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The Beast Within

Chapter Text

Making Connections

"Yes," Hank replies. "How-?"

"I was his assistant," Roxanne explains, turning away and heading down the hill. Hank follows. "I originally had a job lined up in California, after I graduated college, but then Gramps told me about a scientist who had recently moved to town and put out a listing for a lab assistant. I took it because I missed home, and I knew home missed me."

"Would Gramps happen to be Aklaq Yazzie?"

"Yeah," Roxanne replies, surprised. "How'd you know?"

"I met him today while I was trying to follow some leads. He didn't like me very much," Hank wryly recalls.

"Sorry about that. Gramps doesn't trust outsiders," she says, shaking her head. "I'll talk to him, don't worry."

Somehow Hank rather doubts that she'll make much headway on that front. The old man struck him as quite stubborn earlier. But then, he's been wrong before.

"So you came home to Eagle Village to be Paul's lab assistant. What happened after that?"

"He asked me to reverse engineer this compound. He told me it was a mutation suppressing serum. I was obviously a little concerned, but he assured me it was for people who needed help controlling their mutations, that were dangerous to themselves and other people. So I did what he asked. And then… Then things started to get weird. Dr. Cartier started keeping things from me, projects he was working on. He began acting very erratically, almost like he was fighting something within himself."

She shudders.

"It was something… dark. And it was growing stronger, I could feel it. He started watching me in a way that made me extremely uncomfortable, with this hungry look in his eyes. One day he approached me while I was working and I told him in no uncertain terms that I wasn't interested in him like that. He grabbed me, which of course really freaked me out, and the sickness in him seemed to enjoy that. I panicked, and then, well-"

"And then…?" Hank prompts.

"And then I smashed a beaker on his head," Roxanne replies sheepishly. "And quit on the spot. Two months later the Wendigo killed my twin brother. We didn't- there wasn't even much left to bury. Just a couple pieces."

Hank stops walking, so Roxanne does too. They're on the edge of town, close enough that they can hear the loud music playing at the bar.

"I'm so sorry, Roxanne," Hank whispers. He hesitates for a moment, and then reaches out to lay a gentle hand on her shoulder. She can feel the warmth of his skin even through the thick material of her jacket.

She smiles bitterly, the better to hide the tears suddenly stinging in her eyes. "We were going to get out of here, you know. It was our chance to start over. I lined up a job in Anchorage, convinced Gramps to leave here- that was a miracle all on its own, trust me," she says, with a brittle little laugh. "I thought Robert would be thrilled when I told him. Me and him, we've always been a little stuck between the two worlds out here. Inuit by tradition, white by birth. But he was mad that I set it all up without talking to him. The things he said that night- and then he walked off and-"

Roxanne rubs a hand across her eyes, hoping that her mascara doesn't make a run for it. She takes a deep, calming breath. "Excuse me," she mutters, fighting to keep her tone even as she looks up into Hank's big blue eyes. "I didn't mean to go completely sob story on you."

He shakes his head. "I understand. I really do, Roxanne," he murmurs, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze.

And then snatching his hand back, like he thinks it's a little weird that he'd been touching her during her whole little maudlin tale. His expression startles her into a laugh.

He grins sheepishly for a moment before becoming serious again. "Paul needs help, Roxanne."

Roxanne lets out a long, deep exhale. "I get why you're saying that, Hank. I get that you're an X-Man, and you're supposed to help people and stuff, but I don't know if you can in this situation. He might be beyond help. Completely lost to the monster inside."

"You saw me earlier. Am I a monster?" Hank asks sadly.

She scoffs. "Of course not. No more than I am," she replies sharply. "It's not about looks, it's about actions. Controlling our instincts."

"Sometimes it's not always so easy."

"Sometimes the fact that something is not easy makes it more valuable," Roxanne retorts.

Hank chuckles softly. "I suppose you're not wrong," he murmurs. "But back to the issue at hand. Do you know who Professor Xavier is?"

"Of course."

"The Professor is the most powerful telepath I know. He tried to read Paul's mind before I came here, but it's gone. Paul has no control over this creature right now. Maybe, if I can figure out how he got to this point, I can help him. That way he won't be a danger to anyone else, or himself."

She hesitates for a moment, torn between warring emotions.

Part of her feels like Dr. Cartier can go to hell for what he did to her brother. She doesn't feel the need for revenge, but she also doesn't see why she should lift a finger to help the monster, either.

But another, more humane part of her feels pity for the man. Can he hold the blame for something he had no control over? And wasn't the reason she stayed here in Eagle Village to help keep the people safe?

"Alright," Roxanne says. "I'll help you. What's your plan?"

"I think I'll go back to Paul's house and break in."

"Or we could just use my key."

"You have a key?"

"Yeah," she replies. "I forgot to leave it when I quit and was obviously hesitant on going back over there to return it."

"I'll take a stroke of luck where I can," Hank says. "If I could borrow it-"

Roxanne frowns. "'Borrow it?' You're not borrowing anything, I'm coming with you."

"Roxanne, it's not safe."

Her eyebrows shoot up. "Excuse me, but who just saved your furry blue butt from being a Wendigo snack?" she argues. "I'm the only person who's faced that thing more than once and lived to tell about it." She steps closer to Hank and taps a finger against his chest. "You want my key, I'm coming with you. Or you could try to break in the back door, since the front's electrified. But I'm warning you, it's booby-trapped, too. Your choice."

Hank is silent for a moment before letting out a sigh of defeat. "Fine," he concedes.

"Perfect," Roxanne says brightly. Her hand hasn't moved. "You're a smart man, Dr. McCoy. I knew you'd see reason."

