1963-07-18 - A Pandoric Smile
Summary: When Loki met Rogue.
Related: Every Girl and a Sharp Dressed Man
Theme Song: XYLØ - Afterlife
rogue louis 

(Nutshell prose) Two men of highly different dispositions fall to the hands and flesh of a girl barely old enough to drink a Lone Star legally. Another day, another dollar to wipe away the disgrace of luck played out. Black hopes and black desires discharged on a kinetic soul link from one of Hell's human minions try to spread their blighted roots. All the redhead bohemian can do is put one foot in front of the other while twinned psyches crystallize and fracture in the maelstrom of the mind. She pays the sentence for their crimes, her share of bad mistakes plunging down the further she gets from a forgettable alleyway separating Columbia University from the surrounding neighbourhood. Somewhere out there might be relief, restitution for the deeds done by two bad men and one reformed girl. Away overrides the lives overlapping one another, the need to put those slumped, warm bodies sprawled on the dirty concrete behind her. And she might have achieved it did someone not pierce the unsettled night by the only lifeline there is. He says her name.


It will be another decade before anyone coins the term identity politics, and not for someone besieged by foreign egos at war with the native self. Philosophers who grappled with dominant questions of identity never laid back on their couches under psychological bombardment.

Sadly it's a war she is familiar with, an assault devouring her focus. The girl — not a killer, not a thug, herself, female, one-and-twenty or was it three? — ambles in the way of urban pedestrians everywhere, head lowered. Her vision fails every test, capturing a blur of grey concrete and irregular blocks that could be parked automobiles in the way. Still she navigates around the most obvious threats, keeping to the sidewalk. Her hands clenched into fists under the billowing blood-orange sleeves gather handfuls of her skirt, another thin barrier against touch.

Regret mingles to the profane wishes trapped in a human skull. Rogue merely rides through the comedy and turmoil of her senses, nearly insensate. Boom! cries a pistol and bone parts, organs splatter. No, whispers a woman and hope drops, guts clench. She stumbles then, catching herself, lurched forward and standing on the tips of her toes. If they stared into her eyes, they wouldn't see just green, but spectres of better angels and demons riding in those emerald mirrors. Soul-destroying, soul-eater.

The mention of her name launches a beam into the dark. It turns the tide a little, enough for her to raise her head. Autumn? Autumn. The name yields as it lies on her tongue, getting it right for a moment. Memory wedging its way in gives reprieve for a moment: "You can't be here. It isn't safe." A breath comes out too shaky and troubled. Their voices ring in her head, and crowd out everything but the lifeline. "Marconi will try to hurt you. Please don't be hurt. Please don't be hurt."


The voices in her head are both morose and exultant. One is almost crowing inside her mind, shouting its release upon such an open field as this mind that allows it to stretch its malevolent wings to potential new heights. The other weeps and weeps, a steady stream of woe as if it were again holding the remains of its loved one, hearing the steady beeps of machinery become one long droning sound signalling the passing. It's this cavalcade of emotion and sensation that ruins the colors of the world for her, that robs reality of its life and vibrance.

But then those voices in her head are perhaps somehow joined by a third voice. That third voice that had simply murmured her name. She can recognize it assuredly, belonging to that strange professor who had appeared before her after that brief moment of annoyance. Yet the voice is also different. It resonates in the mind and seems assured, controlled, unlike the image that was presented to her.

"We both are safe." It assures her, even as the warping jerking reality around them seems to slowly solidify into a frozen instant preserved in the flow of time between them. There along that sidewalk with the crowd frozen seemingly in mid-step, a few faces of civilians looking on her with their expressions locked into a mix of concern, disgust… pity?

Yet around them nothing moves any longer. The sun no longer trails across the sky and merely hangs there, its heat somewhat muted along with the world at large. Only they are there, giving some aspect of peace between them even though her mind is still assuredly filled with turmoil.

"Tell me what has happened."


The mind only appears open until turned on edge, when the entrapped psyche is shown as a sliver imprisoned within the crystal structure. No crystal memory palace this, but a donjon designed by a Hieronymus Bosch, an oubliette Dante devised and M. C. Escher or Salvador Dali improved. Laughter rattles off fractured planes, focused back on itself as that ego is dissected and shredded by the pandemonium wind. Tears fill the Cocytus well occupied by the other, a barred wall of compassion somehow spiked through memories pilfered. Neither of those forces struggling for dominance has it, though pulverising them to the past requires time or becoming a null space of self. And given Buddhism hasn't shown up on American shores in great numbers, barely penetrating even this far, she has none of the techniques to call upon at more than a cursory level.

