Title: Her Cygnet Shape
Fandom: X-Men (movie-verse)
Length: 9,855 words in Chapter One here
Summary: Penelope Darkholme hasn’t seen her mother since she was four. When she begins a journey to reunite with her, she finds a cold and unreceptive Mystique in the place of the wounded and vulnerable Raven Darkholme that she once knew. She also finds Magneto, who imprisons her, and Pyro, a fellow orphan who quietly sympathizes with her.
Disclaimer: The X-Men and all of their trappings belong to Marvel. This is non-profit fun. Also, this is strictly movie-verse; though I do occasionally make reference to some canon backstory (Magneto’s past, Mystique’s real name), since we can easily infer in the movie-verse that Nightcrawler is too old to be Mystique’s son, I’m treating her original origin/past story from the comics as AU here and inventing my own. Ta-da.
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast
How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush
But feel the strong heart beating where it lies?
A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
Chapter One: Pride
“This is as far as I go, babe.”
The taxi driver’s gruff voice cuts through my half-sleep, and I lift my head from the back of the seat I’ve been reclining against during the two hour drive out into the country. I blink against the sunlight that floods in past the dirty windows of the cab, and look around at our surroundings, expecting to see a building of some sort. Instead, the only thing visible, through the right window of the cab, is a rusted, broken gate, flanked by two crumbling brick columns. Through the gate I can see the rough markings of a worn dirt road, but nothing more.
“ I don’t understand,” I say, squinting out the window, straightening my long hair. “There’s supposed to be – a house of some sort here, isn’t there? The man who gave me these directions told me it was an old mansion.”
“ Old is right,” the driver says, peering warily at the wrecked iron gate. “In fact, I doubt there’s much left of it.”
“ Would you drive me past the gate, at least?” I ask him, the knot in my stomach twisting tighter.
“ I told you kid,” he says, making his voice harsher, “ This is as far as I go. I’ve being hearing some weird shit about this place – rumors in town, something funny going on up here. Some mad scientist or something. You’re not getting me up that driveway, I don’t care how much money you offer me.” He glances back and eyes my worn jacket and patched blue jeans. “ Which I’m guessing wouldn’t be very much,” he adds, scoffing.
Something in me hardens when I hear him talking this way about the place where my mother is reportedly living. I take the cab fare from my jacket pocket and thrust it at him.
“ Thanks for nothing,” I sneer, climbing out and slamming the door behind me.
“ Can’t say I didn’t warn ya!” he calls as he drives off, his back tires kicking up dirt as he goes. I watch the cab disappear into the mist of the woods, down the gravel road, back toward town. Its not until the yellow car is completely out of sight that a jarring fear drops into my stomach.
Now I am truly all alone.
I take a deep breath and steel myself, heading toward the rusted iron gate. I peer down the path that leads deeper into the woods, and, apprehensively, take a step forward, though I can see nothing but trees and the darker cover of a denser forest up ahead.
As I walk down the path, listening to the distant calls of animals in the woods around me as I go, I think about the insane circumstances that have lead me to this place, this desolate location in the woods of up-state New York.
It was just a normal day at high school in Brooklyn when all of this began. As usual, I was blending into the background, as I do: an unspectacular girl, save her unique status as an orphan, while most of her classmates are simply children of single mothers and absent fathers. I was sitting in the back of my science class, doodling on my notebook. The teacher was late, and the other kids were living it up in this rare moment of non-supervised class time, shouting and laughing all around me. As always, I let their world go on without me. I had never had any friends at school, save a few foreign exchange students who quickly came and went.
Then, suddenly, we realized why the teacher had been late. He came in, looking extremely nervous, folding and refolding a piece of paper he was holding. There were two men in black suits behind him, their faces stern and their haircuts tellingly short. The teacher gestured toward the back of the classroom – the left side, opposite from where I was sitting. I followed his gesture to Ramon Steinback, a quiet kid who was sulking as usual – my fellow outcast, though we’d never spoken.
“ That’s him,” my teacher said timidly, an apology in his voice. Ramon looked up, saw the two men headed for him, and knew he was in for it.
“ I didn’t mean to!” he immediately started screaming, silencing any of the other kids who hadn’t yet noticed the intruders. “ I didn’t mean to!”
But, whether he had meant to or not, Ramon had flooded the boys bathroom the day before, when his mutant powers had caused all the sinks to suddenly explode in the midst of a bullying session from a few of the school’s older, tougher kids. I felt sorry for Ramon. All year the kids had been trying to get to him, trying to get his powers to surface in a fit of rage so that this very moment could be made possible.
“ Please!” Ramon was screaming as the men dragged him from the classroom. “ I won’t do it again! I didn’t mean to! I just want to be normal!” he shrieked. His eyes met mine, pleadingly, just as they were pulling him out the door. “ I just want to be normal!”
As soon as he was gone I started shaking, and then tears began to surface. Knowing that I couldn’t make it through the lesson without bursting into sobs, I jumped from my desk and ran out of the door. The teacher called out behind me, but I didn’t care. I ran down the hall, out of the school’s double doors, and all the way to the subway station. I took the F-train uptown, not really knowing where I was going, drifting in a sea of rage of sorrow.
The incident with Ramon had dumped memories of my mother onto me like a ton of bricks.
I ended up at a bar. Though I’m only seventeen, and obviously so, with a small frame, long, straight hair and face full of tiny freckles, no one inside bothered me. I instantly liked the atmosphere – it was dark in there, just a bit smoky, and quiet except for the clink of the glasses the bartender was stacking, and the occasional coughing of the bar’s only other patron. Somewhere, jazz played very quietly from an unseen jukebox. I slid into a booth and laid my head back onto the seat, taking deep breaths and trying to steady myself.
