Remnant of the Past: Chapter One



Marvel owns everyone but Remnant, so this qualifies as textual poaching.

A few years ago....


Peace River, Alberta

"Hey, Mali, you clean up the tables yet?" A gruff voice called from the back room.

A woman rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Yeah, Joe, they've all been wiped down. Someone puked in the corner, but I ain't cleanin' it up." Instead, she went behind the bar and started wiping down the surface, careful to avoid the heads of the drunken sops asleep on the counter.

She worked her way towards the other end of the long bar, picking up stray glasses, piling up bowls filled with stale peanuts, and dumping out filled ashtrays. Finally she reached the other end, where she did not move the ashtray from the man still using it.

"You almost ready to get out of here?" He only looked up at her when he was finished speaking.

She nodded. "Lemme clean out the till and I'll grab my coat."

Taking the till from the register, she walked around the bar and into the back room.

"I'm outta here, Joe," she announced as she put the till down on the desk. "See ya tomorrow."

The fat man grunted.

Taking her coat from a hook along the wall and checking to see if her toque, scarf, and mittens were still inside the pockets, she stepped back into the main room of the bar. He was gone. She sighed.

Mali put on her outerwear and went outside, walking towards the parking lot. "Logan?" She walked towards a tall tree stuck unceremoniously near the edge of the lot. "No games tonight, please," she said quietly to the still-cigar smoking man. "It's too damned cold."

"That's fixable," he shrugged. He's never quite figured out how she always knows where he is waiting.

"Not out here, it ain't." She tilted her head back towards the lot. "C'mon. We'll take my car."

If the casual nature of their relationship seemed to bother her, she hides it well, Logan mused as they walked to the small pickup. She didn't smell frustrated or upset or especially angry. Mali always smelled a little angry, though, but not at him. Not at anything around here.

They spent most nights together, except when they didn't. If he was still sitting at the bar after she finished wiping down the tables, then they'd go back to her place. If he wasn't, she went alone and he went back to his trailer, hitched to his truck on the opposite side of the lot than the tree.

Logan wasn't one for long-term relationships and he wasn't one for commitments. They had sex, very good sex, but they were not intimate. They were considerate of, but not concerned about the other. He didn't know much more about Mali's history than he did about his own, which was nothing. She didn't ask about him, either, and for that Logan was both thankful and occasionally (and only occasionally) curious.

Mali lived in a tiny apartment on the same edge of town as the bar they worked in, sparsely decorated with only enough to distinguish it from the average hotel room, but not enough to call it personalized. The phone never rang while he was over there and she didn't have an answering machine. The mail was comprised of bills, junk mail, and a subscription to MacLean's. No cards, no letters. They had spent Christmas together, but there were no cards on the shelf that weren't from the others at the bar and no phone calls to or from family.

"You want to eat," she asked after they had taken off their coats and boots. He nodded, suddenly hungry.

He heard her rummaging through the fridge and putting something in the microwave as he went towards the bathroom. She always let him shower in peace, never interrupting his nightly washing away of both the mess of sweat and other men's blood as well as his own daily accrual of self-loathing. He came out of the steamed shower (at least the pipes haven't frozen) a cleaner person and a (temporarily) cleaner soul and he strongly suspected you didn't need heightened senses to notice the difference.

As he dressed in the sweatpants he had left on the hook the night before, Logan could smell the leftover stew. He had brought over bison steaks the other night and the remains had gone into stew. As Mali set the table, he turned on the television.

It was set to a francophone station. If Mali spoke French, she didn't use it at the bar and there weren't any books or magazines around, but Logan had gotten used to finding the television and more often the radio set to SRC channels. Someone else might have suggested that she was looking for the weather, but Logan knew Mali was too practical to be checking to see whether it would be twenty or thirty degrees below freezing. Not caring why it was on the channel it was, he changed it to an English one and watched the highlights from the hockey games.

Dinner was eaten in a comfortable silence broken only by the sounds of the television in the other room. Afterwards, Logan got up and went looking for the toolbox. As Mali did the dishes, he fiddled with the showerhead in the bathroom. Occasionally he'd wash dishes, but Mali never asked him to and never smelled angry when he didn't.

