No attempt has been made to reproduce the Yorkshire accent. Yes, I watched "All Creatures Great and Small," but that was over a decade ago. Besides, I'm a Bloody Colonial. I'd just muck it up. Thanks to everyone who helped me research the area, most especially Fi (for the native's perspective) and R'Hul (for the tourist's perspective).
More of Mystique's canon backstory is hinted at in this installment.
It's been a month since we broke him out of jail, and he's still not talking to us.
He's angry at Mystique for publicly killing off the senator, and he's angry at me for siding with her on this. I mean, yeah, I agree it seemed like a waste to get rid of him, but Mystique was right. She couldn't keep up the charade forever without getting caught. Especially after that assassination attempt. God, I still have nightmares about that. I think he's also angry at us for taking so long to break him out. I guess he considers recovering from near-fatal injuries to be a waste of time or something.
"You could have come for me before the assassination attempt," he snapped when I pointed this out. "You were both healthy for several months."
"Mystique was busy! First she killed the Mutant Registration Act, and then she drafted the Mutant Anti-Discrimination Act! They think it's actually going to pass."
"Waste of time," he scowled. "Do you really think laws will change people's minds about us?"
"It's a start."
"You sound just like Charles and his bloody X-Men."
"How dare you!" Without even thinking, I'd jumped on his desk and started staring him down.
He glared, then chuckled and started walking a circle around his desk. "You seem to have sprouted a backbone in my absence."
"I've had a good teacher," I retorted under my breath as I followed him with my gaze.
"So, Mystique was busy while I was locked up, but that doesn't explain why you didn't break me out."
"I couldn't do it alone. And we did try when Congress was on recess for the holidays. Do you have any idea how good the security around you was?"
"Mystique was wasting her time. You should have insisted she drop her silly pet project and helped you free me."
"Silly? The Mutant Anti-Discrimination Act is not silly!"
He leaned on his desk, face inches from mine, and hissed, "And how will a law help someone like you? How will it keep people from pointing and staring when you go outside?"
"It'll be a lot more help than anything you've ever done!" I snapped back.
Last thing Magneto said before kicking us out of his lair was that he would find Sabretooth and just work with him from now on.
Fine. I don't need him. I have another project to keep me busy.
Mystique's been trying to dissuade me, but dammit, I really want to do this. I want to see what they look like.
I'm not angry at them. I don't blame them, really. Anyone would have done the same thing in their place. I just want to see them.
"You're sure you want to do this?" she asks, walking out in her Raven persona, carrying a suitcase.
"Positive," I say, checking my makeup in the mirror one last time. It's shocking how normal I look with it on. Still don't recognize it as me when I look in the mirror. "I didn't go looking for them for nothing."
"I could still send someone out there to take photos. Wouldn't that be enough?"
"No, I want to see them with my own eyes."
"They're my parents, Mystique. I want to see them."
She sighs, then says, "Okay. Let's head for the airport. The flight's in an hour."
It's so weird being in public and not having people know what I am. I've got on makeup, contacts, a wig, and a fake passport. After my time with Magneto, I can't exactly travel as myself, even if I want to. I think I'm actually on a few international terrorist lists. I've gone out like this a few times already, but somehow, doing it on an international trip with a fake passport seems so much more...serious, I guess. And everyone treats me so normally. It's different from Halloween. It's more, I dunno, casual. Like I'm just a regular person. I hate the fact that I have to wear a disguise to go out, but the more I do it, the more I like it. I've never been treated this way before. Not even by Magneto. For all his talk of "brotherhood," he didn't exactly treat me like a brother. I was his project, his weapon, his cause. His bloody green mascot. Not someone he hung out with, or took out for drinks, or took out anywhere at all, unless he was on a mission.
I still can't believe I found my parents so easily. They didn't do much to hide. They left me at the orphanage with my real last name and then moved just slightly outside of York. Even with my reading problems, I found them quickly on the Internet. Well, that's not really fair to myself. I do read. It just takes me longer than most people. And I had pretty impressive motivation.
I just want to see them. See what they look like. That's all.
Mystique's been really weird about all this. She keeps telling me I should be angry.
"Look, I don't blame them for what they did," I say somewhere over the Atlantic.
"They abandoned you, Mortimer."
