Title: Animal Psychology
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Beast and Wolverine, with an appearance by Jubilee.
Setting: Subsequent to X2 and my own story "Beast"--as well as my story "Many Happy Returns", incidentally.
Summary: Hank tries to define his relationship with the other feral mutant at Xavier's School.
Disclaimer: Marvel and Fox create the characters that sell. I'm simply playing with them.
Notes: I'm not sure whether the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine is something to be celebrated, but I felt the occasion was worth marking anyway--and one of my readers did want me to write an encounter between Hank and Logan. The core idea of this fic has been in my head for a few months, but it was written pretty much off-the-cuff. There are slight references to scenarios I have in mind for another story or two, about Hank's time in New York; I haven't yet decided whether to actually write that storyline, so if any readers are interested, I'd love to know.
Due credit: the Lefkowitz Institute is the creation of the amazing Skybright Daye.
It was early on a midsummer morning, and the hallways of Xavier's School were quiet in the hour before dawn. With few classes on the agenda at this time of the year, neither students nor teachers were yet stirring; even the birds were not singing in the trees outside. Only the ghosts of old comrades and new anxieties met Hank McCoy as he moved toward the kitchen, looking for the brief solitude he needed to prepare himself for another day.
More than a week after his return to Xavier's School, he still wasn't sure how he felt about it... but then, he still wasn't sure how he felt about a lot of things now, ever since a secondary mutation had transformed him into a primeval blue-furred behemoth.
After his change, self-conscious and awkward and a little bit wounded in spirit, he had returned to New York City to sort out the remains of his old life. He thought his long career of counseling visibly mutant patients would prepare him for people's reactions--but it was something else altogether to experience it for himself. For all he knew about psychology, the stares and whispers and the occasional outright shrieks chafed his inner wounds every time. He lost friends both old and influential, and he dreaded walking the streets.
Yet the wounds did not go untreated. In spite of his fur and fangs, he had a woman who still loved him, and a brother who stood by him. At the Lefkowitz Institute for Mutant Health, he worked with other doctors whose lives were preoccupied with mutation--a number of whom were mutants themselves. With the support of those colleagues, friends, and loved ones, the wounds gradually scarred over, until he scarcely felt any longer the lingering gazes and hushed murmurs of strangers. Difficult as it was to work out his new life in such a teeming, hectic place, he found it a valuable period of adjustment; as the old song said, if he could make it there, he could make it anywhere.
His final decision to leave the Lef and return to Xavier's School had puzzled many of his friends. In truth, it puzzled him a little, as well.
The lights were on in the kitchen. Hank's alertness automatically ticked up a notch, and he stepped through the doorway, to find that the room was already occupied by the other feral in residence.
The man simply named Logan was standing with his back to the counter, looking up toward the doorway. He must have heard Hank coming--the wood floors of the hallways would certainly have betrayed Hank's heavy tread to his ears. Upon seeing the doctor, he relaxed fractionally, and regarded him with the rather flat, belligerent look that seemed to be his natural expression.
As he registered Logan's identity, Hank felt the fur at the back of his neck settle slightly as well, and he inclined his head with detached civility. "Good morning."
The only response was a shrug and a noncommittal grunt, as Logan turned his back and resumed eating a sandwich over the sink. Hank stared at him for a moment, then sighed and moved in on the coffeemaker.
He had tried to tell himself, at first, that his uncertainty about returning to the school was merely guilt over leaving his work in New York--not only his scientific studies at the Lef, but his long campaign of deceptively casual politicking. Some very important and powerful contacts had rejected him after his change, but there were many who remained on good terms with him. A few even seemed to become all the more interested in mutant issues as they observed the testimony of his altered life. If he had continued, it might have been a promising course of engagement for the cause of mutant rights.
But instead he had come back to Xavier's fold: to teach science classes to young mutants, and perhaps help save the world on occasion.
There was no judgment here, no fear or undue curiosity. His new form initially startled those who knew him before, but they accepted what he had become without hesitation--just as he had known in his heart that they would. Inevitably, he was forced to consider whether his return was merely a retreat from the hostile world beyond. Perhaps it was cowardice; perhaps that was why he still did not feel at ease in the place he once thought of as his home.
It was the question that preoccupied his thoughts, in his early mornings alone in the kitchen... and he came to realize that was not the answer. He knew the motivations in his own heart, and fear of prejudice was not one of them. He wanted to face the world as a voice for other mutants, and he was undaunted by the personal consequences. There was simply something else that had drawn him back to the school and its noble mission.
The real reason for his discomfort, he reluctantly posited at last, was the Wolverine.
For all his intellect, there was a part of Hank that was now inescapably feral. His conscious thoughts and feelings had a troubling propensity to get tangled up in the animal instincts now working in him on a deeper level. They were as contradictory as they were intense: sometimes useful and on occasion startlingly tender, but more often possessive and defensive. In the past, self-confident in his intelligence and charisma, he had never been a man who felt the need for posturing--but his instincts now compelled him to a certain primal self-assertion.
And it was Logan, possessed of the same feral qualities--or perhaps more fittingly, possessed by them--who aroused those impulses most strongly in Hank.
From that animal perspective, the school was Hank's territory, and its inhabitants were his to protect. Logan, arriving in Hank's absence, had likewise marked this place as his own--which now wrought merry havoc with Hank's new inner sense of the natural order. In short, Logan had made him feel threatened in his position. In his human intellect, he found this thoroughly ridiculous; their respective roles at the school were as different as their personalities and the skills they had to contribute. Neither of them could ever be what the other was to this place.
