Witness for the Defense
This story assumes some familiarity with Toad's backstory and personality from the comics. If you don't know it, check out his bio on the Marvel Web page. Thanks as per usual to Jedimom, my partner in crime, for helping brainstorm and beta this sucker.
He'll be waking up any second now. I'm not looking forward to this.
Mortimer Toynbee, aka "Toad." Pulled out of the harbor by a police boat and brought to city hospital. They took one look at him and called me: Dr. Jean Gray, "The Mutant Doctor." Of course, I wasn't there to take the call, and I once I got back, I was busy with the professor and Wolverine, but I gave them tips over the phone and asked them to send his file over.
As soon my patients were both conscious, I headed to the hospital. They'd been keeping Toad under heavy sedation, because they had no clue how to keep him from escaping if he woke up. I ran some tests, and unfortunately came to the conclusion that heavy restraints combined with mild sedatives were the only answer. The only other solution would be to keep him unconscious until he was well enough to lock up in prison, and that was even more abhorrent. So they hauled one of the old heavy beds from the 1950s out of storage and shackled his wrists and ankles to it with thick steel chains. With the kind of strength he has, he could kick his way out of traditional ankle restraints in no time, even in his weakened condition. And we found an old metal head restraint to keep him from opening his mouth far enough either spit or use his tongue. I talked the head doctor out of leaving the bit attached.
I wish I didn't have to do this to him. I read his file. It includes information from Interpol on his time at the orphanage. About the gross mistreatment he suffered at the hands of the children and the staff. No wonder he turned out the way he did.
He doesn't need jail time. He needs mental help.
And considering some of what I read in the file, waking up shackled to a bed is most likely going to bring up some extremely unpleasant memories. I wish Charles were here to calm him. I'm not strong enough to do that on my own. Not unless I get close. And quite frankly, I'm not sure I want to do that. Not after he nearly suffocated me. Oh, I got a sample of that slime while he was unconscious. We've got a solvent in the room by his bed, just in case I misjudged how far he needed to open his mouth to spit.
We've had glasses made up for him. When the doctors had finished treating the worst of the lightning strike injuries, they found a contact lens in one of his eyes. Very strong prescription. So one of the first things I did was call an optometrist and ask her to make glasses with the same prescription. Hopefully both his eyes are nearly the same prescription, but if not, and he cooperates, we can fix the glasses once he's awake.
I can feel him waking up from here. I can feel the blind panic, can practically smell the crackling ozone. He's reliving the lightning strike. His heart is racing, which is not good in his condition, since his heart's already taken a hell of a beating. He's lucky to be alive. Do the right thing, Jean. He needs to calm down. There's three police officers, two orderlies, and a nurse in here with me. Worst case scenario, someone's spraying solvent in my face in thirty seconds.
I walk over to the bed, hands steepled before me. He's starting to twitch, his head bobbing to the side as a low moan escapes his throat. Slowly reaching one hand out, I quietly say, "You're all right, Mortimer," and he whimpers as I say his name. You're safe, Jean. Just gently put your hand on his shoulder to anchor him back into reality. He snaps his eyes open with a gasp, then blinks and squints at his surroundings.
His heart monitor is still beeping alarmingly. "Try to calm down," I say. "You're in the hospital."
He squints harder, licking his burnt lips and looking over in my direction, then tries to move his arm.
This is the part I was really not looking forward to.
A guttural sound of terror escapes his lips, and he starts yanking at the chains, furiously trying to get loose. He quickly discovers the head restraint when he tries to snap his mouth open and can't open it more than an inch. The orderlies race over to hold him down, and I think the police have their guns drawn. Time to get it over with. I take a deep breath and grab his head. While muttering some nonsense out loud, I telepathically command, //Calm down. You're safe. This is not the orphanage. You will not be mistreated.//
It works. Oh, thank God it works. He slowly stops his thrashing, and I can hear the heart monitor slowing down. He's limp. Defeated. Reality sinking in. I can still feel the connection, even as I move my hands away. "I am sorry about the restraints," I say. "But you are under arrest. Here." I pick up the glasses and slide them onto his face, and he blinks then looks over at me with alert eyes. Eyes which widen once he gets a good look at me. "You remember me. Good. We're not going to hurt you."
He looks like he's trying to say something, but it's not working.
"You're still coming out from sedation," I say. "And your face and mouth are burned." I quickly broadcast, //But we can communicate telepathically if you have something you want to say.// I'm pretty sure everyone in this room knows I'm a mutant, but the last thing I want to do right now is let on what I can do. I need them to trust me, and people tend to get squirrelly when they know they're in the presence of a telepath.