I just want to be normal. Ramon’s begging was stuck in my head like a broken record. I thought of my mother, holding onto my father’s leg as he kicked her away, walking out the door – how she promised him she would never show him her real face again, not if he didn’t want to see it. How she would look like anyone he wanted her to, how they could forget that she was a mutant, how they could never mention it again.
She pretended that night that she would be happy with just trying to be normal for the rest of her life. But I knew that wasn’t true – or she never would have revealed to him what she really looked like, and what she really was. She wanted him to know the truth about her, and love her for it. But he didn’t, or couldn’t – and he left without looking back.
The worst part of it was, I couldn’t love her that way, either. When she turned to me, too stressed and frantic to transform, when I, only four years old at the time, saw what my mother really looked like, I thought I was looking into the face of a monster, some creature that had eaten my mother and stolen her voice.
I screamed and hid – an ignorant child, I rejected her just as he did. I hid behind our couch, praying over and over again in a tiny whisper for my real mother to return. I fell asleep back there, exhausted from crying. When I woke up, she was gone.
I can only imagine the pain my mother went through that night – finally ready to show her husband who she really was, only to watch him recoil in horror and desert her. And to turn to her daughter and see the terror rise in her eyes when she looked at her . . .
I felt my nails digging into my palms and realized that I was clenching my fists. The truth is, I never forgave my mother for leaving me, even though that night must have been horrible for her. She still should have come back. She still shouldn’t have left me all alone.
“ Penny for your thoughts.”
A scratchy voice broke into my trip down memory lane, and I looked up to see a man standing above me. I gasped and shrunk away – he was not a large man; in fact he was rather stunted, but there was something about the way he held his wrinkly hands out in front of him, and the way the hood he wore over his head obscured his aged face, that frightened me to the core.
“ Leave me alone,” I said, looking away, my heart rate increasing.
“ Oh, are you sure that’s what you want?” he asked, and I sensed a strange hint of amusement in his voice. “ I know something that you might be interested in, little girl.”
“ I’m not a little girl,” I snapped. “ And I’ll scream at the top of my lungs if you don’t get away from me right now.”
He laughed, and it sent chills down my spine.
“ Its about your mother,” he croaked, when he was done cackling.
My blood turned to ice. My mother? Could this old man possibly have known what I was just thinking?
“ I said-“
“ Your mother,” he continued, “ Raven Darkholme.”
As soon as he said her name I started trembling uncontrollably.
“ How . . . how . . .” I stuttered. “ How do you know who I am?”
“ I know lots of things,” he said, sitting down across from me. I didn’t dare tell him to leave now. Though I had been living mostly happily with a foster family since I was ten years old, I had always maintained a ferocious, but hopeless, search for my mother. I wasn’t even sure if she was still alive.
“ Tell me,” I said in a pinched whisper.
“ You’re a very important person, Penelope Darkholme,” he said, calling me by a name I hadn’t gone by since I was a ten year old living in an orphanage. My foster family’s name was Hutton, and I had adopted it when they adopted me.
“ My mother,” I said, not interested in why this creep thought I was important. “ Where is she?”
“ A dark place,” he said in a rushed whisper. “ With a dark man.”
“ Where?” I asked, “ And you still haven’t told me – how you know me.”
“ I don’t,” he said, “ But that doesn’t mean I don’t know who you are.” He tapped his temple. “ Your mother’s disease, you know, the genes that sent her running?”
I slowly grasped what he was trying to tell me – he was a mutant, a telepath.
“ So you can read my mind,” I said, not liking the taste of those words on my tongue.
“ Not quite,” he said, “ They call me the Prophet. I know things.” He giggled madly, sparking a look from the bartender that I caught out of the corner on my eye.
“ You alright, miss?” he called from the bar.
“ I’m fine,” I answered, not taking my eyes off the old man. “ The Prophet?” I said to him, keeping my voice low.
“ Yesssss,” he said, grinning. I saw a row of crooked, yellow teeth from under his hood. “ And I feel its only my duty to set this thing in motion, this sequence of events that will end the war between Xavier’s brats and Magneto’s revolution.”
I shook my head. Xavier, Magneto. They were both names I had heard on the news – stories about mutants always caught my eye. But I had no idea who they were out of context, or what they might mean to my mother.
“ What are you talking about?” I asked. He laughed.
“ You’ll see,” he said. “ So. You want to know where you can find that mother of yours?”
“ Yes,” I said, after a short pause. I had let this part of my life, this part of me, lay quiet for far too long. Even if I wasn’t a mutant, thanks to my human father, I had always felt there was a piece of my mother’s shame and loneliness inside me.
So it was from this crazy old man, this ‘Prophet’ that had wandered into a bar and accosted me with cryptic messages in between bouts of maniacal laughter, that I learned where my mother had been residing.
As I walk along the dirt path, deeper and deeper into the resounding, boundless forest, I pray to God that he wasn’t lying to me. I don’t know how I’ll get back to civilization if I don’t find something up ahead – or even if I do.
Will I find what I’m looking for? Or only a mother who doesn’t want the daughter who once scorned her? I wonder if my mother will even remember or recognize me.
Finally, after a half-hour hike, I see the form of a dilapidated old building up ahead. The sight of the dark, old mansion, covered in vines and surrounded by the mists of the forest, makes me want to turn back around. But I know there is nothing for me lying back there but the doubt, curiosity and anger that I’ve lived with everyday since my mother left me behind.