Even so, he found himself unable to shut down the reaction--and it was no help that Logan exhibited the very same responses. As far as his own perceptions were concerned, it was Hank who was the interloper. Hank felt sure that Logan consciously realized the illogic of it as well... but judging by his observations so far, Logan's instincts were even more powerful and irresistible than his own.
So they remained trapped in their pattern, treading lightly around each other, tense and suspicious for no rational reason at all.
As Hank was pouring coffee, he watched the other man from the corner of his eye, and saw Logan suddenly turn to face the doorway. Shifting his focus, he heard the same sound that had caught Logan's attention: a new set of footsteps in the hallway. They were light and brisk, and he tagged them as belonging to one of the students, most likely a girl.
A moment later, Jubilee appeared at the threshold. She was dressed in her usual... unique idea of fashion, with low-cut jeans that looked dirty, and a short purple jacket marred by some presumably aesthetic frayed rips. However, she had not yet indulged in her daily orgy of cosmetics, and she still looked slightly rumpled and not fully awake. When she had any choice in the matter, it was unusual to see her stirring before ten o'clock at the very earliest.
Seeing the two ferals, she hesitated visibly, then quirked her lips in a here-goes expression and moved toward the pantry. "'Morning."
Logan made a vague acknowledging noise, but Hank turned politely to observe the girl. "Good morning. It's a little early for you, isn't it?"
"Mmph." The sound was almost as inarticulate as Logan's greeting, but it seemed to be an agreement. Appearing from behind the pantry door with a box of Pop-Tarts, Jubilee explained, "There's a big clearance sale at Random Mode today. They're having some early-bird specials."
Hank decided not to point out that Jubilee could achieve the same effect in her wardrobe by buying much cheaper clothes and dragging them behind a pickup truck in the woods. Instead he smiled blankly and nodded as she moved to the toaster--which happened to have been his next intended target. Apparently his breakfast bagel would have to wait. He shrugged to himself and sipped his coffee in patient silence, trying not to feel as uncomfortable as Logan looked.
It was a perverse consolation that Jubilee looked more uncomfortable than either of them.
At last her wafers of sugar and preservatives popped out of the toaster, and she smiled awkwardly as she collected them. "So... um. Could you, maybe... please hand me the peanut butter, Wolverine?"
Without even glancing at Jubilee, Logan opened the cabinet above his right shoulder and retrieved the peanut butter jar. He held it out to her, and she hastily took it from his hand with a murmured "Thank you"--as though she was afraid his claws might suddenly appear if she got too close to him.
Hank watched her beat a quick and rather relieved-looking retreat. Then he regarded Logan for a long, thoughtful moment, and slowly lowered himself onto a chair at the kitchen table.
"Doesn't that bother you?"
Logan turned, one eyebrow dropping slightly. Hank had noticed his tendency to lower a brow instead of raising one when he was inquisitive; the expression was very effective at scaring honest answers out of students.
"What?" he asked bluntly.
"Being called that. Wolverine." The corners of Hank's mouth turned down. "It's the name of an animal."
Now Logan's brows did rise, in a look of faintly surprised interest. He pushed away from the counter and stepped toward the table, studying Hank with the quiet deliberation that seemed so at odds with his chaotic temperament.
"No, it doesn't bother me," he said at last. "Animals don't lie--and they don't kill each other for fun. You can't say that about people. So no... I don't see any insult in being called the name of an animal."
Rarely in his life had Hank ever been dumbfounded, but now he felt something perilously close to it. He stared back in amazement at the man who looked far more human than he, yet was in many ways more animal than he--and who apparently embraced that fact.
"It's the name William Stryker gave you," Hank observed carefully.
At the invocation of that name, Logan's expression hardened. He stood for a moment in dark silence, then pulled out the chair opposite Hank and sat down.
"I thought about that a lot, at first." His powerful shoulders moved in a half-shrug, and he turned a hollow gaze to the window, where dawn was just lightening the sky. He visibly collected his thoughts before he spoke again.
"Whatever I was, and whatever I had... Stryker took everything from me. All he gave me in return was the claws--and the name." Logan turned to Hank, his eyes cold and clear and unsettlingly calm. "He meant for that name to be feared... and there are places where it is."
Unsure of what to say, Hank nodded slightly. Logan closed his eyes, and continued in a softer voice.
"After I knew, I thought the same thing you did--that maybe keeping the name was giving Stryker one more victory. But it's not. It's just the opposite." His eyes opened, and there was a light in them that had not been there before. "If I can take the name he gave me, and make it mean something better... that's my victory. It's the one way I have left to take back who I am."
There was a passion in the quiet words that resonated with the force of will behind them. They stirred something deep in the core of Hank's being, and he gazed at Logan with an entirely new emotion. It was more than respect; it was something like awe, and it stilled the tension he felt in Logan's presence. In that moment, he was aware that things had changed, and they had made a beginning.
Now he knew the Wolverine's place here.
In that wordless interval of reevaluation, Logan's expression slowly lightened, beginning to take on shades of speculative amusement. At last he leaned forward, an almost challenging half-smile twitching the corners of his mouth.
"So what do they call you?" he asked.
Hank knew then that Logan had seen through to the very root of his own troubled curiosity. He smiled crookedly, with a faint chuckle, and spread his hands.
"Some people have referred to me as... Beast."
It was a name he had never been very comfortable with before... but somehow, it felt a little different now.
2009 Jordanna Morgan - please send feedback