Here it is, the chaptered fic. This is an x-men mutants AU following the Logan universe. There will be some references to x-men things, but you don’t have to read up on those, that’s my job. Enjoy!
The airport is crowded. People milled about in varying states of wakefulness, some of them pushing carts stacked with luggages and bags, surrounded by their loved ones; others wheeling solo luggages and striding purposefully towards their destinations. He watches them all, leaning against the railings on the second storey overhang. And he waits.
The luminous pink suitcase catches his eye from a mile away, it’s equally pink clad owner cutting her way through the crowd to the check-in counters. He shakes his head, disappointed. Too stupid, too easy. That’s what he gets for hunting spoilt, dumb children too powerful for their own good.
“I have eyes, she’s by the counters. Pink suitcase, pink coat, can’t miss it,” he says into the small microphone on his bluetooth, turning towards the escalators to leave. There’s a fat check with his name on it at the end of this, and he can’t wait to get blasted.
“Copy. Grab her, Salem.”
A rowdy looking man flicks the newspaper he was reading stiff and folds it closed, standing to leave it in the seat he had just been occupying. He adjusts the collar of his leather jacket, casually surveying the crowd for the pink suitcase and spots it in the queue for counter three.
“I see her. Walking,”
Salem weaves his way through the crowd, taking care to not draw too much attention to himself lest his prey spooked. He hones in on the ridiculous pink suitcase, spots the manicured hand resting on its handle and seizes it by the wrist.
“Gotcha, you sneaky lil’–” He looks up, into the face of a large, increasingly irate, white woman and immediately lets go and walks away.
“Son of a bitch, what the fuck was that Cain?” Salem hisses through tightly gritted teeth, keeping his head down as he escapes the check-in line.
“What,” Cain flatly demands, making his way towards the departure gate.
“Don’t you have eyes? That pink suitcase was some giant white chick. We’re looking for small and asian! Does that fat whale look anything like the bounty to you?”
Cain rolls his eyes and makes his way towards the check-in counters instead. Salem glowers at him from near a giant potted plant where he’s pretending to check his phone. Cain walks past counter three, sidling up next to the empty counter number four, stopping beside the metal railings separating the check-in counters from the walkways. He pretends to look busy, checking his phone, pockets and papers. Pink suitcase is ahead of him, still waiting in line for check-in at the counter. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes.
He feels the residual energy clinging to the pink suitcase and coat, feels the ‘colour’ of it (now muted, what the hell did she do..?) permeate the airport. She’d been around the place an alarming number of times, it seemed, and there were a dozen or so trails of her colour everywhere. He shakes his head, sniffing hard in an attempt to concentrate on the freshest one, feels it wind its way across the airport… straight… towards the departures gate.
His eyes snap open.
“What is it.”
“She’s headed to the gates, someone stop her,” he mutters grimly, pushing off from the railing and breaking into a run.
He hears Salem grunt a swear over the headset but pushes it out of his mind in favour of concentrating on tracking the mutant energy. He feels it flare, brilliant and warning, at the mouth of the departures gate and sprints harder.
By the time he arrives, he sees Salem standing off to a side scowling, arms folded tightly under his armpits and rapidly tapping his foot. The gate guards are chatting amicably like old friends, and their bounty is nowhere in sight. He glares at the faint swirl of energy hovering over the guards’ heads.
Too late. She did something to them and they were too fucking late.
Hazel steps up behind him, the click of her heeled boot making him turn.
“She’s skilled it seems,” she says, faintly amused.
“I told you we should have gotten Mark and broken down her fuckin’ door. Now we have to chase this bitch across the world…” Salem grumbles, mussing his unruly hair.
Hazel shrugs carelessly. “Call head office. We’ll need plane tickets.”
Cain pulls out his phone, smoothing a hand over his bald head. “Where to?”
She looks over to the still conversing bunch and catches the eye of one departures guard. He freezes mid laugh, jaw slackening as she mentally pries apart the insides of his head for information.
“South Korea,” she finally says, looking away. The guard’s eyes roll back in his head and he slumps onto his alarmed looking, still-laughing buddy.
Cain rolls his eyes, leaning into his phone as he waits for it to connect. Rain check on that beer then.
“How are you holding up?” He asks, falling quietly into step beside her as they get off the plane.