And though the building’s form is foreboding and the promise of the secrets that lie within frightening, something keeps drawing me ahead. There is something inside this crumbling old manor house, I feel as I approach its ugly form – something I’ve been looking for.
Walking past an old fountain, covered in a thick, black moss and no longer functioning, I reach the front doors of the house. I look up at the giant structure, searching for any signs of life. Nothing. A bird flutters its wings, taking flight from a tree behind me, and I gasp and turn, my heart skipping a beat.
I turn back to the doors and place my hand on the handle. Its not as grimy as I expected – someone has been going in and out of this place, I realize. Despite its untouched appearance, there are footsteps on the dirty landing – they belong to a man, or appear to. Someone wearing heavy boots. I think of the Prophet’s mention of a ‘dark man’ and my insides quake a bit. Despite all of my natural instincts, however, I follow the bizarre inclination that has lead me to this very spot, and open the gigantic door.
Stepping inside, the light that streams in behind me is the only bright spot in the otherwise dark interior of the manor. There are stairs in the foyer that lead up to a second floor, but they have collapsed, and the landing above is slanted and seems as though it will soon topple, too. The floor of the foyer is covered with moss – insects dart away as I walk cautiously inside.
“ Hello?” I say, but my voice comes out so small and timid that I can barely even hear it myself. Leaving the door open behind me for a light source, I move ahead, but the mansion appears to be deserted. In a room to the right of the foyer there stands a long, oak table that has been corrupted by time. Six chairs surround the table, watching me like ghosts of the former residents as I move into the room.
Suddenly, I hear something behind me. I jerk around, but there is nothing in sight – telling myself it was only a squirrel or bird, I keeping going forward. Behind the dining room lies the kitchen, and from it emerges a tremendous stench. Covering my nose with my hand, my eyes flicker over the remains of the life that had once been lived inside the manor’s walls – broken dishes, plants growing out of the old basin sink.
I fall against the filthy doorframe, defeated. There is no one here – there hasn’t been for a long time, it seems, despite the foot prints by the door. Probably left there by some hiker who got lost and took a quick, curious peek into the house, I decide. I begin to think that I’ve imagined the whole thing: the Prophet in the bar could have been only a hysterical delusion . . .
Then I hear something else, but this seems to be coming from below the mansion’s rotting floor. Movement – my heart jumps, and I spot something on the floor near a back window in the kitchen.
A steel square, with a short length of chain attached to it.
A basement door?
Realizing that whoever lurks below can probably hear me moving above, I walk toward the trap door cautiously, my feet sinking into the deep moss that blankets the floor as I go. Just when the door is within my reach, I hear another noise – this one coming from directly behind me.
I start to whirl around, but its already too late.
Hands encircle me from behind, and I hear a man’s grunt as I struggle fruitlessly to get free. This is it, I think, as his hot hand covers my mouth, preventing me from screaming. This is what that creepy Prophet has led me to – certain death in the middle of nowhere, where no one will ever find the body.
“ What do we have here?” my attacker’s voice taunts from behind me, as he pulls me tightly against him, easily containing my struggles. I note immediately that his is the voice of a young man, and for some reason this comforts me, though only minimally.
“ Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” he asks. He takes his hand away from my mouth, and I scream as loudly as I can, though only for half a second, before he realizes his mistake and slaps his hand back over it again. I try to bite him, but his grip is too tight, and I’m shaking too hard to concentrate very hard on any movement.
“ I wouldn’t make too much of a racket if I were you,” he says, menacingly.
“ There are worse people who could catch you in here, you know.”
I want to ask him if that’s some sort of promise that he won’t harm me, but I feel that to do so would be pressing my luck, and anyway I can’t make a sound with his hand over my mouth. He starts to pull me away from the trap door, and though I thrash about at first, eventually I give in and let him drag me into another room, realizing that fighting him is fruitless – even if I break loose, how far will I be able to run before he catches me?
When we reach the next room, he falls to his knees behind me, still holding me tightly.
“ Listen,” he says, close to my ear. “ If you know what’s good for you, you won’t make a sound. I’m a mutant. A dangerous one. You’ve wandered into our lair, I’m afraid. So keep your mouth shut, unless you want to get hurt. Understand?”
I nod weakly, tears pooling in my eyes. He pushes me down onto the ground, and I nearly gag when I come face to face with the grotesque, rotted floor of the mansion. Nevertheless, I heed his warning and don’t make a sound – I know he’s not lying about being a mutant – after all, I came here looking for one. He puts a knee to my back and leans there, hard, while tying my hands behind my back. Knowing that I’ll never be able to escape, I pray that my mother is actually here, and that she’ll find me, and know me, and want to save me.
He moves down to my feet next, and ties them tightly.
“ I don’t know why I’m bothering to do this,” he says as he works. “ You don’t have much chance of getting away.”
Suddenly furious at his cockiness, not to mention the fact that my hands and feet are bound, I turn my head as best I can and snarl:
“ You’re going to be sorry you’re treating me like this when you find out who I am.”
He laughs. “ What?” he says, “ You’re trying to tell me you’re some powerful mutant or something? Well where were your powers back there, huh? You didn’t fight me, and obviously you’re not telepathic!” He laughs again, and rage spills over inside me.
“ Listen, asshole!” I shout, going for broke. “ I happen to be Raven Darkholme’s daughter, okay? So if you mess with me, you’re messing with her, too.”
“ Uh,” he says, still obviously amused by me, “ Am I supposed to know who that is?”
Struggling for a threat to stand on, I reach to my most horrible childhood memory.