There's no mistaking the look he shoots me in reply. I don't need telepathy to know that he's saying, "No way in hell."
//That's fine. Most people feel the same way.// Out loud, I say, "So, as you've probably guessed, your plan didn't work. The machine was destroyed before it managed to hurt anyone."
I get another look that speaks volumes.
I want to tell him that it killed Senator Kelly, but I don't. Mystique has taken over where the senator has left off, and the professor has asked us to keep that information under our hats. She seems to be doing some good, and besides, we don't want the police nosing around our lab. I don't like hiding this information, but I'll trust him on this one.
I lean against the wall, mentally rehearsing to say next. I don't want to sit and end up out of his line of sight. Not when I've finally got him calm. Okay, time to spout the slight alteration of the truth that the professor came up with. "That mutation machine of yours nearly killed a teenaged girl. We calculate that its energy burst would have mutated the international delegates, as well as all the inhabitants of New York City. But we stopped you in time. Magneto's in jail. Mystique was in the hospital, but she escaped before she was discovered, and Sabretooth is missing. And once you're better, you'll be standing trial for the crimes you committed. But we're going to make sure your defense team brings up your past at the orphanage."
His breath hitches in his throat, and I see his hands grasp at his restraints.
"We believe that should be compelling evidence that you should be rehabilitated, not jailed."
"I do believe it's worth a try. Although you killed several policemen. It's going to be a hard sell." He's damned lucky New York repealed the death penalty last year.
He looks like he's thinking about it, but then he closes his eyes. I say his name a few times, but get no response. Right. He doesn't want to talk. I wait a little while, but when it becomes clear he's not going to respond to anything I say, I get up and leave. I know he's not sleeping. He's just walled up.
And he stays that way for the next three days.
I come in, I try to talk, he says nothing. They offer to feed him, he won't open his mouth. They turn on the television, he closes his eyes. He hasn't talked to anyone else either. I know it's not the painkillers or the muscle relaxants or the sedatives, because the dosages aren't that high. And they ran catscans while he was fully sedated. There doesn't appear to be brain damage. He should be able to talk. He just doesn't want to.
Finally, I sit by his bed, lean over him, and whisper, "If you don't talk, I'm just going into your mind."
"Fuck you," he mumbles.
"That's a start," I reply, leaning back. I'm not going to encourage his anger. "So, are the glasses the right prescription?"
He looks around the room, as if testing the glasses for the first time. "Yeah, pretty close."
"Too strong? Too weak?"
He closes each eye in turn, then says, "Left eye's too weak."
"Well, we based it on the contact lens we pulled from your right eye. We can fix it if you like."
"I don't care."
"Nothing to look at."
"You could watch television."
"Well, what do you like to watch? We can turn it on then."
"I don't watch television."
"'Cause it's all about normal people. Not people like us. Not unless they're talking about registering us or putting us in camps."
Damn, he's right. I guess it's just easier for me to ignore because I look normal. I'm sure lots of things are easier for me because I look normal. I need to remember that around him.
He sighs and closes his eyes. "Why are you talking to me?"
"Because I'm probably the only sympathetic ear you'll find right now."
"I tried to kill you."
"I know. But I read your file. I know about the orphanage. I know why you're so angry."
He glares at me, then sits up as far as the restraints will allow and glares at me with murder in his eyes. "Well maybe if your bloody professor had rescued me instead of Magneto, I might not have turned out this way!" he yells, chin clanging against his head restraint. He collapses back to the bed, chest heaving from the effort, eyes clamped tightly shut.
"Just fuck off and let me rot in jail," he snarls, turning his head away from me.
"I'll, um...I'll come back later," I stammer.
There's no reply.
I step out into the hallway, heart hammering in my chest. How the hell do I argue with that? Do I even dare? He's right. Magneto rescued him. We didn't. We missed him entirely. I don't know why I feel so guilty. I mean, he's only a few years younger than I am. I couldn't have saved him. I was too busy saving myself. But I can't help it. I had advantages that he didn't, and I feel guilty. Like I should make it up to him somehow.
If he'll let me.
"Why are you making this guy into your pet project?" Scott asks me as I get ready to go to the hospital the next morning.
"Did you read his file?"
"I skimmed it."
"The parts at the orphanage?"
He nods. "Okay, so that was brutal, but that doesn't excuse..."
