Massive thanks to Jedimom for helping me brainstorm a crucial component of this. Because of that, she made this a lot better to read and a lot more fun to write. She also gave me a pile of really good story notes after the first draft which helped me tighten this up. Thanks also to Red Sith, who came in after I incorporated Jedimom's notes, to point out a couple more things that we'd missed. And thanks to Larkzen for being a good cheerleader. Never underestimate the value of a good cheerleader.
"So how's it look?" I ask, watching as Jean studies my x-rays.
She turns to me with a big smile. "I think the last cast is finally ready to come off."
"Yes! Thank you!"
"Thank Shariya and Logan," she says as she holds her hand out and the plaster saw glides into it. "The two of them got you here today."
"Trust me, I will. So?" I let my usual question hang in the air.
She smiles again and nods. "Yes, as soon as this comes off, you can go climb a tree with Hannah. Your other knee is doing well enough that you can spend a little time each day out of its brace. But if it starts to hurt..."
"I know, I know. Stop doing whatever I'm doing and put the brace back on."
"Right." She switches the saw on and asks, "Ready?"
"Never been more ready in my life."
Hannah was so excited to see the cast off that she practically knocked me over. Now I'm sitting up top our favorite tree while she scrambles from branch to branch. She's too excited to sit still. Gimme a month or two and I'll be scrambling around with her. I can't wait.
"Okay, come on, we have to go back in," I say. "I've got to get you back to class."
"I don't wanna go to class! I wanna stay here with you!"
"We can come back any time now. Pretty soon, it'll be just like it used to be."
"Can you jump out of the tree yet?"
"Not yet, but I'll meet you at the bottom and you can jump down to meet me, okay?"
Ow. The "good" knee hurts a little. Good thing I left its brace at the bottom of the tree. And good thing I can climb down without using my legs much. "Just wait for me to put this back on," I say as I strap the brace on and grab my cane.
She launches herself out of the tree and lands at my feet. "Good jump!" I say, reaching up so she can jump and high-five me. She's gotten really good at this, but I still want to spot her.
"Hi Jean!" Hannah says.
I turn around to find her standing behind me. "I'm being careful. I swear," I say. "I only took the left brace off when I was up there."
"That's not it," she says. "Shariya's missing. The professor wants to talk to you about it."
"Missing? Any idea why?"
She bites her lip, then says, "I can't say."
"Is everything okay?"
She looks down at me, and I really can't figure out what she's thinking. "I... I hope so. We'll talk later, okay?" She turns to Hannah and says, "Come on, I'll take you back to your class."
I follow the two of them in, wondering what the hell this is all about, then split off and walk to the professor's office. Scott's standing right outside the door, and he glares at me as I walk past him. Shit. This is not good. What the hell did she do?
"Mortimer," the professor says. "Please, come in. Sit down. Scott, you can go now."
I close the door behind me, ease myself into a chair and lean my cane against his desk. "What's going on? What happened to Shariya?"
"I was hoping you could help me answer that. When was the last time you saw her?"
"Last night. I met her and Jean in the infirmary and they worked on my knees."
"After she was finished, did she say anything to you that seemed at all...suspicious?"
"What do you mean, suspicious?"
The professor sighs, then says, "Some time last night, she tried hacking into our tactical files."
"Really?" I ask. Shit, do I act casual? Should I pretend to be freaked out that she'd do something like that? He's gonna scan me no matter what. I'm fucked. I'm so fucked.
"Scott had suspected for some time now that someone was accessing confidential computer files, and after consulting with me, he laid out some bait to see if the perpetrator would take it. Some time late last night, when the team was out on a mission, she did. By the time Scott got back and found the trap had been sprung, she was long gone."
Hang on. Maybe I can pull my ass out of this after all. "Wait a minute. How do you know it was her? I mean, she's really good at computers. Wouldn't she have been able to cover her tracks? Don't you think this means someone's setting her up?"
"Who would set Shariya up?"
"I...I don't know, but it's worth checking up on, isn't it?"
"It would be, except for the fact that some time in the middle of the night, she pulled the hard drive out of her computer, packed up all her things, and left. There were no signs of foul play, so it seems highly unlikely that someone forced her out. Circumstantial evidence, I know, but compelling nonetheless."
I'm fucked. She's fucked me.
"All I want to know from you is if you have any idea who she was spying for. You're the only person here she was close to. Did she tell you anything?"
His eyes narrow. "You're lying."
