i never meant to take him away from you.
It had always been his town.
He'd grown older, it seemed; he'd become so... so goddamn mature. They all had, since it wasn't really a matter of choice, and since the fact that he seemed to have been on the wrong team for luck. It wasn't like that, really, and he knew it, but sometimes, even -- even now, he'd kick back, lean his feet up on the television set, drink two packs of beer, and rant himself sick.
But there were some things he couldn't make himself live without, as many damn times as he'd tried.
She'd stepped out on the doorstep June of that year, the Chinese zodiac signs down the sides of her backpack bright with white out, with the doorbell still ringing in his ears as he just watched her, from the line dividing step and house. It hadn't been the beautiful day that he'd wanted to picture her coming in -- things weren't like books, there, they'd never been -- and she'd smiled daintily up at him from her space on the cracked concrete stair, and he'd just stared and stared. And swallowed, and swallowed again, and opened the door with his fingers wrapped around the edge of the splintered wood, and just stared at his hand, really looked at it. But she got impatient, and she pushed passed him and the splintered wood of the door, and glanced at him, looked around, and said simply, "You guys really let it go, didn't you?"
The house really had been a mess, when she'd come. Damn, he could just remember the good old days, good old days before all of the shit they had to deal with -- oh, yeah, the good old days. Paint had already covered the walls again, graffiti of drunken nights and slurry afternoons covering the halls in bright... whatever it was. It looked -- it looked like shit, it looked like it had before. Before what had been the question that he'd been meaning to ask, and he suddenly remembered it, and he really was going to ask, but he couldn't open his mouth, because his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth and that made it uncomfortable to do anything. So he just stood there and stared at her as she stood in front of him, in the middle of the coffee-stained cream rug, hands twisted into fists punching into her hips as she looked him over from head to toe and peeked her eyebrows.
"Didn't you?" She repeated, and cast him a furtive glance as she dropped the bag that had been digging into her shoulder. "You could have... you could have kept it..." She waved her hands at the yellow stuffing falling out of the large green chair and the glass coffee table, broken in half, as she drew a her hands to her lips with a small, stunned grimace. "I dunno," she said finally, staring back at him with her hands at her sides. "You could have kept it... clean."
He'd tried so hard to use the vocal chords that God had given him, but they just wouldn't work, and now they did again, with just no reason, his hands moving listlessly in front of his face as he moved to brush his temple.
"...Kitty." He broke out hoarsely.
"Yes?" She whispered, her back to him, her hands arrogantly moving a stray hair to behind her ear, and then her voice quickened, and she laughed loudly, and turned toward, moving her palms across her hips and down the thighs of the patched jeans she wore. The laugh echoed; the house was empty, except for him, since everyone else had gone out, somewhere, while he'd slept, knowing that he would sleep until woken. They were weird, that way. His friends. They never -- never, never, in all the time he'd known them -- did something that wasn't asking too much of them. They acted like it was a privilege to let him sleep there, on the torn purple-pokadotted couch. But they were themselves, and he was himself, and he figured that he and the rest of them would never understand anything in life in general.
"...You..." He coughed, suddenly feeling faint, as he limply shaded his eyes. "...You... bitch."
"Yeah," she added quietly, after a minute, looking at him with those damn beautiful eyes that he remembered from sometime past yesterday ("Remember how we used to do this?"). "Yeah?"
"What..." he tried, spitting out the words, and he felt as if they couldn't leave his mouth, and he heard the whining engine of some small car parking outside his window. His mouth was dry, damn it. He couldn't, wouldn't, shouldn't, do what he was thinking of doing, he knew he couldn't. Wouldn't. "What are you doing here...?"
"Standing on your livingroom carpet," she said.
"I'm coming to stay with you." Her voice was calm and collected and cool. "I'm staying here." She turned back to him again, her hair coming undone from the thick braid she'd wrapped around her shoulder. "I need... I need a place to stay... that's not there. You know?" She whispered, so quiet that he could barely hear her. "The last... the last thing I need right now is... is that," she raised her hands up helplessly. "I can't... I can't deal with it, right now."
He could smell the lavender scent that made his stomach churn; the same shampoo she'd used for all the time he'd known her, probably for life, the rose-water on her wrists wafting to his nose.
"Why me?" He whispered, finally, feeling the helplessness creeping up the back of his spine. "Goddamn it, Kitty, some -- some things, things I can't do -- go... go back to your parents, or something --"
"I'm not asking my parents," she'd said quietly."I'm asking you."
It was her eyes that made him do it. It was what they said to him, full and big and brown pupils that saw straight through him, that had always seen through him, no matter what he did.
Take responsibility for what you've created.
