Summary: He takes what he can.
Warnings: Dark themes.
Spoilers: Mild, for "Four Months Ago" & "Cautionary Tales".
Original Story: Philosopher's Stone by brighteyed_jill
At first, it is only a blur of flesh-pink and yellow.
Her eyes are not yet able to focus that far.
It comes closer and she is lifted into the air. The face comes into focus: straggling blonde hair, a snub nose peeling with sunburn and dotted with freckles. Sun-lines around the sea-blue eyes that are just starting to become wrinkles, laugh lines around the smiling mouth.
Hey. Hey, you. Are you my little one? Yes, you are!
The baby is too young to know the word for this smell, this feeling, this person, but he is not. He remembers this feeling and the name for it all too well:
The first memory that Bob Bishop makes him remove from his daughter Elle's memory is that of her mother.
Elle is only ten months old at the time; there's hardly enough memory there to make it worth the effort and little enough that Elle would've remembered in any case. But his is not to question why.
"My daughter is a very strong young woman," Bishop tells him proudly, stroking the toddler's head with the same possessiveness that Titi Frita used to stroke her cat ZouZou.
Bishop requires no answer and he doesn't give one.
The memory of Elle's mother hums beneath his skin, subharmonic vibration.
She keeps screaming but they won't stop.
The straps hold her down and she can't run away. She knows her dad is there, behind the blackened mirror glass; she screams for him over and over again, but he doesn't come.
She doesn't know what she did wrong, but her dad doesn't come.
He doesn't come.
Elle is five the next time he sees her. She's young to be brought in for testing, but Bishop insists. Victoria Pratt tries to remind him that there's no guarantee that the offspring of two enhanced human will also be enhanced, but Bishop is adamant. Elle is gifted. There is no other possibility.
He has to be present for the testing. He always has to be on hand for testing; if the subject's abilities are dangerous, he's the only one that can control them quickly and with no loss of staff or subject. He is a valuable commodity. They tell him this all the time, usually followed by some variation of That one. There.
Gifts often manifest under situations of severe stress. They explain this to him with great solemnity and small words—Bennet, Thompson, Bishop...even the man they call Raines—as if that somehow mitigates the monstrousness. Too often, they mistake silence for stupidity and he does nothing to disabuse them of that notion.
He finds it even more revolting to watch them perform these tests on a child, and not only a child, but one of their own. They scoff at his home as a land of butchers but he cannot fathom an abomination such as this. But he does not let any of that show on his face.
You must hold your tongue, his Maman said to him once when he was very young, and listen. Learn all that you can. And then you will know what to do.
How literally he takes her words now.
Another man—Bennet, for example—would have excused himself, unable to watch a child of his go through such pain. Bennet even suggests it, the concern he can never completely hide showing behind his glasses, but Bishop won't hear of it, affronted at the mere suggestion. He watches every moment of Elle's torture, eyes avid and huge behind the myopic rounds of his glasses, mouth half-open in expectation, eagerness. It is obscene.
But it's not his place to comment.
He takes true and great pleasure in taking those memories from her, though, sealing over the gap in her mind with blissful ignorance.
She didn't mean to.
Her grandma had made her so mad; it wasn't her fault.
A small-drawn up fist. Soft house-dress fabric against her fingertips. The dry, throat-catch grit of smoke. A smell like summer barbeques. Gold-blue-orange of flame, licking the sky.
"You should let him take the memory."
He looks down at his hands while Bennet and Bishop argue. He's used to them talking about him like he's not there. Really, it's preferable.
"No!" Bishop insists. "Elle needs to know what she's capable of."
"She needs to know she's capable of killing her own grandmother?"
"Elle doesn't need anyone but me. She's a tough kid."
"Bob, she's just a kid."
"Never too old to learn. This place won't run itself and we're not all Adam. I've got to separate the dross from the gold, Noah. Elle's got heavy burdens to shoulder, she might as well get used to the weight. She can handle it."
Thompson double-taps on the doorframe. He looks up from his interlaced hands in time to see Thompson nod at him. "If you boys are finished, I've got a plane waiting. We've got an appointment."
He gets up from his chair. Bennet and Bishop immediately go back to arguing and Thompson turns away, confident that he'll follow.
Of course he will.
He doesn't dare take the memory—Bishop would know—but he runs gentle fingers across her forehead, offering what little comfort he can.
There are many memories, spread across years. Decades.
Bishop edits his daughter's life—his daughter's mind—ruthlessly, purging any moment he regards as weakness (a kitten's fur. a finger painted rainbow. ice cream cones shared with a babysitter. a caress to the cheek. an idle compliment from a stranger. a disobeyed order) and leaving all the rest. Every moment of cruelty, casual and deliberate. Every sharp word. Every vindictive, vicious, mean thought and action Elle's ever had.
He watches her grow, a thing that walks and talks like a girl but has no girl left inside her.
On his desk, Bishop has a bonsai tree, over-pruned and sickly. He thinks this must stand in lieu of any photographic portrait of Elle, because Bishop's desk and office are bare of any more personal touches than that stunted, ailing tree.
He is not an equal here; he is servant and never master. He is not allowed to comment and his opinion is not solicited.
But he serves greater masters than these petty men with their soiled schemes of power.
He collects these kindnesses, these moments of human weakness, human tenderness and holds them close, living in the faith that somewhere, in all the great wide world, he will someday find the means to return them again.