I think my heart stops. "What?"
"I'm scanning you. I know you're lying."
Shit shit shit. Tell him something truthful and maybe he'll stop scanning. "Okay, she was spying for Elizabeth Blackthorne."
"And you didn't tell us."
"Well, no. She made me swear not to, plus it didn't seem like she was taking anything serious." Please buy it. It's mostly true.
"So you jeopardized the safety of everyone here, including the children, by not telling us that she was passing confidential information on to another mutant group."
"I didn't think she was taking anything that could be used against you! I thought it was just little things. If I'd known she was going into your tactical files, I would have said something, I swear. I'd never put the kids at risk. And besides, Elizabeth Blackthorne's group is harmless."
"So I thought, but apparently they're upping the ante."
"What do you mean?"
"They've never directly confronted us before, but if Shariya had succeeded in getting into the tactical files before Scott had moved them all to backups, she would have had access to full schematics for the Blackhawk, all our security codes, critical information on Cerebro..."
"Oh my god." Mystique never asked me for anything like that. This doesn't make any sense. What the fuck is going on? And why the fuck would Shariya pass shit like that on? We weren't doing this because we hated the X-Men. We were doing it because we wanted to help Mystique. Putting the X-Men at risk was very specifically not part of the deal.
He folds his hands and asks, "So what aren't you telling me?"
Shit. He's still scanning. Shit. God, I hate telepaths. How much do I have to tell him to get him off my back? "I, um, I'm the one who set Shariya and Elizabeth up," I say. "But I had no idea Elizabeth would be asking for stuff like that. I mean, that's not what her group does. If I'd known..."
"You're not telling the whole truth."
And then there's that horrible feeling of not being alone in my brain. God, I hate the way it feels when he crawls around in there, but fuck it. He can do it whether I want him to or not. No point in fighting him. Won't do a damned thing. I'm fucked. It's over.
"Mystique?" he asks.
I just stare at his desk.
"You'd been passing information on to her for months before getting Shariya involved. You were far more careful than she was. We never would have suspected you. If you hadn't asked Shariya to help, we probably never would have caught you."
Fuck it. "Fine," I say. "You caught me. Guilty as charged." No point in lying. He knows everything. Nothing I can do about it now, so no point in getting all worked up. I did what I did, and I can't change that. Always knew I could get caught. Always knew this was a risk.
I don't think I've ever seen the professor this pissed off before. "After all we've done for you. I took you in instead of letting you go to jail because your sister believed in you and convinced me you deserved a second chance. I fed you, sheltered you, and when you came to me with an idea for a major undertaking, I spent time, attention, and a considerable amount of money on it. You seemed to find purpose working with those children, and yet you jeopardized all that by stealing information for Mystique and risking getting sent to jail. Why wasn't the school enough for you? What more could you possibly want?"
"I want to take Hannah and all the kids out to the city park," I snap.
He just stares at me, but I can tell I got him.
"Actually, scratch that," I say. "I can't do that for another three years. I want Mike to take all the kids out to the city park. Or maybe to the ice cream parlor. Or the beach. Right now."
"You know that's not possible," the professor says, his voice very low.
"Yeah, I know that's not possible. But that's what I want. And I'll do whatever it takes to get that, even if it means getting sent back to jail for feeding information to Mystique."
"The school is a huge help to those children. Why couldn't you be content to focus your energies there?"
"I was at first. Now I just have a couple dozen more reasons to be angry."
There's that awful crawling feeling again, then I feel him pull out. He looks shocked. "The information you fed her..."
"It's so..." He pauses, then says, "It was all politically useful, but physically harmless."
"Well, yeah. I mean, her group doesn't really hurt people. They're activists, not terrorists. I don't know what changed. She never asked me for anything like that."
"You told her you wouldn't pass on anything that would harm any of us."
"And she forced you into this agreement at gunpoint."
"Why didn't you come to us to tell us? We could have protected you from her."
"I didn't want to be protected from her. Look again. I wanted to help."
"And you trusted her, despite the fact that she was going to kill you?"
"She's changed a lot since then. I mean, she's even told me that she likes the fact that she's being really effective without hurting people. I don't understand why she'd ask Shariya for dangerous information. I really don't."
"Nonetheless, even though you only passed on relatively benign information, you're not off the hook," he says, voice getting stern again. "If it weren't for you, none of this would have happened."
"I'm not the one who tried stealing tactical files."