"Yeah, but look at me," I say, conscious of the fact that I don't actually look like myself right now. "It's tough enough being visibly a mutant nowadays. Imagine nearly thirty years ago. I don't blame them for taking one look at me and getting rid of me."
She just clams up and turns back to her novel. If I didn't know better, I'd say she looked guilty. I just look out the window at the ocean.
The landing in Heathrow's smooth. We get through customs no problem, then we pick up our rental car and I pull out onto the motorway to make the drive north. It's late, so it's a long, quiet drive. It's so nice to see the familiar countryside outside York in the headlights. I hadn't realized how much I missed it. I mean, it's not like I have good memories of this place, but it's home. I even missed how it smells. This is home. I'm home, and no one who ever knew me will know that I'm here. They could look right at me, and they'd never recognize me. Almost makes me wish I could run into one of them so I could beat the snot out of them. No, must be good. I'm travelling on a fake passport. As we pull up to the private cottage we've rented on the outskirts of town, I say, "Tomorrow morning we can go check out their place."
"You're positive you want to do this?"
She nods, a sad look on her face. "Okay. Then that's what we'll do."
"I swear, I'll find a way to pay you back for all this."
"You don't need to," she murmurs, and that's the end of the conversation for tonight.
"Mavis and Arthur Toynbee," Mystique says as we pull out the next morning. "Their names even sound British."
"What do you expect from people who named their kid 'Mortimer'?" I ask.
"Mortimer is a fine name," Mystique protests. "It's just very British. So, once we're done with this, you're going to show me around the city, right?"
"Yeah. Although York City has a game this afternoon, so I think I'd like to go to a pub and watch it on the tele if you don't mind."
I look over at her out of the corner of my eye, and she's got an odd grin on her face.
"What?" I ask, trying to pay attention to the road. I learned to drive in the States, so staying to the left takes a little extra concentration.
"I'm used to hearing you say 'soccer team' and 'TV.' You've been here for less than a day and your vocabulary is changing."
"Reverting, not changing."
She seems a lot more relaxed today. She's actually smiling. I was really starting to worry that I should have insisted that I make this entire trip alone, but she seems to be okay. It takes about ten minutes of driving before we get to their road. There aren't many houses out here. Things are pretty well spaced-out, especially compared to how close everything is in the city. Mystique was actually ranting about it this morning, although in a bemused sort of way. "I'm glad I spent the money on this cottage," she said as we were getting ready to leave. "Everything in the city is so crowded."
"The houses are all connected. Don't you people have lawns? Elbow room? Privacy?"
"That's what curtains are for."
"Well, I'm glad I found us a place where we could go home and be ourselves without worrying if the neighbors could see in."
I'm glad she did that too, actually. It just wouldn't have occurred to me. I mean, I like the space in America, but this is where I grew up. It just wouldn't have struck me as odd if the neighbors were just a few feet away and could see what we were eating for dinner by looking out their bathroom window. But that's not a problem out here. I don't know if I was ever brought this far outside the city when I was at the orphanage. They generally kept us within walking distance. It was cheaper and easier that way, I suppose.
"That farm has a sign in front of it that says 'Toynbee'," Mystique says, pointing off to the right.
"I didn't think they lived on a farm," I say, pulling over to the left and putting the car in park. "We'll have to drive up onto the property to find the farm house." Damn, that puts a major crimp in my plans. I didn't plan on having to trespass. I just wanted to sit somewhere public and wait until I saw them. Damn. You can't sneak up on someone at a farm. Too much open space.
"Wait, what's that house over there?" she asks, pointing a little farther down the road. "It's still on the farm's property, I think."
"That doesn't look like a farm house," I say, pulling the car back onto the road and driving down to the house. "It looks new. It almost looks American," I note as I pull over across the road and put the car back into park.
"It's definitely new. And look at that satellite dish."
"There's two satellite dishes. See? I think one's for communications."
"Well, if that's your parents' house, I think they've done well for themselves. I haven't seen any other new houses along this road."
And then I see the front door open. Two middle-aged people walk out and head for their car. "That's them," I whisper.
"Are you sure?" she asks, reaching out and taking my hand.
They have a quick conversation. I can't make out most of the words, but I do catch him saying 'Mavis.' It's definitely them. I can't believe I'm finally seeing them. My parents. After all these years, I know what they look like. They talk for a minute, then get in the car and drive away.