The entire flight from LA to Seoul had been absolutely nerve-wracking for Tiffany. She honestly hadn’t expected to get out so easily, so when she found her way through the gates she’d been at a loss on what to do after, her mind running in circles, wondering what fresh hell the bounty hunters would come up with to bring her back. Even as she boarded the plane, even as it started to taxi, she’d been fully expecting one of them to torpedo it – casualties be damned – just to prevent her from leaving.
For a large part of the thirteen hour flight, she’d had to forcibly take yogic breaths to avoid accidentally passing her anxiety and crashing the plane herself. She’s pretty sure the old man next to her side-eyed her the entire flight for it.
Her lips twitch upwards. It felt strangely refreshing to have petty worries like being judged by an elder despite her current circumstances.
“I’ll live,” she says.
“I’ll tag you through arrivals. They have a sensor at the gates.” He says before briefly brushing his fingers against the inside of her wrist.
He dips his head briefly in acknowledgement before speeding up, melding into the rest of the crowd.
The skin on her wrist tingles.
She walks faster.
The sensor turns out to be a white door frame that looked like it was made by Apple; all futuristic modern-minimalist aesthetic and rounded edges. Not dissimilar to a regular metal detector, except instead of detecting metals, it looked for active x-genes in a person.
Tiffany watches as her chaperone sidles into the very back of the queue and lifts his chin ever so slightly, telling her to go quickly. She holds her breath and passes through both detectors, trying not to sag too much with relief when neither scanner screams. She leaves the vicinity of the gates quickly as per their arrangement and waits for him beyond immigrations, counting backwards from a thousand to sooth her nerves.
They make it through arrivals without incident, and Tiffany soon finds herself sagging into a chair at the Starbucks; staring dully at her iced americano while he goes to arrange their transport.
He had insisted on untagging her the moment they cleared the final gates, and she still doesn’t understand how his ‘dampening’ powers work, but she’s not about to complain. For fuck’s sake, she doesn’t even fully know who he is, just that he’s the only thing standing between a fresh new start in Korea, and being deported back to the US to face her fate. And she very much enjoys being a free woman, thank you very much; prison food sucks.
Tiffany sips quietly on her coffee, anxiously fidgeting with the phone in her pocket. It had been a last minute thing, to leave the country, but the people her dad had arranged proved to be top notch if their stunt at the check-in was anything to go by. She’s still reeling a little bit from it, honestly. That was beyond scary.
She had known for a fact that there were people like her, she just didn’t expect that there’d be so many, and with such strange abilities. ‘Special’ was the way her dad and some sympathisers put it, ‘mutant’ was what everyone else called it.
People don’t much like different, and they especially dislike empirically-stronger-than-you-different. But the ‘X-men’ appear on the news often enough, for her to carry hope that things would eventually change. And when the school fell. Well.
Shit got rough.
People started hunting and hurting mutants with impunity; mutants started hunting mutants with impunity. And now the big, shady piece of shit behind all these attacks was after her. All because she could do a little bit of hocus pocus. Fuck.
Tiffany clenches her teeth, mindful of the simmering indignation and taking a cleansing breath to calm herself. She had to be in control. Otherwise she’d accidentally start a riot and risk exposing herself and the people that were helping her, and that would be a complete fucking disaster– calm down.
She jumps when a hand settles on her shoulder, clenches her teeth tight to fight the scream stuck in her throat.
“Sorry,” he says immediately, removing his gloved hand, holding both of them up in a placating gesture. “You weren’t responding.” He drops his voice. “Car’s here, let’s go.”
Her phone makes indents in her hands from how hard she’s gripping it, but she shakes her head stiffly. It takes a herculean effort, but she still manages to look into his tired eyes and smile.
“No- yes. Thank you.”
His gaze softens and he nods and grabs the bags by her feet, quietly tilts his head in the direction he came from and gestures for her to walk.
She nods to herself, following him and chanting over and over in her head that it was all gonna be fine, and they were going to be safe and no boogeyman was going to come get her just yet.
“Careful,” he says in warning. “I can feel it.”
Tiffany sucks in a deep breath and holds it.
He raises an eyebrow.
She exhales as slowly as she can, takes in another deep breath and holds it. He huffs, amused.
They proceed like that to the underground carpark, and past the rows and rows of cars, straight into a musty stairwell where a sallow faced man greets them with an oily smile and crooked teeth.
For a single terrifying moment, she wondered if maybe her dad had contacted the wrong people, and this was how she was going to be killed.