"Of course it does," I snap, then say, "I'm sorry. It's just...I mean, look at him."
"What do you mean?"
"That's right," I sigh. "You never got a good look at him." I sit on the edge of the bed and take Scott's hands in mine. "His nickname isn't Toad for nothing. Scott, his skin is green, his hair is green, he's got warts and weird eyes. And he's always looked like that. He looks like a mutant all the time. He can't hide what he is. I don't think we can really imagine what that must be like."
I wish I could see his eyes. I want to know what he's thinking without violating his privacy and going into his mind. He's had to wear those red lenses as long as I've known him. "Okay," he finally says. "But I'm going with you. He's dangerous."
"Scott, he's in restraints and he's mildly sedated."
"I don't care. I'm not comfortable with the idea of you being alone with him."
"I'm not alone. There are orderlies and police officers in the room with me."
"I don't care. I want to be there."
He's not going to be dissuaded. I know that tone of voice. "Fine. But just this once."
Scott picks up his visor and starts to get dressed.
"You're not going to need that," I say.
"I'm wearing it anyway."
"Mortimer? Are you awake?" I ask as I step into his room.
He turns and squints at me. The glasses are by his bedside. One of the orderlies says, "He just woke up. We took them off when he was asleep."
I pick them up and place them on his face, and he looks at me, then turns to Scott. "Great, you brought company."
"This is Scott Summers," I say. "My boyfriend."
"How nice for you," he retorts, sarcasm dripping from his voice. Oh great. I shouldn't have said "boyfriend." I doubt he's ever dated. I'm just rubbing in how much more normal-looking I am than him. "Here to make sure your girlfriend's safe?"
"As a matter of fact, yes," Scott says.
Toad yanks ineffectually at his restraints. "Want me to struggle harder to put you at ease?"
"No, that's fine," Scott replies tersely.
Damn. I've got to stop this before it escalates. "Scott..."
"How's the new visor working for you then?" Toad taunts.
Before Scott can even open his mouth to formulate a reply, I grab him by the arm and drag him into the hallway. "How can you listen to this guy?" he grouses. "He's an unrepentant jerk."
"Half the kids at the Institute show up sounding like that," I hiss.
"How? How is it different, Scott?"
His jaw tightens, and he says, "Because the kids aren't murderers."
"If the professor had found him instead of Magneto, I don't think he would be a murderer."
Scott puts his hands on my arms, gently saying, "But he is. You can't change that. There's no magic wand that will let you go back in time and redeem him before he turns out this way. Jean, he nearly killed you."
"I know," I whisper.
"You should let someone else handle this."
"I can't," I say, shrugging out of his grasp.
I lift my chin. "Because no one else will." He sighs in exasperation, but I hold firm. "Scott, you can't go back in there. You'll just antagonize him. I'm going to do this and you can't stop me."
He's heard this tone of voice before. He knows I'm not going to back down. He nods, then gives me a quick kiss. "I'll be waiting out here. If I hear any kind of commotion, I'm coming in."
"Fair enough. I'll be fine, though. You saw his restraints."
I really wish I could see his eyes. I want to know if that was a wince of sympathy or disgust. "You're right. He's not going anywhere."
I take a deep breath and head back in. "Sorry about that," I say.
Toad says nothing. Just looks at the far wall.
I wish they'd been able to get him a room with a window, but that's been deemed too high a security risk. They don't want to make it easy for his accomplices to break him out. I pick up his chart and see that they think he's been having nightmares. Elevated heart rate, pulling at his restraints, and then he wakes up, breathing hard. There's nothing here to indicate if anyone's asked him about them. Probably not, from what I've seen of his treatment. I don't think anyone else has even tried talking to him. I clear my throat and ask, "So, how do you feel?"
I note a barely perceptible shrug.
"Headache? Muscle ache? Chest pains? Difficulty sleeping?" I ask.
"All of the above."
"Did you tell anyone? We can change your medications, you know," I say, putting down his chart and reaching for his IV.
"Don't!" There's panic in his voice.
"Why not? Don't you want me to lessen the pain?"
His hands grasp at his restraints, and I can see his muscles straining in hard relief. "I want to stay alert."
"No one's going to hurt you here." I lean over the bed, ostensibly checking out his head restraint, and telepathically ask, //Have any of the hospital staff mistreated you?//
//No.// But behind that answer I feel the echoes of other times when he was vulnerable and hurt. How can he trust me when every other time he's been in this position, he's been abused?
But I also feel the physical toll his pain is taking on him. I can't imagine how he can even hold a conversation with a headache this blinding.