"Mortimer?" Mystique says. "Hey, are you okay? You're crying."
"I look just like my dad," I say before dissolving into sobs.
After we get back to the cottage and fix my smeared makeup, I walk down alone to the nearby pub to try and distract myself with beer and football. It's not working, though. He looks just like me, when I have the makeup on, at least. Just add some gray to the hair and some wrinkles around the eyes. And my mum...she's pretty. She has my eyes. Well, kinda.
They look happy. They've done well for themselves. Probably for the best that they got rid of me. If they'd had to spend their time trying to hide their freaky son from the world, they probably wouldn't have had the time to do anything else.
I put my empty glass down on the bar, and the barman fills it without prompting. I must look like I need it. I feel like I've been hit by a truck. I've spent so much time imagining what my parents must be like, that finally being confronted with the reality is just too much to deal with. I remember fantasizing when I was a kid that I was a part of the royal family, and that they'd had to get rid of me, but that someday I'd come up in the line of succession for some dukedom or something, and they'd come back for me. Or that my parents were rich foreigners who would some day be wracked with guilt, take me back, and pay for all sorts of plastic surgery to make me normal.
But they're ordinary people. Just ordinary people.
I think I like that better. But it makes it harder to accept, I guess. They're not fantasy people. They're just a normal couple.
I wonder what my life would have been life if I'd been born normal and grown up with them? Would I have helped them with the farm? Gone to university? I can't even imagine any of that for me. Other people, sure. Not me. I wonder if I have any siblings? Oh god, I hadn't thought of that before. I take another pull from my beer. Siblings. Hope they turned out normal. Or maybe after my parents had me, they decided not to chance it again. Wouldn't blame them for that either.
Look at that. We won. I used to get a lot more excited about football when I was a kid. It was a nice escape, and the other kids would forget to tease me when the game was on. They also conveniently forgot to tease me when we'd play a game in the yard and they needed a good kicker for their team. Course, if my team lost, I'd get it. Although I quickly learned to run if that happened before they started trying to pound me.
I thought I'd feel better if I saw them with my own eyes. But I don't. I feel worse. I didn't think that was possible.
Well, no point in staying here any longer. I drain my glass and trudge back to the cottage. It's cold and gray, but that feels appropriate somehow. Wow. That was my parents. I've actually seen my parents. When I walk in, Mystique looks up from her laptop computer and says, "You should meet them."
"No," I sigh as I hang up my coat. "I already told you I just wanted to see them."
"You can't come all this way and not meet them," she says. "It's not fair to you."
"It wouldn't be fair to them to just show up on their doorstep," I say, plunking down on the sofa. "I won't do that to them. They gave me up at birth for a reason. The last thing they need is for me to come back."
"I've been reading up on them," she says, gesturing to the computer. "They sound like good people. They have a thriving Internet business, and they spread the money around town on all sorts of children's charities." She pauses, then adds, "Including the orphanage."
"How long have they been sending money there?" I whisper.
"Looks like nearly ten years."
I shake my head and look down at my hands, pulling off my gloves so I can see the green. "I was gone by then."
"I think they'd want to know that you're okay." She swallows hard, then says, "If I were in their place, I'd want to know the same thing."
It takes all my courage to knock on their door the next afternoon.
No makeup, no contacts, no disguise at all. For once, I'm out in public as myself. I want them to know who I am the moment they see me, even if it means they just slam the door in my face. Mystique's a couple of steps behind me as moral support. God, I hope I don't start crying again. I fuss nervously with my jacket while I wait for someone to answer, smoothing out wrinkles that are probably all in my imagination. I may be green, but I want to be presentable. If only my hair would lie flat.
I hear footsteps, then the door opens, and it's her. It's my mother. Her mouth hangs open as she stands and stares, and I can feel my heart hammering hard in my chest, but I finally manage to ask, "Are you Mavis Toynbee?"
"Arthur!" she cries. "Mortimer's come home."
I hear him running to the door, and he stands and gapes behind her, hands on her shoulders. "Well I'll be," he finally murmurs.
My mother's hands flutter up to her face, and I see her start shaking. "I'm so sorry," she says, voice unsteady. "I'm so so sorry."