He chuckles reluctantly. "Has anyone ever told you that you are utterly impossible?" he asks, but his eyes are dancing with amusement.

Suddenly, as she stares into those soulful baby blues, Roxanne is hyper-aware of how close she's standing to him. She's enticed by his scent- a warm, earthy, masculine aroma- and the memory of how nice it felt for him to touch her a few minutes ago. She likes the way his eyes light up when he talks, and she wonders if his lips are as soft as they look, if-

She sternly tells herself to snap out of it. She's known this guy for a grand total of five seconds, and they have a monster deal with. This is no time for romantic entanglements.

And yet- at that moment she hears Hank's breath catch, sees his gaze drift down to her lips. It seems like the feeling might be mutual.

There will be no smooching here, she tells herself. We have a job to do.

Roxanne gives him a coy grin and steps back. "Every damn day," she replies, with a playful toss of her head that makes Hank laugh and breaks the tense moment. "Would you like to come have dinner at my house? Or do you have something to snack on in your fancy lunchbox, there?"

"It's a sample collection kit for my genetic sequencer," Hank explains. "Though I must admit, the samples I've collected are rather redundant, thanks to your assistance."

"Where's your genetic sequencer? New York?"

"I have a portable one in my motel room."

"Wow! Can I see?" Roxanne asks eagerly. And then she realizes how forward she's being, between the dinner invitations and asking this man to take her to his room. "I mean-"

Roxanne looks uncomfortable, as if she's suddenly self-conscious. "I swear I don't throw around dinner invitations and stuff like this on a usual basis," she mutters, her cheeks flushing a beautiful rose color.

"I didn't get that impression at all," Hank assures her. "I'd love for you to see it. You mentioned graduating from college, what degree-?"

They make a strange pair walking down the street- Hank, in his expensive winter gear and carrying his scientific collection case, and Roxanne, with her shotgun and faded clothes. But neither of them particularly care.

Roxanne tells him how she finished high school early and went to Columbia on a full ride scholarship. She graduated earlier in the year with a Master's Degree in biochemistry. In turn he tells her about graduating from Harvard and his various Ph.D.'s.

"You got your first Ph.D. at fifteen?" she asks, laughing. "How old are you now?"

"I just turned thirty-two in October," he replies. Though he dreads the answer, he poses the same question to her. "And you?"

"Twenty-three," Roxanne tells him, and he feels ashamed of his furtive disappointment.

He's too old for her, he realizes now, and he's sure she feels the same way. It's disheartening, because Hank thought there was a moment between them earlier, a moment where Roxanne- lovely, clever Roxanne- was tempted to kiss him.

Now he wonders if he imagined it, and he feels guilty for wanting such a thing in the first place. So much has happened to this young woman in the past few months. He should be trying to help her find closure, not fantasizing about how soft and luscious her lips look.

Her next sentence catches his curiosity, making him forget his guilt and dismay.

"We always celebrate our birthday on the autumn equinox," she adds. "Gramps picked it."

"Picked it?"

She nods. "Yeah. See, Gramps was out in the woods one night during the dead of winter and found my brother and I left out in the snow to die. The doctor reckoned us to be about four months old at the time. We were these little feral babies, already had claws and pointed ears, and they figure that's why someone ditched us. Gramps may seem tough, but he's actually a big softy. Rather than sending us to an orphanage or something, he brought us up as his own."

"You obviously love him very much," Hank notes. "I can hear it in your voice."

Roxanne smiles fondly. "Robert and that old geezer are the only family I've ever known," she agrees.

At this point they reach the motel.

Hank opens the office door for her and notes the empty desk- the receptionist must be on break at the moment. He leads Roxanne through to his room. "Please excuse the horrible state of this room," he warns her as he pulls out the key.

She giggles. "Wait, are you telling me this isn't the Hilton?" she teases.

"Far from it," Hank agrees, laughing as well.

He holds the door for her before quickly putting down his case and pulling the gene sequencer out of his titanium storage container.

"What else you got in there?" Roxanne asks curiously.

"A bit of everything," he admits. "Anything from mutation suppressing darts to donor units of blood. I like to be prepared for all eventualities."

"Hmm. By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail," she muses.

Hank thinks for a moment. "Benjamin Franklin?" he guesses.

"It is indeed," she replies, with a laugh of delight that makes his heart trip all over itself.

Flustered, he focuses on loading samples into the sequencer, which begins to softly whirl as it performs its chemical analysis.

Beep beep!

"Sequencing complete," the machine's small screen reads.

Samples one and two were from the heavy blood trails. Unsurprisingly, they came back as grizzly bears. The third and fourth, the samples from the mysterious Wendigo, read as unknown.

"Unknown- identical to Sample Four," the third slot says. The fourth reads the reverse.

"This is amazing," Roxanne murmurs. "DNA analysis that took only two minutes? Where'd you get this thing?"

"I made it," Hank explains, both bashful and proud all at once.

"You're incredible," she tells him. The compliment makes his ears turn pink- he just hopes Roxanne doesn't notice. "Where'd you get the Wendigo samples?"

"There was a tiny bit of blood splatter between the bear trails. I think perhaps one of the grizzlies clawed him," he says. "The hair I got from a tree outside your house."

"My house?" Roxanne repeats, alarmed. A shudder passes over her as she glances towards the window and the darkness outside. "Um- shall we head out, now?"

"Let's," Hank agrees. He can tell she's thinking of her grandfather, home alone with the Wendigo outside.

But Hank highly suspects that the old man is safe as long as he remains indoors. Call it a gut instinct, but the circumstances that led Roxanne to quit working for Paul and her repeated run-ins with the Wendigo give Hank the distinct impression that the creature is not watching their house for Mr. Yazzie's sake.

It wants something- someone- else.