"But you're the one who got Shariya involved. The moment Mystique's group crosses the line and does anything dangerous, I will go into your mind and find out where they're headquartered."
"Go in now. I honestly don't know. They never told me."
He narrows his eyes again, and I feel him poking 'round, then he says, "Very thorough."
"I am living with telepaths. We're not stupid."
"Neither are we."
Maybe not, but I had you fooled. "So, um..." I shift in my chair. Shit. Time to get the really painful part over with. "You'll be telling the court about this? You're gonna have me sent to jail, aren't you?" This is gonna kill Hannah. How the fuck do I explain this to her? This'll totally kill my chances for parole. I'll be in jail until she's eleven. Oh god, I'll miss so much.
I knew this was a risk from the start. I just didn't think I'd get caught.
I think I'm gonna throw up.
The professor stares at me and steeples his fingers, then says, "I don't believe that what you passed on merits jail, although I reserve the right to change my mind if I catch you doing anything even remotely like that again. But you will be under surveillance from now on while you're here, and I reserve the right to scan you whenever I deem it necessary."
"What? You're not kicking me out?"
"As tempted as I might be to do so, no." Oh god, that's a relief. Maybe I'll keep breakfast down after all. The lack of privacy sucks, but it's better than jail by a long shot. "Now that I've seen the nature of your involvement in this, I don't believe that it would be a risk to keep you here, especially considering the important work you do at the school. But I am disappointed in you, Mortimer."
"Don't know why. You knew what I was like when you took me in."
"I genuinely thought we'd reached you. I thought we'd helped you channel your anger into productive action."
"The only thing that's gonna make me stop being angry is being able to walk down the street without getting spat at."
"Hmm. Well." He leans back in his chair, staring at me for a long moment, and I just stare right back. I don't feel guilty for what I did, and he knows it. I'd only feel guilty if he tossed my ass in jail, and then only because of how it would affect Hannah. And now that I know I'm not getting kicked out, I've got no reason to be worked up or anything. I did what I did for a damned good reason. Things might finally be getting better for folks like me thanks to Mystique, and I helped that happen. She's done a lot of good.
I just hope she isn't changing back to what she used to be like.
Finally, he says, "If you ever do anything like this again while you're in my custody, I will end our arrangement and you will go to jail."
"Fair enough. So, can I go?"
"Yes, but I expect you to stay in your apartment while I discuss this with the rest of the X-Men. And we'll be monitoring your phone and Internet usage."
Great. House arrest within house arrest. Still, way better than prison. I grab my cane and stand up, then say, "You're gonna need a whole new computer system, you realize. She knows how to get into this one."
"Scott's already working on it."
I just nod and walk out the door.
Shit, why the fuck did I even tell Shariya about this, never mind ask her to help? I just assumed she'd be careful. That she knew how to cover her tracks on the computer. She always used to make fun of Scott's crappy programming skills, and I just took her word for it. I mean, what do I know about computer programming? I just assumed she was as good as she said she was. And what the fuck was she thinking, trying to pass on information that could hurt people here? Bad enough that she could have gotten the X-Men killed, but passing on security codes means putting the kids at risk.
I trusted her. I fucking trusted her.
Don't think I'll be making that mistake again.
How long have I been staring at my computer?
I should at least turn it on.
I hit the power button and wait as it boots up. Shit, do I email Mystique to warn her? Or is Scott good enough to actually manage to trace it? Even if he isn't, if I send email out to my shrink, they'll probably figure out that's how I communicate with Mystique. Well, if the professor didn't already pull that out of my head and warn Doctor Shapiro. Although if he did that, then the state would know what I'd done, and they might yank me out of here, so I'm probably safe on that front.
Fuck it. I'll just surf a little. See what's happening on the mutant Web sites. Maybe Mystique's group has gotten more militant and I just haven't been paying attention.
He says he won't throw me out, but what if he changes his mind? What if the rest of them vote to toss me in jail? Scott and Ororo would boot me in a hot second. Logan wouldn't, but they don't really treat him like a full member of the team. And what would Jean say? She's really nice to me, but she's a devoted X-Man. Guess I'll find out soon enough.
I didn't think I could ever hate Shariya, but I guess I was wrong. I can't believe she was so fucking careless. I can't believe she lied to me about how good she was with computers.
Can't believe she took off without warning me.
I shouldn't have brought her in to this. I should have known better than to trust someone who'd never done anything like this before. Guess this is what they mean by "thinking with your dick."
