stuck under the log.
"Oh, sure," the man replies, his tone decidedly grumpy. "It ain't like I'm going anywhere."
Roxanne slips the rifle's strap over her shoulder and braces herself. She jumps up onto one conveyor belt and then another, trying to get close enough to get a clear shot at the Wendigo.
She's grateful for the chance to end this fight, but furious with Gramps for risking his life so recklessly. When this is over she plans on scolding the old man to Kingdom come.
Up above her the Wendigo is trying to force Hank into a giant wood mulcher, pushing him backwards with a large tree.
She's not in the best of positions yet, but then she watches, horrified, as the Wendigo forces the tree trunk past its tilting point. It's about to fall on Hank-
Come on, Yazzie. You can do this.
Roxanne takes careful aim and fires.
A dart drills the Wendigo's neck. The mutation-suppressing serum is instantly released into the creature's bloodstream.
The monster roars while its body begins to tremble. It drops the tree trunk, which begins to slide off the belt-
Roxanne fires a second dart, hitting the creature in its side. It drops to its knees and howls in dismay.
Hank presses his advantage now, punching the white monster as it begins to shrink into itself. The Wendigo struggles to fight back.
The tree begins to fall in earnest now. Hank must not realize that Roxanne's right below him, directly in the path of the falling tree, because he doesn't try to catch it.
Chapter 34: His Pain Is Over
His Pain Is Over
Roxanne jumps off the conveyor belt, hopping frantically from beam to beam as the giant tree trunk comes inexorably crashing after her. She manages to push off another belt to finally land a fair distance away from the tree's direct path to the ground.
It's just her luck that the massive tree trunk slams into a pile of logs set several yards away before it finally hits earth. The impact knocks the logs loose, sending them speeding straight for her.
"No! Roxanne!" She knows without looking that that agonized voice belongs to Gramps.
Something knocks into Roxanne from the side, obviously intending to push her out of the path of the approaching logs. She senses that it's Gramps without actually seeing him and grabs onto the old man, pulling him with her so he doesn't get squished like a bug.
Their shared momentum carries them to a metal control panel set near the wall. Roxanne has just enough time to drag Gramps behind it with her and brace herself for impact before the logs slam into the panel. The force of the collision is enormous, shoving the control panel several inches towards the wall.
It's inches the two ferals can't afford. The only thing keeping them from being instantly crushed by the weight is the strength of Roxanne's legs, braced against the panel.
Gramps' face is ashen and pale beneath its usual russet hue. He tries to push against the metal, but he's too weak to have any effect. Racing over to knock her out of the way of the falling logs seems to have taken all of his remaining strength.
"Stop, Gramps. Just hold on," Roxanne tells him. The words come out in a hiss behind her gritted teeth. Her heart feels like it's about to beat right out of her chest, and she's sure the only reason they're not dead right now is because she's so jacked up on adrenaline it made her strong enough to hold back this extraordinary weight.
She's not sure how long she can hold this...
Up above the struggling pair, Hank catches the Wendigo's arm and hurls the creature towards the end of the conveyor belt, which for some reason has stopped moving. Hank suspects that the tree that fell off destroyed the control panel and triggered an emergency stop on the belt.
The monster's momentum carries it over the ledge, out of sight. Hank leaps to the end of the conveyor belt and peers over the side. He sees the Wendigo's leg wrapped around an old metal chain.
It's dangling over the industrial wood mulcher, which is still on.
Before Hank's horrified eyes, the Wendigo transforms back into a man. Its white hair falls off in clumps, and its long snout and monstrous fangs retract back into a human visage.
Dr. Paul Cartier returns to himself, gasping for breath.
"Dr. Cartier, can you hear me?" Hank asks, loud enough to be heard over the wood chipper. He quickly glances around down below to see if Roxanne is available to turn the machine off, but he doesn't see her.
A cold feeling of foreboding and dread passes over him. Where is she-?
Paul blinks up at him. "Dr. McCoy?"
The man's shrinking size causes his leg to slip free from the loop in the rusty chain keeping him from oblivion.
Dr. Cartier's left hand grabs onto the chain. His grip is the only thing keeping him from being shredded into a thousand pieces.
"Use two hands, I'll pull you up," Hank tells him.
Paul looks down at the machinery below his feet with a frightened expression. He grabs the chain with two hands as Hank pulls him towards the conveyor belt.
Tears start to run down Roxanne's face, which is screwed up in pain. She lets out a shriek of defiance against her own weakening body.
She refuses to die like this, to let Gramps die like this.
"Get out of here, Gramps," she hisses. There's enough space that the old man could scoot out from behind the panel if he tried.
"No," he croaks. "Not without you."
Logan can spy just enough of Roxanne from his trapped position to know that she's in dire straits. He sees her pale face, the immense strain evident in the set of her jaw and the tendons standing out on her neck as she holds back the crushing weight of several massive logs.