I blink. I didn't realize I was broadcasting back at him. Breaking off the connection, I really look at his head restraint, and see it's been abrading his face. "You should have told someone about this," I chide, lifting his head and seeing cuts under his chin. "We're not trying to hurt you."
He's looking at me with those strange eyes of his, eyes magnified by his coke-bottle lenses. He looks confused. Maybe no one has ever expressed concern for his welfare before. Or maybe he's not buying a word of it. I'm not going back in though, no matter how much I want to. I need to respect his privacy if he's going to trust me.
"Are you sure I can't talk you into some more pain medication?" I ask again, as I notice similar abrasions on his wrists and ankles. "I'd really like you to be as comfortable as possible."
He stares wordlessly, then nods.
I get up and adjust the speed of his drip. "You should be feeling this soon. In the meantime, I'm going to see if someone can't scare up a little padding for your restraints to keep this from happening again. I'll be right back."
I send one of the duty nurses off to find padding while I head out to collect what I need to treat his cuts and abrasions. "Leaving already?" Scott asks as I walk out the door.
"No, he's been injured by his restraints and no one's done anything about it," I sigh. "So I'm treating him."
"Didn't he tell anyone?"
"No, I don't think so."
"I don't think it occurred to him that anyone would care."
He nods wordlessly, then goes back to standing guard outside the door. I quickly collect what I need and head back in. Scott silently opens the door for me, and I smile my thanks. "I'm back," I say.
"Bully for you," Toad deadpans.
I set my supplies down by the table and quip, "I didn't realize you'd be so excited." Damn, my attempt at humor fell flat. No reaction. But his eyes are looking slightly glassy. That could be it. It's hard to laugh when everything's a little swimmy. "Have the painkillers kicked in?" I ask, even though I already know the answer.
He nods. "I feel a lot better."
"But everything's a little fuzzy, right?"
"Yeah," he exhales.
"Okay then, let's take care of your chin first." I lift his head up and peer under the restraint. It's not easy to see, because there's only about an inch of clearance, but I think I can see well enough where the cuts are. "I'm going to clean these out with hydrogen peroxide. It's going to sting."
I douse a cotton ball, then rub it firmly across the cuts as Toad hisses. "Sorry," I say, putting the bloodied cotton ball aside and dousing another one so I can clean the blood from the restraint as well. "There. Let me just get a bandage for this and we'll be all set." He says nothing as I gently tape a gauze pad in place. Good thing he's not burned down here. Otherwise he'd be in agony right now.
"I'm going to take your glasses off now so I can look at the rest of your face," I say, and he just lies there, eyes closed. Don't link with him, Jean. Give him his privacy. I very gently remove the glasses and put them aside, then examine the rest of the abrasions. They're not nearly so bad as his chin. They just need a little antibacterial ointment. As I start gently smoothing the ointment across the abraded skin, a little sigh escapes his throat. He tilts his head as I go to give me easier access to the injured skin. I wasn't expecting this. I move on to his wrists, then his ankles, and when I finish and look up at his face, there are tears running down it.
"Are you okay?" I ask, gently resting my hand on his hair.
"It felt nice," he sighs.
I pick up a clean gauze pad and start dabbing at the tears. That salt water can't feel good against the burns on his face. "I'm glad you're feeling better. Why don't you get some rest?" I back that up with a subtle telepathic suggestion. It'll be a lot easier to pad his restraints if we can take them off, and I'm only willing to do that if he's asleep. As the duty nurse comes back in with the padding she found, I put my finger to my lips and gently stroke his hair until I feel him slipping into a deep sleep. I'll ask about the nightmares tomorrow. With any luck, he'll stop having them now that his pain is being properly medicated.
"Okay," I whisper. "Let's take care of this now. And could you get my boyfriend in here?" I think I'll feel safer with Scott in the room.
The professor leads me to his study and motions me to sit down. "Scott tells me he and Mister Toynbee exchanged words today."
"Mmm, well, things got off on the wrong foot. And Mortimer's not too happy to be chained up. And he was in desperate need of pain medication," I explain.
"Oh, I have no doubt that most people would be testy in his position. Have you been in his mind at all?" he asks.
"Briefly," I nod.
"Would you mind sharing?"