"No, I shouldn't have come," I say, backing up a step. Oh god. I've fucked things up again. "I can go. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have..."
"You'll do no such thing," my father says firmly. "You have nothing to apologize for. We do. You and your lady friend should come in." He steps back, guiding my mother back with him, leaving the doorway wide open.
"Thank you," Mystique says, taking over for me and smoothing things over with a smile. She's so good at that. "That's very kind."
"I'm so sorry," my mother is still saying as she and my father lead us into a small sitting room. "We were so young. We didn't know what to do."
"You don't have to apologize," I say as I sit with Mystique on the sofa that my father gestures to. My parents' sofa. "I understand. Really, I do."
"No, we do need to apologize," my father says as he guides my mother into an armchair and then sits on its arm. "We do. What we did wasn't fair to you."
"No one had seen anything like you before," my mother says, wiping away tears. "And we were so young. One of the nurses screamed, and then that little tongue of yours came out..."
"We were scared," my father says. "Plain and simple. So we took the coward's way out."
"Oh, I'm sure you're terribly angry at us!" my mother says, fist balled up in front of her mouth as she starts to cry again.
"No, really, I don't blame you," I say, fighting back tears of my own. I won't cry in front of them. Don't want to make them hurt any more than they clearly do. "I know what I look like. Most people would have done the same thing."
"But it's wrong," my father replies, voice shaking. No, please don't let him be crying too. "It's wrong, and it took us too long to admit that to ourselves. When we finally decided to go back and get you from the orphanage, they told us you'd already been taken away to America."
"We tried looking you up on the Internet," my mother adds, wiping her eyes again. "We couldn't find you."
"I'm not listed anywhere," I say apologetically. "I'm sorry. I didn't come here to hurt you. I just... Well, Raven saw that you were a public contributor to the orphanage, so I figured that on the off chance you had come looking for me at some point, I thought I'd come by to let you know I was all right."
"Thank you, Mortimer," my mother says with a smile. "We really do appreciate that." She raises her eyebrows, and says, "Well, where are my manners? Would either of you like something to eat or drink? I could make a pot of tea."
"I don't want to be any trouble," I say.
"No, it'll be no trouble at all," she replies, standing up, then turns to Mystique and says, "I don't know if you Americans drink tea, Miss...oh dear, I didn't get your name."
"Raven Darkholme. And I love tea. Do you need any help?"
"No, but thank you. I won't be more than a minute. I just need to put the kettle on."
My dad chuckles. "Mavis is such a huge fan of gadgets and modern conveniences, but she still boils water for tea in a kettle."
"Tea is special," she retorts over her shoulder as she heads to the kitchen. "You don't mess with tradition."
"So, Mortimer, what is it that you do in America?"
"Oh, um, I work for a pro-mutant philanthropist." Magneto drilled that line into my head from the moment he rescued me from the orphanage. I suppose in a technical sense, it's true.
"Ah, that's interesting. Did you hear that, Mavis?"
"I did," she calls from the kitchen.
"So, what exactly does that entail?" he asks.
"All sorts of things, really. I can't talk about it. Confidentiality agreement and all." Okay, so I'm a pro-mutant criminal, currently unemployed. But I don't think they need to know that.
My mother comes back into the room, nervously brushing her hands across the front of her slacks. "Won't be long now," she says with a smile, but her eyes still look sad. "So, are you two, ah, together and all that?" she asks, looking at me and Mystique.
"Yes," she says, putting her hand on my knee. "We are." Wow. She's never said that before.
My mother's smile gets bigger. "That's so nice. I was afraid he'd be lonely his whole life. People can be so cruel. And are you also...I mean...well, you don't have to tell me if you don't want, because I know people like to keep it secret, but..."
"Yes, I'm a mutant too," she says.
"We don't need any specifics," my father says. "Your secret's safe with us."
"You know, it's probably best you went to America," my mother adds. "There so many more of your kind there. I'm sure that must make it easier to find someone nice."
I am not going to destroy my mother's illusions. "It is."
"Although I was sad to hear about that senator of yours getting killed," she says. "It sounded like he was trying to do good things for...people like you."
She hasn't said "mutant" once. Neither of them have. "Well, there are other people continuing his work," I say, which is true. There are several senators who have taken over where "Kelly" left off. Surprised the hell out of us when that happened.