Fight is the only option left. A savage, pure war song in languages forgotten or never known swim through the pounding of blood through the veins. Her hands unlock from their tight clench, nails driving sharp divots into her palms. But they aren't enough to break the surface of her fair complexion, not by a long shot. She looks up when the world freezes in turn, and those salvos fired to bring down the dominant psyche — Autumn, Autumn, that's the name written on a leaf and laughed in the rain — fail to take her down. It hurts. A girl drops in memory and she grieves, exalts, fears, and defies it with a hiss of breath. Two in. Two out.

Breathe in the peace he offers. Him, professor, the facts colliding in whitefire streams burning out particulars of people she is not, and simultaneously is, in this moment. "They walked me away. Orders from the boss to bring her back, the gal he knocked down. Pity that skirt wasn't shorter, right? But she'd do." Her accent is clipped but not betraying the gruffer way the first spoke. Maybe it can be mistaken for mockery, a tone she took to say whom.

"We got to the alley. I made them stop before they found him, the boss. It won't be long before they get up and realize I'm not with them, and then they… No, he'll go for me, the other will have to find someone." Her eyes narrow, glittering, turned inwards. "You. None of the others stopped around her. Me. The guitar playing hippie maybe, if they can't find you. Boss will expect a pound of flesh. A couple if it's a good day." If he hears thoughts it's a doomed day in New York; a rogue wish that other, the poisoned mass of hate, will never wake up sings through her being.

"I'm sorry. If I had stayed, it wouldn't have made any difference. It would be worse for you—oh, deliciously worse, slow and painful, I know what they would have done. Still want to do." Her voice doesn't tremble now, the iron echo coming down like a scourge, pulverising and furious. Her knees lock and she fights the urge to go up, but it's there, her lofted on her toes a little too high for anyone but a yoga practitioner or a ballerina. "… I don't regret choosing to go. Like I said, it sucks. For them."


That's the moment when she'll see him clear. He's the only thing here amongst the frozen scene of a silent New York. It's so curious at times when the utter absence of sound is so loud, so pronounced. There isn't that ubiquitous presence of traffic noise, the burble of the crowd, the white noise of millions of people living in such proximity. Only now. Silence. It can be a form of peace, yet also can be a damnation. Solitary confinement within oneself with only their mind cast back at them for comfort.

Yet at least she is not alone here. Not now. Oh she does carry those mentalities upon her shoulders, each mental image of those gunmen striving to be heard and being blocked out for now. At least… in part.

Yet he is there. Clear. As if created from a crystal lens with the angles and sharpness of it having been shattered. It is that professor. It is also not the professor. He is a tall figure that steps around her slowly, his head turned to the side curiously. He has that alien manner one would connect perhaps with the past, with what would imagine of elvenkind. Yet not the pleasant ones from the north pole, nor living in trees making cookies. No it's something so close to the beings that would snatch children from their mothers, that would ride at the night with specters and hunting those who found themselves so lost. Those beings that gave fear to the early man who would dare to stray from the fire's light.

"They are there with you, aren't they?" The words are quiet, gentle. "You hold them with you. They struggle. They strive. You are young. But you are their master, aren't you?" He holds a hand slightly aloft, fingers spread as a faint eldritch energy flickers into being between them. "Tell me you are their master." And as he speaks the words might seem to aid her, to invigorate her.


Only then can the redhead draw enough focus away from the voices screaming in her mind to take stock, even briefly, of the frozen, burning eye and birds locked in flight with their black wings spread in graceful arcs. Read the pity graven on faces blurred behind a veil of tears descended upon the world. All testify to a living city reduced to a single frame in all directions, bodies and buildings and physics struck by a pause button.

Treacherous fingers touch the lower curve of her lip, a tremor of connection snagging against the full line. This, too, is solid in the absence of any tether. "Dark and more dark the shades of evening fell; the wished-for point was reached," she murmurs a snatch of Wordsworth in the honeyed beams that strafe through the torpid air. Tests associate a semblance of purpose in the world gone mad, stretched thin between the accepted pillars of being. This impossibility she can accept even as the chambers of her mind are occupied by screaming shades wailing their stygian hymns to one disinclined to listen.

Her kin knew the sidhe of old. Mayhap the Ljosalfar and Dokkalfar. Pallor might supply a distant link to lands licked clean by Audumla's tongue. Past the point of fear, the universe becomes strangely limitless and contemplating a man who is not a man, a professor of subjects more than idle human muses, not so strange after all.

