Title: Memories Left on Nightstands

Author: Troll Princess

Rating: R, for language

Spoilers: X/X2

Disclaimer: While the female characters in this story are mine, I don't own the X-Men. 'Cause to be honest, I think that's an *entirely* different kind of fanfic, don't you? It's not AU so much as a let's-see-what-I-can-warp-using-movieverse-canon-for-my-own-personal-...-oh-wait-I'm-not-gaining-anything-from-this-am-I? sort of thing. I end up writing stories like this in every fandom I write, so you're just going to have to suuuuuffffeeeeer. *veg*

Author's note: Hee hee ... I swear, I'm not this evil in real life with my plot twists.

Son of Author's Note: Okay, so maybe I *am* this evil in real life with my plot twists, but you didn't hear it from me.

Bride of Author's Note: Okay, so maybe you *did* hear it for me, but ... oh, shut up.


Memories Left on Nightstands

by Troll Princess


"Is she allergic to peanuts, dear?"

The young woman startles at that, her gaze drifting for the first time in a long while away from the roaring fire dancing on the hearth. Her grip tightens on the toddler in her arms, a little girl with carrot-red curls and sparkling jeweled-sapphire eyes that, as much as her good-for-nothing father might like them to be, aren't entirely human. "N-n-no, she's not," the young woman says, glancing away from me as she stutters.

I doubt that's an affliction she'd had for much longer than a few years. More than a few of the women from the shelter who cross my doorstep stutter, or tug on their hair until it falls out in patches, or flinch if you so much as breathe funny near them. I ignore it as usual, fishing through my tin until I dig up a chocolate cookie with white chocolate chips in it. "It doesn't have peanuts in it," I say, waving the cookie under the little girl's nose, "but it never hurts to check. Just in case."

The little girl's eyes widen into twinkling pools of purest blue, and she offers up a gap-toothed smile before gently taking the cookie from my hand and gnawing on it quietly.

Putting the tin aside on the coffee table, I settle down next to the pair of them on the overstuffed purple monstrosity of a couch, smoothing the dough-stained apron tied around my waist. "So," I say, trying for friendly and matter-of-fact, "how long have you been running?"

Not taking her eyes off her daughter, the young woman smooths the baby's unruly curls away from her face and says, "Four months. He yanked Ashley's arm so hard he snapped her wrist, and I just --" She looks up at me for the briefest of instances, a nervous smile dangling cock-eyed under a nose that's been broken at least twice that I can spot. "Not her. M-maybe me, but ... but not her."

Nodding, I ask, "And did you go directly to St. Christopher's, then?"

She shakes her head tightly. "Oh, no. I'm from D-denver, so I caught a bus to Augusta, where my p-parents are, but I had a little problem with the bus driver after I ch-changed buses in Chicago --" She cocks her head towards Ashley and those eyes of hers that practically scream to the world that she's a mutant before adding, "-- so I got off in Scranton and just k-k-kinda wandered my way up here."

"What about your husband? Is he looking for you?"

The young woman snorts derisively at that, absently picking up the chewed-up cookie half that have fallen into her lap and handing it back to the little girl. "Wouldn't doubt it," she mutters. "Ty don't want us b-back, but he don't like being made to look stupid, either."

Ashley takes advantage of that moment to yammer something at me, a pretty sing-song voice that'll probably sound like a siren's song when she grows up, and she holds out the cookie to me in a silent offer to take a bite. I shake my head gently, place my hand on that chubby arm of hers and push it back towards her mouth, and even her mother has to smile when the little girl giggles and goes back to making a mess out of my best Tuxedo Chip Cookie recipe.

"She's not a freak."

I tear my gaze away from Ashley to look at her mother, who doesn't appear the least bit embarrassed by her own outburst. Her expression one of absolute awe, she trembles a little from what I'd swear in any normal situation might be a draft, and stares at the little girl the same way I'm guessing saints stare at angels. "Look at those eyes. No one's got eyes like that. You've got to be special for God to give you eyes like that to see the world out of."

"That's a good attitude to have."