"Beast! Hank!" he yells, as best he can. "Help Roxanne!"
Hank and Dr. Cartier glance down at the sound of Logan's voice, searching for the source of the man's urgency. The blue feral finally spots Roxanne, barely visible between the wall and a bunch of logs that she's managing to hold back from crushing her.
She lets out a cry of agony that chills him to the bone. How much longer can she hold on before her strength gives out?
"Hang on, Paul," Hank tells the man. "I'll come back for you." He wraps the chain around a nearby beam.
The rusted old chain snaps.
Dr. Cartier screams as Hank dives for the chain, barely grabbing onto its end. Now the man's feet dangle a mere yard above the loud mulcher. His left hand is the only thing holding him to the relative safety of the chain.
Paul looks up and makes eye contact with Hank. "Save Roxanne, Hank," he pleads.
Hank pulls frantically on the chain, dragging Paul away from the wood chipper. "I can save you both," he retorts.
"Monsters can't be saved, they can only be stopped," the other man replies.
A sense of dread falls over the blue mutant. "Don't do this!" he exclaims, pulling faster.
"Goddammit Hank, hurry!" Logan bellows.
"Take care of her, Hank," Paul whispers.
Dr. Cartier closes his eyes and releases the chain. He falls into the wood chipper and is instantaneously shredded into a thousand, stomach-churning pieces.
Nothing remains of the doctor except blood spatter.
Both panic-stricken and horrified, Hank immediately leaps across the room and begins to frantically pull the logs away from the wall until he reaches the control panel Roxanne is stuck behind.
"Hurry, boy!" To his surprise, Mr. Yazzie's voice comes from the same area. He's obviously trapped behind the logs right along with his beloved granddaughter.
As soon as Hank moves the control panel she collapses limply to the ground, unconscious.
"Roxanne!" he cries out helplessly. He gathers her into his arms, holding her gently.
"She'll- she'll be ok," Mr. Yazzie assures the blue mutant, his breathing labored. "Just- tired."
Hank looks at the old man, noting his wretched condition. "What about you, Mr. Yazzie?" he asks. "Are you ok?"
"Is the monster dead?"
Hank nods solemnly.
"Then I'm- at peace," Gramps replies. He leans against the wall with a heavy, relieved sigh.
"A little help over here?" Logan calls out. He sounds annoyed, but Hank knows he has good reason to be. Even a person with the best of temperaments would be irritated over being stuck under a tree for so long.
Hank carefully sets Roxanne down next to her grandfather and goes over to move the heavy log off of Logan.
"Thanks, kid," the feral man says, sitting up. He shakes his arms, regaining the feeling in his limbs, and follows Hank back over to the other two.
As soon as he reaches her, Hank sits down and pulls the small redheaded woman back into his arms. He cradles her in a bridal hold and looks down at her pale face, willing her to open her eyes.
"She's a fighter," Logan notes. He almost sounds… proud, Hank thinks.
"She is," Mr. Yazzie agrees. He gives the newcomer a searching look, but says nothing more. He looks beyond exhausted right now.
Roxanne suddenly lets out a groan. Her eyes flutter and then open, squinting up at Hank. "Hank," she murmurs. The tiny smile she gives him still manages to make his fingers and toes tingle. "You ok?"
Hank snorts in disbelief. "I'm fine, Roxanne. How do you feel?"
"Like a house-worth of logs tried to squish me."
He grins and brushes her hair back from her face with a tender claw.
The question sobers him immediately. "He's dead."
Roxanne nods sadly. "Then at least his pain is finally over," she whispers. "Gramps-?"
"He's right here," Hank assures her. He gently moves her to a sitting position, so she can see the old man.
"You crazy old man," Roxanne scolds. She slips off Hank's lap and goes over to sit next to her grandfather.
The old man gives her a weak smile. "Just doin' what I needed to- to save my jewel," he murmurs.
"You ok, Gramps?" she asks, noting the grayish hue to his skin. Like he got put through the wash too many times or something.
But then, to say the night has been rough on Gramps would be the understatement of the decade. Maybe even the century.
Roxanne chuckles. "I bet you are. Let's get you-" She wants to say home, but their home is probably a big pile of ash by now.
"I can take you to my jet," Hank offers. "You can rest in there until the other X-Men get here."
Gramps shakes his head, a tiny movement. "No, I think I'll just… stay here a while," he murmurs. "Time for these- old bones to rest."
Something about the glassy look in his eyes makes Roxanne very frightened. Almost like she can feel the Grim Reaper sneaking into the room. She gives Hank an alarmed look, a silent question.
The blue mutant frowns and moves closer, quietly checking the old man over. His expression suddenly becomes grim, and he gives her a minute shake of his head.
"Gramps?" Roxanne asks anxiously.