His questions earn a nod from her. Autumn, the holds to the memory of the moon and a prayer whispered to powers older than all. "Trapped in a box made faulty." Her. "Held until they dissolve away into ribbons of mist or set free again." The words come with the slow reflection of being, and while some might greedily observe the eldritch wisps formed between his long digits, she is focused upon his gaze with unyielding acceptance. "I am their master. They do not master me."

The footnote is a leaden shackle linked to a thousand facets of the Underworld. They will not hurt him. Denied that, by mortal will before else.


The tall man's hands are linked behind his back and he stands before her observing her, watching her with such an open curiousity and with such blazing green eyes that she might almost feel as if such scrutiny were observing not so much 'her' as the very atoms that make up this being before him. There's not that light and harmless professor who had toyed with the idea of flirtation. Instead this is some sort of creature that has been drawn up short and presented with its very own Gordian knot, and those eyes are the blade drawn in Alexander's hands.

"Tell me your story, child. Wend along the trail of your thoughts and craft me a tale that befits the moment when you realized what you are." He walks around her and considers the world as he lifts his eyes upwards. "Grant me the epic of your life and perhaps together we will craft a suitable ending."

Between them this is their reality, this connection of thoughts and images and mind. Yet to the world as a whole it's barely a few spare seconds between when the vulnerable young woman staggered forth from that side street. Barely a moment after that word of the name she had given him was given breath. At the most passersby might pause to look upon her with some measure of concern. But all of this, this entire dreamscape, it will be gone before she would have the chance to hear such a question… let alone answer.


A foxfire light blazes hot as Saint Elmo's fire behind dark lashes, charged to the fever-pitch of spring's blaze. A truth buried in half-truths is the primary outward expression of the complicated deviations of her helixing DNA to a functional divinity. Fingers stray down a path coursed not long ago by paper napkins, loosed off her jawbone and away into the streak spilled white and pure as the arctic tundra through eldritch sunset over the Venetian lagoon.

This, too, is transitory in the enormous sweep of eternity. Up lift those lips in a smile graven on the sphinx from her murderous passage, and the blind-eyed stone maidens on the Erectheion's porch who measure mankind's follies on high. It's like coming up for air for the first time, releasing herself from the tethers into the swan-dive of radiance limned by darkness or its inverted. Whatever he is — Louis King, one place; here, something else — offers invitation to step through to the other side.

"Ask the muse to strike a chord," she echoes, here her voice far purer than its entirely physical aspect. The dulcet tone is still cultivated, polished in the south, but not southern. "Can she catch the melody midtune, can the skald sing the telling halfway through? I have been a dozen names, none of them my own save the one I gave you in exchange and trust." She looks away, the violent beauty of the world worthy of worship from this relief, and yet none of it holds any compulsion over her so much as the eldritch cleaving to a crack in the seven realms.

"I know what it is to be alone. Through each life I walked for a season or a day, the longest two years so far. Like crumbling leaves, memories tumble over my hands when I try to grasp them. I had a family once. Whatever their part in the story or me is fractured and thin as a tapestry. Did they reject me or did I tumble out of their eyrie to land among a hostile, pallid place? In the east is a tale of a girl fashioned by the gods to level punishment upon a blighted generation of warlike men who forgot the laws and divine order, who challenged the heavens themselves in avarice and greed." Her voice lingers there, weaving among the syllables, and she looks up to him again. "A girl fashioned of divine clay and given life by the earth mother, taught every charm by love, tutored by the graces in all the arts and sciences, and unleashed upon civilization to usher that sorrowful, debased age to an end. Every end is a beginning, though.

"The cities called me with an electric spark, but under the glamour of electric lights and whispered promises, a darker spirit always waits. I found trouble and, for a time, walked among a few companions who imagined themselves instruments to balance the scales." Her shoulders lift and drop back. "Those who did terrible things suffered for their deeds. We rationalized our purpose in the same arguments humanity used since Egypt, Ur. But the epiphany came harsh and unkind as they often do, on the battlefield. I was still as alone among them as I was on my own. It wasn't my purpose to stalk in the shadows, indulging a minor taste of righting the schemes of the fates. To be a plaything of the fates is to forfeit any power at all. I walked on bleeding feet through walls crying out questions that had no answer until I found someone who could offer guidance and succor until I walked the spiral to find myself."


The world around them sways and swirls, seeming to leap forward with a subtle jolt as her words seem to conjure forth a few hints at the recollections and spurred on by her words. Flashes of imagery accompany each point of the tale and it gives him some insight into this young being before him. It ends after her words become faint echoes, drifting outwards from them both and sending cascading shudders through the bricks of the walls and the asphalt of the ground, almost as if the world was painted with a thin brush.

