Work Header


Work Text:

There are mutants dying every day, and Melanie can't stop it.

She does what she can. All of Summerland does everything they can, it's just not enough when the Divisions are a well-funded genocide machine. Back when they had Oliver, they were winning. For every mutant the Divisions found, they saved two.

But Oliver still hasn't come back. And without him--

Most nights she has trouble sleeping, and ends up walking the halls. It soothes her to watch over the mutants they've saved, see them sleeping peacefully, safe behind the protections Oliver left behind. Most of the ones here never met him, they were saved after Oliver got lost, but they know him anyway. His devotion built this place, his powers defend them, and his voice--

His voice is Summerland's voice.

Her feet take her on a well-worn path to each of the places where Oliver's voice is. He left stories in the coffee machine, in the elevator, in so many places. Oliver never passed up an opportunity to teach, like the Buddhist masters he admired.

The last place she stops is always the freezer. She doesn't usually go inside. Frequent temperature changes aren't good for Oliver's frozen body. But some nights, when her grief is too much to bear, she puts on the thick protective gloves and braves the cold just to see him--

Not asleep. But peaceful. Present, at least-- In body, if not mind.

On the hardest nights, she has to stop herself from-- Closing the door from the inside. Lying down with him. Drifting to sleep in the hope that-- Her soul will find his.

She doesn't. She can't. All these mutants need her. Without Summerland--

She's still early in her insomniac route tonight. She stands in the doorway to the sleeping quarters and to her surprise there's still a light on. Grateful for the distraction, she walks over and pulls back the privacy curtain.

It's one of their rescues, a teenaged boy. Paul Ptonomy Wallace. He's started using Ptonomy as a kind of code name, but Melanie still calls him Paul.

"You should be asleep," Melanie chides, gently.

Paul lets his book rest open on his chest. "So should you."

Melanie notes the title. The Art of War by Sun Tzu. "Still reading that?"

"Gotta learn all of it if I want to be a great general," Paul says.

"That's why you need your rest," Melanie says.

Paul smiles. "You first." Then he puts the book aside and slides out of his bed, hops to the floor. She swears he's grown another inch in just the past few days.

"C'mon, I'll keep you company," Paul says, and heads out before Melanie can argue.

Paul was living rough when they found him, a runaway. His military father couldn't deal with his son's strange abilities. But Paul's taken to Summerland like a duck to water. He's ambitious, thoughtful, wants to make a difference. Melanie sees a little of Oliver in him, maybe a little of herself.

She and Oliver never had kids. But she thinks she ended up a mother anyway.

It's late for coffee, so Melanie makes them two cups of decaf. They listen as Oliver's gentle voice tells and retells the story of the poor woodcutter and his wife.

"Don't you get bored of listening to the same stories every night?" Paul asks.

"And how many times did you read The Art of War?" Melanie teases.

"Hey, that's the definitive work on military strategy and tactics."

"Memorized the back of the cover, too?"

Paul snickers. He tries to sip the coffee but it's too hot, so he blows on it. "I bet you could recite that crane story backwards and upside-down.

"Probably," Melanie admits. It's certainly etched into her soul, after all this time.

"Gonna go see him tonight?" Paul asks, sobering.

"I shouldn't," Melanie says. She stares down at her cup. "Sometimes I feel like the woodcutter. Always opening the door and scaring away the crane."

"You think staying away will make him come back?" Paul asks, skeptical.

"I don't know," Melanie sighs. "It's been years. I don't know if it's even possible for him to come back. If he's--" She doesn't finish, but thinks of Oliver stranded alone on the astral plane. Cary's theorized that his soul can't die there, but it's just a guess. The truth is they know nothing. They might just be holding on to a corpse.

Paul hands her a napkin and she dabs her eyes. "Sorry."

"It's ok," Paul says. "I see him in your memories. Seems like a great guy. We could really use him right now."

"We could," Melanie agrees, with feeling. She takes a deep breath, lets it out. "How's practice going?"

"I'm getting more control," Paul says, pleased. "It doesn't happen by accident much anymore."

"So you've been snooping around in my memories on purpose?" Melanie challenges, teasing again.

Paul huffs. "I can't help it if you think about him all the time. Maybe you should, like, get a new coffee machine or something."

"No," Melanie says, certain.

There's a silence between them.

"I get it," Paul says, quietly. "It's like-- As long as you've got those little pieces of him, he's not really gone."

Melanie nods. "Every time I hear his voice, I think-- Just for a moment--" She sighs. "I'm a terrible example for you."

"We all live in the past," Paul declares, with all the confidence of youth. "If we couldn't remember, who would we be?"

"Happier, perhaps," Melanie says.

"He makes you happy," Paul says, knowing. "Remembering him always makes you smile, even when it makes you sad."

"I know you have your heart set on charging into battle," Melanie says. "But have you considered becoming a therapist?"

Paul laughs. "Maybe I can be both. This place needs all the help it can get, right?"