"You stay with me, old man."
"I'm always with you, Roxanne," he replies. "Always." His steady gaze focuses on Hank. "You take care of her, Hank. Promise me?"
"I promise, Mr. Yazzie," Hank assures him, with no hesitation at all.
It's starting to sink in for her now, the fear. The dread. The paralyzing despair for the oncoming loss inexorably rushing to meet her.
Tears well up in her eyes. "Hey now, Gramps. None of that goodbye nonsense," she chides, trying to keep her tone light. But her true feelings break through with her next words. "I'm- I'm not ready."
"I know," the old man agrees. "But I am." He reaches out and touches her hand. His fingers feel like ice, nothing at all like his usual warm, reassuring grasp. "Let me go, Roxanne. I'm at peace."
Roxanne chokes back a sob and grips onto his hand. He weakly squeezes back. "I love you, Gramps."
"I love you, too," he whispers. "My jewel. I'm so… proud… of you…"
She presses a kiss to his forehead, noting the little grin pulling at his mouth. He lets out a heavy, wary sigh, and then his fingers slacken completely.
The old man dies with a smile on his face.
Chapter 35: What Happens Next?
What Happens Next?
Roxanne takes a deep, shuddering breath and bows her head, silently offering up Gramps' soul to the Great Spirit. In the Inuit stories the old man taught her, souls were taken to Adlivun- the underworld- by the god Anguta to stay for a year to be purified, before they moved on to a better place.
Maybe he'll see Robert there, if the stories are true.
A large, warm hand touches her shoulder, a silent offer of comfort. "What do you need, Roxanne?" Hank asks. He sounds very much like he wants to help but isn't sure how.
"She needs a caribou skin to wrap him in. For the burial," a gruff male voice says from a few feet away.
It's Logan, she realizes. She honestly forgot he was standing there, a spectator to the mournful scene but not a part of it.
Roxanne turns to look at him in amazement. "Yes," she agrees. "How do you-?"
"You're not the only one who knows the Inuit's ways, princess," he replies, with a shrug. "I'll get it for you. Meet you at your cabin. I'm guessing it's where all the smoke is coming from."
She nods in acknowledgement and tells him, "thank you," because she's unable to really think of anything else to say to the man. She supposes he's trying to help, in his own way. She decides to appreciate the effort.
Logan walks away without another word.
Now her gaze turns to Hank, who's watching her with genuine, heart-felt concern in his bright orange eyes. "I need to bury him. There should be three days of mourning in his home, but that's gone," she murmurs sadly. "And then I'll…"
The words trail off. She doesn't want to just invite herself to go live with him. That would be much too forward.
Even if it's exactly what she wants. What she wanted before, but couldn't have because of Gramps. And now he's gone….
At least going to New York is what he wanted for her, too. He wanted her to be with her own kind and share her love of science with others. Leaving here is the right thing for her to do.
She hopes to never even think of Eagle Village ever again.
"The offer to come with me still stands, Roxanne," Hank says.
Roxanne laughs, with a hint of bitterness. "Where else would I go now?"
Her dearest wish, granted at the expense of her grandfather's life. To do anything else would be both wasteful and disrespectful.
Hank winces, but makes no comment on that. Instead he rises to his feet and offers her a hand. "Let's get back to what's left of your cabin. The X-Men will be there soon."
They make a dreary little procession back to the still-smoking ruins of the Yazzies' cabin. Hank carries the old man's body, while Roxanne trudges along, lost in thought.
A small, selfish part of him is very glad that she'll be coming back to New York with him. He gets to stay with her, to be around this lovely woman every day.
The rest of him hates these circumstances, the fact that Roxanne feels like she has no other choice but this. He wants her to come with him because she wants to, not because she has to.
He only hopes that she'll be happy in New York. She deserves it, after everything that's happened to her.
Hank reckons that it's about four o'clock in the morning when they arrive back at the cabin's ruins, judging from the position of the stars in the darkened sky. The exterior walls of the cabin are barely standing at this point. Parts of the roof are caved in over the kitchen and living room. Smoke rises faintly from the blackened wood, a mere echo of the roaring inferno that consumed the house before.
"You think it's safe?" Hank asks her tentatively.
"Probably not," Roxanne replies. "Let's be quick."
He sets down his mournful burden next to Goliath the pickup truck and joins the feral girl in the search to find anything salvageable in the wreckage. His titanium case made it through the fire unscathed, though he doesn't trust the remaining blood bags inside. Thankfully the gunshot wound in his shoulder and his various other injuries have already healed, thanks to the accelerated healing factor Dr. Cartier's steroid compound gave him.
Hank injects himself with his mutation suppressing serum in the relative privacy of what remains of Robert's room and watches with relief as his hands shrink and the dark blue fur fades away.