But it was only a matter of time until they realized she was gone. He told her they would come, and she'd nodded, knowing the same, but just kept scrubbing the walls and floors until her fingers were raw. Eventually he'd just gotten down there with her; the others helped too, eventually, seeing the look in his eyes, the look that meant something that they didn't want to perturb. It was like the old days, that, too. Todd would stick himself to the ceiling and scrub at the dirt and footprints, and Wanda would lift the dirt off the floor layer by layer, and Pietro would whiz around with sponges tied to his feet. And he himself would shake the dustbunnies from under beds as Fred lifted them, the couch shaking from all of the pressure. She'd phaze through walls, looking for them, calling them gleefully for a scolding as she lifted dirty pieces of underwear and toilet paper and assorted pieces of shit.
Hours went by. She moved through them, like she moved through walls. It was like then ("Remember when we did that thing that we weren't supposed to do but we did anyway?"). She talked about Them. She talked about happiness. She talked about college and about the things that she did there, the things that she thought about, the things that she knew she couldn't think about but thought about anyway. Like the house who's floors she was scrubbing. Like the people she was scrubbing the floors with.
He hadn't realized how much he'd missed her, as in really honest-to-fucking-God missed her. She just smiled at him from the crooks of the house and didn't talk about that when they talked about everything else. It was better, that way.
She'd found an old dress at half past seven, in the attic, her and Wanda, and had dressed herself in it with a flourish; she'd glowed when they'd come down, and they all stared, and she grinned at them. The red fabric was a margarita dress, ruffled and shining silk. The house was old, really old, so they had no idea where the dress came from or how it came to be in their attic, but they didn't really care; she just glimmered the rest of the day, the happiness shivering off of her in waves. She wore the silk poppy he'd found in his bedroom that he gave to her, the plastic stem wrapped around her ear as she whirled around the house, the edge of her skirt just barely dusting the floor.
They finished late at night, the moon throwing shadows on the shining windows and soft curtains as they leaned back in the soft chairs and stared around them. She'd fell asleep hours before; he'd found her spread out on the Asian rug on the second floor, her cheek against the fibers, her fingers raw from scrubbing, Readers Digest still wrapped around her head. He'd lifted her gently from the floor and brought her to one of the many spare rooms they had around -- it was a boarding house, after all -- and laid her on the freshly made bed and tucked her in like a child. In that light she looked so young that it was hard to imagine that she was anything but a child -- an angel, maybe.
The dress lay by the windowsill; the folds were ruffled over the long wooden chair, its sleeves puffed and the form of the dress itself spewn was over the piece of furniture, and he blinked. Some things never changed.
She shifted in her sleep as he sat down lightly on the bed. Her lips moved vaguely over a name, stumbling on the syllables as her eyelids fluttered. His hand moved out before he could stop it and brushed a stray light chestnut hair behind her ear, cupping the edge of the soft skin from her ear down to her jaw. The vision of her face wavered as his vision blurred and he blinked and it was gone; he licked his lips and tasted the drops of saline running in streams down his face.
It took him a long time to make himself walk out of that room.
"Does she know?" He moved so fast his movements looked like liquid, pale hands flying over old and cracked dishes with a precise, practiced skill. Lance chose to marvel at his fingertips, or what he could see of them in between blurs. Long and shapely. Too long for a boy, too short for a girl. Such was normal, there. Too irregular for anything else, the damn mutie punks stayed behind in everything.
"..." He grabbed a glass from the blur of silver and blue and drank the last bit of brown cola from the bottom, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.
"Lance." A soft clink of silverware knocking against china. "...Answer, Lance."
Silence. The thin wiry boy -- no, he wasn't a boy. They weren't children anymore. They were something else -- not quite children, not quite adults, not quite whatever was in between. They were something altogether different, then. But the thin wiry something at the sink gave a small, irritated noise that reminded Lance of a cat, an irritated pale and thin and tall cat with really good fashion sense and an incredibly aggravating habit of asking the wrong questions at the wrong times when he knew not to ask them in the first place.
"...Yeah." He was too tired to argue. To tired to breathe. He kicked up a cracked wooden chair at the plastic rickety table carved over with initials and messages, and dug his face into his arms, breathing in the scent of laundry soap and dust.
"...Good." An extremely short, thoughtful pause. "How?"
But then he was gone, the kitchen door creaking a bit as soft footsteps of hard shoes chorused up the shining staircase. The cat-boy threw down his dishtowel with the speed of a bullet and let his hands slip down to his hips, biting his bottom lip with firm aggravation. "...Awwwww, damn."
They arrived at the front door two minutes past one.
He knew because he'd been watching the clock; it had been blinking before he'd fixed it, the same 12:00 time switching the lime-green numbers on and off. It had gotten to be irritating, watching it blink back and off, above the small TV that was playing snow and nothing else; so he'd fixed it and sat back on his heels before moving back onto the couch, goosebumps rising along his arms and chest.