There's a knock at the door. I grab my cane and head back out to the living room. "Who is it?" I ask. I'm not really interested in letting just anyone in right now. 'Course, most of the people I want to keep out probably won't respond well to me telling 'em to go away.
Shit, what does he want? Did they tell the people at the school? I open the door. He doesn't look pissed. Maybe that's a good sign. "Sorry I'm not at work," I say.
"No, it's fine. I heard what happened. I just wanted to stop by to say, good for you."
"I know the head of the X-Men signs my paycheck, but Elizabeth Blackthorne's group does a hell of a lot more for mutants than these guys do. So good for you."
"Thanks. I had no idea you felt that way."
"I didn't until I started working with these kids. They've got this way of radicalizing you."
"Yeah, I know what you mean."
"Anyhow, I have to go back so they're not short-staffed, but I just wanted to come by to say that. All of us at the school are behind you." He claps me on the arm, then he turns and his eyes go wide.
Ororo shoots him an icy glare, and he backs away from the door. "I need to speak to you," she says to me.
I stand my ground in the doorway. "Go ahead."
She folds her arms over her chest. "When you first came here, I didn't trust you. I didn't want you here because I thought you were a risk, and because I didn't think you deserved a second chance. I knew you'd do something like this. I caught you once, didn't I?"
I lift my chin. "Yeah, you did."
"I knew it." Her glare chills even more. "But after you nearly sacrificed yourself for those children, I changed my mind about you. I thought maybe you'd really changed. But you hadn't, had you? I can't believe I was stupid enough to trust you!"
I wait to see if she has anything else to say, then ask, "You done?"
"Don't you have anything to say for yourself?"
"Not to you."
"And why not?"
"Because I don't give a fuck what a pretty-faced mutant thinks. You have no fucking right to tell me how to behave. Come back and talk to me when someone throws a rock at your head because of how you look."
The look on her face as I slam the door on it is priceless.
I'm so glad Hannah's here. She sits on my lap in the easy chair, looking at Green Eggs and Ham, as Agnes and Logan glare at me from the sofa.
"I can't believe you took that risk," Agnes says.
"It was balls...gutsy," Logan says. "I'll give ya that."
"Was it really worth risking all this?" Agnes asks.
"You know why I did it. Besides, I was careful. The only risk I took was letting someone else in on it."
"He's got ya there," Logan says.
"Don't encourage him."
He shrugs. "Hey, I like Elizabeth Blackthorne's work. Provided she doesn't do...what the professor's afraid she'll do."
"I don't think she will," I say.
Hannah looks up and says, "She's the angry lady on the news, right?"
Ah shit. She's been listening. "Yes she is, sweetie."
"Oh." She looks back down at her book.
Agnes clears her throat and asks, "So if she's not going to do any of that, then why did...you know."
"I have no idea. It doesn't make sense to me."
"Have you contacted her?" Logan asks.
"No. Not sure if it's worth the risk."
"You've already taken plenty," he counters.
"Not for me. For her."
"But you're not going to do this anymore, right?" Agnes asks.
"I was caught fair and square. I'm done."
"They'll never trust you again, you know."
"That's why the professor will be scanning me whenever he feels like it."
Logan scowls. "That sucks."
"What's that word?" Hannah asks, pointing at the book.
"I would not...what's that word?"
"I would not, could not, with a fox."
There's a knock at the door, and Agnes jumps up to get it. She looks like she's way more of a mess than I am right now. I may be pissed that I was caught, but I'm not going to jail, so the way I see it, I've got nothing to be worked up about. "Jean. What brings you here?"
"I'd like to speak to Mortimer. Is now a bad time?"
"Go read with Logan and Mummy," I say, scooting Hannah off my lap and standing up. "No, now's okay."
"I can come back."
I hold my hand up. "Let's just get this over with."
She winces. "I don't want it to be like that."
"I'm sorry. Come on." I nod my head towards my room. "We can talk in there."
She follows me in and closes the door behind her. "You should sit," she says.
"I'm saying that as your doctor."
I roll my eyes. "Fine, but you sit too."
She crosses the room and perches on the edge of my desk chair, so I settle down on my bed. It's been a couple months since she's been in here. Once I got out of the infirmary, she'd do as many checkups as she could up here rather than making me go back down there again. She used to be so nice to me. Guess that's over with now.
"So," I say.
She shakes her head. "I can't believe I didn't see this. After all the time I spent in Shariya's mind, helping her heal you..."