"You've never been threatened like that, have you?" my father asks nervously.
"Me? No," I say, hoping against all hope that I sound convincing.
"So people leave you alone when you go out?"
"Um." I take a deep breath. "Well, I generally put a little makeup on to cover up the green, just to be safe." Shit, "safe" was the wrong word. They both look alarmed. I hastily add, "You know, just to keep people from staring. That's all."
And then the kettle whistles.
We spend the next hour chatting. They tell me how much York has changed since I left, and how the decline of family farming is what got my mother into the Internet in the first place. She originally got on the Web to help my father sell his wool and mutton in better markets than York's, and then she moved on to start her own Web business, selling all sorts of Yorkshire-produced items all over the globe. My dad tells me that the farm is now more of a hobby, and that he hires day-laborers to take care of things for him, but that he won't sell since it's been in the family for several generations now. They don't need that income, really. Mum's income takes care of everything and then some. And they ask questions about America, which I mostly let Mystique answer because I haven't seen much of it. And I lie when they ask how life is for "people like me" over there. I tell them everything's okay and that I'm doing well.
We hit a lull in the conversation, and I figure I should probably volunteer to leave before things get awkward. So far, everything's gone pretty well. They seem tense, but I can't blame them. The child they tried to get rid of just showed up unannounced on their doorstep twenty-six years later, and he's probably more freakish than they remembered. I'm sure they never imagined this would happen.
"We're glad you came by," my mother says, making no attempt to get me to stay. I'm sure this visit was hard on her. I can't say I blame her. I'm probably going to cry all the way home. I can't imagine how she's going to deal.
"How long will you be here?" my father asks.
"We're heading back to America in a week," I say. "Raven wanted to see the sights, so I'm going to be showing her around."
"Well, your timing was excellent. Tonight we're going down to see your sister in Leeds for a few days, but we'll call you when we get back."
"I have a sister?" I ask, chest getting tight again.
"You have two sisters," my mum says, voice practically a whisper. "Two little sisters. Agnes and Margaret. Margaret's the youngest. She's just finishing up at university."
"They're normal, aren't they?" I ask nervously.
"Perfectly normal," my mother replies.
"Well, that's a relief."
"They don't know about you," she adds, looking at the ground.
"That's fine. You don't have to tell them."
"Is there a number where we can reach you when we get back?" my father asks.
Mystique digs through her purse and pulls out a piece of paper. She'd already written down our cottage's number on it. "Here's where we're staying."
"Thanks." My mum tucks the paper into her pocket, then says, "I'm glad you came by, son."
Son. She called me son.
She gives me a little hug, and my father claps me on the arm, and then we're back in the car, waving as we drive off.
I don't think I've ever laughed and cried at the same time before.
I don't know why we're staying in England. My parents aren't going to call back. I'm sure they're too freaked out. I mean, when I first left their place, I had hope, but it's been several days now, and I have to be realistic about it. I mean, I think the visit went really well. They were nice to me, we talked a little, I now have real memories of them. That should be enough. I should be satisfied. But I feel kind of empty. I don't get it. I thought I'd be happy.
But I promised Mystique I'd show her around, so I do. Not that I've visited most of these places myself. I only ever got around the center of York when I was a kid, and then only when bundled up and attended. Well, that's not strictly true. I'd explore on my own at night sometimes when I ran away. I show her all the places I'd go, like Clifford's Tower. I could see the whole city from there. Made me feel safe. I'd also scale the walls of the York Minster and pretend I was a gargoyle, or break into the crypts and hide if I needed a good cry.
It's weird walking around uncovered in broad daylight. I mean, I am wearing the makeup and the wig, but I'm used to seeing these streets through layers of clothing. I keep expecting people to stare, just like they used to when they caught a peep of flesh from under the hood the little bundled-up orphan was wearing. And I keep expecting to run into people I know. But it's been ten years. All the kids will be grown-up. They'll look different. Haven't seen any of the adults from the orphanage either, but I've steered clear of that place. That's one place I never want to revisit. Sometimes I still have nightmares about that place. They used to keep me tied down when I was little, but they gave that up when I got older. I think they hoped I'd run away for good when I made my little escapes. They always looked so disappointed to see me climbing back in the window in the morning.