And then the door had been burst through, and there were no words.
It was the sound of his quiet breathing as he stood quietly from the couch and went to the door where he knew that they stood. It was the sound of him standing there, his hand on the door, his head silently screaming Beethoven's ninth, and he waited, quietly, as the burly, war-crested man in front of him snarled and pushed him against the while. He didn't fight back. He didn't have enough (energy hope preservation) to continue. To fight. He was numb.
Logan kicked him against the wall, and the metal claws were suddenly pressing against his neck in a sudden movement that he recognized vaguely from somewhere. Maybe from the last battle. Maybe from the time he had watched himself from somewhere else as the body that'd been his walked slowly up the terrace of Xavier's Institute for Gifted Children, and had tried to sacrifice himself for something that he had known would have never worked. Regardless; he stood; and he was numb. And those claws were at his neck and he watched Logan take heaving, pained breaths, like an animal dying in the wild.
"All right, Bub," said the animal. "Where is she."
It wasn't a question. There wasn't an answer.
He merely made a noncommittal noise and bit his lip. A habit. Caught from her. Or was it Him? He couldn't remember anymore. It wasn't important, anyway. He was thrown, like a rag doll, to the area behind the couch that they had hid behind, from Wanda, that day. Memories, memories, he thought, as he stared at the ceiling. So many memories. Remember that time that Pietro broke down and cried on his sister's shoulder? Remember that time that Wanda shut all the doors in the house, grabbed them all from their comfortable dens after the last battle, and insisted they play Parcheesi until their palms were sore, because they were going to turn into damn hibernating bears? Remember that time Freddy made the likeness of Todd out of clay, the frog, that statue you laughed at and said looked like Kermit?
Remember when you turned into a traitor?
Jean Grey leaned into his vision, and offered him a hand.
She'd gotten older, he noticed, as he began to brush off his clothes with solemn authority. There were wrinkles around her eyes where there had been beautiful perfectly colored tight skin. Her fingers were callused and they cracked as she clenched them into a fist at Logan's feral snarl from somewhere above them, above and up the staircase. Her hair was pulled into a bunched bun. She wasn't in her costume. She was slim and perfect in his memory but she was standing here in front of him, not a memory, slim and fit and length as ever, but not perfect. She was a woman, now. Was he a man?
"Sorry, Lance," Jean Grey said. "We just thought she'd been…"
It was the addition of the trailing off of her voice that made him narrow his eyes and feel the clenching of a fist over his heart. Why her? He asked, angrily, in his head. Why not Him? Why am I wishing to see Him again? Why is this happening, now, why didn't it happen when I needed it, when I wanted it to happen, when I needed it to happen? "It's fine," he said, his voice dead. "We've had our house wrecked by X-men before."
She went white in the pale light coming in from the mercury streetlamps by the window, and he repressed a triumphant grin. Yes.
There was silence above. He wasn't worried. He knew her; he knew him. He knew that this was a girl who, if anything, was not going out without a bang. A translucent bang, but a bang all the same. She was Katherine Pryde. She was a wildcat. She was the girl, she was the woman, she was the second person he'd fallen in love with in his sixteenth year. She was strong, she was beautiful, she was brave. And she sure as hell was not going to let Wolverine pick her up over his shoulder and walk out the door.
She came downstairs by her own will. Todd watched after her; he barely, at first, saw the thin figure sitting on the edge of the fifteenth step. Kitty half-turned, nodded. Todd nodded in reply. That backpack, it's zodiac signs tinting the black shoulder-harness yellow in the light of the street lamps, hung over her shoulder.
Kitty Pryde reached up, grabbed Lance Alver's chin, and kissed him in a way that made Todd Tolensky grin, Jean Grey gasp, and Logan snarl. Kitty kissed Lance in a way that he'd forgotten. In a way that had made him cry, just once, on an October night in the middle of his sixteenth year. In a way that made her smile, as soon as she broke off from him, inches away from his face, and made her say words that he knew would haunt him for as long as he lived. "He's waiting for you."
And then she turned and walked with all of her dignity out the Brotherhood Boarding House's front door, and didn't look back.
But then the door shut behind them, and he was left standing there with his hands to his lips, shocked still, his heart barely beating at all. That was, until Todd Tolensky climbed to his feet on the fifteenth stair, and gave out a quiet, but sincere, clap and whistle for encore.
Todd asked him about it on their way back from the cigarette store.
"She wouldn't say if she didn't mean it, man," Todd Tolensky said, grabbing the silver-coated lighter out of Lance's hand. "I mean, why would she have said if it she didn't mean it? She's, you know, the KitKat bar. She dawdles, she whines, she's a total bitch half the time, but she never, ever, ever in-a-million-years, lies." The flame burst, the cigarette burned. Todd blew smoke rings.