“ She’s blue,” I say, pretending to be confident as I speak, “ Covered with scales. Yellow eyes. Can look like anyone she wants to.”
He’s silent for a moment, and, my heart racing, I’m almost confident that I’ve impressed him.
“ Mystique?” he says. “ You’re Mystique’s daughter?”
At this he reaches for me, grabs one of my arms and rolls me over to face him. I scowl up at him while he studies me – his youth surprises me, even after hearing his voice. He looks barely older than me, his hair dirty blonde and slicked back off his face, big brown eyes wandering over me, suspicious. Some of my fear flickers away – he doesn’t look frightening. In fact, he doesn’t look like a mutant at all – at least not the mutant form of my mother that has burned itself into my nightmares. He reminds me more of Ramon – just a kid, hardened by his difference but still vulnerable.
He sees me looking at him and frowns, narrowing his eyes.
“ You don’t . . . look like Mystique,” he finally says. “ You have her power, then?” he asks. “ Ability to change your appearance?”
I start to tell him that, no, I’m just a lowly human, but I think better of it before I do. If I hold out on him, pretend I’ve got some powerful mutant ability hidden away, maybe I can gain some ground.
“ I’m not answering any questions until you untie me,” I tell him. I start to ask him to take me to my mother, too, but something stops me. Obviously, this boy is not the ‘dark man,’ that the Prophet saw my mother with in his visions. I’m afraid to go to her if she’ll be partnered with this man. Has he made her ‘dark’ too?
“ Well, I guess I’m not getting any answers, then,” he says, hoisting me up again. “ Because I’m not untying you. If you’re Mystique’s daughter . . .” he looks me up and down again. “ Hell, if you’re really her daughter, then I’m surprised you’re still tied up.”
He drags me farther back into the rooms of the mansion, but we don’t approach the trap door again. There seems to be no one else around on this first level of the house – occasionally I hear more noises from below as we move through the rooms. Finally, we reach a room in the back, with floor to ceiling windows paneled along each wall, and a broken old piano sitting in the far left corner. Across from the piano is a red armchair, relatively worn but not nearly as old as most of the decaying furniture in the house. Beside it is a giant harp with three broken strings, which are curled and bent, with remnants of cobwebs floating from their edges.
The boy drops me unceremoniously into the armchair, looks at me, then walks coolly around the room. He takes a silver lighter out of his pocket, and begins flicking the flame on and off as he paces, occasionally stopping and closing it, holding the cool, metal box to his lips in thought.
“ Quit that,” I say after awhile of listening to his incessant clicking. He glances at me.
“ I’m thinking,” he says, as if to explain the action. “ I’m trying to decide what to do with you.”
I squirm in my seat at the thought of his consideration of my fate.
“ Who are you, anyway?” I demand, trying to distract him from this train of thought. “ Some kind of junior mutant? Relegated to the first floor?”
“ I’m a god amongst insects,” he says, laughing to himself at this.
“ What can you . . . do?” I ask, immediately regretting it. “ That’s so dangerous?”
He half-smiles and opens the lighter, the flame burning tall in his hand. He reaches for it, making a smooth line of fire that travels to his palm, where he holds it in a glowing, burning ball. My breath catches.
“ I saw you on the news last year,” I say without thinking. “ You tried to kill all those cops in Boston.”
“ Yeah,” he says, walking closer to me with his ball of fire. “ That was me.”
“ Why did you do that?” I ask, not knowing what else to say as he approaches me with the fire that he’s holding in his hand.
He leans down close to me, making his brown eyes mean, tossing the ball of fire from one hand to another, making it grow slightly. He shrugs.
“ They got in my way,” he says, his eyes boring into mine.
“ So,” I say in a whisper, trying to hide the tremble in my voice. “ What are you going to do to me?” My eyes flick from his to the ball of fire he’s tossing like a baseball. Just when I think he’s going to shove it into my face, he closes his hand around it and its gone in a puff of smoke.
“ I don’t know,” he says, still lingering close, placing a hand on both arms of the chair, holding my gaze and trying to intimidate me. “ Maybe I’ll find out if you’re really Mystique’s daughter before I decide.”
I swallow a lump in my throat, wondering if she’ll even own up to me, or if it will matter.
“ I am,” I tell him, “ But what if I wasn’t? Am I supposed to be afraid of you?” I ask, unable to stop feigning bravery – its all that’s keeping me from totally going to pieces.
“ I’m sure I can come up with something to do with you,” he says. I know he’s trying to scare me, and he is, but there is something about his threats that is not quite convincing. Maybe its his youth – maybe I should be more afraid of him than his looks suggest I should be. If his skin was some fantastic color instead of a smooth, milky white, or if he was wearing some crazy getup instead of jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt, maybe I would take him more seriously. Still, his fiery demonstration, the memory of the news story about his destruction in Boston, and even the bizarre heat of his hand when he pressed it over my mouth, have me shaking despite his normal appearance.
“ What’s your name?” I whisper, hoping to at least break his intense gaze, which he’s got trained on me as if he’s trying to melt me.
“ Pyro,” he says, pronouncing it with pride.
“ What’s your real name?” I ask him after a moment. He blinks, looks at me like I’m crazy, then backs off.
“ John,” he answers after a pause, standing back now and starting up again with the lighter.
“ I’m Penelope,” I tell him, not really sure why. “ Please don’t kill me.”
He laughs, snaps the lighter shut, and brings it to his lips. The way he does this makes me feel sad for him, idiotically, despite everything. It’s the motion of a lonely person, desperate to touch something. My sympathy fading, I shudder at what this might mean for me, his captive.
