Thanks as usual to Jedimom for the beta, for encouragement, and for lobbing a pile of ideas my way. If it weren't for her, this story would have a really wishy-washy ending. I should probably credit her as a co-author or something.
"This is not English," I say, giving up and putting the book down.
"It most certainly is," my sister retorts.
I look back down at the book and slowly sound out, "Fall to't yarely, or we run ourselves aground. Bestir, bestir!" I look back up at her in exasperation. "I get the 'aground' part, but you're not convincing me the rest is English."
"Shakespearean English is a little challenging, but The Tempest is a classic work of English literature, and I think you should keep reading. I especially want to know what you think of Caliban."
I pick up the book and flip to the cast list. "It says he's a 'savage and deformed slave.'"
"Many mutants identify with his struggle in this play, I've been told. And I think you in particular would be able to get a lot from reading about him. He was a magical but unusual-looking creature, taken from his mother, then verbally beaten down and enslaved by a very charismatic but cruel man."
I roll my eyes. "Lay it on a little thicker, sis."
"Fine," she sighs. "We can try another one of his plays."
"I don't see how this could possibly be relevant nowadays."
"You sound just like my students."
"Well they're right. Why can't I read some more Vonnegut? I liked Vonnegut. He doesn't waste words."
"You can read him on your own time. The only way to learn is by challenging yourself."
She's been like this ever since it occurred to her that I didn't have an education, and was living at a school. Now she's giving me English lessons every day, and twice a week I'm spending time learning biology from Jean. At one point, Scott got on his high horse and started talking about shop lessons, but then I rebuilt the engine of his motorcycle in under an hour and he changed his mind. I may not be educated, but I do have skills. The professor's even talking about trying to teach me physics. That might be fun, even though he drives me nuts. I mean, physics is all about numbers. I like numbers. They always mean the same thing. A nine is always a nine. Letters, on the other hand, jump around all over the place. "Cough" and "rough" look like they should rhyme, but they don't. Damned annoying, letters.
"Let's try a sonnet," she suggests. "A love sonnet. Shakespeare's most popular one begins, 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?'"
"Stop right there," I say, dropping my head on the desk with a thunk.
"What's the problem?" she asks.
I look up, feeling suddenly very tired. "When you think summer days, what's the first thing that comes to mind?"
She shrugs. "Blue skies..."
She shoots me a look that clearly says she's not getting it.
"It's the 'blue' part, Agnes."
"That's a bit of a reach, isn't it?" she asks, putting a hand on my shoulder.
"Magneto recited that one at her once," I say, reliving the memory. "I remember thinking that he was right. I mean, she was the color of the sky on a really beautiful day." God, I miss her. Not the Mystique she was by the end, but the Mystique I started dating. Never thought I'd date anyone, and who did I end up with? The most beautiful woman I've ever seen. No wonder it didn't last. It was too good to be true. And I sold her out. She must despise me.
There's a knock on the door, and Agnes looks down at her watch with (today's vocabulary word) consternation. "Shit. It's three. Doctor Shapiro is here."
Oh great. My shrink. Suddenly, Shakespeare doesn't seem so bad.
An hour later, my head hurts, I'm pissed off, and I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the snow job I've given my shrink. X-Men good, rah rah rah. Brotherhood bad, beat up on self until she tells me to stop. I didn't have to fake my enthusiasm when we talked about my project, though. We're almost ready to start taking in visibly mutant kids. The permits are almost all in order, the construction's nearly done, the staff's been hired. Hell, Margaret's seriously thinking of emigrating and getting a job here with the kids. Hopefully, Doctor "call me Ann" (like hell) Shapiro didn't notice the difference between my fake enthusiasm and my real enthusiasm.
Four and a half more years of good behavior and I can leave the premises whenever I want. I'll show her good behavior, even if I'm faking half of it. I still don't regret most of what the Brotherhood did. Actually, I don't regret any of it, but I do regret hurting innocent people on some of our missions. But if I tell her that, I'm here for the full ten years. Or worse, they decide to lock me up.
Agnes and Hannah come back in, and Hannah literally bounds across the room and into my lap. "Hey, kiddo," I say, trying to smile despite my headache.
"You look funny," she says.
"My head hurts."