The pale man sticks out his hand. “Raza, how d’you– Wait,” he snatches his hand back, casting a narrow-eyed look at her quiet chaperone. “You took it back already, right?”
Raza nods and sticks his hand out again. “Cool, how d’you do, little lady?”
“What?” Is all Tiffany says.
Raza raises his eyebrows expectantly, wiggling his fingers. She frowns at it. What did he mean, ‘take it back’? She looks incredulously at her quiet travelling companion.
“When did you give me anything?”
The old man sighs and adjusts his grip on her bags, but makes no move to explain himself. Tiffany looks accusingly at Raza.
He puts both of his hands up, jacket sleeves sliding down to expose skinny wrists. “Woah woah, it’s okay little lady, it won’t have any long term effects, he took the virus back before it could do any damage.”
Her brain grinds to a halt. Virus?
Raza winces. “Oy, you’re loud.”
“What do you mean virus?!” She yells, her pitch going higher with every word, echoing all around them in the dank stairwell. Raza makes a face and reaches out quickly to grab her hand.
“Sorry darling, love to explain, but we gotta hustle now.”
Her next words get lost in a maelstrom of wind roaring past her ears.
She feels her body being pulled in every direction, and wonders if she might fly away or disintegrate into nothing when everything very abruptly slams back into place. She thinks she might be sitting, and her feet might be touching a nice, plush carpet, but her head is whirling too violently to make sense of anything.
She throws up.
“Damn, lucky I got that can under your nose in time, else Madam woulda had my head,” Raza laughs, rubbing the back of his neck.
Tiffany groans, the smell of her own vomit in the waste bin on her lap prompting another wave of nausea.
“Now, your bags should be here by the end of the day, when Contagion gets someone to drive ‘em over, so in the mean time, just sit tight, and try to keep it down, hmm?” Raza continues.
She only vaguely hears his instructions above the sounds of her own violent dry heaves and wishes she died, or he died, or maybe both.
“What the fuhhh-ck…” she moans.
She hears someone tut and gently gather her hair away from her face. “Now now, that’s no language for a lady.” A thoughtful pause. “Unless you’re Titan, I suppose.”
Tiffany could hear the noncommittal shrug in the response, and she’d turn over, but a rising wave of nausea keeps her face cautiously pointed into the bucket.
“Thanks,” she mumbles anyway, grateful to the stranger for taking care of her hair.
“Not a problem,” the stranger says, her voice all at once sweet, soothing and girlish. “The owner will come tell you about what’s going on soon. Once you’re done, you can look for me downstairs.”
“Okay,” Tiffany croaks, her face still stuck in the waste bin despite her curiosity.
The stranger makes a noise of acknowledgement, and she hears a door clack shut from far away. That prompts her to lift her face out of the waste bin, and she is greeted by oddly lavish surroundings. A neatly kept heavy wooden antique desk, lacquered to a high polish. Gold curtain railings and heavy blood red curtains, matching the expensive looking carpet under her feet. An ornately framed painting of a boatman navigating a tropical river hangs on the wall behind the desk.
Holy shit. Did her dad contact the mafia bosses of South Korea to get her out of the country– what is this? Heck, even the weird.. bracket things denoting the ends of the walls were stepped, ornate and decorated, just where in the world did she wind up?
“Oh good, you’re finished. I’ll be taking that then,” Raza says, prying the bin out of her hands and replacing them with a bottle of water and a wad of tissues. “Rinse, spit and wipe your mouth, girlie, Madam’ll be here soon.”
Tiffany follows mindlessly, too stunned by the lavishness of the decor to do anything else.
A sharp hiss and fizz in the space behind her makes her jump, the sound not unlike a large object whizzing way too close to her face for comfort.
“Oops, that’s them, better take this away,” Raza says, more to himself than for her benefit.
Tiffany turns, just in time to see space tear itself open in a gleam of blue-purples and pinks. The tear widens into a door frame, and if she squints a little, she can make out someone just beyond the threshold, holding the door open. Two people step through the door, and as soon as it closes, it blinks out of existence.
She honestly isn’t sure which is more surprising now, the raw display of what basically amounts to a reality-bending power, or the people that stepped out of it. Everything about the pair of them screamed sharp. Sharp dress sense, sharp eyeliner, sharp claws.
The woman Tiffany assumes is ‘Madam’ is less person and more bird, with monstrous tawny wings so large they dragged along the floor. Tiffany’s gaze falls involuntarily to the floor, automatically widening at the sight of sharp talons in place of feet. Her eyes snap back up to the madam’s face, and the feathers framing it, edging into her hairline. Tiffany wonders briefly if it’s racist to be disappointed the madam doesn’t actually have a beak, and if harpies are real, what else could be?
