Summary: If ye should lead her in a fool's paradise, as they say, it were a very gross kind of behaviour.
Fandom: X-Men Movieverse
Spoilers: Through X3
Title, Author and URL of original story: By Any Other Name by ficwize
Author's Notes: Many thanks to my ever-delightful beta, hotelmontana. She is always patient when I hand over unintelligible gobbledy-gook and is wonderful at figuring out what works and what doesn't. Also, thanks to the mods for being so patient with me. I made a bloody mess out of the posting process this year, and they were terribly kind and didn't torment me with the scary poking stick. Finally, thanks to ficwize for writing such lovely things that I had quite a time deciding which one to remix. It was a pleasure being your remixer this year.
In San Francisco, Raven’s dreams are not her own.
She dreams a smartly suited woman with heels that click on cold, sterile tile.
She dreams the hand of an older man. It clutches an attaché case. It waves to friends. It signs tedious documents, one after another, after another.
She dreams a broad, hirsute body, well-balance and strong. Muscles that flex. Tendons and bones. A flawless forgery.
She dreams of this most of all: pliant skin the color of the Pacific, and graceful arms that know just what angle to twist a man’s head to break his neck.
When she wakes, she finds that her fingers are small-boned and feminine. Her limbs are long and slim. Her skin is flawless and peachy pale. She is Raven and only Raven, and she wonders if she will even learn how to be only that.
sci - ence
1. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.
Raven knows more about science than she ever wanted to. When she was a nice little girl, she only knew about gymnastics and piano scales and Judy Blume and Leif Garrett. She knew that Miss Adams was the best art teacher in the world, and Mister Schwartz’s geology class was best spent passing notes to Kerry Lucas. She knew that Solid Gold was totally sick now that Andy Gibb was the host, and that Kerry Lucas’s older brother was going to ask her to his senior prom, even though she was only a freshman. But knowledge has a way of growing, even when you don’t want it to, and Raven learned about biology the hard way.
mu - ta - tion
a. a sudden departure from the parent type in one or more heritable characteristics, caused by a change in a gene or a chromosome.
b. an individual, species, or the like, resulting from such a departure.
In the struggle for existence, if a species becomes stronger than those around it, it will have a better chance for survival, and thus be naturally selected. Charles Darwin said that, and so did Erik. But of Darwin’s works, Raven remembers only this:
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
The scientists are gathering preliminary data.
By nature, zealotry is an obsessive occupation and does not leave much room for a career. Raven has learned that when one stops returning calls, eventually the calls stop, too. She tries some of her old contacts, but it’s a dry, dry desert for a player who keeps switching leagues. Most of them don’t exist anymore; they’re dead or disappeared. Some won’t take her calls, considering her too hot a commodity to use. Only one says her name. He offers to meet her face-to-face, names a dark pub in the Bronx. Though he’s unmistakable – even in Hell’s Kitchen, an eye-patch is rare – everyone pretends they don’t recognize him.
In her case, they don’t have to pretend.
Despite the meeting, her contact offers nothing more than a drink on an old friend. He lights a cigar, despite the smoking ban, and explains that there isn’t anything for her. Not anymore. Not without her powers.
Raven thinks about killing him, just to make a point.
A bus to Cleveland costs three hundred dollars, and it leaves before the sun comes up. Raven sits near the front and drinks coffee out of a Styrofoam cup. She watches the scrub foliage as it passes, her eyes following individual shrubs until they’re out of sight. She thinks, This bus is what I am, now. This bus is who I am.
It is two thousand, four hundred and sixty miles from Cleveland to San Francisco. Raven counts the distance in thumbs and truck stops. A kid in a decrepit Volkswagen sees her into the city. He offers a hit from a joint and a place to crash, but Raven knows everything has a price, and she’s collected enough data that she knows what she’s willing to pay. Instead, she plays the short con and talks her way into a suite at the Nikko.
The morning after she arrives, Raven sits looking out over the Market District, her Japanese breakfast untouched. The plush hotel bathrobe feels like sandpaper against her skin.
She carries two gold coins secreted in her palm. She will give them to Erik when she finds him.