“ How did you find this place, anyway?” he asks, but before I can answer, we hear a loud creaking sound from the other side of the mansion. John starts, jerking his eyes in the direction of the noise.
“ What was that?” I ask in a terrified whisper. I hear footsteps approaching.
“ Someone’s coming,” he says, glancing from me to the doorway, and then back to me. He looks almost frightened for me, or perhaps he’s only afraid that he’ll get into trouble for keeping a prisoner all to himself.
A man rounds the corner into the room next to the one we’re in, his eyes trained on us, approaching. He’s an older man, thin and almost gaunt, but his eyes are sharp, and when they meet mine I know that he is the dark man the Prophet warned me about.
“ Pyro, my boy,” he says, keeping his eyes on me. “ You know I don’t like having to come up to the first floor.”
“ I know,” John says, visibly nervous, now squeezing the lighter into his palm. “ I’m sorry, I was just trying to find out—“
The older man holds up a hand, signaling for silence, and John immediately stops trying to explain himself. A strange smile creeps across the man’s wrinkled face, and he lowers himself gracefully in order to speak to me, face to face.
“ What have we here?” he asks. “ A meddler?”
“ She says—“ John begins, but the older man cuts him off, ignoring him.
“ There’s something familiar about you,” the man says, cocking his head and studying my face. I wonder if he and John can hear my heart beating out of control in my chest, as if its trying to rip its way out and run for the hills while it still can.
“ Have we met?” the man asks, and I open my mouth to speak, but can’t form any words.
“ She says she’s Mystique’s daughter,” John interjects.
“ Really?” the man says, after a pause, not taking his eyes off mine. “ Well, you’re someone special then, aren’t you?”
“ Please,” I say, my voice finally working. “ I just wanted to see my mother.”
“ I wasn’t aware that Mystique had a child,” the man says, standing and turning to John. “ I think I’m going to have to have a conversation with her about this. You’ll keep her here?”
“ Yes,” John answers, his eyes darting to me and then back to the older man’s.
“ I would leave her untouched, if I were you,” the man says, glancing back at me for a moment. “ If she really is Mystique’s daughter, you know you’ll have to answer for anything you do.”
“ I’m not going to do anything,” John tells him, almost defensively.
The older man starts to leave, and then turns back suddenly.
“ How rude of me,” he says, a bemused expression on his face. “ I’ve neglected to introduce myself properly. My name is Eric. Your alleged mother and the others here and elsewhere know me as Magneto.”
Magneto. I rack my memory for any information on that name – he isn’t the mutant responsible for the near-disaster on Liberty Island, is he?
“ And you are?” he asks, when I say nothing.
“ Penelope,” I say, swallowing a lump in my throat.
“ Ah,” Magneto says, glancing from John to me once more,“ Penelope, of course. The prodigal daughter.” He smiles.
“ I’ll be back shortly,” he says, turning again and walking out of the room.
After he’s gone, John is immediately back to flipping the lighter open and closed, only a bit more quickly now.
“ What’s going to happen to me?” I squeak, squirming in the chair. John looks at me, narrows his eyes.
“ I have a hard time believing you’re Mystique’s daughter,” he says. “ And its not just because you’re not blue.”
“ Well, I’m so sorry I haven’t impressed you,” I say, my stomach churning at the thought of my mother, being questioned about me by that man, Magneto. “ But I wasn’t raised by her or anything. I haven’t seen her since I was four.”
John’s expression changes slightly. I might only be imagining it, but his eyes soften, a nearly imperceptible flutter.
“ I haven’t seen my parents since I was thirteen,” he says, something pained resounding almost inaudibly behind the words.
“ Why not?” I ask, though I have a feeling he might not be willing to volunteer that much information.
He doesn’t answer, only goes to the window. His expression is placid, but his hand frantically clicking the lighter.
“ So, who raised you then?” he mutters, “ Humans?” He says the word like it’s a filthy swear, further convincing me that I did the right thing by not telling him what I really am.
“ Yes,” I say, “ But they weren’t so bad.”
“ They were okay with your powers?” he asks, jerking his head back toward me. “ Even though they weren’t your real parents?” He seems perturbed by the idea.
“ I guess so,” I mutter weakly, knowing that I won’t be able to maintain the façade of a mutant for much longer. My mother will surely reveal me as the human daughter of my human father.
“ You still haven’t told me what your powers are,” he reminds me, grabbing another ball of fire from the lighter’s flame, making it hover above his palm. He and I both train our eyes on the blaze.
“ What does it matter?” I say, feeling suddenly distant, letting my eyes go unfocused. “ Obviously they can’t save me.”
“ Magneto might want you, you know,” he says, manipulating the fire so that it shrinks and then grows bigger, its size fluctuating in his hand. “ He might take you in, like he did with me, if he thinks your powers can help him.”
“ I doubt that they can,” I say weakly.
“ You’d be surprised,” he says, “ The girl he took to Liberty Island – her power seemed almost useless, but through the right venue – with Magneto’s guidance – it can become something else entirely.”
“ So he was the one who got arrested on Liberty Island,” I say quietly. “ I thought I remembered his face on the news – I can’t believe they let him out of prison.”
“ They didn’t,” John says, “ He escaped. They haven’t exactly made it common knowledge to the general public, but he broke out of prison last year.”
“ God,” I say, “ I had no idea . . .” I catch his gaze, and hold it. “ What’s going on here, anyway? What is my mother doing here?”
“ She’s working toward a revolution, with Magneto’s guidance, and with my help,” he says, completely sincere.
“ What sort of revolution?”
