AGH THIS AGAIN.

...yeah, so this is gonna be a while, at least until I can start yelling at you about Leverage (NEXT WEEKEND) and TVD comes back in September.

Straining to Hear A Whole Forest
by gale

SUMMARY: The world's shifting underneath her feet, whether she likes it or not.


Irene wakes up the next morning to find Raven gone and Ororo shaking her arm to get her awake. "Irene!"

"'m up," Irene mutters, rubbing uselessly at her eyes. Pointless gesture, but there's still grit in them. "What's wrong, Ororo?"

"Raven sent me up here to get you," she says. "The Professor and Hank left really early, and they were acting very strange. And Erik is--"

"--is being Erik," Irene finishes. If Charles is gone, and acting strangely on top of it, Erik's going to be like a scalded cat until he gets back. She starts to push the covers back, then remembers exactly what she was wearing when she fell asleep the night before and coughs. "I'll be down in a minute, Ororo. Is everyone else awake?"

"Not Jean."

"You should probably get her, then. I'll meet you both in the hallway."

Ororo nods and hurries out of the room. Irene gathers the sheets around herself and pads barefoot to the door, closing it.

She's been getting dressed by herself her whole life; blind or not, it only takes her a couple of minutes to find her pajamas in the bedclothes and put them back on, slip her glasses on. She has nothing to hide, but she will admit that the scars around her eyes - not related to her blindness; that's been since birth - aren't the best way to start anyone's day.

By the time she gets to the hallway, Jean and Ororo are waiting for her. Jean's faintly bouncing. "Irene! Did you hear him?"

"Did I hear who?" Irene asks. "That's a no, by the way." She heads down the stairs, the girls trailing behind her.

"There was a boy," Jean said. "He was very loud."

Irene frowns. "Do you mean Scott, or--"

"No," Jean says, "in my head. He was really loud. And if he was really loud for me, he must've been really loud for the Professor--"

"Oh thank God," Raven blurts, when she's about halfway down. "I'm sorry, I would've let you sleep, but Charles and Hank just bolted out of here almost at dawn. They didn't even tell anyone, just, Sean saw them leaving and Erik felt the plane take off--"

Oh, hell. "--and you need backup," Irene finishes.

Raven sounds guilty. "I promise I'll make it up to you, but I'm pretty sure Erik's out there crumpling a satellite dish or something, and I just--if we could get everyone going about normal stuff?"

He can crumple a satellite dish. The nearest one is roughly five miles away. Good Lord. "Girls," Irene says, "breakfast. You still have lessons today. If you're going to live here, you need to get used to things being strange without any real notice."

"Okay," Jean says, and bolts past her for the kitchen, hand firmly clamped around Ororo's wrist.

Irene rubs at her forehead and glances at Raven, amused. "I do not remember being that young," she says, smiling a little. "Granted, this was Austria, but--"

"I'm trying not to be really, really worried," Raven blurts out. "Charles doesn't do that. He's never--he'd have said something, first."

"Unless it was an emergency," Irene says, "where time was of the essence." She touches Raven's shoulder. "I don't--" She normally doesn't do this, but Raven sounds upset. "I don't see anything happening that's too terribly bad. Statistically, I mean. There's always an outside chance, but it's very small. He should be fine."

Raven relaxes. A bit. "Really?"

"I can't entirely promise, no. That's not how it works. But mostly." She leans in and kisses Raven, very gently. It's not the time or place for something stronger, but this is good, too.

"Come on," she says, and holds Raven's hand. "Let's go make sure the little terrors eat."

*

"Little terrors" is sort of right; everyone's higher-pitched today, nervous because Charles and Hank are gone, and they're new besides, so they're chattery. Alex is trying to keep Scott at a reasonable pitch, and Armando's doing a decent job with Jean and Ororo, but still.

"All right, all right," Irene says, shooing people away from the stove. "Everyone's eaten, yes?" And this isn't really her place, but it's not like anyone else is doing it, so: "Alex, you and Scott--"

"You still have to train," Erik says from the French doors. Irene peers two seconds ahead and looks at his expression: a little blearly, obviously worried, but trying to keep a handle on it. "That doesn't stop because we're missing a couple of people. We've been through worse. If they need help, they'll call; otherwise, they should be back before nightfall."