"Not at all." I take a deep breath, and then exhale and relax, letting the professor slip in and take a look. I like the feeling of having him in there. It's very comfortable. Very reassuring. I still remember when he first found me. My power was raw and untrained, and I couldn't control the hail of objects that orbited me whenever I got upset. But he slipped in to my mind and gently soothed the confusion away. It was like curling up with your childhood blanket after a really difficult day. Ever since then, I've welcomed his presence in my mind. And since I'm at a loss as to how to proceed, this evening is no exception.
"Very interesting," he murmurs as he slips back out. "It's unfortunate that he needs to be restrained that way, but hopefully you'll be able to build up trust with him to the point where he can be unshackled."
"I'd love to do it now, but I doubt the police will let me."
"It's a little premature for that, don't you think?"
I open my mouth to protest, but then realize how naive I must sound. "I'm sure you're right," I finally say.
The professor smiles. "I do want you to continue thinking with your heart. Someone in this man's life ought to." He steeples his hands, then says, "To gain trust, you have to offer trust. If you can, tell him privately about what happened to the senator, and to Mystique."
"Are you sure that's wise?"
"No, but I think it's a chance worth taking."
If I've learned anything this past decade, it's to trust the professor. "I'll find a way to get him the information."
Before I can see him again the next day, I'm intercepted by Andrew Vernon, an assistant for the local district attorney. "Can I talk to you?" he asks.
He leads me to an empty room, then asks, "In your professional opinion, do you think Toynbee's competent to stand trial?"
"I'm a medical doctor, not a psychiatrist," I protest.
"I know, but you've actually talked to him, and I know you can...you know." He leans in conspiratorially, tapping his temple with a forefinger.
"I haven't snooped. It's unethical. And even if I were to, it wouldn't be admissible. Why don't you get a psych analysis?"
"Oh, we will. I just thought I'd check with you first since you'd spent time with him. Off the record, what do you think?"
"I think he shouldn't stand trial," I say. "I personally would like to see him sent for psychiatric rehabilitation. Did you read his file?"
"Yeah. Quite an eyeful," Vernon replies. "Okay, I'll order the psych review. I may need to have you there for it, though. Apparently, he'll only talk to you."
"I was under the impression that was because no one else had tried."
He leans back against the wall and crosses his arms. "Apparently, they started trying after he woke up yesterday. But no go. He said he wasn't talking to 'normals.'"
"Great," I sigh. "Is he awake now?"
"Need to get some answers out of him?"
"I thought you'd never ask," he grins.
We walk together into Mortimer's room, and he looks over expectantly. If I didn't know better, I'd say he looked happy to see me. "Mortimer, there's someone here who needs to talk to you," I say.
"Do I have to?" he asks. "I mean, do you think I have to?"
"I do," I say. "This man could help keep you out of prison."
"Prison?" he asks, as if he hadn't considered this before.
"Surely you knew that was a possibility," Vernon says.
"I hadn't really thought about it," Mortimer sighs.
I wonder if he's been expecting a rescue? Vernon and I trade a look, then he says, "I'm going to have a psychiatrist come see you today. Have you been read your rights or told what you're being charged with?"
"No, I don't think so."
With a rote precision born of years of repetition, Vernon says, "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney before questioning. You have the right to have your attorney present with you during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you at no expense to you. You may choose to exercise these rights at any time."
"Do you understand all that?" I ask. "I can get you an attorney."
He looks genuinely confused. "But I tried to..."
"I know," I interrupt, trying to keep a poker face.
Vernon looks over at me and asks, "Anything I should know about?"
I look down at him coolly. "No, nothing." Turning back to Mortimer, I say, "I will help you get an attorney if you don't want a court-appointed one."
"What are the charges?" he asks.
Vernon says, "Right now, four counts of first-degree murder, although that number could go up. There's currently only four that are easily tied to you. We matched your bootprints to the corpses. And they're all police officers, so you're very likely to get the book thrown at you. However, if you're willing to cooperate..."
"I won't sell out my colleagues," Mortimer says matter-of-factly.
"Hmm." Vernon clasps his hands behind his back and walks thoughtfully across the room.
Great, he's trying to play mind games. Not on my watch. I clear my throat and ask, "What about what we discussed earlier?"
He turns and shoots me an annoyed look, then says, "Mister Toynbee, I'd like to have a psychiatrist come in and talk to you later today. Will you cooperate?"
"Only if Doctor Grey's here," he counters.
"I'll stay," I nod.
"If I could have a minute with you, Doctor," Vernon says with a jerk of his head. I accompany him out the door, and he turns on me and snaps, "Don't ever interfere with me when I'm doing my job."
"Playing mind games with the mentally ill isn't fair!" I counter.