“ One where the mutants end up in control,” he says, extinguishing the flame in his hand. “ Not the humans.”
“ In control of what?” I ask, my heart racing, terrified that I will be obliterated as soon as they find out I’m just human trash, not some superior mutant who has inherited her mother’s strength and cunning.
John smiles, and the expression on his face sends a shiver down through my core.
“ Everything,” he answers.
“ Is that why you’re here?” I ask, “ You and my mother? For power?”
John shrugs. “ Not entirely,” he says. “ We only want evolutionary justice. We’re stronger, better versions of the last best thing. They had their run at the top. Now its our turn. Its only a matter of time, really, mutant dominancy. Humans simply don’t have the tools or the vision to stop us.”
“ But,” I say weakly. “ What about the humans who just want to live in peace with the mutants?”
John scoffs. “ They don’t exist. Or they only want to live in ‘peace’ with us if they can trample us whenever they want, register us as deadly weapons and herd us into quarantine if things get out of hand.”
I start to tell him that this is not true, but there is a noise from the other side of the mansion that stops me. The trap door creaking open, and falling shut again – Magneto is returning.
With my mother.
“ Oh, God,” I whisper under my breath, the weight of the situation suddenly dropping onto me. I forget that my hands and feet are tied, that I’m a human trapped in a hideout for homicidal mutants, and even the boy standing before me, playing idly with his lighter, washes away in my mind.
I’m about to see my mother for the first time in thirteen years.
Magneto rounds the corner first, looking pleased with himself. Following him, I can see her cygnet shape. She almost seems to be hiding behind him as they enter the room – I see a blue arm, and I realize that I’m holding my breath, but can’t seem to let the air out.
Finally, once they’ve entered, Magneto steps away, and I see the face that I’ve had nightmares about since I was a child—the slick scales, the piercing yellow eyes. This is the monster that took my mother, and the mother that was taken, all at the same time. She stares at me, her face completely still, her eyes cold and blank. Magneto glances from her to me, composed, waiting for something. John shrinks into a far corner of the room, silent.
“ Mom,” is all I can get past my lips, and as soon as the word tumbles out, I elapse into tears. I have to pinch my eyes shut; its still hard for me to look at her.
“ Well?” Magneto mutters in my mother’s direction. He waits.
“ Its her,” she finally says, her voice calm and untouched.
“ And you are sure she’s not a mutant?” Magneto asks her. She nods.
“ Her father was human,” my mother admits, and I can hear the shame in her voice. She glances at Magneto, who is eying her, surprised. “ I was young,” she explains. “ I didn’t know any better, then.”
“ Come, now, Mystique,” Magneto says, laying a hand on her shoulder. “ I’m not one to judge the mistakes you’ve made in the past—you know that I once had a human wife, who deserted me when she learned of the extent of my powers.” He pats her shoulder, but she yanks away, defensive, and turns from me, staring off into space.
“ I had a daughter, too, at one time,” Magneto says, looking back at me. I see a sadness in his eyes, but it is hardened and dangerous, something that has frozen over time, made itself a weapon. “ She wasn’t human of course,” he says, his eyes not leaving mine. “ Only murdered by them.”
I jerk my eyes away from his gaze, which seems to be accusing me of something, some human legacy, some crime against mutants that lies in my genetic makeup. I look to my mother, who is still turned away from me. In profile, somehow, she looks less terrifying—when she casts her eyes to the ground I can’t see the yellow glare that traumatized me as a child.
“ Mother,” I say, my voice trembling, tears still traveling down my cheeks. “ Please. Talk to me.”
She says nothing.
“ I know why you left me!” I cry, “ And I’m sorry I hurt you, but I was only a little girl! I didn’t know about mutants, I didn’t know who you really were—“
“ You will never know,” she says without looking at me, her voice devoid of emotion. “ You’re his child,” she says, meaning my father. “ Go crying to him if you’re looking for sympathy.” She starts to walk away, but Magneto stops her.
“ Wait,” he says. “ If she hasn’t got any powers, how might she have found this place? How did she know where you were?” I’m not sure if he’s suspicious of my mother or not—his voice is cool and hard to read. She stops in the doorway, her back to us.
“ I don’t know,” she answers. Magneto turns to me.
“ Will you enlighten us?” he asks.
“ A mutant told me,” I tell him, my voice weak and low. There is no reason not to tell him the truth; the Prophet never asked me to protect his identity, and I have nothing left to loose, anyway. I’m certain that its only a matter of time before they finish me off. Once they have their information, I’ll be done for—just another human who got in their way. My eyes flick toward John, and he is watching the scene intently from the corner, his lighter pressed to his lips.
“ His name was Prophet,” I tell Magneto. “ He was a telepath of some kind. He told me where I could find my mother, and I came. That’s all.” I shut my mouth, probably for the last time, shut my eyes and wait for the blow.
“ Prophet?” Magneto says. “ That’s rather inventive.” He leans down toward me, and I feel my silver necklace moving on my neck. I gasp slightly, watching the chain twist tighter and tighter under Magneto’s gaze. “ Now then,” he says, when it has nearly closed off my airway, choking me and causing me to gag.“ The truth, don’t you think?”
“ I’m telling the truth!” I croak out as best I can. “ He was . . . an old man . . . he found me in a bar.”
“ A bar?” Magneto says. “ You can’t be more than fifteen--you expect me to accept that you’ve been frequenting bars?” He laughs, an eerily mirthless sound, and the necklace pinches tighter. I start to feel light headed, and struggle for breath, the silver chain digging into my skin, the heart pendant on the end of it dangling from the taut line of silver that Magneto is controlling with his powers.