"I'll rub it and make it better," she announces very matter-of-factly as she reaches out and starts attacking my head. When she was sick last month, I'd rub her head when it ached. But she's got teensy little fingers, and it feels more like bad acupuncture than massage. She means well, though. I can fake it for another minute. And by then, her attention span will have moved on to something else.
Agnes catches my eye, and winces in sympathy. "I'll just go get you some Tylenol."
"Mortimer, please come in," the professor says as the students finish filing out of his study. Kitty actually smiles at me as she leaves. She's been warming up to me. It's the damnedest thing. I think what did it was when I asked her if she'd stop walking through walls and closed doors around Hannah, because after she'd leave, Hannah would try to do it herself and bonk her head. I have no idea why that conversation made her friendlier towards me, but immediately after that, she started being civil.
I sit down across from the professor, and he says, "Good news. The final permit was approved."
"Great," I beam. "So we can start taking kids in soon."
"Probably within the month."
"I've got a list of likely orphanages that we should start contacting."
"Why don't you do it?"
"Oh, I don't sound professional enough," I say. "No one in their right mind would hand a kid to someone who sounded like me."
"Mortimer, these people are Americans. They hear a British accent, any kind of British accent, and immediately assume we're cultured and intelligent. Haven't you noticed that?"
"Looking like this, they tend to see past the voice," I say testily.
"Surely Magneto had you do some work for him over the phone."
"No, he didn't. He and Mystique did the brainwork. Sabretooth and I were the grunts."
He just nods and accepts this fact the same way he'd accept me telling him that I had green hair. Never any strong reaction from this guy. Sometimes I really appreciate that. Other times, like now, it drives me nuts. "Then I'll make the initial phone calls, but you'll sit in with me and listen," he says. "This is something I'm sure you can learn. After all, I hear you're doing quite well with English and biology. Oh, and I've spoken to the carpenters and plumbers working on the new rooms. They all say you're very skilled, plus it was a major boon to have someone on the job who didn't actually need a ladder."
"Magneto taught me to use my hands," I shrug. "Well, I learned from books and videos, not him, but he's the one who bought them and told me to learn from them. After all, it's not like we could exactly call a plumber to come up and fix a blocked drain in the lair."
"I can't picture him using his hands for anything," the professor says, a small smile on his face. Looks almost nostalgic. The two of them have a really weird relationship. Mortal enemies, but they still like each other. I'm sure it's too much to hope that Magneto and I will ever have that kind of relationship. Not after what I did to him. Oh, sure, the X-Men get him tossed in jail, and once we break him out, he and the professor are buddies again. But Magneto never really liked me in the first place. I'm not even convinced that he respected me. And that's starting to bother me.
"Well, that's what I was for," I say.
"Just you?" He looks kinda puzzled. Or maybe I'm just inventing emotions for him in a pathetic attempt to guess what he's feeling.
"Pretty much," I say. "Sabretooth was no good at detail work, what with those big claws of his, and Mystique was usually off doing something in disguise, so that left me. Not like I had anywhere to go anyway."
"No wonder you're so good at it."
"Well, I'm a lot better with metal than wood. So, um, did you talk to the state about me? Did they say anything new?"
"Same story," he says. "You still can't work with the children in any official capacity. But they were very careful this time to stress 'official.' They agree that you should be with them, as the children will most likely feel more comfortable being with someone else who is visibly a mutant, but you can't be officially on the staff of the boarding school. Not yet, anyway."
I nod. "Fair enough. Besides, it's not like I have any proven skills with kids."
"No, but you do have a very happy little niece who your psychiatrist is very taken with. Speaking of which, I spoke with her yesterday, as usual, before she left."
Oh great. I can feel myself getting defensive already. "What'd she say?"
"She painted quite a rosy picture of how you were doing. She was especially impressed by how you've come to realize that society just needs time to get used to us, and that direct action only impedes that." He narrows his eyes at me and asks, "Are you lying to her?"
"Through my stubby little teeth," I hiss.
"Lying isn't going to help you in the long run."
"The sooner she thinks I'm rehabilitated, the better," I retort. "Then maybe these ridiculous visits of hers will end."
"She's trying to help you."
"I don't need help!" I yell, jumping to my feet.
"The state disagrees," the professor says calmly.
"Well the state can just go fuck itself."
"Look, I was born looking like this into a world that despises mutants. My parents took one look at me and threw me away, I grew up in an orphanage where I was treated like shit, and when someone finally came to get me, I couldn't go outside without being laughed at and spat on. And because I got angry and fought back, the state thinks I need therapy? They all need therapy, not me! I'm just fine."