She tilts her head back, her thinning red-brown hair dancing with the movement. "Ain't attitude, it's f-fact."

I nod at that, frankly agreeing with her assessment of those incredible eyes. "Martha tell you why she sent you here?"

The mother shrugs, shifting the child on her lap as she tugs down her own worn sweater with her other hand to cover the cookie-stained knees of her jeans. "Sort of. She said you c-could hide us."

"Not exactly," I say, even though I don't doubt for a minute that's exactly how Martha put it. Martha's the sympathetic sort, always sending me lost souls like these out of the so-called goodness of her heart, but the fact is that she's dumber than dirt and more bigoted than she lets on. Frankly, the fewer mutants she has anywhere near her in that shelter of hers, the less antsy she gets. Not the most mature way in the world to behave, but as it suits what God meant for me to do to help in this world, I'm certainly not about to start complaining now.

I reach out and give the mother a reassuring pat on the leg, then say, "It's more like you're going to hide yourself, dear."

"Oh," she says in a whisper, as if she understands what I was getting at. I'm used to that reaction, trust me.

So as usual, I switch tactics, narrowing my eyes as I wipe a chocolate smudge from the baby's cheek with the hem of my apron. "Tell me, you ever see anyone in a movie you thought was just beyond beautiful? Just an angel on a forty-foot screen."

The young woman frowns at that, momentarily loosening her grip on the baby. "I-I-I don't understand," she says, watching distractedly as I pluck Ashley from her grasp and tickle the toddler senseless.

I don't look at the mother when I speak, too busy driving the little girl into the kind of hysterical, happy madness that comes from laughing until you cry. "I used to think," I say, my voice soft and friendly for the baby's sake, "that if I could ever change the way I looked, if I could ever make myself look like anyone else on the planet, I wanted to look like Ava Gardner. You ever seen a photo of Ava Gardner?"

"Th-think so. Dark-haired, kind of pretty ..."

"Kind of? Sweetie, Ava Gardner was the most beautiful woman in the world when I was younger. Why, she was once married to Frank Sinatra, and he kept a statue of her in his backyard garden until his next wife told him he had to get rid of it."

She smiles uneasily at that, like she's not quite sure where I'm going with this but she's amused by a silly little anecdote like that.

And I finally turn my warmest, most friendly smile on her, and I ask, "What about you, sweetie? You ever seen someone in the movies, made you wish you looked that pretty?"

Our gazes meet over Ashley's head, and something clicks behind those dishwater-brown eyes. She nibbles her bottom lip a little nervously, holding back a grin or a giggle, and leans closer as if she's about to share an earth-shattering secret. "W-well, I saw this movie once late at night ... I mean, it was in Hindu or Indian or whatever it was, and there was this g-girl --"


So I'm ushering the young woman and her little girl to the door when he shows up, the taxi I called for a while ago idling quietly in the barely plowed driveway. The girl sleeps peacefully in her arms, that innocent face tucked in the crook of her mother's neck and those brilliant eyes of hers shut to the world. I can change a lot of things, but mutant powers aren't one of them. I might not be able to change those eyes, of course, but I know damn well Daddy isn't looking for a little Indian girl and her mama.

And we're in the middle of talking as we walk out the door, yammering on about names and some such. "-- no, I think Sashi's a lovely name, dearie. And so close to the old one, she'll hardly --"

That's when the both of us notice the boy standing on the porch, not too far away from us, glaring at the snow-dusted taxi now sitting in the driveway as if he was rather annoyed he hadn't thought of getting to my little house in the boonies outside Binghamton that way.

"Oh, hello there," I say cheerfully, and he whirls around to face us, obviously startled.

The young mother takes one look at the boy and tenses in front of me. "Ronin!" And from the look on his face, confused and suspicious, she immediately regrets her outburst, as she bites her full bottom lip and places a protective hand on the back of her daughter's head. Her fingers slip through the jet-black ringlets, the mother's own hair now silky and poker straight and hanging in a shiny curtain obscuring her daughter's sweet face.

"How do you know my name?" he asks, staring at her curiously. "Have we met?"