The power of his enhanced form was certainly formidable, but physical prowess is not something Hank McCoy has ever craved. Even the bonus of the advanced healing means little to him when the price is so high. To help others, to be a healer- that's what he wants. Not to be a murderous brute, however much the violence was justified.
He's not sad to see the steroid compound's effects fade away, and fervently hopes he'll never have to use it again.
He quickly changes into more weather-appropriate clothing, falling victim to the freezing air now that his fur is gone. After dragging his case out of the cabin he seeks out Roxanne, discovering her in what's left of Gramps' room.
"Here," Hank says, draping his extra jacket over her shoulders. It's much too big for her, but he hopes it will keep her warm. "You must be freezing."
She slips her arms into the sleeves and gives him a sad little smile. "Thank you," she murmurs.
Roxanne shrugs and picks up a small, dilapidated duffel bag. "Mixed results, to be honest," she replies. "I found the old family photo album, and Rob's painting made it through somehow. Most of my clothes are unwearable now, though, and my books-"
She bites her lip and looks away.
"I'm being stupid," she mutters, squinting against the tears starting in her eyes. "After everything that just happened, Gramps dying, I'm getting all teary-eyed over books."
Hank shakes his head. "I think in this situation you're completely justified in feeling however you want to, Roxanne," he tells her.
This seems to give her a little bit of comfort. "Thanks," she whispers.
"I'll buy you more books, if you let me," he offers. "And as many bookcases as you need to show them off."
Roxanne lets out a startled chuckle. "That's very sweet of you, Hank," she says softly. She reaches up to briefly touch his face and then steps close enough to wrap her arms around his waist.
Hank reacts automatically, returning the embrace and holding her close while she buries her face in his chest. He likes how it feels to hold her, the way her body fits so perfectly to his. It feels like she belongs there, in his arms.
"I'm so sorry, Roxanne," he murmurs. The words seem highly inadequate to express the depth of sympathy he feels towards her. But then, words have never been his forte.
"Me, too," she replies, without moving away.
After a moment Roxanne seems to just melt into him, letting out a choked up sigh. Her slim body shudders in his arms, and something instinctively tells him she's not shaking from the cold. He presses his cheek to the top of her head and holds her while she noiselessly sobs into his chest.
Practically every man is uncomfortable around crying women, and Hank McCoy is no exception. He's utterly clueless on what to do except keep his arms around her and let her express her grief. Despite his discomfit, he's glad that he's able to be there for her like this.
Part of the ceiling of Robert's room next door falls in.
Roxanne startles and pulls away, hastily wiping her eyes so he can't see her tears. "I guess that's a sign to move my pity party outside," she mutters, keeping her face cast downwards.
Hank picks up her duffel bag for her and follows her outside, where she settles down next to her grandfather's body on the snow-covered ground. He only has a moment to stand there awkwardly, wondering if he should sit as well, before Roxanne cocks her head to the side and looks to the east.
"What is it?"
"A jet engine," she replies.
Hank chuckles dryly. "Better late than never, I suppose," he says. "That'll be the X-Men."
Roxanne rises to her feet and scrubs her face with her hands. "This'll be a great first impression," she notes glumly, with a heavy sigh. "How horrible do I look?"
He considers that for a moment, unsure of how to respond. Her eyes are a little red and have shadows under them from crying and lack of sleep, and her skin is pale and wan. She honestly looks exactly like what she is- a young woman who went through a hellish experience through the night.
But still the most gorgeous woman he's ever seen.
"You look beautiful, Roxanne," he assures her.
She gives him a surprised chuckle. Just the hint of her laughter, however slight, pleases him to no end. "Blinded by affection already, I see," she mutters fondly.
"For love is blind alday and may not see," Hank agrees.
Roxanne pauses. "Chaucer?" she guesses after a moment. "The Merchant's Tale?"
My stars and garters, I adore her, he thinks to himself.
He smiles and nods. He holds out a hand to help her up and laces his fingers with hers once she's standing. It's not much, but he hopes the gesture of solidarity gives her some measure of comfort.
Hank? Where shall we land? Charles' voice echoes in his head.
The clearing I'm in should be big enough.
Within a minute the Blackbird appears overhead. It hovers for a moment and then gracefully lowers itself down, kicking up snow as it approaches the ground.
Hank gives her left hand a reassuring squeeze as the X-Jet touches down. Roxanne waits expectantly for his teammates to come out, taking comfort from his solid presence at her side.
As grief stricken as she is, she still feels anxiety over meeting the famous X-Men.
For over a year now these people have been the public face of mutant kind. They've committed countless acts of bravery, saved so many people. They're responsible for the improving relations between humans and mutants worldwide, though obviously there are still pockets of hatred around.
Will they like her? Will she like them?
There's only one way to find out.
Chapter 36: Meeting the X-Men
Meeting the X-Men
A door opens on the side of the jet, followed by a ramp that forms a sort of airstair down to the snow-covered ground.