She was wiping off her hands with a dishtowel when she came by to check on his progress. "It needs a new washer?"

"Yeah. I'll get one tomorrow. It's still good, but it's still gonna leak."

"You get what you pay for," she shrugged and went back towards the kitchen.

Logan could hear Mali brushing her teeth as he washed his hands, so he did the same in the bathroom with the toothbrush she had left for him months back. Mali was in the bedroom changing when he entered. She didn't change her pace or hide from his gaze -- you've seen everything already, haven't you -- once she saw him.

He turned off the light as he passed it by, knowing that Mali's familiarity with the terrain and his own night vision made this merely a timesaving gesture. He saw Mali climb into bed and he stripped off his sweatpants and did the same. Lying back, he inhaled deeply. Mali was content as she was, but not very sleepy. He rolled over to face her back and put his hand on her arm, gauging her interest. She turned towards him, thereby answering the question.

The sex was very good, the relationship utterly uncluttered by demands, their feelings were never on display so they were never hurt. But the real reason Logan waited at the bar most nights, the real reason he had not moved on to the next dive in the next town, the real reason his arm was casually thrown over Mali's flat stomach as he snored quietly was that the first night he had stayed with Mali was the first night he had slept without nightmares. And as long as he was in Mali's bed, they had not returned. So for as long as Mali would put up with him, as long as she was content to have him warm only her bed and not her heart, he would stay.

***

Present Day

Washington DC

"You're avoiding the question I posed to you at the beginning of the hearing, Ms. Grey. Three words: Are mutants dangerous?" The man waves his folder of papers to the beat of his words. It is an old debater's trick and the speaker is an old debater, an old hat who knows what plays well to the gallery while still looking good for CSPAN.

"I am avoiding a question that is decidedly loaded, Senator," the speaker responds as evenly as she can. She ignores the fact that her interrogator refuses to use the professional title she spent years earning, just as she ignores the psychic swell of support she can feel for her opponent. "The wrong person behind the wheel of a car can be dangerous."

In the gallery above the proceedings, a man sighs and turns away as he unknowingly echoes the disappointment of the woman being questioned below. The display of emotion goes unnoticed as, for the most part, does he. There is nothing especially outstanding about his appearance, certainly not here in Washington where he is, by all outward signs, just another well-dressed, neatly-pressed older man with a well-dressed, neatly pressed younger woman to tag along at his elbow. Outward signs couldn't be more wrong. Pushing through the crowd with said woman in tow, he exits the gallery.

The couple is halfway down the corridor when the man pauses, exchanges a knowing glance with the woman, and then calls out without turning around. "What are you looking for, Charles?"

"Hope," responds the man in the wheelchair following behind the couple.

They finally turn around. The wheelchair-bound man tilts his head towards the woman. "Mademoiselle," he says by way of greeting. He knows only her first name, but it would be impolite to use it without permission. He doesn't know whether she is French or not (but privately suspects that she is), but "Miss" has too many connotations in English usage and this situation is too delicate to risk the wrong one being considered.

"Professor Xavier," she returns with a gentle smile of acknowledgement. "Your protege speaks well. It is a shame she is wasting her talents before those who will never hear her."

"It is rare that a mind is closed forever," Xavier answers, looking pointedly at her companion, who in turn raises his eyebrows in something between disbelief and recognition of the start of an argument had too many times in the past. "One must be ever vigilant in the search for cracks which may help to break down those walls."

"You waste your time, Charles," the other man speaks. "The walls have been sealed for a long time now."

"Erik," Xavier sighs. "Do not forsake them. They have strayed, but they are not lost."

He is about to respond when the gallery doors burst open behind them. By mutual agreement or by tumult, the session inside has ended and reporters run down the hall to file their reports as the spectators begin to fill the corridor, everyone chatting about the confrontation between the advocate for mutants, Jean Grey, and Senator Kelly.

Momentarily overwhelmed by the cacophany of thoughts suddenly filling his head, Xavier closes his eyes. When he opens them, Erik and his companion are gone. Xavier wheels himself back towards the gallery.

"Professor?" A man calls to him from behind.

"Yes, Scott?"

"Jean would like us to come rescue her from the reporters," Scott Summers looks distracted as he answers. "She says she would have asked you directly, but you were busy."