The bird woman pulls out her own chair and takes a seat behind the desk, laces her fingers (deceptively soft and human, with nails sharp enough to tear out someone’s throat with,) appraisingly under her chin. Her companion stands behind the chair with her back to the wall, arms folded.
Her eyes. The madam’s eyes are a burning gold, rimmed with black where there should be white, and it makes her look even more aggressively bird-like, like she’s quietly considering whether or not to tear her into pieces.
The door opens and Tiffany startles so badly, she’s sure her butt vacated the chair for at least two seconds.
“Oh, Madam! Assistant-nim,” Raza greets, nodding at the two women. He gestures at Tiffany. “I brought the stray, didn’t get the chance to tell her anything yet.”
Madam reaches into a desk drawer and retrieves a stuffed envelope, holding it out to him.
Raza laughs. “Thank you kindly.”
She dismisses him with a wave. Raza touches the thick envelope to his forehead in a mock salute and leaves the room just as suddenly as he entered.
“Disconnect us,” she says to her assistant, and her voice is soft and not at all any sort of harsh caw Tiffany had been half expecting.
The assistant nods, pushing off from the wall and leaves the room, closing the wooden double doors behind her.
Tiffany wonders what the madam meant by that, and she gets her answer from the abrupt cessation of noise. In the space where the ambient sounds of life; of wind, of people’s chatter, of muted music, would have been, there is now only the ringing silence that comes with the absence of all sound.
The madam smiles, and her small huff of a laugh is uncomfortably loud in the suddenly quiet room.
“Relax, I’m not going to eat you,” she says coyly, leaning back into her chair.
That only makes Tiffany sit more upright in her chair, guilty at having entertained the idea.
“My men tell me you were followed,” she says, picking nonchalantly at her nails. She looks up. “Your guardian failed to mention that when we got you out.”
Tiffany’s mouth dries. “Um.”
“Who are they.”
“Bounty hunters.” Tiffany ducks her head, whispers. “T-Transigen.”
The madam stops picking at her nails and stands abruptly. She crosses around to the front of the desk, her clawed feet making only soft footfalls against the thick carpet. “May I ask why?”
Tiffany clenches her fists in her lap. “I. I’m an empath.”
She raises an eyebrow.
“I can make people… feel things. Do things they don’t want to do.” Tiffany says, her head sinking lower and lower into her chest with every word. She thinks about bullies and Beryl and the savage satisfaction and the guilt the guilt the guilt the guilt and clenches her fists tighter, feels her long nails dig into her palms.
“Well, you’ll be right at home here then,” The madam says. Tiffany looks up. She’s still staring at her, still smiling.
She shrugs and walks back behind her desk. “You’re not the only one that can do that here, darling. You’ll fit in.” She sits down. “On the matter of the bounty hunters, however. The sum your father paid was only to get you out of the country. It’s not enough to keep you safe from being hunted.” She pulls open a drawer and pulls out a thick binder and starts flipping its pages. “So to cover that, you’ll work for me.”
Tiffany thinks about Raza, about the virus the old man gave her and took back, about airport gates and heart attacks and. “Is there any where else I can work?”
She looks up from the pages and raises an eyebrow.
“I-I just don’t want to help smuggle people into the country, I don’t think it’d be very smart because they know my face…”
“Of course not, you’ll work here,” she says, tapping the binder. “Downstairs, at the bar. If you can’t sing, you can dance, if you can’t dance you can serve the drinks, if you can’t serve the drinks you can scrub the toilets. And if you don’t want any of that, well. I wonder if you can stay hidden long enough for a team of Transigen backed bounty hunters to pass through.”
Tiffany gulps. “I can sing.”
The owner’s lips curl. “Good. Now, you look like you have questions. Ask.”
“Wh-” God, why didn’t she think to ask this earlier? “What’s your name?”
Both of Madam’s eyebrows shoot into her feathered hairline at the question, and Tiffany panics at the thought of having overstepped when she laughs, loud and ahjumma-like and holy shit that’s a lot of sharp teeth.
“You’re funny,” she laughs, carefully dabbing away a tear to not mess up her eyeliner. “But you’re right, we have not introduced ourselves.” She stands, offering a hand. “Hyo Jin, I own the place.”