The younger kids still look a little nervous, but Alex and Sean are more relaxed, and Armando's nodding. Irene can feel Raven straightening beside her, settling herself down. It's not as if he's wrong, and a little make-work - even useful make-work, like training - has never killed anyone.

It's entirely possible that one day, Erik might actually be good at this. He'll never be the one the children come to confide in - Irene can't ever imagine that, visions or no - but he's better at this, in some ways, than Charles. He's got a clearer sense of purpose; he's better at thinking in terms of survival. He's done it before, after all.

"I'll take Sean and Scott this morning," Irene says. "I haven't done any decent runs in a while, I'm starting to get out of practice."

"I can take Ororo," Raven volunteers.

"I'll get Jean," Erik says, and looks at the girl. "We can work on fine motor control. We know you can move large objects, but in some ways smaller is more difficult. We'll start there."

Jean looks a little cowed, but straightens up and nods.

"Alex can work with Armando--" Irene starts, but Alex shakes his head.

"Oh, no, no way. Not with him."

"This is ridiculous," Raven mutters. "You two have been acting like idiots aroung each other since Darwin got back, and it needs to stop. So just--I don't know, do whatever guys do and beat the crap out of each other, then be friends again, okay? If I wanted to hear people sniping at each other, I'd just ask Charles to start poking memories of Sharon and K--"

She shuts off with a snap, mouth pressed into a thin line. Irene and Erik look at her.

"Never mind," she mutters. "Not now." She shakes her head. "Seriously, just--fix it, you two, all right? And be back for lunch. Anyone sees or hears the plane come back, come back to the hangar."

"All very good ideas," Irene says, and finishes her coffee. "Shall we?"

*

Irene is, admittedly, more active than most blind people, but still sadly sedentary compared to everyone else here. Even the younger kids get more of a workout than she does. It's not the best example. More importantly, it'll get her killed in a fight. She's better than any blind person should be in a short-ranged weapon fight, but her stamina isn't great and she gets winded with relative ease.

Still, that's not reason for Sean - and Scott, who's all of fourteen - to lap her. Twice.

"This," she pants, "is. Ridiculous." She's bent over at the waist, trying to catch her breath.

"You get used to it," Sean says, clumsily patting her back. "I mean. Given enough time. It took me a week before I stopped puking every time I was on one of these."

"Doesn't mean. It's not. Ridiculous." She catches enough wind to stand back up, takes off her glasses to rub at her eyes.

She's expecting the wince; she'd seen it coming a few seconds ago. "Are those--is that why you're blind?"

"Hmn?" She gestures to her face. "Oh. No, I've been blind since I was born. This is--" She pauses for a second. "I was very young. There was an accident. If I'd had sight, it could have damaged it, but I was blind, so it's sort of a moot point." She puts the glasses back on. "I couldn't see a thing until my talent manifested."

"Was it weird?" Scott sounds curious, not scared. Everyone here tends more towards curiosity; it's nice.

"A little," Irene says. "You get used to your own space, having things laid out a certain way. It helps you find things more easily, keep your bearings. But if I look ahead a few seconds and see the room - I knew what things felt like, but I couldn't identify them on sight." She glances ahead and catches their expressions. "...it's hard to explain."

"I miss colors," Scott says suddenly. Sean and Irene look at him. "I've. I've only seen red since it started." He waves a hand at his face. He wears goggles all the time - some kind of quartz, Irene knows, because otherwise he blasts things with beams that shoot out of his eyes.

"Yeah, but your power's useful, dude," Sean says, admiring. "It's like Alex's, only you can't control it yet. But that's okay! You'll learn. That's why you're here."

"I can't shut it off, though." Scott looks frustrated. Irene understands; fine control is one thing, but not being able to stop your talent must grate. She's not sure, exactly, how she'd cope if she could do nothing but see the future. For a start, she'd be paralyzed with indecision, flat on her back, unable to speak for all the things going through her mind--

She shudders a little and lifts her eyes toward the sky. "Come on," she says, "one more and we'll go back inside."

The boys, gratefully, don't argue.