"You didn't need to read her mind to do that, did you?"
"No, but..." She shakes her head again. "Look, I just...I need to know why you did it."
"Because I want these kids to be able to go outside these walls, and I wanted to do anything I could to help."
"But you are helping them in your own way. You help them every day at the school."
"It's not enough. Look, no offense, but you have no idea what it's like to be someone like me."
She looks down at the floor. "You're right. I don't."
I can't believe I'm about to say this. "I could show you."
She looks up at me for a long moment, then nods and crosses the room to sit next to me on the bed. Oh man. I'm asking her to look into my brain. I must be crazy. But fuck it. It's not like my brain's a private place anymore. Might as well share if it'll actually do me some good. "You're sure about this?" she asks.
"Yeah. Um, do you need me to do anything, like try to show you specific memories?"
"I don't think so. Since you brought it up, the pertinent ones should be at the forefront of your mind."
"Right then. I'll just try and relax, I guess."
She takes a deep breath, then puts her hands on either side of my head and closes her eyes.
I can feel her in there, but it feels different than the professor. In some ways, it's softer, but it also feels less practiced. God, I never thought I'd have enough people poke around my brain that I'd actually be able to critique 'em. And I can kind of make out what she's looking at, I think. There's the orphanage, right off the bat. The crib, the restraints, kids beating me up, staff telling me I'm a stupid freak, me running away, some lady seeing me up in a tree and screaming, her husband trying to beat me up...
Oh god, she's crying.
"Jean, stop," I say, pulling her hands away.
Her eyes snap open. "I'm so sorry," she says before breaking into sobs.
"It's all right. I'm all right now," I say, taking her in my arms. "I shouldn't have asked you to do that." Oh god, I should have known. I didn't want to make her cry. I just wanted her to have some idea why I couldn't just sit back and wait for other people to fix things. That's all. Shit, I should have known better.
"People were terrible to you," she hiccups, tightening her arms around me.
I stroke her hair, desperate to calm her down. "I don't want those kids to go through that too. I just want them to have normal lives."
"No wonder you were so loyal to Magneto. He saved you from all that."
"Yeah, he did."
"And we didn't."
"The professor didn't, no. But at least he's doing it for kids like me now." And I guess maybe for me, too. I may still be stuck here for the next three years in a security anklet with a telepath going into my brain whenever he feels like it, but it's better than being locked up in prison for seven years in solitary confinement. From what Mystique tells me, solitary's the only way they can keep other inmates from killing mutants.
She pulls back, wiping at her eyes. "How come you don't hate your parents?"
"Ever since I was a kid, all I ever wanted was a family. I mean, maybe I'd hate 'em if they'd turned me away when I showed up on their doorstep a few years ago, but they didn't. They took me back. I have a family. It's great."
"Oh Mortimer." She's crying again.
"I'm sorry, Jean. Please don't cry."
"No, I'm sorry," she says, burying her face in her hands and sniffling loudly. "With the life you've had, I should be comforting you, not you comforting me." She looks up, dropping her hands in her lap, and says, "I can't believe you turned out so nice after all that."
"I had a lot of help. Are you gonna be okay?"
"I'll be fine."
"I have kleenex over there..."
"Don't get up," she says, putting her hand on my knee.
She reaches her other hand out and the kleenex box glides into it.
"Sorry. Forgot about that," I say.
"You didn't need to get up either," she says, patting her cheeks dry.
"I don't do the tongue thing so much anymore."
"Freaks people out. Plus I'm trying to be a good role-model for Hannah. Can't have her whipping it out whenever she feels like it."
"Well, you don't need to hide your abilities in front of me."
"Okay," I say with a small grin, although I'm lying through my stubby little teeth. I'm ugly enough as it is without making the bottom half of my face all bulgy. Especially around someone as pretty as her.
She blows her nose, levitates the used kleenex to the trash, then says, "I have to go. We're all meeting with the professor again in half an hour, and I want to talk to him alone first. Maybe I can get him to ease up on you."
"You don't need to do that."
"I do. After what I saw in your mind..."
"He's been in there too. He doesn't care."
"I'll make him care." She grins, then says, "I can be very persuasive."
She gives me one last hug, then heads out.
Scott's a lucky man.
All right, where did that come from?
Logan's been gone about ten minutes, and I'm having the damnedest time getting Agnes to stop pacing. "He already said he's not tossing me out."