He doesn’t believe me. I realize in a rush that this is my death—I wait to see if my mother will move to stop him, but its only John who flinches as the necklace wraps itself tighter still around my neck.
“ Stop!” he finally shouts. Magneto’s concentration breaks, and he turns to the boy in the corner, the necklace loosening and falling away, swinging harmless again down to the nape of my neck. I gulp in air as soon as he releases me from the silver stranglehold, coughing and looking to the doorway for my mother, in utter disbelief that she was prepared to let me die. But she is gone.
“ Excuse me, Pyro,” Magneto says, approaching John. “ I didn’t realize this was a friend of yours. Perhaps this is where she learned where her mother was located,” he says, eying him with malice.
“ You know I haven’t left the compound in weeks,” John says, trying to make his voice confident in the face of Magneto’s intimidating stare. “ I only mean, why kill her now, when we can still find out who leaked the information about our location? Give her a few days without food and she’ll be ready to tell the truth.”
“ Oh,” Magneto says coolly, with a cruel smile. “ So I’m to take your counsel on the matter?”
“ You do want to learn how she found us, don’t you?” John asks.
“ That was the idea,” Magneto says, glancing behind him to see that my mother is gone. “ I had suspected that mommy dearest was the one who lead her here,” he says, walking back to me. “ I was only trying to get a rise out of Mystique by threatening the girl’s life. But,” he says, cocking his head and regarding me coldly. “ She didn’t seem to care, did she?”
Not wanting to give him what he wants, I hold in my tears, turning my face away and screwing up my eyes and mouth, determined not to break down in front of him.
He chuckles under his breath, and turns back to John.
“ No matter,” he says. “ We’ll get it out of her eventually, one way or another. Until then, Pyro, you know I’m extremely busy. Please try to keep the trampling on the first floor to a minimum.”
“ You’re leaving me on the first floor?” he asks, and I can hear irritation and disappointment in his voice.
“ Well, yes,” Magneto says, “ Someone has to watch our prisoner here, correct? And since you seem so eager to learn the identity of the traitor that brought her here, perhaps you can divine some way to get the information?” He looks from me to John, grinning wickedly.
“ He’s creative,” Magneto tells me dryly. “ He’ll come up with something.”
With that he is gone, sweeping out of the room and around the corner. I wait, my insides raging, until I hear the trap door on the far side of the manor open and shut. When I hear him descending, and the door falling shut, I let loose a barrage of primal sobs, the sort of desperate, terrified crying that hasn’t left my body since the night my mother revealed to us her true form.
“ Just kill me, please kill me,” I cry as I hear John approaching me. “ I’ve told you all I know, I swear. I’m ready to die.” I look up at him, my face red and soaked with tears, and he reaches for me.
My breath catches; despite my plea I’m still terrified at what this mutant might do to me. But he only reaches around to the back of my neck, tilting me forward, to undo the clasp of my necklace. He removes the silver charm—a long-ago gift from my adoptive family—and closes it into his hand.
“ Probably not the best idea to keep wearing this,” he says. He seems to be at a loss, and he turns back and walks to the window, dropping the necklace into his shirt pocket. Facing away from me, he curses.
“ I should have just . . .,” he says, trailing off. “ Now I have to stay on the first floor and guard you. Like you’re going to do anything!” he turns back to me with a sneer. “ Why did you come here?” he demands.
“ I wanted my mother back,” I say, my voice dead and defeated, my eyes wide open but seeing nothing.
“ Well you can’t have them back!” he shouts. “ My parents got rid of me, too—you think I’m stupid enough to try and go back and make peace with those ignorant humans? They’d have me arrested before I stepped off the welcome mat.”
“ Why are you telling me this?” I croak, not looking at him.
“ I don’t know—shit!” he says, clearly flustered, pushing a few loose strands of hair off of his forehead. “ I thought you were a mutant. I should do the world a favor and just kill you now.”
“ Go ahead,” I challenge, this time meeting his eyes. He opens his lighter.
“ Don’t tempt me,” he snarls, shutting it. “ Have you ever had a third degree burn?” he asks.
“ Not yet,” I tell him dryly, as I’m beginning to get the feeling that burning will be my fate.
“ Well, it fucking hurts,” he says, glaring at me. “ I don’t think you’d be begging me to kill you if you got even a taste of that kind of pain.”
“ Oh come on,” I mutter darkly, figuring that all is already lost, anyway. “ Don’t tell me the god of fire has actually been burned himself.”
He turns away from me at this, and for a long time we both stew in our opposite corners of the room, separately furious for our own private reasons.
After a while John walks purposely from the room, leaving me alone. I let out a sigh and tip my head back onto the chair, looking past the strings of the broken harp, through one of the huge windows.
In the course of one day, my life is over. Its hard for me to grasp, but at the same time, I feel a release. I have found my mother, though I haven’t found what I was looking for in her. Now at least I know what she has been feeling toward me all these years, while I imagined her missing me, worrying about me and wondering what had happened to me. Instead she only feels regret and shame when she looks at me. Fine. Okay. Now I know.
I start crying again, quietly now, because I am exhausted. I hear footsteps, and my heart tremors, but when a figure steps out from the darkness that is growing as the sun sinks outside, it is only John. He’s carrying a bowl, spoon and a bottle of water.
“ Dinnertime,” he says, walking past me to the piano. He sits on the bench eats soup from the bowl, and drinks his water, all the while eying me as if willing me to beg for food. I hear my stomach grumble, and my throat is bone dry, but I am determined not to give in to this game.