"I'm not convinced he's mentally ill."
"Let's let the psychiatrist decide that." There's a heavy pause between us, and I add, "Look, if he's given a clean bill of mental health, then you can play all the games you want with him. But until then, if you want my continued help, you're going to treat him right."
He glares, then breaks out into a grin. "I knew there was a reason I liked you. You're a real ball-breaker." I try not to roll my eyes. "I'll be back in an hour with a shrink. Hopefully, I can get Sarah Adams out here that fast. This shit is right up her alley."
"I'll be here."
I don't even watch as he walks away. Asshole. Heading back in, I ask, "So, how are you feeling today?"
"Better. I hurt less."
"How's the padding?"
He looks down at his left wrist as he twists it around experimentally. "It's a lot more comfortable."
He freezes, then curls his hands around his restraints. "I didn't tell anyone about those," he hisses. "You poking around in my head?"
I pick up his chart and tap my fingernail on it. "I read it on your chart yesterday."
"Oh." The fight immediately drains out of him. I look down at the chart and he says, "Don't bother. Yeah, I had one last night."
"Do you want to talk about them?"
"Look, I'm chained to a bed, okay? Of course I'm having nightmares," he snaps.
"You look tired," I say, reaching over and checking his head restraint. Now that I'm close enough, I telepathically add, //Pretend to get some sleep and I'll fill you in on a few things.//
"What about the nightmares?" he asks, but in his mind, I can feel him giving his consent.
"I'll keep tabs and wake you if one starts," I say, then add, //Thanks for the cover.// He's smart. He's noticed I can only do this when I'm close to him. I reach out and pluck off his glasses, then gently stroke his hair as he feigns falling asleep. I can't help but smile as I feel how much he enjoys the touch.
//So, I promised you news,// I say. //Remember, stay calm. No matter what I tell you, don't react physically.//
I can feel him carefully detaching himself from his body. Good. Although I'm a little worried by the ease with which he does it. He's had practice ignoring his body, pretending to be somewhere else. If the psychiatrist doesn't figure this out on her own, I'll have to take her aside and tell her myself.
I focus my thoughts and say, //Senator Kelly is dead. The machine killed him.//
He doesn't believe me.
//It's true. He liquefied. The mutation was unnatural, and unstable. If we hadn't stopped you, it would have killed all the delegates as well as all the inhabitants of New York City. I'm sure Magneto had no idea.//
He takes the mental equivalent of a deep breath.
//Mystique has taken over for Senator Kelly. She's working on killing the Mutant Registration Act. We've chosen not to tell the authorities about the switch.//
Now he's confused.
//I know, it seems strange, but the professor wants to watch and wait to see what she does. Right now, she's doing good things.//
He shifts slightly, and I start stroking his hair again. He's agitated, thinking about the lost possibility of rescue.
//Everything will work out,// I project as reassuringly as I can. //Just cooperate with the psychiatrist, and chances are excellent that you'll stay out of jail.//
Ah. He wants to know what the alternative to jail is.
I get the clear, angry image of a mental hospital, a locked room, and restraints, and his eyes fly open. The word //No// rings clearly in my head.
"Try to get some more rest," I chide.
"I'm not tired anymore."
//I promise you, it won't be like that. And you'll be far safer there than you would be in prison. Trust me.//
He looks at me with those strange eyes of his. It's the oddest thing. I think he does trust me. How the hell did I earn that?
Mortimer makes damned sure that Vernon's in the hallway before he starts talking to the psychiatrist. And he insists that I stay in there with him. From what little scanning I'm doing of his mental state, I think he's answering everything truthfully, and the truth is amazingly painful to hear. He tells of abuse at the orphanage, the constant scorn and derision shot his way by normals, and then the god-like presence of Magneto as his savior, lifting him out of that hell and helping him focus his anger against those who hated him. Before Magneto, he'd passively accepted his fate as a freak. Now his hate is focused like a laser.
What really got to me was when he said that he had absolutely no memories of ever having been treated kindly by a normal.
When it's over, the psychiatrist and I step out into the hallway to talk to Vernon. "So, what's your professional opinion?" he asks.
Doctor Adams shakes her head. "I'm not sure about this one. Does he know right from wrong? Absolutely. Does he think what he did was wrong? No. It'll take me a while to figure out what to recommend to the judge. One thing's clear, though. He'd do anything that Lehnsherr told him to do."
"Isn't that enough to keep him out of jail?" I ask. "I mean, if he was clearly manipulated by someone else..."
