A.N.: Okay, so don't bother flaming me for starting yet another story. I'd actually written this over three years ago, but then I moved across the country and completely forgot about it. It's far from my best work, but I'm afraid I'll lose it again if I don't post it.
Seriously, no flames. It's gonna be a shorter fic anyway--maybe five chapters at the most. And before you ask, I think this was set about six years after Marie left home.
Read and review, please (mostly the review part)!
CHAPTER ONE: Homecoming
"Please don't make me do this."
Logan glanced at the slender girl sitting beside him, his sharp green eyes scanning her beautiful face for any sign of the turmoil she must be feeling. He saw fear in the tightening of her lips, uncertainty in the stiffness of her body, and while her voice had been perfectly calm and controlled, he'd also heard the doubt hidden so carefully beneath the Southern drawl. Marie might have been an adept at hiding her emotions from the rest of the world, but the part of him that was now part of her had never let her shut him out, and that certainly wasn't going to change any time soon. He had a pretty good idea of what she was going through right now, and he wasn't happy about it. Still, while he might be cursing a certain nosy psychic for suggesting Marie do this at all, he also knew how much she needed it. This hurt had festered far too long already.
He still wasn't going to force her. He was her lover, not her father; Marie made her own choices. He grunted, knowing she knew that, too, saying it anyway. "When have I ever made you do anything?"
The words sounded harsher than he'd intended, but she knew him too well to miss the concern in his voice, and she didn't take offense. She only continued staring out the truck's rather dirty window, shrugging slightly.
He sighed. "Do you want to turn back, Marie?"
"Yes. No. Oh, gods, yes." She bit her lip, and this time she turned to meet his worried eyes. "Do you think they'll hate me for coming back?"
They'd been over this already, but he only shook his head. He wasn't denying the possibility—the girl was a mutant, and they'd already rejected her once before—but he didn't really think they would still hate her, either. Maybe he was a bit biased, but how could anyone who really knew Marie hate her? She wasn't perfect—she had too much of him in her for that—but she was as close as any woman could get. "I think they'll be glad to know you're alive and safe," he told her. He paused, waited for her to look him in the eye, quickly realized she wouldn't. "They're your parents, Marie. However things stood when you left, they're still your parents."
He suddenly grinned, and while the concern never left his eyes, the mischievous glint lightened the intensity of his gaze somewhat. "It's me they'll hate," he gently teased. "How happy do you think they'll be when they realize their future son-in-law has claws?"
Marie wasn't amused, but the comment had startled her out of her self-pity, and Logan didn't mind the withering glare she sent his way. He was simply proud of the speed with which she gathered her courage and pushed her doubts away, was even proud of the way she visibly choked down the curse she'd probably picked up from him. Then, with only a grimace, she opened the passenger door and slid from the truck. "Come on," she muttered. "Let's get this over with."
Priscilla D'Ancanto was not having a good day. It had started well enough—she'd run a few errands, given a quick piano lesson to her neighbor's small son, tossed a roast in the oven for dinner…little things, but she'd always found comfort in the little things. The little things usually couldn't surprise her, after all, and she hated surprises.
Then again, it's the little things that hurt the most. She'd realized that, after Marie had left. Little things had changed with a daughter gone; there was less laundry to be done, less cooking and cleaning. Less laughter, less love in heart and home. Just…less, and at first it had been as painful as a knife to the gut. Time had mostly numbed her to the pain, but every once in a while, some little thing would cause the knife to twist and the hurt to come back, stronger than ever.
A credit card is such a little thing, and the fake one that had come in today's mail was even more meaningless than usual. It was only the kind credit companies send to naïve, college-age kids, the kind with ridiculous interest rates and hidden traps. It was the kind that ought to go straight into the trash, and it should have meant nothing.
It still hurt.
It was a thoughtless little thing, but seeing her daughter's name etched into the cheap plastic had torn something deep inside. She'd only sighed and gone for the scissors, methodically and expressionlessly cutting the card into tiny pieces, but her peaceful, routine day was ruined. She knew it would be so much harder to pretend Marie didn't exist now.
And now the doorbell was ringing at a time of day when only salesmen came, and she had something else to deal with. She sighed again, moving with careful, almost prim steps towards the door. With some luck and a little of the biting, false courtesy only a true Southerner can wield, she hoped to rid herself of her unwelcome visitor in as little time as possible.