*

The plane comes back during the early part of the afternoon. Scott's gotten nominally better at aiming - hard not to, since he just has to face whatever he's trying to hit and lift his goggles - but Sean's actually shown progression, from what Raven's told her. He can use his sonic ability to move objects, though that's hit-or-miss; they have to be larger objects, as a rule, because trying to move something small more often results in damage to surrounding property and a perfectly stationary tiny thing. They're working on it.

"Can we--" Scott asks, looking hopeful.

Irene nods. "Don't run," she warns. "Your shoes and hardwood floors are trouble waiting to happen." --dear Lord, she's become her mother.

"Sure," Sean says easily, and they take off.

Irene waits for the thundering of feet to cease before she starts for the hangar bay. It's not that she's not curious, or even worried; she's a little of both. But it really is hard to surprise her, and she's reasonably certain this isn't going to be anything bad. She's a realist, not a pessimist. They're neighbors, not twins.

"Need a hand?" Armando asks, at her elbow, and Irene smiles a little.

"Volunteering to be my seeing-eye mutant?" she teases. "I'm fine, Armando. But thank you."

He makes a noise of agreement but doesn't move away. "You don't seem excited that Hank and the Professor are back."

"Part of my ability, I'm afraid. It's hard to surprise me, and I've never been able to feign it particularly well." She tilts her head. "Neither do you."

He shrugs. "I spent the better part of a couple months living in my friend's lungs because a former Nazi tried to kill me. It's sort of hard to see anything as more exciting than that." Irene laughs. "Besides," he adds, "if we stay here, you know it's just going to get stranger."

Now that's something to consider. "How do you mean?"

"A year ago, I was driving a cab in Virginia. No one knew what I could do. Now I'm living here, surrounded by people who do things just as weird and amazing as I do. Someone tried to kill me. My friends had missiles trained on them by two different countries, including our own." His expression is wry. "You mean to tell me that's not strange?"

"Point." Irene lets herself glance forward a few months, and-- "You're going to leave, aren't you?"

Armando doesn't look ruffled by the subject change. "Eventually, yeah."

Irene considers this. There will be students who will want nothing more than to stay here and continue - become staff, become soldiers in a war that started before they were anything other than normal. And there will be students, like Armando, who don't want that, who want nothing more than to get a handle on what they can do and go back to their lives. They've never discussed that possibility. She's not really sure why.

"Alex will be sad," Irene says, keeping her voice light.

Armando's quiet for a while. "He can visit," he finally says. "And--I mean, he's not a kid anymore. Nothing to say he couldn't leave too, right?"

Privately, Irene doubts that. He'll leave eventually, that part's fairly set; there will be more rules the more students there are, and Alex chafes under authority. But he'll always come back, because that's what you do when you get lost: you go home.

"No," she says, and glances forward a few seconds. "I--you know, I forgot to shut off the radio in my room. I'll be back in a moment. If I'm not back in a minute, go on without me?"

She turns and heads for her bedroom. A few seconds later, Alex is bolting down the hall, skidding to a stop when he sees Armando. They seem awkward, but not - not in a bad way. The way she and Raven were over breakfast, trying to corral nervous children.

Irene smiles to herself and goes back to her room.

*

Irene busies herself by writing in her diary.

She's kept a diary since she was a child, but they've been different since her talent manifested itself. Now she doesn't write about her day; she writes about things she sees, making little notations only she can decipher as to how possible something is, how far away it is. There are stacks of them, boxes full, scattered around this country and others.

Happily, that day on the beach had rendered most of them moot: relics from a (hopefully) lost age. She's been keeping this one since she got here, with another six blank books in the dresser beneath her clothes. It's almost time to start the second one. Irene's always been chatty when she writes.

She makes a list of words - code-names, maybe? She's heard Raven call herself Mystique once or twice, and it makes her smile and shake her head, but she doesn't discount it. Names are important, and this one - the shorthand of who they are - is one they can choose for themselves. It's important. (Privately, Irene likes "Destiny", but that's maybe a little grandiose. "Fairly Often Correct, But Not Infallible" is more accurate, but it doesn't have the same punch.)