"It does," Melanie agrees. "That power would be very useful, you know. Not just as a weapon for spying."

"What like, helping people remember?"

"Perhaps," Melanie says, thoughtful. "You've been able to-- Experience hidden memories, right? Those suppressed by-- Traumatic amnesia?"

"Yeah," Paul says, and he sobers again. "My dad, he-- Couldn't remember stuff from the war. But I saw it. I dunno, maybe he was lying."

"If only we had a telepath," Melanie says, with a crooked smile. "But no. I think he couldn't remember on his own. In a therapeutic environment, that could be-- Deeply powerful."

Paul considers it. "I bet it'd work even better if I showed them their memories."

Melanie raises her eyebrows. "Is that something new?"

Paul shrugs. "Cary thinks it'll work. Since, like, I'm already in their head. I'd just have to sort of-- Pull them in with me."

"And have you tried it yet?"

"Not yet," Paul says, and looks at her.

Melanie knows what he's offering. The chance to not just hear a recording or sit beside a frozen, empty body, but to-- Relive the past. Go back in time and see Oliver as he truly was.

"What do I do?" Melanie asks, without hesitation.

"Take my hands and close your eyes."

Melanie puts down her cup. She puts her hands in Paul's. Their hands are warm from holding the coffee mugs. She closes her eyes.

"Now pick a memory," Paul says. "Hold it in your thoughts."

It's hard for her to know what to choose, and then-- She remembers. She concentrates on the memory, holds it close, and then-- Feels a strange pull on her mind. Familiar, like when Oliver would pull her into the astral plane with him.

She opens her eyes, and she's standing in the cafeteria, but-- The coffee maker is new. Oliver's there, showing it off to her, eyes gleaming with delight as his creation tells the story of the woodcutter and his wife for the first time.

"Melanie?" Paul calls, and then--

She's not standing with Oliver anymore, but-- Back from him and herself. And Paul is beside her.

"It's working," she says, amazed.

"Yes," Paul hisses, quietly triumphant. "How does it feel?"

Melanie looks at herself. She's younger here, happier. Not carefree, Melanie's never been that, but-- Less burdened.

She wasn't carrying Oliver's dream alone, then. It was his dream. She only wanted to help him make it real, not--

"Can we go to any memory?" she asks.

"Of course," Paul says. "All you have to do is remember it. I'll do the rest."

Melanie takes one last, long look at Oliver, and then she closes her eyes and-- Opens them.

She sees herself, younger still. She's dressed in colorful shalwar kameez, loose trousers and a light tunic, with a bright scarf wrapped around her head and neck. She's happy, smiling. In love.

And there's Oliver, across the low table, dressed in similar clothes and bright colors, laughing and smiling as he addresses the room. She looks around and sees everyone is rapt in attention, just as her younger self is.

She forgot how magnetic Oliver was, how he drew everyone in. How did she forget that?

"Where are we?" Paul asks, looking around, curious.

"Punjab, India," Melanie says. "We were making our way to Nepal."

"Why this memory?"

"I don't know," Melanie admits. "It just-- Came to me." She thinks about how she would handle this if she was working with a patient. "The mind is-- Connections. Often unconscious ones."

"So you picked it for a reason?"

Melanie nods. "I just have to figure out what it is."

"We," Paul corrects. "Hey, we're doing this together, right?"

"Right," Melanie agrees. She tries to-- "Can you-- Help me remember what he was saying?"

"We are the root of all our problems," Oliver says, taking on a more serious tone. "Our confusion, our anger, our fear of things we don't understand. Violence, in other words, is ignorance. So we must educate ourselves and each other. That is the key to our survival."

The room applauds.

"They're all mutants," Melanie remembers. "Or-- Most of them." Mutants and pro-mutant humans, often spouses or family members. She and Oliver travelled the world, finding mutants and-- Reaching out. Trying to help.

It was dangerous, even then. Before the Divisions. The world has always been a turbulent place, fearful of difference.

"We were trying to build-- Community," she continues. "A global support network."

"What happened to it?" Paul asks.

"We lost touch," Melanie admits, ashamed but-- She's not a telepath. It was Oliver's network, not hers. And of course-- "The Divisions came. Oliver preached-- Non-violent resistance."

"Satyagraha," Oliver announces. "We must take inspiration from the great Gandhi himself. No State is possible without two entities, the rulers and the ruled. No clapping is possible without two hands."

"To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence," Paul recites. "Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."

"Oliver would have liked you," Melanie says.

"I'm not a pacifist," Paul says. "We need to fight if we want to survive. But-- It's about-- Not fighting to destruction. It's better to capture the enemy than destroy them."

"And when the enemy only wants to destroy us?" Melanie challenges.

It's a question for Oliver as well as Paul. Not that she had the courage to voice it back then. She looks at her younger self, stars in her eyes, and sees-- How naive she was. She was dazzled by Oliver's charm, by his dream.

Is she any less naive now, dreaming of his return?