Reflection is the reversal in direction of a particle stream or wave upon encountering a boundary. The law of reflection states that the angle of reflection and angle of incidence are equal, with each angle being measured from the normal to the boundary.
This is the way mirrors work.
Raven sees carpets and windows. She sees hotel lobbies and graffiti on public restroom walls. She doesn’t recognize the woman looking back at her. Raven tries to memorize her features. She buys clothes from thrift stores and lets her hair grow. She’s still a pretty woman, she knows, but there are lots of pretty woman on the street here. No one looks twice at a disheveled brunette in an oversized army jacket and paint-smeared trousers.
The scientists are gathering preliminary data. They say the cure has a seventy-five percent rate of failure.
It turns out that Raven can’t kill Erik. She’s more surprised by this than she perhaps should be. Instead, she watches him. She follows him for weeks (the Institute for Alternative Evolutionary Development releases the results of a study of a hundred mutants who received the cure), learns his routines, until she knows his life as well as she did before.
Though she waits for him to notice her, he never does, consumed by his own experiments. Erik sits in the park, his hand splayed over a chessboard. Together, they wait for one of the pieces to move, for the king to wobble until it all fall down again. She gives up before he does, just like always.
There are two coins, secreted in Raven’s palm. She throws them to Erik for good luck. They hit the ground with a strange clank. They are made of steel.
There’s preliminary data that says that the cure has a seventy-five percent rate of failure, with over half of those seeing a complete reversal.
Seventy-five percent, and she is still only Raven.
Her last hope is a man of science whom even Erik refused to consult. He said he wasn’t interested in making deals with the devil, not evil for the cause. Faustus made a deal with Mephistopheles for twenty-four years of service. Raven was twenty-four when she met Erik. She is thirty-five, now. Unlucky thirteen years still owed. She makes the call on a pre-paid cell.
“Essex,” he answers, and she throws the phone away.
And then there is John. He’s sitting on a bench in the park, just out of sight of the chessboards. Raven is caught between the two; they bounce about inside of her like fermions in a nucleus. If she could find the force to push them together, the resultant reaction would light up the park.
But John’s hair is long and straight, and it falls over one eye. His hand creeps towards the middle-aged man next to him. He is not the boy he was before. He’s had a broken nose that hasn’t healed properly; it’s twisted and crooked. There’s a fresh scar on his brow bone, bisecting his eyebrow. He looks dangerous and rough, like he’s used to fighting for his life.
Raven never has to fight anymore, though sometimes she wishes she did. She walks the steep and twisting streets, wishing that someone, anyone would make a move. But she can’t go looking for trouble, and trouble doesn’t seem to want her anymore.
Darwin hated Shakespeare. He once said that reading it nauseated him. Too many words, all stacked up, one atop the other. All feeling and no order. No science. Words are common. Unremarkable. Any normal human being can use words.
Raven’s cocktail dress is expensive, classic, black. Her hair is flat and smooth. She lets it fall over one eye. The wine swirls round and round the bulbous glass, and the businessman moves closer to her. He’s here for a convention, and there is a smooth band of pale, white skin on his ring finger.
How many goodly creatures are there here, Raven thinks. Erik loved Shakespeare, and Raven loved Erik. She loved him so much, so completely, and for so long that it’s easy to hate him, too.
The businessman is thin, but his wallet is fat.
Oh, brave new world.
“I know what you are,” Raven says. “I know who you are.”
John looks up at her. A smile eats his scarred face until any trace of the brittle young man Raven thought he was is burnt away. He looks at her with hard, hollow eyes and a leering bravado that is growing like brushfire.
“Call me Pyro,” he says, and it sounds like a purr.
“No,” Raven replies. She steps around him and walks on. She is leaving him behind. Both of them. All of them. He doesn’t know her. No one does. They know Irene Adler and Jean Grey and Robert Kelly and Wolverine and hundreds, thousands more. They know Mystique.
But her name is Raven. She is tall, and her hair is brown. Her skin is fair and her teeth are straight. She thinks her favorite color might be green. Her name is Raven, and she’s leaving the rest of them behind.
John or Pyro. Magneto or Erik. It doesn’t matter what they’re called.
By any name, they’re fools.