She tries not to let her visions go out too far; the further out they go, the less accurate, the more opportunity to change things. There will be students - a girl who can control plants; another who can shed her skin into new and strange forms; the young man everyone else is meeting in the hangar bay, with enormous white wings - almost more than she can keep up with, so she doesn't try. She just tries to make notations as to what they can do, and hopes it makes sense later.

The most worrying thing she sees flickers, half-possible and half-ridiculous. There's a woman with skin like diamond and a penchant for ridiculous white outfits, cool-eyed and crueler than Xavier with most of his strength and far more practice in actually using it. She worked for Herr Schmidt, and is currently "resting" with the CIA, but that won't last. They'll make mistakes; someone always does, and she'll be free.

And she'll start a school of her own, because it's a fine idea, and why not? And she'll call her children--

"Hellions," Irene mutters, "that's just tacky," and keeps writing.

*

By the time she looks up, her hand hurts and it's started to go dark outside. Irene puts the pen down and shakes her hand, massaging it carefully. She always does this. Honestly, she can't wait for home computers, just because it'll be easier to type.

"Irene?" Raven asks. "Are you o--your hand." She turns on the lamp and comes over, looking at it. "Are you all right?"

"'m fine," Irene says. "I've been writing. Makes my hand cramp."

"What were you writing?" Raven moves Irene's other hand away and takes over massaging.

"I--" Irene pauses. There's no reason not to tell Raven, and it's not like she won't know someday anyway. "My diary. It--it's not like the one I kept as a girl. 'Dear Diary, I like a girl,'" and she mimes writing.

Raven grins. "Though you do, right?"

"Of course I do," Irene says, and kisses her. Of course, kissing Raven once always turns into kissing Raven twice, and three times, and this shirt is very easy to unbutton--

"We were talking," Irene says sternly, pulling away.

"You ruin joy," Raven sighs, but stops. Pauses, really. "Fine. You were writing in your diary?"

"They're not so much diaries as they are notebooks full of--plans, I guess. Or visions. Possibilities." She taps the closed cover. "I've been doing it for years. The ones I kept before I came here are, obviously, mostly useless now."

Raven blinks. "Because...something changed?"

Raven still doesn't entirely get it. Irene doesn't blame her; she only grasps it because she's seen it. "Because everything changed. You're supposed to be in--" this isn't a vision, it's a memory of a vision, burned into her brain in an instant and hateful for it "--mmn. Brazil right now, I believe. Seducing a finance minister for some purpose of Erik's."

"I'm not--" Raven scowls. "I wouldn't do that."

"No, you wouldn't," Irene agrees. "She would. You and she are not the same, though you're both Raven. Do you understand?"

She feels Raven tilt her head, thinking. "Like funhouse mirrors."

"Close," Irene agrees. Very close, actually. "The point is, you're not in Brazil: you're here with me, and everyone else is trying to get Warren settled--"

"You saw that, huh?"

"I see everything," Irene says, "or damn near. But that one moment rendered everything else moot, so I started a new one." She taps the cover again. "And when it's done, I'm giving it to Charles. Possibly Hank. I'd give it to Erik, if I didn't half-think we'd have to talk him out of assassinating people again."

Raven looks at her for a long time. "You didn't do that before, did you?"

"Good God, no. No one even knew I had the damned things until after I died."

She hears Raven's breath catch. "Not funny," she says quietly.

"Not kidding." Irene touches Raven's cheek. "It will happen one day, you know," she says, just as quiet. "You don't age as fast as the rest of us, Raven. I'll be an old woman when you barely look thirty--"

"I hate it when you do this," Raven mutters.

"--and I knew that going in. You think I didn't?" Irene smiles a little. "I know all the costs before I buy into something, Raven, and I pay them gladly. Don't ever think I don't."

Raven's quiet for a minute. Irene doesn't know what she's thinking, but that's half the fun. Precognitive or not, Raven can be unpredictable. Look at last night, for example. That was - sudden. And delightful, and not the best it's ever been, but they'd both started laughing, and that's always been Irene's favorite part of sleeping with someone: shared jokes. It's hard to get those with people you only meet once.

"Do you--" Raven starts, and stops for a seconds. "Is it just women?"

"Mostly," Irene admits. "Not always, though. Sometimes men." She shifts a little on the bed. "Don't get me wrong, I don't hate them or anything. I just--women are better, for me. They smell nicer. They're softer. They fit."