She has to, of course, because from the look of the both of them, St. Christopher's was the last place they'd been before they'd hitched a ride to my house in the middle of nowhere. The young woman -- Padma, my brain reminds me, she decided her new name is Padma -- narrows her exotic dark chocolate eyes, as if she's amazed the boy hasn't recognized her yet, then grins broadly when she realizes he never will with her looking like this. "No," she says softly. "No, y-you don't."

"Then how --"

"All right, Padma, not much time to dawdle, dearie," I say, effectively breaking up the conversation. I hand the girl a pair of envelopes, one with vital information in it and one with a good amount of money in it for her to start a new life with. She knows I've given her some money, but not how much in there, of course. However, I've got a lot of money and no grandkids to share it with, so she's just going to have to take the money and run. "Here's the address for the place in Vancouver, and the phone number of a friend of mine who can help you get set up."

"Thank you," she says, wrapping her free arm around my neck, hugging me gently so as not to wake the little one.

"You're welcome, dearie. You take care now."

I give her a reassuring pat on the back, then turn her towards the taxi waiting in the driveway as she slips the envelopes into her purse. Padma flashes the boy -- Ronin, I guess his name must be, from the young woman's outburst -- a knowing smile that lights her up from the inside out, heads out to the cab, and rides off into a hopefully better future.

Well, now that that's over with ...

I finally get a good look at the young man, through the harsh whirling snow spinning around us on the porch. Asian definitely, though his features were softened by a bit of what I was guessing was Caucasian around the eyes. Japanese, maybe, if I had to put a finger on it. Can't help it if I notice faces before anything else, really, considering what God's given me to do with this life. He's kind of scrawny, this one, in desperate need of steady meals and just-as-steady loving attention. His clothes hang from his thin frame in cheap, worn layers, because God knows it's easier for the runaways to wear six shirts and take off one at a time as the need arises than it is to wear a heavier coat.

It's not like I don't know full well why he's here, but this sort of thing calls for stronger souls than you'd think. So I can't resist playing the curmudgeonly old coot, frowning at him as I cross my arms and say, "Now, I hope you're not soliciting, young man. I'm an old woman on a fixed income, so I can't be buying a dozen chocolate bars or light bulbs made by blind people or whatever it is --"

"Martha sent me. From St. Christopher's Shelter? She ... she told me I should come here."

Now, I might not look like the most worldly old lady on the planet, but I'm not stupid. I know damn well Martha didn't send him, because regardless of her attitudes towards mutie freaks such as ourselves, she only sends me one or two cases a week because she wants just as low a profile about this as I do. Lord only knows what some people out there would do with a mutant the likes of me. Criminals, terrorists, governments needing spy work done ... they'd tire a lady out before her time, they would.

Which is why I spot his excuse for the crock that it is.

I chuckle softly, catching him off-guard, and say, "Sweetie, you've got to learn how to lie better." Turning to head back into the house, I glance over my shoulder at the confused boy and wait expectantly. "Well, come on in. Don't stand out there freezing to death on my porch."

He waits for a moment, as if he expects me to just shove him back out the front door if he deigns to follow me inside, but he does in the end, shutting the door quietly behind him before following me into the den. The room's cozy enough by now, I suppose, the heat from the fire not quite as stifling as it sometimes gets and the soft, subtle flicker of it illuminating the room and its lived-in antiques in a lovely golden glow. Ronin takes in the room curiously, letting the bookbag slip from his shoulder to the coffee table as he finally focuses on the fire. I pick up the cookie tin and hold it gingerly in my arms as he absently digs in the pocket of his denim jacket, dark brown eyes locked on the fire.

"Now, do you know what --"

"Yes," he says, cutting me off as he finally drags his gaze from the fire and pushes an old photo into my hands. "I want to look like this."

I give him a look, gently warning him to watch his tone, and he squirms.


Still looking.


The photo, bent and twisted from far too many hastily stuffed trips into the bookbag or his pocket or whatever, shows a young white boy, long spiky brown hair and clear blue eyes and a playful, teasing smile. I could swear I've seen him before somewhere, a newspaper or a magazine, perhaps. "Who's this?"