"What if he changes his mind? What if he's outvoted?"
"I already told you about what happened with Jean earlier. All I need is for her to persuade Scott that I'm not a risk, and I've got 'em."
"Ororo's never going to forgive you."
"I don't care about her. Look, pacing's not going to do anything."
"Funny hearing that from you."
I gesture down at the braces and say, "My style's a little cramped right now."
"So I'm pacing for two."
"Look, it's gonna be fine. He'll just be looking in my brain all the time. That's all. And he's not gonna find anything, 'cause I'm not gonna do anything."
"Doesn't it bother you that you'll never have any privacy again?"
I shrug. "Not like I have anything to hide anymore. I won't be spying."
"But what if he reads...I don't know, other parts of your mind?"
"Like what, Agnes? What have I got to read? I have no social life, I have no sex life, hell, I barely even have a fantasy life. I've got you, Hannah, and the kids. He'll probably stop scanning me out of boredom after a couple of months."
She sits down next to me on the sofa with a sigh. "I'm sorry your life is so dull."
"I'm not bored," I say, putting my arm around her shoulders. "You and Hannah mean the world to me, and I love the kids. I just can't imagine it'll be an interesting read."
"But we must be so boring compared to your life before," she says, resting her head on my shoulder.
"Sometimes, boring is underrated. There's a lot to be said for stability."
//I need to see you in my office immediately.//
"What is it?" Agnes asks. Guess I made a face or something.
"Just got a mental summons from the prof," I say, rubbing my forehead.
"What are they like?"
I shake my head. "Annoying." I grab my cane and stand up with a sigh. "Maybe you're right. Maybe it sucks to have no privacy."
"Well, three years of good behavior and maybe you'll have it again," she says.
They're all gathered around the professor's desk when I get in, staring at a small screen sticking out of the desk. Never seen that before. The professor waves me in, looking just as stern as this afternoon. Guess Jean isn't as persuasive as she thinks. "Look at the security camera, Mortimer."
I walk up behind him and look down at the screen. Holy shit. It's Mystique, standing outside the gates looking like Elizabeth Blackthorne. What the hell is she doing?
"Any idea what she wants?"
"Why don't you ask her?" I reply.
"Is this some sort of trap?"
"How should I know? Look, just drop the game of twenty questions and scan me, okay? It's quicker."
Scott shoots me what I assume is a glare, then leans over and activates the intercom. "We know who you really are."
"I thought you might," she replies.
"Are you alone?" he asks.
"Yes. Shariya contacted me and told me what happened. I'm here to disavow her actions."
"And why should we trust you?"
"Because you have a powerful telepath in there who can not only read my thoughts but control them too."
The professor looks over at Scott and nods. Scott reactivates the intercom and says, "Stay right there. We'll escort you in." He and Logan head out. I take a quick look at Ororo to confirm that she's still shooting daggers at me with her eyes. Yep. Nothing's changed since this afternoon. The professor's still stony, but when I look over at Jean, she gives me a sad little grin.
I hope she doesn't start crying again.
Mystique walks in, flanked by Scott and Logan. I look over at her and say, "They know everything. The professor read my thoughts. I'm sorry."
"I suspected that would happen," she says as she crosses the room and gives me a huge hug, shifting back into her natural body. "Good to see you up and about."
"Thanks." God, I've missed her, and it's not just because she's the first woman who ever wanted to touch me. She was also my first real friend. "You didn't have to do this," I say.
"Yes, I did." She lets go, leaving her hand on my shoulder, turns her gaze to the professor and says, "If Mortimer and Shariya hadn't been spying for me, he'd be dead right now. I'm the one who tipped you off to let you know where Magneto and Sabretooth were torturing him. Shariya contacted me as soon as she could get to a computer, and I scoped out all the old backup lairs until I found him, then contacted you."
"That changes nothing," the professor says, but it looks like his poker face is slipping. Maybe Jean did get to him after all. Or maybe Mystique just did. Either way, I'll take what I can get.
"Oh, but it does, and you know it," Mystique counters. "Face it, most of you in this room would rather have Mortimer alive and spying than dead and innocent."
"While we do appreciate the fact that you helped us save him, we don't appreciate having confidential information stolen."
"I know for a fact you've been trying to get information on our group, even before Mortimer and Shariya's spying came to light."
"Surveillance is not the same as theft."
"But if you could have gotten someone on the inside of our organization to pass information on to you, you would have jumped at the chance."