The first X-Man to appear in the doorway is Quicksilver, easily identifiable by his silvery hair and the way he zips down to right in front of them in the blink of an eye. Roxanne recognizes him from television, the various news broadcasts done on the X-Men.
"Hey, Hank," he says brightly. His dark eyes sparkle with mischief and boyish charm. "Who's the girl?"
He eyes Roxanne with frank curiosity- and also admiration, if she's not mistaken. Hank notices it too, if the way he squeezes her left hand just a bit tighter is any indication.
"Peter Maximoff, this is Roxanne Yazzie," Hank explains. "Roxanne, this is Peter."
"Nice to meet you, Peter," Roxanne tells him, with a tentative smile that shows her fangs. She holds out her hand for a polite handshake.
His gaze flickers from her fangs down to her clawed fingers. He grins broadly, apparently pleased. "Cool," he says, and he shakes her hand with rather unnecessary enthusiasm.
Next out of the jet comes a white-haired young woman with dark skin and a mohawk- Storm- beside a blue boy with black hair and a tail. He takes Storm's hand and they disappear in a little puff of black smoke, only to reappear next to Peter in front of them with another smoke cloud.
"Hallo," the blue boy says, waving his three-fingered hand. His rather demonic-looking appearance may be off-putting at first glance, but his fanged smile is genuine and sweet. Roxanne likes him immediately. "I'm Kurt Wagner, but in the Munich Circus I vas known as the Incredible-"
"We talked about this, Kurt," Storm mutters.
Kurt deflates somewhat. "Oh, right."
"Guten Morgen," Roxanne offers, which makes Kurt perk up again. He happily shakes her hand. "And-?"
"Ororo Munroe," the other girl supplies. She takes Roxanne's proffered hand, but the feral woman senses a hesitance about her, as if she's reserving judgement. Roxanne doesn't blame the young woman for the caution, after what Hank mentioned about her past.
A familiar bald man in a wheelchair now appears in the doorway, flanked by a tall redheaded young woman and a young man wearing a visor across his eyes. Phoenix and Cyclops, she thinks. Jean Grey and Scott Summers. Jean gives her a small, reserved smile. Scott's expression is harder to read because of the visor, but he also seems welcoming.
"Roxanne," the Professor says warmly once he's close enough to hold out a hand to shake. "It's wonderful to finally meet you in the flesh, as it were."
"You, too, Professor."
"Please, call me Charles," he tells her, with a benevolent smile. It fades when he glances down at Gramps' body, still laid out behind the pair of ferals. "We were too late, it seems. I'm so sorry for your loss, Roxanne."
She doesn't really know what to say besides a mumbled, "thank you."
There's a very awkward moment between them all.
Roxanne fumbles to fill the silence, but can't think of anything to say.
She doesn't want to think about her grandfather being gone and how her entire life just imploded, but it's extremely difficult to do with Gramps' corpse beside her, standing in front of the ruins of her home. The darkness fills her thoughts, and she feels an overwhelmingly desperate desire to get away from here. Especially with all of these strangers looking at her, silently judging her-
Hank speaks up, breaking the awkward moment. "Logan excused himself for a bit, but he'll be back soon," he explains.
"Good," Charles replies. "It will be nice to see him again. Especially considering recent developments."
His gaze flickers over to Roxanne, who winces. As if she didn't have enough upheaval to deal with in her life right now, there's the added bonus of finding her possible biological father added to the mix.
Hank must sense her distress, because he unclasps his hand from hers and slips his arm around her waist instead. She definitely doesn't mind the gesture, but she notices a couple eyebrows go up among the X-Men at the possessive way he holds her to his side, as well as some smirks.
Roxanne chooses to ignore their reactions. "I'll be happy to leave this town, after what happened last night," she murmurs. "But I worry about my people- the Inuits, I mean. They don't deserve any problems because of me and Gramps."
"Usually I don't condone large-scale tampering," Charles says quietly, "but I think it might be best if the remaining white inhabitants of Eagle Village forget their racism and learn to coexist peacefully with their Inuit neighbors."
"You can do that?" she asks, flabbergasted.
Professor X nods. "Yes," he replies, as if it's the easiest thing in the world. "It'll be taken care of before we leave here, yes?"
While she appreciates his assistance, Roxanne can't help feeling a little unsettled by his matter-of-fact attitude towards meddling with the minds of so many people. She just hopes the ends justify the means.
There's yet another awkward moment, one that Hank scrambles to break.
"Where's Raven?" he asks curiously, his arm still around her waist.
"She's in the jet," Charles says. Roxanne can detect a trace of false cheer in his voice, a slight strain as he calls out, "Raven, darling, would you please join us?"
Raven grits her teeth at the sound of Charles' summons. She has half a mind to ignore it completely- after all, she's not a damn dog that comes when it's called.