"A guy I used to know when I was still living ..." His voice drifts off, and he sinks down onto the couch from his shoulder while his other hand remains protectively in his jacket pocket. A strange clicking sound echoes in the room in between the normal snap and crackle of the fire, something vaguely familiar to my ears. "He was my best friend in junior high. It's okay, though, the whole --" He waves his hand in front of his face, which I'm guessing is supposed to be the new international symbol for what I do in these parts. "He's dead, so it's not like he's using his face or anything."

"Oh, that's a terrible shame. One so young --"

"He took a handgun to school and shot himself on stage during a spelling bee. You don't want to know what word he got wrong."

"Oh. Oh, dear." Now, I've got to admit, that was a story I haven't heard before. I take another look at the photo before handing it back to him and asking him the first of my usual questions. "Who are you running from?"

"My stepfather," he says, and I'm not the least bit surprised, considering I get that answer more often than not. He shifts awkwardly on the couch, and the collar of his over-sized T-shirt tugs down enough to reveal what looks like a cigar burn where the curve of his neck meets his shoulder. It's not a new sight, trust me on that. "The last time I was within arm's-length of the guy, he broke my jaw and hit me so hard in the stomach he lacerated my liver. I ended up setting fire to his arm the next time I saw him. It didn't exactly make him happy about me or anything. He's been paying some smart-ass detective to find his 'poor, confused mutant stepson.'" He laughs harshly at that, eyeing the fire on the hearth with something between respect and gratitude. "I'm still trying to figure out what I was supposed to be confused about, the broken jaw or the lacerated liver."

"What about your mother?"

"She died last year. Car accident."

My, but he was just a magnet for tragedy, wasn't he? "I'm sorry," I say.

"I'm not. She was trying to run me over at the time." He glances sideways at me as I sit down next to him, his lips twisting into an uneasy smile, and a part of me warns that perhaps he isn't quite as uneasy about the whole situation as he lets on. "The car just ... it just kind of exploded."

"I see," I say, just as serious as could be, then lift the tin for his inspection. "Cookie?"

And the boy stares at me, openly gawks as if I'm a three-headed ostrich he's never seen the likes of. I know how it must look to him, this doddering old white-haired granny with her tin of sympathy cookies. Well, all right, I suppose that any way you look at it, that is the way of it, I'll admit. But with the types who end up at St. Christopher's, guilt isn't something I have any right to judge.

He narrows his eyes in suspicion and looks at the tin as if I just offered him cow pies laced with arsenic. "Isn't this the part where you ask me if I was the one who made the car explode?"

"No, dear, this is the part where I *know* you made the car explode and I ask you if you want a cookie." At random, I pick a caramel-colored cookie dipped in icing and crushed walnuts at both ends from the tin's contents and hold it out for his inspection. "Maple nut log? I'll bet you're the sort of boy who'd like these. And if not, I've always got some ginger snaps --"

"Is this some sort of a joke?"

"Why, of course not. I do know a quite naughty one about a little boy with a dead frog on a string, but you're probably not in the mood to hear it."

Reluctantly, he takes the cookie and bites off an end, then decides he likes it and pops the rest into his mouth in one bite. See, there's no such thing as a well-baked cookie that gets on anyone's bad side. I've always believed that. There's a reason why there's a Cookie Monster on Sesame Street, but you've yet to see them bring in the Ice Cream Monster or the Really Well-Made Plate of Spaghetti Monster.

"And your father?" He stares up at me in confusion for a moment, still chewing his cookie, before I scoot closer to him on the couch and add, "Your real father, dear."

Understanding dawns in his dark brown eyes, and his mouth twists into a cynical smile as he leans back in the couch and closes his eyes for a moment. "Never knew about me. It's great to know you were an accident, you know?" He shakes his head at that, and I hear another click somewhere from the vicinity of his jacket pocket. I've got no idea what he's got in there, but I've gotten past being bothered at anybody's nervous quirks a long time ago.

"You never met him, then?"

