Silent Treatment

by DuAnn Cowart



All recognizable characters belong to Marvel. Standard disclaimers apply.

This is a (sort of) response to KJ's Disability Challenge. This story takes place after the current story arc in X-Force where Feral slashed Siryn's throat, rendering her mute. In canon, she left the team to spend some time with an aunt. This story takes place during that visit.

Since this is internal monologue, I'm not bothering to do much of the usual accent thing.

I woke up this morning with my arms pinned underneath me, face down in something rough and scratchy. My head felt like it'd been up close and personal with a baseball bat, my throat was dry as this bloody desert, and my stomach was doing a damn good imitation of a fish on a line, twisting and flopping as hard as it could to get away.

My first thought was that we'd been attacked, ambushed by the MLF, perhaps, or Sinister, or the bloody silly Arcadians, or any of a hundred groups of ridiculous "supervillains" we've fought over the years. With a groan, I rolled over, and opened my eyes like a good little soldier to assess the situation, scan my opponents for weaknesses, formulate a plan. Just like I'd been trained. Just like a good field leader should.

I opened my mouth to bark out a command, but no sound came out.

And that's when I remembered where I was.

I was in my Aunt Meg's barn, curled up in the hay where I'd passed out the night before, nursing the worst hangover I'd had in. . . in two years, seven months, and three days, to be exact. Over two and a half years of sobriety, tossed away just like that.

Just like that.

Ignoring the churning in my stomach, I struggled to my feet, and was promptly met by something soft and warm pressing against my side. Pasha, Meg's favorite Apaloosa, nuzzled my arm, her long graceful neck arched over the half-wall separating her stall from the empty one where I'd apparently ended up the night before.

Knowing one of the hands would be out to feed her shortly, I only gave the horse a couple of sugar cubes, smiling as her soft velvety hose brushed my palm. Looking around the barn, I winced as a beam of stray morning sunlight burst through a dusty window to catch me square in the face, the light intensifying my headache tenfold.

I usually love mornings, I do. Mornings and evenings both, really, the beginning and end of the day. I like to rise before dawn, watch the sunrise, the glorious colors splayed across the sky, the incredible textures and hues of the magnificient daily masterpeice God puts on for anybody who'll take the time to watch.

I remember how Jimmy would drag himself out of bed to sit with me on the front steps of whatever hideout or safehouse Cable had us stationed at as we would watch the play of the colors and the clouds as they moved brilliantly against the backdrop of the rising sun. We'd sip steaming cups of coffee and talk about politics, religion, philosophy, our pasts, our futures- essentially anything that came to mind.

The topic really didn't matter. The important thing was that we'd *talk*. Saints, I remember those mornings- how I adored them, meeting the day head on, ready for whatever challenge it might throw at me. I didn't adore this morning. This morning was too bright and too cold and just too damn quiet. So, unwilling to face it any longer, I staggered back into the ranch house and collapsed back on the couch, thinking back on what had led me to this point.

The same thing that brought me here tonight.

It all started last week. Meg's annual visit with my cousins was fast approaching, and she was torn about whether or not to go this year. She had asked me to accompany her, but I had declined, as in my current state of mind the very last thing I wanted was to spend a week in a boisterous house full of toddlers. Meg desperately wanted to go, I could tell, but didn't want to leave me here alone. Ah, what a grand lady she is- if Tom hadn't taken me in, I very well might have grown up with her here, on this ranch.

I wonder how things would have been if I had. I wonder if *I* would have a house full of toddlers, or maybe be teaching school, spending my weekends in my rose garden or at the ocean instead of wearing spandex and fighting costumed megalomaniacs.

Though I suppose I don't do that anymore, either.

Anyway, that doesn't matter, I suppose. What does matter is that I insisted Meg go on with her trip. I hate being trouble for her- and no matter how much she insisted otherwise, staying with me and foregoing her vacation would have been burdensome, not to mention unnecessary.

After all, I'm a grown woman. I've lived on my own for years, most of which time- silly as I know it sounds- I've led a mutant outlaw team that has probably helped save the world (or at least part of it) more times than I can count. I could take care of myself, and I told her so. 'I'll be fine,' I scribbled on one of the thousands of notepads she kept lying around the house for my use. 'You go ahead. Give Susan and Luke and the babies my love.'

"Are ye sure?" She'd asked me softly, and there was still a touch of Ireland in her lovely voice even after decades spent here in the States. I must have reassured her adequately, because she finally decided to go. And when the time came, she did.