None of them should be here right now. Charles agreed to take Hank off active duty for a while, and then the big blue asshole ran off and went on a solo mission without her authorization. Which of course he ended up needing back up on, because of course he did. He shouldn't have gone off alone in the first place. The team's presence here seems like a reward for Hank's fuck-up, and she won't stand for it.
Come meet the new recruit, Raven, Charles' voice says in her mind. I think she shows promise.
I'll be the judge of that, she mentally retorts.
With a sigh of resignation, she rises out of the co-pilot's seat and heads for the open cabin door. She stands tall in her white-trimmed X-Man uniform and natural blue form as she walks down the ramp, noting the smoking ruins of a log cabin on the far edge of the clearing.
The X-Men part on her approach, revealing the "new recruit," as Charles deemed her, tucked closely against Hank's side.
She's exceptionally pretty, Raven has to admit. Short and slim, with large hazel eyes, full lips, and flowing, wavy red hair. She's too pretty, actually- her pale face and slender physique give Raven the impression that she could snap this girl like a twig over her knee. That sense is only exacerbated by the overly-large jacket swallowing her up and the protective arm Hank has around her waist.
Looks like Charles was wrong yet again. Raven can't think of a recruit showing less promise than this little thing.
The girl holds Raven's gaze for a brief moment before her curious eyes drift around to the other X-Men, as if taking note of their expressions upon their field leader's approach.
Raven scowls, not doubting what she'll see.
The mission in Africa did not go well. The whole situation with Hank left the rest of the team extremely uneasy and, while not quite defiant, rather... sullen. Raven's patience, already short in the best of times, quickly wore out dealing with a bunch of sulking teenagers, which resulted in a lot of yelling on her part. There's definitely dissension in the ranks, though they know better than to say anything to her face. She almost wishes they would, just so she could have something concrete to fight against instead of this unspoken angst.
The new girl's eyes flare as she takes it all in, the sudden dampening in the atmosphere as their leader joins them. Raven notes the way she leans into Hank infinitesimally in response. She begrudgingly gives the girl some credit for sensing the unspoken tension, though she scorns her timidity.
"Roxanne, this is Raven Darkholme, my sister, and one of the field leaders of the X-Men," Charles says. Raven glowers at him. One of the field leaders? Oh, they will be discussing this later, that's a fact. "Raven, this is Roxanne Yazzie. She saved Hank's life more than once over the past few days, and I hope that she'll be willing to join us."
Roxanne gives him a quick grin in acknowledgement of his invitation before turning her gaze back on the blue mutant. "Hello, Raven. It's nice to meet you," she says, extending her hand. She gives her a small, tentative smile.
Raven fights the urge to roll her eyes. The girl's smile and voice are doe-eyed and saccharine- there's no way she's joining the X-Men. She's too soft and sweet for it.
With a sigh Raven reaches out and accepts the handshake. She purposely squeezes the girl's hand too hard, hoping to see her flinch. That way when she tells Charles there's no way in hell this girl is joining the X-Men she has a perfect example of why she's too weak.
Roxanne doesn't flinch, though.
Surprise briefly flashes across her face, but then she gives Raven a vicious little grin that exposes her pearly white teeth- including the fangs on her eyeteeth and incisors. At the same time she grips the blue mutant's hand hard enough that her nails- no, claws- are a breath away from piercing flesh.
Raven's so surprised she hastily pulls her hand back, out of the girl's painful pincer grip.
Oh, Raven, Charles' voice sighs in her mind. You, of all people, should know that appearances can be deceiving.
Stay out of my head, Charles! she mentally snarls back.
Hank smirks smugly at her for a moment before giving Roxanne a slavishly adoring look. His feelings for the little redhead could not be more clear. It makes Raven simultaneously want to punch him in the face and vomit at the same time.
That's it. I fucking hate her.
Roxanne hears someone approaching, a crunching in the snow that's loud to her sensitive ears.
"Someone's coming," she murmurs, glancing towards the treeline. "I think it's Logan."
It's a safe assumption to make, she feels. If the metal that coats his claws also encases the rest of his skeleton, the feral man has to weigh quite a bit. Hence the loud footsteps in the snow.
Sure enough, a minute later the feral steps out of the woods. He's carrying a rolled animal skin under his arm. Roxanne doesn't know where or how he was able to get one so quickly, at such an odd hour- she just knows she's grateful for the effort.
Perhaps he does have a good heart underneath the crusty exterior, she thinks to herself.
"Logan," Charles calls out once the feral is closer, "it's nice to see you."
Logan grunts, looking over the wheelchair-bound man with a raised brow. "I thought you'd be taller," he says.
But then, maybe not.