In a way, I was lucky to grow up in York. There's so many great places to hide. Some good bridges to hang out under. Lots of great buildings to climb. I still remember the day when I figured out that I could climb faster if I wore fingerless gloves. I was eight, and running away from a group of kids who'd decided that the mere fact that it was Tuesday was as good a reason as any to beat me up. It was a little chilly out, so I had on an old ratty pair of fingerless gloves to try and keep warm, and when I hit Bootham Bar, I just jumped as high as I could and started climbing. And for the first time in my life, I climbed fast. Didn't realize how much it had been slowing me down to use the full surface of my hand. The adhesion was too strong.
Magneto saved me from all that, and how have I repaid him? He's right. Of course he's right. Mystique and I should have tried to get him out of prison sooner. We never should have accepted the X-Men's help. He's a better strategist than us. We never should have tried to go it alone. Urgh, I'm an idiot. A disloyal idiot with delusions of grandeur. Okay, so Mystique did accomplish some really important things, but he's right, I should have tried harder to get him out on my own. As soon as we get back, I'm skulking back to his lair with my tail between my legs and begging him to take me back. Mystique will try to talk me out of it, but it's the right thing to do. After all he's done for me...I owe him so much. I'm not even close to repaying him. Not by a long shot. He saved me, and I betrayed him.
I guess I hoped that my parents would replace him.
"They seem so nice," Mystique muses one day when we're driving back to the cottage. She's been fairly quiet this whole trip. I was hoping she'd open up more once that visit to my parents' house was over, but it's only made her quieter. I'm sure me telling her all the stories about where I'd hide hasn't helped any either. But I've tried to spare her most of the details of why I kept running away. She doesn't need to hear that.
"They do," I agree.
"You're really not angry with them?"
"No, I'm not," I say. And I'm not lying. I'm not angry. I've never been angry. I always understood. "Who'd want to raise me?"
"They could have tried, though."
"It would have been so hard."
"Just because something's difficult or scary, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. No matter how scared you're feeling, or how worried you are about your future, you shouldn't just abandon a child lightly."
I turn to look at her, and her eyes are a million miles away. "Are you okay?"
She snaps back to herself, and looks at me. "Sorry. Just thinking out loud."
"This isn't about me, is it?"
She smiles, but it doesn't reach her eyes, and she turns to look back out the window. "It's nothing."
Well, she's respected my not telling her everything, so I guess I should return the favor. If she wants to tell me, she will.
As we step back into our cottage, the phone is ringing. My heart starts thumping hard. Only two people have this number. I run over to pick it up. "Hello?"
I hear my father's voice ask, "Is this Mortimer?"
"Yes it is."
"I know it's a little late, but do you think you could come over for supper? I'd like you to meet your sisters."
My heart starts thumping even harder. "I'd love to. Do you need me to cover myself up, or do they know?"
"They know. Could you be here in an hour?"
"Good, son. We'll see you in an hour."
"Okay. Bye." I hang up the phone and look up at Mystique. "They want us over for dinner in an hour."
"That's sudden," she says, hanging up her coat. "Did they say why?"
"They want me to meet my sisters."
She nods, then says, "Then we'd better clean you up and buy a bottle of wine to bring."
"We need to bring wine? They didn't say we needed to bring anything." Shit, I should have asked. Except I didn't know I needed to ask. Damn, there's still so much I need to learn about normal people. What if they didn't want me to bring something, and if I do, they get mad?
"Ssssh," Mystique says, putting her hand on my cheek.
I startle back. "When did you become telepathic?"
She just smiles and says, "Your face thinks out loud sometimes. Trust me on the wine, okay?"
An hour later, we're both on the doorstep, and I really hope Mystique is right about this wine thing. My mum opens the door, and it's clear she's been crying. "Come in, son," she says, taking the wine from my hands and giving me a big hug. "I'm so sorry we didn't call sooner. I hope you're okay."
"I'm fine," I murmur, totally lost in the moment. My mother is hugging me.
She leads me into the sitting room, arm around my shoulders, as my stomach does massive flip-flops. My sisters. I'm going to meet my sisters. I didn't even know I had sisters until five days ago, and now I'm finally going to meet them.
They're so pretty.
The long-haired one stands up from her seat on the sofa and smiles. "I'm Margaret," she says. "I'm the youngest. Mum told us about you. This is Agnes."