"Squeaky Fromme was clearly manipulated by Charles Manson," Doctor Adams says tersely. "She's still in jail. Unfortunately, that's not enough." She sighs and clasps her clipboard tightly to her chest. "Look, if he'd shown up in my ward after being picked up on theft or assault charges, then I'd recommend that he be put in a group home and given intense therapy. His childhood was brutal, and it turned him into a clearly disturbed individual. But he killed four policemen. He'll be lucky to get locked up in a mental institution for the rest of his life."
"I was afraid of that," I sigh. "Locking him up like that isn't going to help him any."
Vernon shakes his head. "The purpose of the judicial system is not to dole out rehabilitation. It exists to punish people for their crimes."
The psychiatrist and I exchange a sympathetic glance, then she says, "I'll have a recommendation by morning. But I have to say, no matter what I tell the judge, it doesn't look good for him."
I promised him I wouldn't let him get locked up. Damn. What do I do now?
Morning. I didn't sleep well last night. I have no idea how I'm going to face him. The professor agrees with me that Mortimer needs treatment, not jailing. We wracked our brains all evening trying to come up with ways to keep Mortimer from being locked up, and came up empty, although the professor's going to keep working on it today when I go for my visit. He has connections. Maybe one of them will come through. But it doesn't look good.
I know this man tried to kill me, but I can't help but want to see to it that he's treated properly. He had the misfortune to be born looking like a freak in a world that despised him for it. And the one person who cared enough to reach out to him turned him into an angry killer. The man's never known love or kindness, just cruelty and hate. No wonder he turned out the way he did. He has no debt to society. Society has a debt to him.
As I head for his room, the duty nurse looks up and quips, "Back for the freak show?"
It's a damned good thing she didn't say that to me a decade ago. Before my telekinesis was under control, I was the epitome of "If looks could kill." Resisting the urge to tighten her collar around her neck, I coolly say, "I'm a mutant too."
I'm not interested in sticking around for her mumbled replies.
I walk in the room, and there's no doubt about it this time. He's definitely happy to see me. "I'm really sorry I didn't get a chance to say goodbye yesterday," I say sheepishly. "I really feel awful about it."
"Oh, that's okay," he notes brightly. "You were busy. I understand. I mean, I know you're working to try and help me."
Oh God, why does he have to be so understanding? "About that, Mortimer. I know I promised you that I'd keep you from being locked up. I'm doing all I can, but it might not be enough. I just thought you should know that."
His face falls slightly, but he shrugs and gives me a little grin. "You're doing what you can."
I reach out ever so slightly to try and scan his surface thoughts, and am reeled by the overwhelming trust and fondness I feel coming from him. A week of being kind to him. That's all it took. One week, and he trusts me implicitly. He's that starved for approval. No wonder Magneto swayed him so easily. "Mortimer, I..."
The door opens, and it's Vernon again. He turns to the police officers and orderlies and barks, "Out." Turning to me, he says, "You too."
I look at him, and it takes a second for it to hit me. I'm looking him dead in the eye. I'm not looking down.
This isn't Andrew Vernon. It's Mystique.
"I'm not talking unless she's here," Mortimer says firmly.
Still looking Mystique dead in the eye, I project, //I know who you are. I know you're filling in for Kelly. We haven't informed the authorities, so you owe us one. I won't stop you from taking Mortimer.//
She looks at me, her disguise unwavering, then says, "Mister Toynbee, I would urge you to reconsider that request."
//I want you to take him, and I'll help you, but I need to fill you in on his medical condition and legal status.//
"I mean it," Mortimer says. "I don't trust you. I want her here or I don't talk."
A small hint of puzzlement briefly mars his scowling face, then he says, "Fine. Everyone else, out."
They file out the door, clearly uneasy with the order but not daring to disobey, and she closes the door behind them. Her head shifts back into its regular form, but the voice and body stay Vernon's. "Go ahead. Talk."
Mortimer's jaw drops as much as the restraint will allow. "I knew you'd come for me," he whispers.
"Here," I say, picking up his chart and handing it to her. "Take this. It has his injuries, medications, and treatments clearly noted. His IV bag should keep him for the rest of the day. Be sure to take it with you. Do you have a doctor you can take him to? He'll need follow-up care and more medication."
"I do," she says. "Is he well enough to travel?"