He just sits there, impassively, waiting for me to finish, and I realize that I've been yelling and waving my arms around like a lunatic. Not a good way to argue that I don't need mental help, but tough. He's a fucking mindreader. No point in trying to hide anything from him. "You're carrying around a lot of anger," he says.
"No shit," I retort.
"If you were honest with Doctor Shapiro, she might be able to help you manage your anger."
"No way. I'm not going back to the way I was."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Before I met Magneto, I wasn't angry. I was just a fucking doormat. I thought I deserved everything I got because I was a worthless freak. I know better now. I'm not going to be that way again."
"But aren't you tired of being angry?"
"No. I'm tired of being discriminated against. Big difference."
I really wish he were more expressive. I have no clue what he's thinking right now. Empathy? Annoyance? Boredom? I can't tell. "I have to say, I'm surprised you're still so angry. I thought this project we'd embarked on together would have helped temper some of that. We're doing something concrete to make life better for young mutants."
"Yeah, but it's only a band-aid," I explain. "We're just giving them a safe place to hide from the world. We're not doing anything to change the world so they can go back out in it when they're grown up."
"The world is changing..."
"Not for people like me."
He opens his mouth to reply, then lets out a small breath and closes it again. After a moment of silence, he raises his eyebrows and asks, "What would you have us do?"
"I don't know," I sigh, sitting back down. "I know what Magneto would have done, but your lot won't take direct action."
"We won't hurt people. It's wrong when they do it to us, and it's just as wrong when we do it to them."
"Spare me the lecture, okay?" I groan, slouching back into the chair. It's not particularly designed for slouching, but I am. "I understand how you feel, but I think it's perfectly valid to strike back at people who've struck first."
"But that's not what Magneto did. He went overboard. He killed people, sometimes innocent bystanders."
"We never aimed to kill innocent bystanders," I say, seeing that little girl in my mind again and suppressing a shudder. I'm never going to lose that memory. I don't deserve to. "We just wanted to punish the people who were hurting us."
"Well that's not our philosophy here."
"Well what do you do, besides run a school and keep other mutants from fighting for their rights?" I ask.
"We've worked with Congress on several occasions," he says. "Quietly lobbied for various bills to either be passed or rejected. And Jean has testified several times in Washington."
"Have you actively done anything?"
"As I've told you, we're still trying to determine what would be productive and non-violent."
I straighten up and say, "Hell, a Million Mutant March would be a start. Do something public. Make people notice us."
"A Million Mutant March," he repeats.
"Well, not literally, but you know what I mean."
"Hmm." Holy shit, I got him thinking. I've pulled that off twice now. Wonder if it's becoming a trend? "A march on Washington is an intriguing idea. I wouldn't want to associate that with the school, though. I do think we should stay low-key and out of the public eye for the safety of the students. But I do know other mutants who might be willing to head up something like that. Let me talk to them and see what they think."
Wow. Didn't expect that. Excellent. "You should also talk to my mother. She's been doing a lot of direct action for mutant rights in the U.K. I'm sure she'd be happy to pass on suggestions."
"Is this the same mother you're so angry at?"
"What?" Where the hell did that come from? "I'm not angry at her."
"You just accused your parents of throwing you away."
"Oh, that," I mumble. "I'm not angry at them for that, okay? It was understandable what they did." And if I am angry at them, it's Shapiro's fault, damn her. Making me dredge up all this shit and then making me explain to her how I feel about it. She should leave well enough alone. If I ever make parole, I'm finally going to tell her exactly what I think about her. Then she'll really see "inappropriate levels of anger" in action. "What I'm angry about is that I was born into a world where my own parents were afraid of me, okay?"
"I'm no psychiatrist, but to me that sounds like something concrete you might like to work out with Doctor Shapiro. Speaking of which, there is still the matter of you lying to her," he says.
Shit. I'd hoped he'd forgotten that. "Look, if I tell her the truth, I'll never make parole."
"You don't know that."
"Oh, so if I tell her that I don't regret any of the missions I undertook with Magneto, she'll tell the review board that I'm reformed. I don't think so."
"That day is still four and a half years away, Mortimer. You don't need to convince her for quite some time. And in the meantime, you could work out some issues with her..."
I'm on my feet again. "I don't want to work out issues. I hate talking to her."