Chapter 37: Let's Go Home
This is the last chapter of this story, and I really hope those who gave it a read enjoyed it. This may be the end of The Beast Within, but the journey isn't over for these characters. I'm in the midst of writing a sequel! So if you enjoyed this one, I hope you come back to find out what happens next for Hank and Roxanne- and Logan too. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read this, I appreciate you from the bottom of my heart.
Let's Go Home
Roxanne lets out a shuddering sigh and steps away from Hank. "The ground is frozen," she manages to say evenly. "I don't suppose one of you can help me make a hole-?"
"I got it," Cyclops offers. "I'm Scott, by the way."
"Nice to meet you."
"Show me where you want it."
Roxanne kneels down and scoops up Gramps' body. He looks peaceful, as if he could be sleeping. Hank tries to take the corpse from her, trying to be helpful, but she shakes her head.
"Thank you, but I want to do this," she tells him.
He looks down at her with nothing but concern for her in his big blue eyes. "Do you want me to come with you?" he asks hesitantly. He obviously doesn't want to force his company on her at an unwelcome time.
"Yes, please," Roxanne replies. She knows she'll need the calm his presence brings her. "Could you carry the skin?"
He nods and retrieves the item from Logan, who's watching her with laser-like focus.
"Thank you, Logan," she says. "This meant a great deal to me." She looks around at the others. "Please excuse me."
Roxanne puts her head down and walks away from them all, holding an old man's body. Scott follows behind her, but Dr. McCoy stays at her side.
The students cluster together out of habit, leaving the Professor to talk to the big frowning man with oddly shaped hair. Mystique listens in to the conversation between the two men, a scowl on her face.
It's not an unusual expression for the shapeshifter, especially lately.
Mystique is not happy with the team, but the team is even less happy with her. For a long time now the others have whispered their complaints about her overly-critical training style to each other, afraid to speak up. They never brought it up to him, but Dr. McCoy recognized the problem and stood up for them all the other day. He took the brunt of Mystique's wrath and got taken out of the field because of it. They were all upset about it- Scott in particular was very vocal with his complaints to his teammates- but all of them were too scared of Mystique to directly say anything. Peter occasionally claimed that he would go tell the shapeshifter off, but it was all empty bravado. No one wanted to be the target of her anger again.
Kurt is almost terrified of Mystique. The awe he felt towards her at first for being the great mutant hero quickly dissipated when he realized how mean she could be, both inside and outside of the Danger Room. He feels like she hates him the most, because of the frowning expression he catches her looking at him with sometimes.
Like he's disappointing her, but he doesn't even know how.
"Who is it that died?" Kurt asks the other students now.
"The man who raised her," Jean murmurs.
"No. She called him her grandfather, but they weren't related. He found her and her twin brother in the woods when they were babies and raised them as his own. Her brother was killed last month."
Kurt looks after the burial party, his thoughts turning to pity for Roxanne. She's lost the only family she ever knew, and even though she wasn't related to the old man, her pain is real. Kurt never knew his biological parents, either. He knows the power of family by love, rather than blood, quite well. If he discovered that his Mama Margali or Jimaine- his foster mother and sister- were dead he would be inconsolable. He misses them every day, but he's also glad to have the support of the family he's found at Xavier's.
Is there a way to make Roxanne feel more welcome? To feel that sense of family, too?
He exchanges a look with Peter, who grins and nods.
Kurt takes Storm by the hand, Peter grabs Jean, and together they all disappear.
"I suppose we have some catching up to do," Xavier muses to Logan.
The feral man snorts. "I think you've given me enough to mull over, between time travel and robots," he replies.
Xavier nods solemnly. "I understand it can be difficult to process," he agrees, "but I hope you'll come back to the mansion with us. You're quite welcome there."
Logan hesitates, unsure.
In the wild the wolverine is a solitary animal, and he's no different. The concept of going to some sort of fancy schmancy mansion filled with a bunch of weird kids sounds wholly unappealing to him.
"If you'd like, we can run some tests and find out if Roxanne is your biological daughter," the telepath adds. His ocean blue eyes bore into Logan's. "Between your amnesia and her losses here, I think you could both use the chance to connect with family."
He supposes he does want to know if the girl is actually his daughter or not. Roxanne has to be in her late teens or early twenties, meaning she was born during that amorphous gray area that is his life's memories before he woke up in a forest with an adamantium skeleton. Maybe she could give him some clues about his past? And perhaps Xavier could unlock more of his mind?
That decides him on the matter.
"Alright, fine. I guess I can stick around for a little bit," Logan agrees. "Let me go get my shit out of my truck."
Roxanne leads them into the forest and keeps going for a hundred yards or so, until they reach a small pond nestled in among the trees. The water is completely frozen and crystal clear all the way to the rocky bottom.
At least from what Scott can tell, anyway. Everything from the snow to the trees to the sky above has a reddish hue to his vision because of his ruby quartz glasses. It always does.