Raven makes a soft noise and moves to sit next to her on the bed. She's wearing something - one of Irene's shirts, maybe. She's pretty sure Raven's otherwise bare. "I don't know what I like," she says.

"No one says you have to," Irene says. "It's not a test."

"Well, yeah, because Hank is...Hank is great, don't get me wrong, but I think he's more attractive now, if that makes any sense."

"Because he can't hide anymore," Irene murmurs. That's always going to be more attractive to Raven than mutants who can pass for human. She thinks about saying something, but stifles it. It'll just cause a fight, and she's too warm and comfortable for that at the moment.

Raven nods. "And, um--"

"And you still have a crush on Erik," Irene says. "I know. I keep telling you, it's very hard to surprise me." She nudges Raven's shoulder with her own. "I can't blame you. He's very charismatic. Not to mention not hard on the eyes--"

"That," Raven grumbles, "is an awful pun," but burrows down, face nestled against Irene's shoulder.

"Only coming from a blind woman." Irene smiles. "I--Raven. You're going to live a very long time. Your eyes are going to track other people. It doesn't put skin off my nose."

"I would never," Raven says, quiet but firm. "I would never, ever do anything to hurt you."

Of course you will, Irene thinks. That's half the point of loving someone. You let her in and she hurts you a dozen times, a hundred, but that doesn't mean you stop loving her. She could fill a diary of just things she and Raven will do to each other during her lifetime, good and bad; she actually might, at some point. There have been worse testimonials.

She doesn't say any of that, of course. "I know," she murmurs. "I trust you."

--which is the hell of it: she trusts Raven. She trusts all of them, actually, because she can't not. They're building a new world under her feet, and she's going to be a part of it whether she wants to be or not. How much of a part is still unclear, but she's in this now.

Irene Adler, she thinks silently, fingers tangling in Raven's sleek red hair. Destiny. An X-Man.

She might as well start getting used to it.








In the comics, Irene wasn't born blind but became that way shortly after the initial manifestation of her powers. I've obviously changed that here. The three mutants she mentioned are Dryad (the plant-controller), Husk (the skin-shedder), and Warren (obvs).

...IDK, you guys, I just really fucking like Irene Adler.
Tags:
eisen: Minato/Aigis/Ryoji (embrace death). (you've got the number.)

From: [personal profile] eisen


I love this so much. SO MUCH HAPPENING. This is - it is way way off movie canon at this point, is what it is, and I do not care, because fsdklhkgdfkhgklhdfk - okay, it's not way off First Class and maybe the first two X-movies aren't totally broken but X3 is totally annihilated now as a valid timeline in this 'verse, isn't it (Angel! popping up already!), not that anyone really cares, and I love it even more because EEEE.

SO MUCH EEE. I LOVE IRENE. I love how well you capture her voice and Raven's - I can see them all saying these things, that is how great it is. And I - you know, the thing with the X-books, the thing I couldn't quite manage coherence enough for last time I think, is that every time they do an AU someone in that universe always knows they're in an alternate universe and can see the canon universe too and that's happening here but it's to point out how this is making it healthier etc. instead of the usual AU of this is making it worse etc. and I really love that it's Irene who sees that and keeps going for it, because ... because I fucking love Irene (who reading this doesn't?), and I love that she gets to be the one to notice these things, when she's so often the one in canon who's stuck as a witness, who never gets to speak of the fullness of what she's seen until - as she points out - she's dead. But here she's sharing them and changing things, being active.

God they break my heart here, in the best way - Raven's firmness because she always looks in front of her and doesn't want to look aside from what she knows she needs, Irene's solidity because she's already seen everything and would pay the price again.

And baw Armando. He has a life; Xavier's will never be his home the way it will be for the Summers boys. But that's how things go, after all.

I love the way this story keeps teasing out all the ways the movie clearly showed things could have gone, if only - if only, but the whole point of the movie, the tragedy of the thing, is that they didn't, precisely because they could've - and letting them elaborate on themselves, as slow or fast as they need to.

I fully expect this ride to end eventually, but I'm so enjoying it while it lasts. I AM JUST FILLED WITH LOVE FOR THIS FOREVER.
.

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