"Not really, but if you get a doctor to him before the day is out, he should be fine," I say, walking over to Mortimer's bedside and telekinetically undoing his restraints. I sit next to him on the bed, gently massaging his jaw as he flexes it open for the first time in a week, adding, "I don't know if he can walk, though. He has minor leg fractures and has been strapped to a bed for a week, plus he suffered cardiac arrest in the lightning strike. You need to be careful with him."
Her brow furrows, and she licks her lips, tongue eerily pink against cobalt skin. "Why are you helping me?" she asks, moving back to within close range of me. Striking distance. That's to be expected.
"Because Mortimer doesn't deserve to be locked up."
"How do you figure that?"
"Because I read his file, and I honestly believe that he wouldn't have turned out this way if we'd found him before Magneto."
"'This way.' And what do you mean by that?" she asks pointedly.
"Ah. And are you willing to make similar concessions for me?"
"Look, don't make me question this decision," I snap. "I'm helping you." I turn back to Mortimer and ask, "How does that feel?"
He flexes his arms slowly and repetitively as I move my hands from his face. "Stiff, but better. Thanks."
"You know, I can't help but question your decision not to inform the authorities about Senator Kelly's death," she says, a half-smile on her face. "You're concealing a crime, never mind keeping his wife and children from knowing the truth about him."
"We like the work you're doing in his place," I say, but she knows its a lie. I don't need to read her to know that.
"Of course, I didn't start doing that work until he'd been dead for several days," she replies, smile growing. "What are you hiding? Did he die at your precious school?"
"We're not discussing this," I hiss.
"Mystique, please, drop it," Mortimer begs. "I just want to go."
She turns to him, then turns back to me and looks at me impassively.
"Look, temporary truce. I'm letting you both go," I reiterate. "And I promise that the X-Men will stay out of your way so long as all you do is continue to campaign against the Mutant Registration Act. So can I trust you to return the favor and not try to kill me on your way out?"
She turns and looks Mortimer questioningly. "What do you say?"
"She's been really nice," he says earnestly. "You should let her go."
She arches what would be her eyebrows, and nods in concession. I'm close enough to her to do a surface scan of her thoughts, and she's honestly agreed to this. I don't even need to remind her that I can close her windpipe without even touching her. "Count yourself lucky," she says. "You're only the second normal-looking person that Mortimer's counted as a friend."
"I don't blame him," I reply. "Not after what he's gone through." Turning back to Mortimer, I take his hand and say, "Please, just stay out of trouble. Don't give them any reason to come looking for you, okay? If they find you again, they'll lock you up for sure."
"Aren't you going to get into trouble for letting me go?" he whispers, worry evident in his eyes.
"Not if Mystique hits me hard enough to knock me out," I counter with a smile. "And Mystique, don't send him on missions anymore. They'll lock him away a lot faster next time, and I don't think you'll be able to break him out quite so easily."
"This wasn't easy," she counters, then softly adds, "Although I appreciate the assistance."
I see her reaching up to unhook his IV bag. She's ready to go. "Remember, stay out of trouble," I tell Mortimer.
He smiles. Really smiles. It's amazing how much it changes his face. "Okay. I will."
I take a deep breath, straighten up, and say, "Do it."
There's a sharp pain, then nothing.
I come to in the hospital with Scott hovering nervously over me. "Jean, you're awake." I can feel his unspoken, "I told you so," but he has the decency not to say it out loud.
Ow, the light hurts my eyes. I'm sure I'm wincing, but I know I'll be fine. Unfortunately, this isn't the only time I've been hit in the back of the head. I have to hand it to Mystique, though. She did an elegant job of it. The other times I was hit in the head, it took a lot longer for me to pass out, and it hurt a lot more too. "I'll be fine," I murmur as I struggle to sit up. "What happened?" I ask.
//You know exactly what happened,// the professor's voice intones in my head. I look over to see him sitting a few feet away. //You helped him escape.//
//Did it work?//
//Apparently so. Not the solution I would have chosen, but probably the best one, all things considered. My connections did not pan out.//
Someone must have told Vernon that I was awake, because he's by my bedside with a full bluster on. "What the hell happened here?"
"Weren't we attacked?" I ask, drawing on the two years of drama I took in junior high school. I knew they'd come in handy eventually. "The last thing I remember is you and me alone with the prisoner."
"That wasn't me," he seethes. "Must have been that damned shapeshifter. Looks like she clocked you on the back of the head too. I woke up in a utility closet in the courthouse forty minutes ago." He heads off, still grumbling to himself.
"Come on, let's take you home," Scott says as he helps me to my feet.
I can't help but worry that I'll regret this some day.
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