"Regardless, passing on political and scheduling information is one thing. Taking tactical information is an entirely different matter."
"Start scanning me now," Mystique says. She waits a beat, then says, "I didn't ask her for that information. She offered to get it to me of her own volition. I told her I wouldn't accept it. You've been scanning me, yes? You know that what I'm saying is true."
The professor closes his eyes. "Yes, it's true."
"She wouldn't just try to give you that information for the hell of it," Ororo challenges.
"It wasn't for the hell of it. She wanted my group to be more like the Brotherhood."
"Of course," I sigh. "She told me her bunch used to root us on before we got really violent."
"I'm not going back to those days," Mystique says. "We weren't effective, and even at our tamest, too many innocent people got hurt. And I'm not asking for or accepting any more information from Mortimer. He's risked enough."
"And you came here just to tell us that?" Jean asks. "You took a huge risk."
"I owed it to my friend," she says, sliding her arm around my shoulders. "And after I found out what Shariya had tried to take, I wanted to clear the air immediately before you jumped to the wrong conclusion and decided to start publicly challenging my group. We're not changing our tactics. We're activists, not terrorists." She looks back down at the professor and asks, "So, do I get to leave here with my secrets intact, or are you going to go in my brain and take whatever you see fit?"
"You're technically a fugitive," Scott starts to say, but the professor holds up his hand.
He and Jean stare at each other for a few moments, brows furrowed. Looks like they're having another one of their conversations. Come on Jean, be persuasive. You said you could. Finally, the professor turns back to us and says, "I've given Mortimer a second chance. You appear to have earned one as well. But if you cross the line from activism to terrorism..."
"If I do, send the gang to kick my ass." She puckers up at Logan, and he shoots back a small grin in response. I think he had fun last time they pounded the snot out of each other.
I hear the professor's voice in my head. //She has changed. You're right.// Out loud, he says, "You can go now. We won't stop you."
She looks over at me and tightens her grip on my shoulders. "Actually, mind if I stay for a quick visit? I won't even steal a kleenex. I swear."
"Professor..." Ororo grumbles.
"She's telling the truth. It's fine. Just...look like someone familiar in the hallway. I don't want the students asking questions."
Agnes looks like her head's gonna explode when I walk through the door with Agnes by my side.
Mystique changes back the moment we have the door closed. "Don't worry. The professor knows," she says.
"What is going on here, Mortimer?"
"She was what the summons was all about. She came to let them know that she didn't ask for the info that Shariya tried to steal."
"And to defend your brother," Mystique adds.
"I need a drink," Agnes mumbles, collapsing on the sofa.
"Look, we're just gonna go catch up," I say as I head for my room. "Logan'll be back as soon as Ororo and Scott are done yelling at the professor."
Mystique closes the door behind me and leans on it. "Your poor sister."
"Yeah, I owe her a major apology," I say as I sit down on the bed. "I'll catch her later."
"How are your legs?"
I reach down and start unbuckling the braces. "A lot better. Right knee's still sore, but it just came out of the cast today."
"Wait, where's Hannah?"
"Sleepover with the rest of the kids." I drop both braces on the ground and sigh in relief. "Damned things get pretty uncomfortable by the end of the day," I say as I lift my legs up on the bed and massage the sore spots from where the braces have been rubbing against 'em.
She crosses the room and sits down next to me. "So, what are you going to do in three years once you get out of here?"
"If I make parole? I dunno. Haven't thought about it yet. Probably still work with the kids. Everyone says I'm good at it. Although I'd love to help you out if it doesn't violate the terms of my parole." I lean back on my elbows. "Maybe me and Agnes and Hannah can go back to the U.K. for a visit too. That'd be nice. My parents say things are a lot better over there than over here."
"They're right from everything I hear," Mystique says, lying down next to me.
"Look, I'm really sorry I brought Shariya into this."
"I know I promised I'd pass information on to you as long as you needed it, and I fucked that up."
"No, she fucked it up. I should have seen it coming. The way she kept goading me to get more radical...I should have known she'd go overboard, or get careless. I should have made her stop, and I should have warned you."
I roll over on one side to face her. "I still owe you. I just can't do anything until I'm out of here."
"You don't owe me anymore."
"I got you tossed in jail, Mystique."
She rolls over onto one elbow and reaches her finger out to trace my jaw. "It was the right thing to do," she says softly.
"I miss you."