"My mom told me about it one time, how it was this one-night stand deal --" He laughs at that, pained and shuddering as it cracks the silence in the room. "Hell, not even one-night stand. More like ten minutes in the ladies room of this roadside bar. Mom wasn't the kind of mother who softened the blow," he says, obviously noticing the mild bit of shock I'm sure is evident on my face.

"Do you know anything about him? Maybe ... do you have anything of his?"

"A few things. This really bad out-of-focus picture, a pocket knife, a lighter, some truck keys. Basically, whatever she could pick out of the guy's pockets, aside from the photo. I think she either took that herself or found it in the bar later on." He rummages into the side pocket of his bag for a few seconds before removing a small plastic wallet photo sleeve. He passes it to me, saying, "She gave those to me last year before she died, all sealed up like that," and I flip it over to take in the pictures on both sides.

Sealed in the sleeve from all four sides are two pictures, both looking as if they were taken before the boy sitting next to me was even a passing thought to anyone. One's a blurry mess, the only sure thing in the picture being the dark-haired young man sitting at what looks like a bar, the details of his face obscured by bad lighting and even worse focus. The other is a striking Asian girl, not much more than sixteen if she's a day, wearing an out-of-fashion prom dress (for these days, in any event), and grinning for the camera as she playfully vamps for the photographer.

The boy, Ronin, stares at me curiously, watching as I take in the pictures of whom I assume are his mother and father with a total lack of judgment. God knows he's probably used to someone making an uncalled-for comment right about now, and frankly, it's not my place. "Why are you asking me so much about my father?"

"It's just ... sweetie, you have to understand that when I'm done here, when I've changed you --" I tilt my head to get a better look at him, resisting the urge to brush away the heavy lock of straight black hair dangling before his eyes. "It changes all of you. Not your powers or your personality, but *you* physically, visually. If you ever decide to go looking for the man, if you find him and want to take one of those paternity tests ... well, to be honest, I'm not all that sure it would work."

"Trust me, running into the sperm donor isn't a problem." It suddenly hits him what he said in front of the sweet little old lady, and he flashes me an apologetic look, flushing from the collar of his shirt upwards. "Sorry. It's just, the guy was a soldier, and one of those big-time undercover Delta Ranger types. He disappeared not long after ... well, he's probably not even alive anymore, anyway. And besides, I want to -- I *need* to start over."

I nod decisively after a long moment, then shuffle still closer to him on the couch. "Ronin, is it?"

He nods, squirming just a little as I lift my hands to his face and hold his head steady.

"I'm going to need you look straight into my eyes and relax, all right, dearie? This won't hurt a bit."


It's got to be a good hour or so later, with my work done and over with and his slate about as clean as it's going to get, that I walk into the living room carrying a tray of Anise Twists and find the amazed boy studying himself in the mirror over the mantle, beyond curious. Fascinated would be more like it, and I can't resist a proud smile at how well the whole transformation turned out. Once thick, glossy black hair now grows wild, long and light brown. The only way he's ever going to be able to tame that unruly mess is to slick it back, no doubt. And his eyes, so dark and shadowy only a few score minutes ago, now shine clear and crystalline from a much paler face.

I'd never been able to figure out why God decided this was to be my mutant power, why I'd be able to change someone's total appearance -- skin, eyes, hair, bone structure -- the same way other people change their underthings. Not until I got off the wrong bus at the wrong stop and ended up directly in front of the St. Christopher's Shelter for Abused Women and Children.

I practically sneak up behind the boy, so engrossed as he is in his own reflection, and I hold the tray out to him almost as a peace offering. "You've been staring into the mirror for a half hour, you know."

He flinches and turns to face me, then smiles and plucks an Anise Twist off the tray. He pops it into his mouth and chews thoughtfully as I take the cookies off the tray and place some of them in the tin on the coffee table.

"Can you blame me?" he asks, settling back down on the couch with another compulsatory glance at the fire. "I mean, yesterday I was this scrawny Japanese kid, and now I'm ... well, I'm not. This is just way too weird, even for me."