If she'd known what would be waiting for her on the other side, she would never have opened the door at all.
She saw the man first, and she needed only a second to realize that this was no salesman. He wasn't dressed for it—worn jeans and an almost dressy button-up shirt, no suit, no briefcase. Nothing in his hands, nothing to give him a legitimate reason for being there at all.
Not a salesman, not even by the loosest definition, and she found that she was…afraid, if only a little. It wasn't every day that a strange man in slightly scruffy clothes showed up at her door, after all, though she thought anyone would feel the same in her place. This man was…unnerving, and not only because he wasn't what she'd expected. Staring at him, she suddenly realized that even if he had been wearing that suit and carrying that briefcase, he would still seem out of place. It was more the way he held himself, somehow both completely relaxed and ready to spring at her, more the look in his alert green eyes. Salesmen aim to please, but posture and expression told her that this man couldn't have cared less for her good opinion. His eyes were too hard, too wary but also too dismissive and challenging, and she found that she simply wanted him gone, whatever his reasons for coming to her door.
She opened her mouth to dismiss the man, to…well, she wasn't certain what she'd planned to do, but then she suddenly glanced past the man, and her words no longer mattered.
A young woman was standing a little to the right and behind him, the man's bigger frame almost completely hiding the girl from Patricia's line of sight. She was holding onto the man's elbow, her posture tense, her eyes wide, almost frozen. The girl looked nervous, maybe even frightened, and while Priscilla had never been an expert on reading the emotions of others, she thought there might be a little anger mixed in with the fear.
There could be no mistaking the woman before her, no possibility of pretending this wasn't Marie. True, the girl had changed in the years since Priscilla had seen her last, but even with the alien sadness in them, those were still Marie's deep chocolate eyes. That was still her rich brown hair, tacky dye job notwithstanding, still her generous mouth set in a face that had once been pretty but was now simply beautiful. Marie had more than realized the childish promise of loveliness, though of course her mother couldn't feel the pride she might once have, had things been different. There was just too much between them for motherly pride, and anyway Priscilla hadn't let herself think of Marie as really being her daughter for a long time.
And so, rather than expressing relief that Marie was alive after all this time, Priscilla could only gape at this girl who was no longer hers. Why had she come back, especially now, when Priscilla was finally starting to believe the lies she'd been telling herself for so many years? What did this ghost of her daughter want?
Her eyes hardened. And why, she wondered almost angrily, had her prodigal daughter returned with this scruffy drifter? Was this the kind Marie had fallen in with, perhaps the type of person Marie had become herself? While Marie's clothing was in far better shape than her companion's, the bohemian flair left a lot to be desired. Why was she wearing gloves, of all things? Between the clothing and the drifter, Priscilla had to question Marie's tastes. Hadn't she raised the child with better standards?
Apparently not. More proof that this Marie wasn't really hers.
She wasn't surprised at how little she felt. She'd spent so many years waiting and worrying, blaming herself and blaming Marie, wondering if her only child was lying dead in some ditch, knowing it would be easier for them all if she was…Priscilla had gone numb long ago. Even with Marie back, alive and before her, she could still feel nothing more than that faint anger.
Marie had stepped forward by then, though she was still standing a little behind her drifter friend, her own eyes still wide and unhappy. She stared at her mother, pain gathering in her expression as she took in the emptiness of Priscilla's. Marie must have been waiting for something, some kind of welcome, but they both knew, now, that it wasn't coming.
The girl sighed, her sad eyes becoming slightly sadder. "Hello, Mother," she whispered, voice barely audible but more or less steady.
A car drove by, a child laughed somewhere down the street, but Priscilla said nothing. Her tongue was still glued to the roof of her mouth, but even if it hadn't been, what was there to say? "I'm glad you're home?" She wasn't. She couldn't be, not when Marie's return was bound to open so many half-healed wounds. She was glad the girl was alive—of course she was—but she'd worked too hard to make Marie into a stranger, and how could she feel anything for a stranger?
The silence had been uncomfortable from the first, but as it continued to stretch out, unbroken, it became painful, as well. Priscilla had nothing with which to break it, and Marie didn't seem to know how.
The drifter wasn't so afflicted. He grunted, the sound carrying enough irritation to draw Priscilla's eyes away from the girl and back to him. She discovered that he was glaring at her, and it wasn't exactly a comfortable feeling.