"I miss you too." She drops her hand. "Oh, Shariya told me to tell you she's really sorry, but if I were you, I wouldn't accept the apology."
"Don't think I will," I say, rolling over onto my back. "God, I hate this."
"Not being able to do a damned thing for the next three years."
"Think of it as a well-earned sabbatical."
I smile up at her. "So when do you get yours?"
"I like my work."
"Yeah, but everyone needs a rest every now and then. Don't burn out, okay? We're not pretty people when we burn out."
She laughs. "You got that right."
She turns onto her stomach, propping herself up on her elbows, and leans down to give me a gentle kiss on the lips. Before I realize it, I've reached my hand up and wrapped it around the back of her head, pulling her in for more. It's been two years, but we still fit together perfectly. There's no awkwardness, no hesitation, no figuring out what the other person wants, just this amazing sureness.
I trail my hand down to her cheek, and she pulls away ever so slightly and looks me in the eye. "Are you up for this?" she asks.
"Depends on what you mean by up," I say with a grin. "But if we really did this, I'd probably blow out both my knees."
"Mmm. Too bad." She settles next to me, nestling her head in the crook of my neck, and says, "I'll take a raincheck, then."
"You should be able to redeem it in about a month."
"We could try being gentle."
"What would be the fun in that?"
God, I've missed that laugh.
Morning comes without my customary alarm clock. Ah well, I'll see Hannah at school. Agnes spent the night in Logan's room, so I'm alone for the first time since I moved in here. Feels weird, but after staying up half the night talking with Mystique, it's actually kinda nice to have a little time be alone. I don't want to answer any of Agnes's questions right now. I just want to bask a little.
Halfway through breakfast, there's a knock at the door. "Professor?" I ask as I open the door. "What are you doing here?"
"Just checking to make sure Mystique held to her promise."
"Oh. Time for my morning brain scan," I sigh, heading back for the kitchen. "Mind if we do it in here? My cereal's getting soggy."
"This is no one's fault but your own, Mortimer," he says as he wheels along behind me.
"Yeah, I know," I say, sitting back down and propping my cane against the table. I can eat through this. Hell, I'm an old pro at getting my brain probed.
Yep, there he is, poking around. He's in there a while, actually. "Being thorough?" I ask.
"You did spend quite some time with Mystique, so yes."
"You know, prison would be less intrusive."
"You'd rather go there, then?"
"No. Just making a point."
His eyebrows go up. "You invited her to come back in a month?"
"You gonna go for a full replay on that too?" I ask.
"Of course not. I just don't like the idea of her coming here."
"Why? Is it because of who she is, or because she makes me happy?"
He opens his mouth, but then closes it again. I finish my cereal, then pick up my coffee and blow on it, watching the steam rise. Finally, he says, "You're right. This is overly intrusive. From now on, I'll simply ask you some questions and scan you as you answer them. I'll only go in and read as a last resort."
"You know, you really touched Jean."
"She's okay, isn't she?"
"She's fine. But I don't appreciate what you did. That was blatant manipulation."
"I offered. I didn't force it on her. Hell, I couldn't force it on her even if I wanted to." Unlike you.
"Your history is not relevant..."
"My history is totally relevant. If it weren't for that, I'd be in jail right now and you know it. My history's the only reason why the judge put me here."
"Nevertheless, you agreed to certain conditions when you first came here. What you did violated that."
"When did I agree on anything?" I ask. "All I remember the judge saying was that I couldn't leave this property."
"I think 'no spying' comes under the heading of 'eligible for parole in five years with good behavior.'"
I shrug and take a sip of my coffee. "All right, I suppose you've got me there. Anyhow, don't worry. I'll be a model prisoner from now on, okay?"
"We'll be watching you."
Hannah scrambles back to the branch where I'm sitting. "You okay, Mortimer?"
"What are you thinking?"
"Oh, just grownup stuff." Like how it's gonna drive me crazy to spend the next three years doing nothing. Like how if I answer a question wrong, even my own thoughts aren't private anymore. Like how I don't know how I'll keep from hitting Shariya if I ever see her again. Like how eventually, you're gonna figure out that I can't leave here and ask why. "Nothing important, sweetie. You know, we should go inside now. Morning classes are about to start."
"Can we stay a little longer? Please?"
I look over at the mansion, then back at Hannah. Don't think I'm ready to go in quite yet. Three fucking years.
Think I'll put them off for another few minutes.
"Okay, just a little longer."
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