"Ha!" I blurt out, startling him once again. "Everybody always looks at themselves forever and a day in that mirror after I'm done with them. And inevitably, all I've got to do is mention how long they've been doing it and they make a run for it." He blushes at that, and that clicking noise sounds off again from his pocket as he tries to look anywhere but at me. I smile at the reaction, then reach for one of the books scattered across the side table -- a few baby name books, a phone directory, a reference book on creating distinctive characters for writers and the like.

"So, you'll be wanting a new name, you know," I say, dropping the book on the couch between us. He doesn't so much as glance at it, too entranced by the fire, as if the flickering, whipping flames are the only things in the room that can calm him. "Ronin's much too distinctive, and I'm sure that's not what you're looking for at all."

He says nothing, just smiles and stares at the fire. All right, then, time for a different approach, I think, and grab the tin off the table. "Another maple nut log?"

He glances sideways at me before taking a cookie from the tin, his new face making the smile gracing it just that much naughty and mischievous.

"John," he says softly. "My friend's name was John."

I glance over at him, but he doesn't notice me, too busy watching the flames on the hearth dance and spin to unheard music long after the recital should have been over. John's such a plain, common name, to be sure, but I've dealt with enough victims on the run to know some of them are just more comfortable the more difficult it is to distinguish them from everyone else. "John it is, then," I say, absently flipping through the phone book as I lean against the dry sink in the corner of the room. "And a last name? You could always go average -- Miller, Smith, Jones. Or you could start from the beginning, see what you like. Let's see, Abagnale, Adderly, Aikens, Allerdyce --"

"I'll think of something," he blurts out, his hand slipping from his jacket pocket as he suddenly grabs for his bookbag with his free hand. A lighter, gray and metallic and glistening with reflected flame, winks at me from the palm of his other hand. So that was what he'd been playing with.

The lighter clicks in his hand as he flicks it open and shut, and his now blue-eyed gaze connects with mine as he gets to his feet. "Thanks, ma'am," he says, his free hand rubbing unconsciously at his chin. "You saved my life with this, you know that?"

It's not like I don't hear that same thing every other day, from a fourteen-year-old girl with a faceful of bruises her father gave her or a middle-aged woman with three normal kids and a fourth with wings and a tail, a teenage mother running away from an abusive boyfriend or a scrawny teenage boy who attracts trouble and tragedy the same way a magnet attracts iron shavings.

But still, I can't help but whisper a genuine, "Thank you," and nod a silent goodbye to the boy.

It's the strangest thing, though. As soon as he leaves and shuts the front door behind him, the flames cut out, an abrupt absense of light that leaves me reeling for a moment. Blindly, I reach out and flick on the nearest lamp, the entire room flooding with a warm yellow glow that's still no match for what the fire'd been giving off only moments earlier.

Then I notice the cool presence of something lying on the dry sink, and I suddenly realize what my fingertips rest on. I pick up the photo sleeve before I walk over to the door and open it to call out to him.

"John, you've forgotten your --"

But he's gone, lost in the shadows of a suddenly warmer night, too easily vanished with only a single spotlight over the front door with which to pick him out.

I sigh and shut the door behind me as I head back inside, studying the picture of the boy's mother out of sheer curiosity. She laughs for the camera, and I can't help but wonder what made her end up behind the wheel of a car aimed at the child she'd given birth to and raised for so many years. Even after all these years, I still wonder about the reasons behind things like that. Guess I'm not a total lost cause, after all.

My thumb brushes across the youthful face in the photo, once, twice, then suddenly I rub too hard and the plastic seal splits open at the bottom, probably a victim of old age. The blurred photo of the boy's father slips out and flutters to the ground, and I pick it up with a muttered, totally un-grandmotherly curse.

And I take in the out-of-focus good looks of a man long lost to his son -- a boy looks nothing like him now, of course, not that he'd looked much like him before I'd changed him. But the same rebellious spirit lying behind the blue eyes I've given the boy are evident in the dark brown gaze of that mysterious stranger, in the tilt of his head and the rolling slump of his muscular shoulders. Curious, I flip over the photograph, frowning at the word written there.

In big block letters written in marker and worn from years of fearful, needy caressing is the name --