He doesn't want to sound ungrateful for Dr. McCoy's hard work on his behalf, but he really does wish he could see the world without this angry red tinge to it. He misses the pure blue of a summer sky, the green grass of a soccer field. It sucks that he'll never see either again.
"In the summer this whole area is covered in wild flowers," Roxanne explains to them. "They grow between the rocks on the banks and in patches in this clearing. It's beautiful." She gestures to a small pile of stones set a few yards back from the pond. "This is where we buried what was left of Robert."
"Robert?" The word pops out before Scott can think better of it.
"My twin brother," the redheaded girl replies, eyes downcast. "He was killed and eaten by the monster."
Scott feels a swell of sympathy for her. "I'm sorry," he tells her awkwardly. He's not so great at expressing himself. "I know- I know how it feels. My brother died last year. There wasn't anything for us to bury at all."
"I'm sorry for your loss, Scott," she murmurs, and he can tell she means it. He kinda feels bad for bringing it up to be honest- she's got enough to feel sad about without him adding on.
She asks him to make a hole at least six feet deep, long and wide enough for the body to be placed in.
"Sure thing," he says, full of confidence.
But then he hits the wrong button on his visor, sending a stronger red plasma blast at the ground than he intended-
The frozen earth reacts rather explosively to the sudden burst of heat. Clods of dirt and pebbles fly up, pelting all three of them with the debris.
What a great way to start a funeral.
"Shit," Scott mutters, genuinely contrite. He's sure Roxanne is upset- and understandably so. "That, uh, wasn't supposed to happen. I'm so sorry-"
To his grateful surprise, Roxanne starts giggling. She's holding her grandfather's corpse and has dirty snow stuck in her hair, but she's laughing all the same.
"It's ok, Scott. Gramps would have loved that," she assures him. She gestures to the hole with her head. "And look, it's perfect. What do you think, Hank?"
She glances over at Dr. McCoy, whose startled expression immediately gives way to a fond smile when he looks at her. "Yes," he agrees. "It is."
Scott fights back a grin of his own. He's never seen the doctor's eyes light up like that before- he must really like this girl.
Kurt and Storm suddenly emerge from a black cloud of smoke. A split second later Peter and Jean appear next to them.
"Did we miss anything?" Peter blithely asks. "Hey- why are you guys covered in dirt?"
Dr. McCoy frowns. "Guys, this is supposed to be a funeral," he admonishes. "Not a-"
"Ve vanted Fraulein Roxanne to feel velcome to our family," Kurt interjects, eyes shining earnestly. "And family supports each other during sad times, ja?"
Oh Kurt, Scott thinks. You truly are too good for this world.
"That's very sweet of you all," Roxanne says. "Thank you."
Her gentle acceptance makes the four X-Men relax a little bit. They must've half-expected her to tell them all to butt out, despite their good intentions. She grows immensely in their estimations from that alone.
The X-Men stand respectfully quiet as she gently wraps the body in the animal skin Dr. McCoy carried. She begins to sing softly in a foreign language as she lowers the corpse into the hole. Scott can hear Kurt murmuring in Latin, paying his own respects to the dead man.
With Peter's help they're quickly able to bury the body and stack rocks on top of the new grave.
After a long, silent moment of kneeling in front of the cairn Roxanne rises to her feet and turns to Dr. McCoy. She steps into his arms and looks up at him with eyes shining with unshed tears. When Dr. McCoy reaches up and brushes her hair back behind her ear she leans her head into his palm. He cradles her face gently, as if unaware of their audience.
It's a simple gesture, but Scott still feels like he's witnessing a very intimate moment between them. Not like he's watching them make out or anything like that. More like... a silent communication of affection and trust that's much more powerful than words.
"Let's go home, Hank," Roxanne whispers.
He nods. "Let's."
The scarred up old man leans against his shiny black car, watching and waiting. His posture is perfect, despite his previously hunched over shoulders. He tossed his prop cane into the woods already. After all, he doesn't need it anymore.
Finally he spots what he was looking for- a pair of sleek black jets rising out of the trees. They each turn towards the east and take off into the faint lightening of the sky that counts for sunrise here in this godforsaken land.
The X-Men are gone.
With a self-satisfied smirk, the scarred man takes the two orange vials he pilfered from the cabin's ruins and puts them in a shiny silver briefcase. The label on the case reads, "Essex Corp."
What a productive excursion this little adventure was!
Not only does he have what he came for, he got a bonus discovery in the form of that little feral girl gaining her claws. He definitely has some plans for her in the near future.
Thoroughly satisfied, he gets in his car and starts the engine. As it purrs to life he glances in his rear view mirror with a frown of concentration. The scars on his face now melt away, revealing the distinctive red diamond on his forehead.
Mr. Sinister grins at his reflection.
And then he drives away.