"Look," he bit out, never breaking eye contact as he reached for Marie. He latched onto the sleeve of her jacket with his free hand, pulled her up to stand beside him. "We've been driving for days to get here, so don't you think you could at least invite us in for a drink?"
The tone of his voice made it clear that this wasn't really a request, but even so, she wasn't about to let this drifter tell her how to treat people. So she gave a stiff little nod, turned and walked inside. She didn't look back to see if they'd followed her.
They had, though from the sound of their footsteps, she could tell that the scruffy man had practically dragged Marie in behind him. He pulled the girl with him, followed Priscilla into the hurricane room. She glanced once at him, noted how his large body dwarfed everything in the room, including the young woman beside him.
Where in the world had Marie picked this one up?
"Please sit down," Priscilla muttered, jerking her head towards the couch. Then, because she'd found it was easier to focus on trivialities than to deal with the turmoil her guests had caused, she took refuge in the basics of hospitality. "I'll get you those drinks," she told them.
She moved into the kitchen, filled two glasses from the pitcher of cherry Kool-Aid in the fridge, then returned to her unwanted guests. They were sitting close together on the sofa, the drifter's body almost too relaxed, Marie's ramrod straight. She was perched on the edge of her seat, her legs tucked to one side, her face as tense as her slender frame. Her hand was resting on the man's thigh, her fingers so tightly entwined with his that her knuckles were white. She'd been raking her brown eyes across the room, lingering only briefly on the pictures—none of which included her—and probably noting the other changes the years had brought.
The girl jumped as Priscilla held out both of the glasses, took them with almost nerveless fingers. "Thank you," she automatically muttered in response as she handed the second glass to her companion.
Priscilla ignored the thanks, simply stepped back and took another seat across from Marie and her scruffy boyfriend. She remained just as silent as before, her tongue as frozen as her emotions.
Marie was staring at her, perhaps waiting for what should have been the inevitable questions, for the demands she quickly realized wouldn't come. "You look good, Ma," she finally murmured, trying to smile and failing miserably. "I like what you've done with your hair."
This rather inane comment prompted another grunt from the man beside her, and Marie looked sheepish. "This is Logan," she suddenly blurted. She started to say more, stopped and gave a sad, rueful smile. "He's my…a friend. I wanted you to meet him."
Priscilla almost grunted herself, at that, because no matter how much of a stranger Marie had become, Priscilla could still read her better than that. "Only a friend?"
Marie shook her head, lips still twisted in that rueful smile. She glanced up at Logan, affection clear in her eyes. "We're getting married," she admitted softly. "We came to invite you to the wedding."
She should have been expecting it—why else would Marie so suddenly come back, after all this time and with this man in tow?—but of course she hadn't, and something cold settled in the pit of Priscilla's stomach.
It's not supposed to be like this.
The thought surprised her, because while she'd once dreamed of Marie's wedding, that dream should have died when Marie left. Still, even if it had been as dead as she'd always believed, this wasn't the way it was supposed to be. She shouldn't have had to listen as this stranger—who'd been her daughter once upon a time, but whom she hadn't seen in half a decade—announced her upcoming marriage to a scruffy drifter. It shouldn't have been like this.
Marie must have seen the shadow that suddenly passed over Priscilla's face, because she glanced uncertainly at her fiancé. Logan only rolled his eyes in return, but oddly enough, this seemed to encourage Marie. She visibly steeled herself, looked again at her mother. "We were hoping you'd come," the girl who was not her daughter murmured, "stay with us until the wedding." Marie winced, then forced herself to smile. "I…I wanted you to see where I live," she added almost hesitantly, "meet our friends, get to know Logan. Will you come?"
Everything in Priscilla rebelled against the thought. She would not come to her not-daughter's home, be forced to meet those who'd shared Marie's life when her own mother hadn't even known the girl was still alive. She wouldn't.
She opened her mouth, fully intending to refuse and end this…
"All right," she said, surprising all of them. "I'll come."
Venus Smurf's Thoughts of the Day:
I found some amusing military quote-thingies. Thought I'd share.
"Aim towards the Enemy." - Instruction printed on U.S. Rocket Launcher
"When the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is not our friend." - U.S. Army manual.
"Don't draw fire; it irritates the people around you." - Your Buddies
"If you see a bomb technician running, try to keep up with him." - U.S. Ammo Troop