"I don't know." He fumbled for his other lighter, and managed to drop it somehow into the gutter. Fishing into the puddle, he wiped it on his black leather Hells Angels jacket, and grinned at Todd, the black circles under his eyes wrinkling. Todd rolled his eyes. "I don't know, Todd. Maybe routine has finally broken. Maybe I've gone crazy."
"Maybe you've fallen back in love."
"I wish," Freddy said disapprovingly, "that you weren't such an asshole."
They sat on the couch together, Freddy's weight taking up half of the springs, and as Lance shrugged simply, Fred made a noise of dissatisfaction. "Lance," he said firmly. "She's waitin' for ya, buddy, ya gotta go back."
"You guys don't deal well without me." He stared at the webbing between his fingers. If you spread your fingers far apart, there was a kinship between webbing, like the webbing between duck toes. He'd always liked ducks. They'd eaten all of the crumbs he'd given them at Lincoln Park Zoo and honked up at him cheerily. That was how he'd gotten away from his mother. The ducks. He'd always liked ducks.
"We're fine, Lance."
"No you're not."
"We'll be fine."
"No you won't."
"Fuck it, Lance, ya gotta go back. If she's not waitin' for ya, than… than He is."
He started. Actually jumped. Off the couch. Landed awkwardly. Lay there, on the ground near the stained coffee table, and stared at the ceiling, seven hours after that thing that had happened. "Freddy," he said, in a broken sort of voice, "don't."
"Damn it, Lance, someone's gotta."
"DON'T," he half-snarled, half-screamed, and he was on his feet, and he was up the stairs and in his room and the floor was shaking, shaking, shaking. He flung himself on his bed like you see in teenage romances and held onto the pillow that she'd made him in home ec. And then he touched the place -- the exact place -- that He'd slept in, like when they'd curled up inside each other and slept.
When Wanda came in two hours later, he was thrown feverishly in a heap on the edge of the bed, a worn and torn copy of The Joy Luck Club in his hands, which were shaking.
"Here," she said, sat down beside him, grabbed his jaw, and, before he could know what she was doing, had spooned several spoonfuls of Chicken broth into his mouth. It ran around his tongue and his tastebuds exploded and he swallowed, angry at his stomach for betraying him. He gulped down the rest of the soup; she sat there quietly, watching him eat, her large blue eyes that reminded him helplessly of Pietro gazing at him like an equal. He liked it. It felt different. "Eat."
"Thank you," he breathed, when he had finished the bowl.
"You're welcome," she said.
They sat like that for a long time. Nothing else was needed. It was just two people sitting on the edge of a bed, in the middle of a forgotten boardinghouse, in the middle of a forgotten street, in the middle of a not-so-forgotten town. It was just two people, sitting there, on that bed, feeling and tasting the quiet, and gaining what they could from the other's company. And when Wanda stood, and smiled down at him -- it was the first time he thought he had ever seen her smile, ever, ever ever ever, and he thought it was quite nice, actually -- she said three words that were the reason for everything.
"He needs you."
And then she was gone, and he began to pack.
She would ask him later when and why he'd decided. Of course she'd sit him down in the plush luxury sofas of the parlor, even though he was never truly comfortable in any room that had items within it that cost more than his guitar.
She'd smile at him quietly and say that she had hated him for it, for a while. She'd pace her hands nervously up and down her thighs. She'd bite her lip. She'd wince, at all the appropriate parts. "Lance," she'd say, and shake her head. "Lance, I was in love with you. I think it's pretty damn hard to forgive the person you're in love with when they go and choose the other person. Even if you were hoping he'd choose that person in the first place. I didn't know what I was doing.
"And then, of course, that day." She shrugged. "I was screwed over. You could tell. Wanda and Todd could tell. Pietro took one whiff of my breath and gave me the worst look of pity I've ever seen. Fred just clapped my shoulder. And then you came in my room, and kissed my forehead, and I was happy for two hours until Logan came and screwed up everything I'd dreamed of. And then I knew I had to tell you."
He'd always dread this part.
"Lance," she'd say, and look at him with those eyes the color of sunsets. "I never meant to take him away from you."
"Kitty," he'd say, "you didn't."
It was the sound of leftover messages on his answer machine that had stopped coming after he'd turned eighteen. It was his heart jumping into his throat every time he saw a guy wearing sunglasses inside the grocery store. It was his endless sobbing late at night. It was the best friends he'd ever had looking at him with the worst look of pity he'd ever seen. It was him playing His favorite song over and over on the guitar, his fingers numb with atrophy and apathetic tears.
"Now, do you understand?"
"Good." She kissed him, like a sister, and wept into his shoulder.
And when he wakes up in the morning and fumbles his good mornings into Scott's lips and shoulder and chest, he knows that his god damn good luck has finally caught up with him.