Xavier smiles, then looks back one last time to where he confronted the couple. Turning back to Scott, he nods. "Let's go be knights in shining armor."

***

"Victor, move your legs, please?"

Sabretooth opened one eye. He had been dozing and his long legs blocked the narrow aisle of the small airplane they had... borrowed. He leered at the woman standing waiting. "What's in it for me?"

"I leave your legs attached," she answered brightly.

Checking to make sure that she was not wearing her holster, Victor Creed snorted gently. "You terrify me," he closed his eye and dipped his chin back to his chest to go back to sleep. But not before he moved his legs out of the way.

The woman entered the cockpit. She had never asked where Mortimer learned to fly aircraft. She thought it highly unlikely he had enrolled in something so pedestrian as flight school and the idea of the hunched man with the long tongue and disgusting eating habits being a military veteran was frankly absurd. But Toad could fly the plane as well as he could the helicopters they had used. Now if only he wasn't such a terror with the group's Toyota minivan.

"There's an airport south of Vermillion," she told him as she sat down in the unoccupied co-pilot's seat. "Do you want me to find it on the map for you?"

"Who are you?" Toad looked closely at her. Long black hair streaked through with violet, black-on-violet eyes (not yellow), black tank top, arm-length black fingerless gloves, and a long black skirt slit high on both sides revealing black thigh boots. And not a blue scale in sight.

"Remnant," she replied incredulously as she stared back. "Who else would I be?."

"Mystique?"

"Why on earth would Mystique pretend to be me?" Remnant shook her head in wonderment as she took out the map and compass. "She's passed out in her seat."

"She could pretend to be you so that she could find out my secrets," Toad suggested.

"As if you tell me anything dark and dangerous."

"I could, you know."

"I'd rather you didn't. I get enough by having to listen to what runs through your very dirty mind. Besides, she already knows you have a crush on her."

"Oh."

"Here," she handed him the map she had marked up. "We should be another half-hour in the air." She got up to leave.

"Do I really?"

"Really what?"

"Have a very dirty mind."

Remnant paused. "When compared to, say, Victor's, no, you don't really. Compared to the average human -- or mutant -- out on the street, yes, you do."

"Good," he nodded. "I'd hate to think all those years had gone to waste."

"I'm glad to reaffirm your life's purpose," she shook her head in either disgust or amusement and went back to her seat, careful not to disturb the man sleeping next to her.

"How much longer?"

"Oh. I didn't mean to wake you, Erik," she ran her fingers along his cheek. He took her hand and kissed where the glove allowed contact with skin. "Another half-hour, I think. We have a very fancy and fuel efficient vehicle here."

"Mystique steals only the best for us," he smiled, still holding her hand while looking across the aisle to the sleeping shape-shifter. "I think she spoils us."

Remnant rested her head on Erik's shoulder. "She does at that."

Both dozed, still holding hands, until the plane landed in northern Alberta.

***

Outside of Laughlin City, Alberta

Logan watches the girl inhale the chocolate bar he had had lying on the dash (not like it was going to melt within spitting distance of the Arctic Circle). She spoke with a drawl and he couldn't imagine what a teenager from the southern United States was doing in northern Alberta, but he didn't necessarily care. But she had tried to help him and it was obvious that she was a runaway far outside of her element.

No more than I would do for a wounded animal, he thought to himself.

Eventually he had bothered to find out her name (Marie) and he had given his own. Marie, once she was less ill at ease, grew more talkative and was discussing the relative safety merits of seatbelts when a tree suddenly came down on the road in front of them.

The collision was unavoidable and Logan found himself sailing through the windshield. His first thoughts were not about his own condition -- he'd heal almost as soon as he got up off the ground -- but whether the truck would still be serviceable. Driving without a windshield in the dead of winter was not fun, but walking through the dead of winter was even less so.

Logan stood up in the snow and looked back at the truck. The girl was moving, so she was probably not seriously hurt. He asked anyway.

"I'm stuck," she called back.

As he took his first steps towards the tree and the truck, he paused. An animal? It sounded too heavy to be anything other than a bear, but it smelled nothing like a bear. The smell was one of rage, glee, and really bad body odor.