Agnes looks up from the little bundle in her lap and says, "And this is your niece Hannah."
"This is why we couldn't see you sooner. Little Hannah was born four days ago," my mother says, and my dad stands behind her and puts his hands on her shoulders. He looks grim.
Agnes beckons me over, a cautious look on her face. "Come see your niece."
"I won't hurt her," I say, trying to sound reassuring. I'm sure she doesn't want me touching her. Can't blame her. I'd be nervous too if I was a normal person holding a baby and someone like me walked by.
"I know," she says, looking sad.
I walk over closer and look down at the little face.
"I'm sorry. I'm so so sorry," I whisper as the blood thunders in my head. Oh god. She looks just like me. She's exactly like me. Not another one. Please, no, not another one. Her little tongue flicks out, and I feel like I'm going to pass out, but Mystique is there, helping me down onto the sofa, and I can't stop apologizing.
"It's our fault," I hear my father saying. "We should have told them about you. We just never thought it might run in the family. We thought it was a random mutation."
"I did worry when you told me how hard the baby was kicking," my mother says to Agnes. "He did that too. Left bruises just like Hannah did. But I was too afraid to say anything."
Agnes looks me dead in the eye and says, "Just give it to me straight. What is her life going to be like?"
I look up at Mystique through the haze of tears, and she takes my parents by the arms and leads them into the kitchen. "You don't want to hear this right now," she says. They look like they're in shock, but they go with her.
"I'm sorry," I say, trying to compose myself. Margaret sits on the arm of the sofa and hands me a box of tissues. "This isn't the first impression I'd been hoping to make."
Margaret laughs, putting her hand on my shoulder. "We're family. It's all right." God, I love the sound of that. "You look a lot like Dad, you know."
"Thanks. I wish I were as tall as him." I take a deep breath and look down at Hannah. Underneath the green, she's a cute little baby. "She's going to have a hard time of it," I sigh. "Kids are cruel."
"I've already worked out that I'll have to teach her at home," Agnes says. "I'm a teacher, so it shouldn't be hard. And adults are cruel too. My husband took one look at her and left."
"I'm so sorry."
"No, if that's the way he is, then I'm better off without him," she replies angrily. "I'm not going to get rid of Hannah. She's my daughter. I can't believe my parents just dumped you."
"Please don't be angry at them," I beg. "Things were a lot different back then."
"So," she says, visibly steeling herself. "Tell me everything I should expect from her."
I look down at Hannah's little face. She's awake, and looking up at me with familiar eyes. "Let me go wash my hands. I'm going to need to touch her mouth."
"I'll show you where the bathroom is," Margaret says, taking me by the arm and leading me to a small bathroom. "You know, I really wish we'd met before this. This can't be easy for you."
"I'm just glad I can help," I say as I scrub my hands.
She leans against the wall. "You know, I'd always wondered what it must be like to have a brother. I suppose it's not too late to learn."
"I'd like that," I say, toweling off. "I wish I'd tried looking for my parents sooner. I didn't know they'd tried to get me back."
"Hang on," she says, then wraps her arms around me in a tight squeeze. "Welcome to the family."
"Thank you," I murmur as I hug her back as tightly as I dare. She hangs on to me for a minute, then pulls back with a huge grin. "What?" I ask.
"Oh, just thinking. I mean, until a couple of days ago, I didn't even know I had a brother. And now that I finally meet him, he's green. I mean, how cool is that?"
I can't help but laugh. "That's an interesting way to look at it."
"Come on, let's not keep poor Agnes waiting. She's been a wreck."
"I don't blame her."
We make our way back to the sitting room, and Agnes wipes away her tears and says, "Do what you need to," holding Hannah out for me.
I sit and gingerly take her in my arms. "I've never held a baby before. Am I doing this right?"
"You're doing fine. Just remember to support her head."
"Hey there little girl," I coo, looking down at the little green face capped with tiny wisps of bright green hair. I put her down on my lap so I can have both hands free and very gently run a finger along her lower lip. Her little tongue shoots out about eight inches, and I quickly put another finger out along its path. She catches it neatly and hangs on to it. "That's a girl," I coo. "She'll be doing that a lot," I say. "Anything within reach, she'll use this to snag it."
"What will her reach be?"