“ My hands hurt,” I say instead.
“ Tough,” he says, slurping soup.
“ Please,” I say, “ If you could just tie them in front of me—“
“ Not taking requests,” he says smartly, licking his thick lips. He finishes his dinner and sets the bowl on the floor, drinks deeply from the bottle of water. I try to look away, but I can’t help but stare longingly at the clear liquid as he gulps it, watching his throat move as he swallows, imagining how good it would feel to have even a tiny drink.
“ You saved my life before,” I say weakly, without meaning to. He stops drinking, a few sips of water still left in the bottle. He looks down at his shoes for a long time, then stands, walks to me, and tilts the bottle of water toward my mouth. I drink down what is left of the water, my senses singing for joy as the moisture touches my dry throat and tongue. When he takes the bottle away, a drop of water slides down my chin, and he lifts his hand to my face, wiping it away with the edge of his sleeve.
“ Thank you,” I say, breathless with relief. He stares down at me; seems to consider speaking.
“ I know what its like to be strung up by your own flesh and blood,” he says, dropping the empty bottle to the floor and lifting up the edge of his shirt. He pulls it back to reveal his chest—a smooth expanse of pale skin, marred only by a long, whitish scar that runs up his right side like the mark a whip might leave behind. I study the remains of his burn—it looks painful, but when I look up into his eyes I can see the real pain residing there, shrouded by anger.
“ From the fire,” he says, referring to the scar. “ It was an accident, of course. When I was thirteen. First time my powers, well, surfaced. The house burned down. My father . . . my father saw it happen. We were in the kitchen together and . . . and he just ran. He didn’t help me out. The moment he saw that I was a mutant, I wasn’t his son anymore. I was too stunned to move for awhile—I didn’t know what was happening, or why my Dad was blaming me. It took this burn to set me running—and I never looked back.”
“ God,” I say, shutting my eyes. “ I wish that I could change everything. I wish that—when I was little, and I saw my mother’s true form . . . I wish I had thrown my arms around her instead of screaming and running away. I was so, so stupid! I didn’t know what the hell was going on.”
“ You were a kid,” John says dryly. “ You probably didn’t even know what a mutant was.”
“ No,” I say quietly, “ But I destroyed her anyway.”
We’re both silent for a moment, then John walks to me, tips me forward, and leans over me to undo the binding on my hands. The heat of his own hands surprises me again, though it shouldn’t. Warm hands. It fits.
He pulls my arms in front of me and kneels there, tying the binds so that my hands can rest comfortably in my lap. I don’t resist, or try to get away. The woods outside are growing dark, and I feel strangely safer in this rotting old mansion with a fire-throwing mutant that I would out there, alone.
When he’s finished he stands back and looks at me, and I study his face more carefully. He’s handsome, actually. His long sideburns, full lips and fiery gaze make for an attractive face; he manages to look both dangerous and pouty all at once. I sigh, looking at him. He could have been a normal teenager, but his powers have brought him here, instead—a dank mansion in the middle of nowhere, his only company a madman and the hollow shell of a woman that my mother has become. I venture to wonder if he is actually relieved to have me here—someone his age, someone to talk to. He seems lonely, tragic—I almost want to hug him, ludicrously. Probably just because it would feel wonderful to hug anyone right now, when all of my dreams have been crushed, and death seems imminent. I wonder if this angry kid has had anyone to hold him lately, maybe run their fingers over the rough edges of that scar and say, God, I’m sorry this happened to you.
I feel something building in me as John begins setting up camp in the room, laying out a sleeping bag and a few pillows and settling in with a book: The Once and Future King. He fills the room with candles, and lights them with a few flicks of his hand, and the help of the flame in his lighter.
I realize that the thing I feel building inside me is hope. I still can’t be sure that the boy lying on the floor at my feet isn’t the bad person the news stories from Boston made him out to be, but as the hours pass, I’m beginning to feel more confident that he won’t hurt me. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’ll ultimately be able to stop Magneto from doing so.
“ How’s your book?” I ask, slouched in the chair, still wired and unable to sleep. He gives me a sideways glance.
“ Pretty good,” he mumbles, returning his eyes to the page.
“ Read it to me?” I ask timidly, feeling I’ll go out of my mind if I’m able to keep running over the reunion with my mother in my head, without any distraction. John sighs heavily, letting me know that he’s annoyed by my request. I expect him to go on reading in silence, but, to my surprise, he begins reading aloud.
"The unicorn was white,” he reads, “ With hoofs of silver and graceful horn of pearl . . . The glorious thing about him was his eye. There was a faint bluish furrow down each side of his nose, and this led to the eye sockets, and surrounded them in a pensive shade. The eyes, circled by this sad and beautiful darkness, were so sorrowful, lonely, gentle and nobly tragic, that they killed all other emotions except love.”
Eventually, his voice lulls me into a fitful sleep. I dream of my mother, her terrifying yellow eyes. I dream of chains twisted about my neck, of being dragged away from a mutant school as Ramon was from mine, laughed at and taunted for being a weak human.
And finally I dream of the boy lying on the floor, of his own sorrowful, lonely eyes. While I sleep any remaining fear of him melts away, and I look forward to waking, when the nightmares will end, when I can be consoled by the one flicker of hope I’ve found in these thick woods: the one that exists quietly in those brown eyes.
To be continued in Chapter Two
A/N: Obviously, the above quote is from T.H. White’s novel, The Once and Future King. All other credit goes to the creators of the X-Men at Marvel.
I would love some feedback on this, especially on the characterization so far. Does anyone seem OOC? More chapters to come.