A second smell, one that was also human but this one tantalizingly familiar, caught Logan's attention, but before he could connect it to a past experience, a blur out of the corner of his eye signaled an attack.

Snikt! The claws came out, almost too late to protect his face from the onrushing attacker. A man almost twice his size landed on top of him, throwing Logan around like the toy he felt like he was. In the background, he could hear Marie's screams, but all of a sudden, they stopped. Another pass by his opponent prevented Logan from further considering the matter.

Yards away, Rogue cried out in fear as the fire approached from the rear and the mangled seatbelt showed no signs of budging.

Suddenly, the door of the truck opened and a woman stood there.

"Move your hands out of the way," she told Rogue, a faint accent coloring her speech.

Rogue watched in fascination and terror as the woman pulled off her mittens, revealing fingerless gloves that looked very similar to Rogue's own, and reached for the metal buckle. She felt the buckle hum and then come apart.

The woman put her hand out to Rogue. "Let's get out of here before this thing blows." Rogue took the hand for balance and pulled her legs out from the crumpled dash.

"My truck is just behind that hill," the woman gestured towards the road they had just traveled.

The pair had gotten only a few yards from the burning truck when a bizarre looking pair confronted them. A white-haired black woman and a man with a visor stood in their path.

"A friend of yours, Remnant?" Storm asked.

"Sorry, Weather-witch," Rogue's rescuer smiled frostily. "But I'm not much in the mood for games tonight. It's too damned cold." She reached into her unbuttoned duster to her holster and pulled out a gun, squeezing off a shot before Cyclops could blast the weapon from her hand. Storm cried out and fell to the ground as Remnant grabbed Rogue's arm and dragged the screaming girl away.

Sending a mental call for help to Jean, who waited by the Blackbird, Cyclops knelt down to check Storm's wound.

"A tranquilizer dart?" He mused, perplexed, as he pulled it from her shoulder. Rogue's scream, however, brought him back to the task at hand.

Aiming for a spot he knew would be protected by body armor, Cyclops fired an optic blast at Remnant, felling her with a cry. Rogue stood mutely next to the fallen woman, neither moving nor crying out.

Jean arrived carrying a medical bag and immediately knelt by Storm, mentally urging her to come to. When Ororo stirred, Jean looked up at Cyclops, who was keeping an eye on the still-motionless Rogue as well as the fight between Sabretooth and the man they had learned about as Wolverine.

Following his gaze, Jean reached out psychically to the girl. "Remnant must have dulled her mind. She's in shock, more or less."

"Can you do anything?"

"Yes, but I think Remnant may have had a smart idea -- I think we should wait until we get her back home."

"Speaking of, what do we do Remnant?" The thought of leaving the woman lying in the snow was not unappealing, but this could be a prime opportunity to get information about Magneto's plans. If Remnant could be made to talk about her lover.

Now there was a May-December romance if there ever was one, Scott mused. But they seemed to actually care for each other, not merely judged by the fact that Magneto had always made sure that Remnant was never left behind. At least not before this.

Xavier was convinced that both Remnant and Magneto could be made to see the error of their ways, but Scott remained unconvinced. While Magneto operated on the premise that mutantkind was, if not superior in general, at least more useful than humankind. Remnant, however, seemed completely apathetic towards others' lives in general, human or mutant. So any pain caused Remnant on her transport back to Westchester would not weigh heavily on his mind.

"Who the fuck are you people?" Logan gasped for air behind them, barely standing on wobbling legs. "And what happened to Rogue?"

"It's a long story, but we'll tell you the whole thing once we get everyone back safely," Cyclops told the man.

"Take the kid, she needs your help. I don't."

Jean watched the man sway in the breeze, barely able to stay upright. "You really do need medical care."

"I'm fine. I don't need help from anybody," Logan sneered, then promptly passed out.

"Sure you don't, Sport," Cyclops agreed with a smirk. Sighing, he surveyed the situation. "If Storm can handle herself, that leaves us only one catatonic and two unconscious to deal with."

"I'm fine," Storm responded weakly. "I can guide... Rogue? Is that what he called her?"

Jean stood up. "I'll go truss up our pal and float her back to the Blackbird."

"That leaves me with the charming little fur ball, doesn't it..."


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