The Keeping of the Three


Logan isn't really here.

To Magaera for the beta.

Date Completed April 30th, 2003.

This is a flashback.

He isn't really here.

The waitress is setting his plate in front of him, scribbling a smileyface on the check, but he's staring out the window, at a moment in time long past.

It's his fifth return trip to Xavier's in as many years, and they're having breakfast, just the two of them. She's thrilled that he's back, and thrilled to have him all to herself for just a few hours, and he's wondering how she's managed to eat her omelet and never stop talking at the same time. The coffee is excellent, and she's saying something that makes him laugh, and he's trying to figure out how he's going to tell her that he knows what she wants, and that he wants it, too.

He isn't really here.

Warm breath is puffing against the back of his neck in a steady rhythm, and the breeze from the fan in the window is making the empty condom wrapper on the nightstand quiver.

His room smells like nervous excitement and Twizzlers. The movie is still playing on the TV and the hand on his waist is shaking just a little, just enough to remind him to be careful. Her mouth is opening, almost touching his, and when his tongue darts along the edges of her teeth, he's thinking that strawberry licorice is the best thing he's tasted in a long time.

He isn't really here.

Missouri is slipping past the truck at a steady eighty-five miles per hour, unseen in the dark. He wouldn't look even if he could. All the states are the same to him--blacktop and gravel and dead grass.

The day is strangely bleak despite the heat, the sun shining indifferently, not caring if it lights the sky as it warms the air. His shirt is sticking to the middle of his back and the waistband of his jeans is soaked with sweat, and he hasn't even started changing the tire yet. She's standing in the weeds next to the highway, watching the biggest, fuzziest caterpillar he's ever seen crawl across her glove, and he's hoping to Christ that she'll never get tired of loving him, because he's just now realizing how much it matters to him.

He isn't really here.

The little girl in the seat of the shopping cart is staring at him with steady blue eyes while her mouth works hard on her thumb. He's holding a tube of toothpaste in one hand and a cheap paperback in the other, and wishing the little girl's mother didn't have so many coupons.

He's thinking that she looks good even at 2am, even under fluorescent lights. They are the only two customers in the store, and he's laughing as he juggles an armload of junk food. She's tossing her hair over her shoulder and smiling at him as he follows her up the soda aisle, and the way she's looking at him is making his heart thump so hard it's probably rattling the potato chips in their cardboard canister.

He isn't really here.

The skinny guy in the cowboy hat is squinting through the smoke from the cigarette dangling from his mouth as he leans over and takes aim at the cue ball. His beer is almost gone, the bartender is more interested in the television than his customers, and he can already tell the skinny guy's shot isn't going to be any good.

She's standing between his knees, leaning into him, laughing. Her eyes are sparkling and she's swaying slightly with the music, not even realizing it. He's looking down at her, grinning at the way her cheeks are turning pink from the alcohol and the way his hand is rubbing the small of her back. And it isn't the most romantic place it could happen, but before he can stop himself, he's asking her if she'll marry him.

He isn't really here.

He's sweating and shaking and trying to find the goddamn light switch, but he can't remember where the lamp is to begin with. But at least he isn't dreaming. No, he isn't dreaming.

His body is one big bolt of pain and the mission is one big clusterfuck, and Scott must be standing over him, because he can see a black boot with an X on it, and everything is bathed in red light. Then his mind is exploding in raw agony and everyone is screaming at Jean that she's hurting them and Scott's asking her what's wrong, and then everything is suddenly completely quiet. And Jean is crying. Oh, God. Jean is crying.

He isn't really here.

He's kneeling in the same stand of ghostly birch trees he's knelt in a dozen times before. Leaves are skittering and twirling around his legs, and the trees are spreading their bare branches wide under a cold October moon.

He's in a hundred other places, all at once. Laughing, shouting, crying, loving. Trying. Trying so hard to hold onto a world that is lost to him, and has been for a long time. The years keep slipping by, and he keeps waiting for something to happen, waiting to feel something different, but it's just the same memories, over and over again.

He's not changing, and the world around him isn't really changing--the sun keeps rising and the winters keep coming and that cursed chunk of granite under the trees keeps waking him up at night. And he keeps coming back to it, because sometimes he needs to see it for himself. Needs to see that it's her name on it.

Because no matter what he does or where he goes on this earth, that other world keeps playing through his mind, and it makes it hard to remember that he's living in a different one now. She's so real and so much a part of his life that he still can't quite believe it.

That she isn't really here.

The End

The title comes from this poem:

By Carl Sandburg

YOUR eyes and the valley are memories.
Your eyes fire and the valley a bowl.
It was here a moonrise crept over the timberline.
It was here we turned the coffee cups upside down.
And your eyes and the moon swept the valley.

I will see you again to-morrow.
I will see you again in a million years.
I will never know your dark eyes again.
These are three ghosts I keep.
These are three sumach-red dogs I run with.

All of it wraps and knots to a riddle:
I have the moon, the timberline, and you.
All three are gone—and I keep all three.

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