Tiffany hops off her seat and reaches for the hand, bowing low. “Tiffany Hwang, I’m in your debt.”
Hyo Jin chuckles, amused. “That you are.” It is not to threaten, merely a statement of fact, and Tiffany thinks for the first time, that Madam Hyo Jin might be a lot less… murderous. Than she makes herself out to be.
Hyo Jin lets go first, and they return to their seats. “Anything else?”
Her brow furrows. “What did the man who helped me out ‘give’ me?”
“The Legacy Virus.”
Tiffany stops breathing.
So many people died from the virus, it mutated and mutated and it was like God finally gave the mutants cancer and her mom, oh god her mom. She couldn’t even go near her mom after the symptoms first appeared. The lesions, the weakness, the cough; that thrice damned death-rattle cough.
She rises from her seat, tears in her eyes, fists clenched, mouth open. Hyo Jin holds up a hand. The feathers on her crown rise.
“It is a ‘safe’ form of Legacy only Contagion carries. It has been mutated with the mutant vaccine. You won’t die from it, and it will infect only those he chooses to infect.”
Tiffany doesn’t sit. She wants to leave. She wants to scream and cry and grab Hyo Jin and show her the pain and fear and hopelessness the virus brings, but some still-functioning rational part of her brain knows that it’s a bad idea, and that it’s cruel and she can’t leave anyway so she has to swallow down her feelings, but it’s hard, it’s so so hard.
She takes a deep, shaky breath. And sits.
The risen feathers slowly fold down. Hyo Jin lowers her hand, sits back in her seat. “It is unfortunately, the best and safest method we have to move mutants past the x-gene detectors between borders.”
“Do-” her voice breaks. She swallows. “Do the symptoms..?”
“Contagion takes it all on himself. His mutation is the ability to host and transfer diseases. If he has taken it back, rest assured that the Legacy Virus and any form of cancer it might have generated in the time it’s been with you, have been removed.”
Tiffany sags in the hardback chair. She’s relieved. She’s also guilty about feeling relieved. She won’t end up like her mom. She also won’t get to see her mom.
“Anything else?” Hyo Jin asks gently.
“How long will I have to work here?”
“Till your debt is paid.”
“How much do I owe?”
Hyo Jin laughs at that. “A lot, especially since we have to keep you from the hunters, and your father’s only paid half so far.”
Tiffany puts her face in her hands. She’s not exactly sure what her dad did or how exorbitant the fees are, but she hopes it isn’t something stupid like selling the car and taking a second mortgage. She hates this rollercoaster of a day and she wants off of it already. “Okay.”
Hyo Jin hums and pulls a sheet of paper out of the binder. “I’ll need you to sign this then.”
Tiffany eyes the sheet. “How much to bring my dad here too?”
Tiffany shakes her head. “I’ll pay it. Please bring him here. He’s not a mutant, that should be easier, right?”
Hyo Jin considers. “That depends, but we’ll see what we can do.”
Tiffany bows. “Thank you.”
Hyo Jin tuts, scribbling something onto the sheet of paper. “Don’t thank me yet.” She puts her pen down, turns the sheet around and slides it across the desk.
Tiffany looks at the number on the end of the sheet.
Holy fucking shit.
“Well?” Tiffany looks up at Hyo Jin’s voice. She has one eyebrow arched, waiting for the signature. It’s not a smug look, it’s not even pitying. She’s just waiting because she knows Tiffany has no other place to go. Just how many people had she seen before her in the same position?
Tiffany scribbles her signature on the dotted line and pushes it back. She bows deeply enough that her forehead skims the edge of the desk. “Please take care of him, he’s the only family I have left.”
Hyo Jin tuts disapprovingly. “You didn’t even read it,” she says, sliding the sheet back into the binder. “I could have written something completely dastardly on the contract and you wouldn’t have noticed.”
Her words make Tiffany panic. Oh no.
She walks to the double doors and knocks on them, smiling. “Always remember to read contracts next time, child.”
She hears the rumble of passing cars, hears the heavy bass muted through the floor. The doors open, and in steps her assistant. Hyo Jin retakes her seat behind the desk and makes a shooing gesture at her. “Go downstairs and introduce yourself. Send my niece on up here, will you? I have things to discuss with her.”
The assistant holds the door open wider for her, jerks her head in an impatient ‘get-out’ motion and Tiffany can only stare mournfully at the binder on the desk as she leaves.