"Then we stay out of their reach, like we're doing," Paul answers.

It's such an Oliver answer, so simple and clean. The reality of surviving without him has been anything but simple or clean.

She feels the urge to chide Paul, but she knows it's really Oliver she's angry at. For being the center of everything they built and then just-- Floating away. Like it didn't matter at all. Like she didn't matter.

The room changes, and then-- She sees herself again. They're back in Summerland. Oliver looks-- Distracted. Unfocused. The sharpness of mind, the charm that drew everyone in-- They're blunted now. Like a faded photograph.

"Oliver, you have to stop leaving like that," her past self complains, tiredly. "You were gone for almost two weeks. We need you here."

"Of course," Oliver says, but even then she knew he didn't understand. "Time is slippery on the astral plane." He looks away, distracted.

Now Melanie remembers how she forgot Oliver's vibrancy. Because it wasn't there, by the end. He was still with them physically but-- He left a little more of his mind behind each time.

"I don't want to see him like this," Melanie says. She turns away.

"Okay," Paul soothes. "Just-- Think of something else. Something happy."

Melanie tries, but-- Everything reminds her of this moment. One of the last memories she has of Oliver before--

She turns back again, marches up to him. "Why weren't we enough?" she demands. "Why wasn't I enough? What did that place give you that was worth--" She cuts off.

Oliver stares at her, now-her, confused. "Melanie?"

Melanie suddenly realizes she's taken the place of her past self. "This was your dream," she continues. "And you ran away from it, for what? For more dreams? You're just-- Greedy, that's what you are! A selfish, greedy--"

She steps away from him, too angry to speak. She tries to remember how it actually happened, but--

"Paul, can you-- Show me the memory again?"

Paul concentrates, frowns. The memory plays again.

"Oliver, you have to stop leaving like that," her past self complains, tiredly. "You were gone for almost two weeks. We need you here."

"Of course," Oliver says, but even then she knew he didn't understand. "Time is slippery on the astral plane." He looks away, distracted.

"Why weren't we enough?" her past self demands, suddenly angry. "Why wasn't I enough? What did that place give you that was worth--"

"No," Melane says, upset. "How it actually happened."

"This is your memory," Paul says.

"Melanie?" Oliver asks, confused.

"This was your dream," her younger self continues. "And you ran away from it, for what? For more dreams? You're just-- Greedy, that's what you are! A selfish, greedy--"

And then it's like-- A glitch. And her younger self isn't angry anymore, or at least-- She's hiding her anger beneath her worry. "You need to let Oliver check you over," she frets. "You're not yourself lately."

"Just a bit under the weather," Oliver dismisses. And then he walks off, humming some ragged tune, an echo of the jazz music he loved.

"What-- What happened?" Melanie asks, disturbed.

"I don't know," Paul admits. "It's like-- When you interacted with him-- You overwrote the memory. But just-- That one part of it."

"My god," Melanie breathes, horrified. She tries to think back to that moment again, and remembers-- Yelling at Oliver. She knows that's not what happened but she remembers it.

And she's-- Glad. God, it felt good.

"Get us out of here," Melanie says, firmly. And then--

They're back in the cafeteria. Melanie lets go of Paul's hands and grabs her mug. It's cold.

She remembers again, and the memory is still changed.

"I'm so sorry," Paul says, upset. "I didn't know--"

"It's all right," Melanie says, calmly. "You know, I never got a chance to-- Tell him that. How angry I was."

"Did it-- Help?" Paul asks, uncertain. "Changing the memory?"

"I'm not sure," Melanie says. "I know he-- Never actually heard what I said. But by then-- He never heard anything I said."

"I'm sorry," Paul says again. "I didn't mean to-- Hurt your memory of him."

"You didn't," Melanie says, and realizes it's true. "You reminded me-- Of the man I fell in love with. The man I lost-- Even before he disappeared."

She closes her eyes and thinks back to Punjab. The memory is so much more vivid now, even without Paul's help. She feels the heat, smells the food, the sweetness of the air, the sweat of too many people close together in a room.

The light in Oliver's eyes as he laughed and smiled, and the swell of her heart as she adored him.

"Thank you," she tells Paul.

Paul nods, still uncertain, but-- Relieved she's okay.

She walks him back to his bed, and then-- Goes to the cryogenic chamber. Puts on the thick gloves and opens the door.

It's cold in there, bitterly cold. The air smells crisp and lifeless. She wipes the frost from the diving suit window and looks inside.

This Oliver is nothing like the Oliver she remembers. It's just an empty body. It's not even dreaming.

"Come home," Melanie whispers, begs softly. "We miss you."

Oliver's eyes remain frozen shut.

She feels sad, looking at him, and yet-- She's smiling.

Someday she'll find him again. They'll find a mutant powerful enough to bring him home. And then she'll forgive him for every stupid mistake he ever made, because she remembers now that she loved Oliver for his dreams.

Until then, she'll keep his dreams alive. One hand waiting for the other to clap.