"Now I'll be back in a week, Teresa my dear. If ye need me, just use th' beeper, an' I'll check m' email every day. And if ye need anythin' here, Mike and his family are just around back," she reassured me, referring to the great huge gentleman who ran the ranch under Meg's supervision.

And then she was gone. And for the first time since. . . the incident, I was alone. To be honest, I really didn't mind the solitude. It was rather nice, at first. Gave me time to relax, be myself, to not try to keep busy and keep up a happy face so Meg wouldn't worry. It gave me time to think. In retrospect, I guess, considering all that had happened, maybe that wasn't such a good thing after all.

Or in the long run, maybe it was.

Anyway, she left on Wednesday. By Thursday afternoon, I had sufficiently rested, straightened up the house, and checked with Mike to make sure everything was running smoothly. Then I began on my correspondence.

I've become quite the letter writer as of late. I stay in touch with me Da- he's been through this same thing, you know. He lost his voice and his sonic scream once, too, and he's given me some invaluable advice on how to deal with the loss.

He's also a living reminder of hope. No one thought his voice would ever return, either, and it did. Maybe- just maybe- mine will heal one day, too.

There's always hope. I have to keep reminding myself that, and know that even if my voice never returns, I'll be alright. I'll still be me. I've got to remember that.

So, in order to keep in touch with who I am, I've tried to stay in contact with everyone who knows me as me. I email and write Jimmy and the rest of the team regularly, of course. I've also written Wade several times, but he's yet to write me back. I've even been catching up with events at home- Eamon and Kelvin have both been especially good about writing me, letting me know what's happening with the Keep and with Uncle Tom.

Da told me what happened when he went to Massachusetts, of course- that the man who'd raised me, tended my hurts, been a father to me all my life had finally lost whatever semblance of sanity he'd still retained and had to be put down.

Excuse me just a minute. I. . .the last time I spoke to Tom, I didn't. . . tell him everything I needed to say.

Anyway, then he was back, with no explanation. We thought him dead, then he came back. No big deal. Happens all the time in the line of work I'm in. Only now he won't answer my letters.

Makes me wonder why more of us aren't in places like this.

And anyway, that's beside the point. Or . . . maybe it's not, but I *really* don't want to get into all this right now.

I know, I know. One day I'll have to. Just not right now . . . Right now, I'm telling you what happened yesterday.

Yesterday I finished answering that day's mail just at about dusk. With a stretch, I went outside and took one of the jeeps out in the desert to watch the sunset.

Just like Jimmy and I used to. Only now, he wasn't here to talk to. And even if he was, I couldn't have talked to him anyway.

I couldn't talk to anybody anymore. A familiar sense of longing settled onto my shoulders, and with a deep breath, I resigned myself to it and watched the sun set by myself.

When night finally fell, I went back to the house alone. I went inside, warmed up my dinner, and sat down in front of the television for an evening's entertainment as the loud sounds of Must See T.V. filled the room. Not surprisingly for summertime, the program was a rerun, and I felt myself falling even deeper into the same strange sort of yearning that had haunted me ever since I left San Fransisco. Something was missing, and I felt myself falling deeper into memory.

We used to do this all the time, you see. X-Force lived a rather hectic life, and let's face it- nothing's a better stress reliever than mindless entertainment. Between Tab and Shatty arguing about plotlines, and the rest of us trying our best to explain to Caliban just what everyone found so funny about the comedy- yeah, we watched a lot of television.

Anyway, I sat there, bathed in the light of the flickering images of the television, and thought back on those days. They felt like a lifetime ago. . .

We were more than a team, you see. Cliched as it sounds, we really were more like a family. The team that plays together, stays together, right?

Right. That's why I sat here alone in the dark while the rest of my 'family' was several states away, fighting the good fight and just generally enjoying life same as always.

I could picture them now. . . watching the same show I was, or maybe grilling out on the roof, or out at a restaurant- or maybe they were even out in the field, right now, feeding that adrenaline rush by beating the bad guys and . . . how did Sam phrase it. . .'making it safe for a world that hates and fears us'.

Saints, I wish I were back with them. Do you know that even when Dani came back, and Sam, and even Dom, they still called me team leader? That *I* still ran the show, more or less?

There's no greater rush than that. It makes sex seem tame. . . well, not that I've had much of a basis of comparison, lately. And *no*, I'm not going to get into that right now, either. I've got enough to worry about without getting into all of that. That's a whole separate meeting.

I was *talking* about commanding my team in battle. There's nothing like being out there, putting your God-given abilities to use, stretching yourself to your limits, knowing what you're doing is right and good and is helping make the world a better place. Nothing like it at all.

And now I was afraid that I'd never feel that thrill again. And it was my own fault.