"Ah girl, what a pearl beyond price you are. Found amongst such drudgery." He focuses his eyes upon her and watches her levelly. A fingertip lifts and he brushes along the curve of her brow… not touching her, only touching those red locks of hair and gently easing an errant curve of them over her ear as he murmurs. "We do not have much time left here. And when we return the voices will be as they were. Yet you are stronger now, yes?"

Standing straighter he looks to her, "Come. We will walk together, we will speak. And perhaps something will be forged in this wild fire that exists within you. Are you ready?"

The tall man waits for some sign from her, some acknowledgement. And once that's given… reality snaps back to normal as the world and all of its noise resumes with New York announcing its return with such a cacophony that it might in that single second be louder than those voices.


How lovely it would be to claim with the profound arrogance of youth, "They're nothing to me." She knows better the consequences of ignorance.

A slow tip her head puts his fingertip within an iota of contact, and the young woman of many names and none gives another pandoric smile. "The reprieve was a blessing. Thank you." Gratitude is a strange, dangerous things with the fae, but the redhead belongs not to the Old World but the New, where laws bend to modern mores. Her lips round for a moment, and the manner of her posture changes again, altered to square up under Atlas' burden leveled upon slim shoulders. Heels touch the ground again and she settles into those comfortable boots, for in the passing moments when he stood as tall as the cloud tops and not much more than her, the professor of many matters had her floating to achieve equilibrium.

An inch from the ground, but an inch is still an inch.


Ending to the screenplay leaves a pang of consolation thumping in her chest. A thousand sounds rattle her in the crossfire, voices murmuring among the everyday civic sounds filling the background. Augmented senses pick up even more of a range through the slurry gurgling through a gutter, the muffler on its last bolts when a Plymouth putters around the corner. Somewhere near a student shouts over a blaring radio. This, this is life kinetic, surging around her and them in a dynamo.

Always and always. A promise scribed in a whisper flings her ego back against the intrusions. Time wears down the energy of a dark tide, but that extra momentum to buoy up being almost laughs in the face of things. The echo of his voice is still a frequency to follow, even as the redhead tosses her flaming mane over her shoulders as a flag raised against the enemies within.


And there he is, standing beside her yet with that much more mundane facade, looking at her with that touch of worry marring his features and his eyes looking to hers. The crowd rushes around them, bustling about and ignorant to the wonders that surround them and live amongst them. Yet he still has that strength in his gaze, lending it to her even as he turns and starts to set one foot in front of another.

"Autumn," He walks along with her, only a stone's throw away from the great display of the festival, yet it could be miles and miles for all that has passed. "You should go to where you consider your home… or where you rest." He turns to look at her and says in that tone not of a professor but of some form of… authority that is used to being obeyed. "Gather yourself, think back on what has passed. Then find me. We will have words. And we will have answers."

He meets her eyes again and holds up his hand to the curve of her cheek. For a single moment in time she'll actually feel him brush the back of two fingers along her soft skin there. Enough for her to feel that sensation of touch, but no longer than that. It might be long enough to give her nothing of himself. Then again it might give her a ghost of an echo that might serve all the more to entice.


There he stands within the spill of pedestrians trudging here and there, a collection of girls in pretty dresses and men in jeans, students slouching off to the next dark corner and businessmen wishing for all the world the latest lazy generation would get out of the way. He is rendered in flesh and blood, but even the concealment dimming what could be underneath fails to fully beguile her if she won't believe. Surely?

"Louis." Bold, overly so, for a girl of any breeding to declare a first name basis so. In a single word, a whole testament in the decision laid upon her by a force she daren't disobey for reasons wholly her own. The stray quirk of a smile suggests a bohemian on the grand wheel of life not content to subject herself to every turn of the spokes, a dimension tucked just under the soft mandarin sleeve drifted petal-soft against her knuckles. Separation dwindles down to nothing while sounds echo off them and enfold them through their connections. Words in the end are mere empty rantings upon a different stage, and actions a different matter instead.

In the darkest hour, how strange things can turn out. The devouring need is something she knows too well. How strange to receive the anointing of a touch, a sacrament to release her back into the aching emptiness of a million people crushed in so few streets and none of them hearing the same music of the celestial spheres. A million people. One other.

An ache ripples through to places disquieted and calms the turbulent sea elsewhere.

She brushes past him, the ghost of neroli in her wake, stirring around him where she was. Rogue moves through the masses on a liquescent path of least resistance until the epicenter of her culture finds her with furtively open arms, and she vanishes into the Village. But of course.

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