"Pretty big. My tongue ended up twelve feet long, but it stretches a lot farther than that."
"But it's so little now," Agnes protests.
"I know. If she's like me, it'll grow faster than the rest of her. Okay, let go, sweetie." I gently extract my finger, then reach into her mouth and feel along the roof. Yep, there's the nub. Damn. I wish she hadn't gotten this too. She happily sucks on my finger, so I leave it in there for her.
"The doctors found that too," Agnes says. "They didn't know what it was."
"When she hits puberty, that's going to turn into a fully functional gland. It, um, it shoots sticky slime. It's pretty nasty. But it comes off with turpentine, so you'll want to keep some around. Although if you tell her about it before it starts working, hopefully she'll never use it by accident."
"I take it you did?" Agnes asks.
"Yeah," I admit sheepishly. 'Course, I also used it on purpose.
"Well, you had no one to guide you," Margaret says. "Hannah will."
"One last thing to check," I say. I try pulling my finger out of her mouth, but she's wrapped her tongue around it. "You have to learn to let go," I chide, using my other hand to unwrap it.
Agnes blushes and says, "Breastfeeding her is very weird."
There's something really strange about hearing your newfound sister mention breastfeeding, so I don't say anything. I reach down to touch one of Hannah's little hands. They're so tiny. They don't seem real. I run the back of my index finger along her palm, and feel the slight catch, then turn my finger over and run the tip of it on her palm. Just like when I rub my own hands together, they catch. "She'll be able to cling to walls. Here, feel this," I say, taking Agnes's finger and running it along Hannah's palm just so.
"She's going to be a handful," Agnes sighs.
"If she's like me, she'll be climbing walls before she's walking."
"You can climb walls?" Margaret asks, eyes bright. "That is so cool."
"How did they handle you at the orphanage?" Agnes asks incredulously.
"Tethered me down," I shrug.
"They had you on a leash?" she growls. "That's horrible!"
"They had a lot of kids to look after," I say. "They did what they had to." I don't tell her about how my crib had bars on all four sides and was in the closet so I couldn't steal the other kids' toys with my tongue. She's upset enough as it is already.
"Oh god," she says, and starts crying. "I have no idea how I'm going to be able to raise her alone."
"You won't be alone," Margaret says. "I told you, I'll help you."
"And I'll do whatever it takes to help too," I vow. "Anything to make sure she doesn't go through what I did."
"But I don't want her to grow up without other kids, hidden away from the world. I can't teach her everything she needs to know. I don't want her growing up that way! I don't want her to feel like a freak!" She's sobbing now. And I can't say I blame her.
Little Hannah's tongue flicks out again and snags my finger on her own. I look down at her, playing a gentle tug of war, gazing into her familiar eyes, listening to her little coos. It's going to be rough for her. I'm not going to be able to give her what she needs, no matter how hard I try, and my sisters won't be able to either. I hate it, but there's only one solution. She's family. I have to do what's right. "I have an idea."
"I'll wait in the car."
We leave Mystique at the curb and walk through the gates and up to the front door of the mansion. I ring the bell and wait, watching as Hannah kicks hard through her blanket. Her little legs are getting stronger by the day. She'll be a real terror in a couple of months.
The door opens, and it's Rogue. She looks surprised, and a little angry. "What are you doing here?"
"Rogue, this is my sister Agnes, and my niece Hannah."
Rogue leans over and looks into the bundle of blankets in my sister's arms, and a huge grin splits her face. "Aren't you a cutie!" she coos, and Hannah is all wiggles and smiles. Her little tongue flicks out, and Rogue laughs. "Aren't you a special little one!"
"Can you guys look out for her?" I ask.
"Of course we can," she replies matter-of-factly.
I look over at Agnes and say, "You two will be in good hands here."
"Aren't you staying?" she asks.
I look down at Hannah, then over at Rogue, who is tickling Hannah's tummy like she were a regular little baby. "I can't," I say. "But I'll visit, okay?"
"Thank you so much," Agnes says, crooking Hannah into one arm and reaching out to hug me.
I clasp her tightly. "It's the least I can do." I pull away, noting the tears in both our eyes, then lean over to kiss Hannah before heading back down the driveway. I wish there'd been another way, but this is the best place for her. Magneto's approval be damned. This is family. Anything to keep her from having my childhood. Anything.
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