All of a sudden, the food on my plate turned cold, and what was left of my appetite vanished. With a lump in my mangled throat, I leaned back, and pushed my plate aside. Then, almost like as in a dream, I stood up and sort of stumbled to the foyer to study my reflection in the huge gilt mirror hanging there.

I looked. . . different. My hair and skin were about the same- thankfully, I had listened to Meg's admonitions about the necessity of sunscreen for pale Irish skin, and my hairstyle hasn't changed in years. I have, however, lost a lot of weight in the last few months. My cheeks looked gaunt and rather sunken, and my clothes hung loosely from a surprisingly bony frame. That wasn't the worst, though. My eyes. . . my eyes were dark again. Over the past few years, the shadows left behind by Farouk's tainted possession had slowly begun to dissipate, and I'd begun to see the world clearly again. I'd finally begun to move past the shadow and shame of my past to put those demons behind me. For the first time in my life, I was no longer hungry for something I couldn't name.

Now, the shadows were back. My eyes were haunted again, but this time it was my own fault. I'd gotten too cocky in battle, forgotten the gravity of the situation, and now I'd paid for it.

A very dear price indeed.

Without conscious thought, my hands fluttered to my throat, to the wide band of green cloth circling my neck. I slipped my fingers under the choker, pulling back the pressure bandages the doctor still advised I wear, and stared at my throat.

The surgeons really had done an excellent job. Instead of the gaping, bloody mess it had been, now only a thin, slightly puckered pink scar ran all the way across my throat, curving upward on both ends for all the world like a second mocking rictus grin. Staring at the marred flesh, I felt a shudder run through my bones.

Feral. The former teammate who had defenestrated Sam and betrayed us for the MLF had done this to me. She'd sided with our enemies and unleashed the animalistic fury that was her namesake against us. Against me.

During our- no, my- last battle- with the New Hellions, she had reached out in anger to rake her claws across my throat, and in doing so she silenced me forever. My throat- my voice, my sonic scream, my access to the skies- was slashed, ripped open, torn apart so badly that the doctors still tell me it was a miracle they were even able to save my life.

So there I was, staring at myself, staring in the mirror, thinking of all the things I've lost, and suddenly the yearning came back so strong and so fierce I could almost touch it.

And there was nothing I could do to escape it.

I'm not excusing what I did, now- don't think I am. I'd been here before. There's been lots of ups and downs in the last two and a half years, and this wasn't the first time I'd been tempted- the night before I decided to leave San Fransisco immediately springs to mind. I'd fought down this urge before.

But last night- to be truthful, I really can't tell you why I did what I did. I can't tell you what combination of factors left me so susceptible to temptation. I can't tell you why I stepped over that edge I'd been balanced on for so long. I honestly don't know what was so extraordinary about what happened last night. Maybe, when all is said and done, it wasn't extraordinary at all. Maybe I was just alone, and hurting, and I wanted something to dull the pain just for a little while.

Just like everyone else in this room.

In any case, that's when I walked into the study and opened Meg's liquor cabinet. That's when I took out the almost full bottle of scotch. That's when I poured myself the first glass. Then the second. Then the third.

And I don't remember much more after that.

So, there we are. After I made it inside this morning and remembered all that had happened, I rose from couch and staggered to my bedroom to sleep the rest of it off. When I awoke, I cleaned myself up, choked down some dinner, and now I'm here.

And that's the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

So, as I sit here in the corner of this church basement, listening to the rest of you introduce yourselves and tell us why you're all here, in my own way I'm doing the same thing.

You can't hear me, but I'm telling you my story. Here, in my own head, I'm telling you what happened. I'm telling you why I'm here. I'm here because, when all is said and done, I'm only human. Hero or citizen, homo sapiens or homo superior, sober or drunk, we're all only human.

And we're gonna make mistakes, but that isn't the limit of what we are. Our failures don't define us- they only show the contrast in what we are and who we can be. And *that's* why I'm really here. I'm not resigning myself to this anymore. I'm not giving up. I'm going to learn to live with this, get past the yearning loneliness that this damn silence only makes so much louder. I'm not going to let the liquor drown out what voice I have left. It would be easy- so easy- to fall into despair, to just let that happen, but right here, right now, I'm putting a halt to it. I've made a decision. I'm going to live again, dammit, and I'm taking the first step here today. I'm admitting what's wrong, and I'm going to do everything I can to stop myself from falling again.

So hello, Elaine, and hello, John, and Albert and Joaquin and Yolanda and everybody else.

My name's Teresa, and I'm an alcholic, too.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. -John 14:27

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