"Because she makes me bring up things I'd rather not think about. My childhood was bad enough the first time through. I don't want to relive it."
"Doesn't that lead you to believe that you still need to work through it?"
"No, it leads me to believe that it sucked and I'm glad it's over. There's nothing to work through because there's no way I can change what happened to me. Look, you're not going to convince me that this is anything other than a state-mandated waste of time, okay?"
"Many students come here angry, and we teach them to temper it."
"Because you teach them to assimilate," I say, planting my hands on his desk. "I can't do that. I don't have that luxury. Not without wearing a disguise. And neither does Hannah. And neither will the kids we start taking in. Hell, Mystique's son can't assimilate period. No amount of makeup hides fur and pointy ears and glowing eyes."
"So what do you propose we teach these children?" he asks. There doesn't seem to be any sarcasm in his voice, but it's gotta be there. I must have just missed it. God, I hate trying to read him.
"We teach them that the world is unfair, and they're safe here, but we're working to make things better for them out there. And then we have to follow up on that promise, 'cause if we don't, then they'll just think we're a pack of hypocrites."
"You're not going to teach them to be angry?" he asks warily.
"No, but if they're already angry by the time they get here, I'm not gonna tell them they're wrong."
"I'm going to ask Doctor Shapiro about that and see what she thinks."
"Don't ask Shapiro. She's incompetent," I snort, sitting back down. "Ask Doctor May. She's a child psychiatrist, after all."
"Good point." He hesitates, then asks, "Why do you say Doctor Shapiro is incompetent?"
"Because she hasn't figured out that I'm snowing her."
"As your state-appointed guardian, I really should tell her, you know."
"Don't," I sigh, closing my eyes in exasperation. "She's not helping me any. Making her come out here longer will just be a waste of time. Look, my therapy is Hannah, and it's the kids we'll be taking in soon, and it'll be helping you plan active pro-mutant demonstrations. Sitting down and talking to someone about whether or not I hate my parents, or how I felt when the kids in the orphanage would gang up on me is not helping anything. It's just bringing back the nightmares that I thought I'd gotten rid of years ago."
I open my eyes and look back at him, and I think I've gotten through to him. I hope I have. Hell, he can poke around in my brain and determine my sincerity for himself. I don't care. I just want those horrible visits to stop. I can't take them much longer. I don't want to dredge up old memories. I've worked too hard to bury them. I'm starting to flinch at shadows again, and I hate it. I hate feeling weak. I hate being scared. "All right," he says. "I won't say anything."
"Thank you," I sigh.
"But I am talking to Doctor May, and you are too. I want to make sure we're all on the same page when it comes to the proper way to deal with these children's anger."
"Fair enough. I wouldn't want to do anything to hurt them. After all, that's not the point."
"No, it's not. As for these demonstrations..." He sounds hesitant.
"Look, talk to my mum, okay? Britain's got a mutant anti-discrimination law on the books now thanks to her, and theirs looks like it's gonna stay. I mean, maybe this bloody country's too big and too backwards for the same techniques to work here, but it's worth a shot."
"You really think it will make a difference?"
"You don't sound convinced."
I snort. "Last time I got optimistic about America, they went and repealed our damned law. And even if we get it passed again, it still won't help Hannah walk down the street without being stared at. No law can do that."
"Making people afraid of us won't help."
Right, I've had this conversation with Mystique already. "I know, because they're already afraid of us," I say. "But see, they're just afraid of what we can do individually, not collectively. That's what Magneto was trying to do. Scare them out of mistreating us for fear of retaliation."
"It didn't work."
"You didn't give us enough time to drive the point home."
"Four and a half years from now, you're just going to pick up where you left off, aren't you?" he challenges.
"No," I say quietly. "I wouldn't do that to Agnes and Hannah. Not unless things have gotten really bad. I'm sticking with them. But I won't condemn anyone else who does."
And we're right back at our impasse. We're never going to see eye to eye on this. I've got twenty-nine years' proof that humanity won't change unless you force them to, and he's got who knows how many decades of proof that hiding is the best way to deal with normals. He's got no idea what it feels like to not be able to hide. He's got no idea how much it hurts to look at a little green girl and realize that she's pretty much trapped behind the walls of a school. Oh, sure there are places we can take her, but she'll never be free to go wherever she wants. I brought her here because I knew it was the best place for her, not because I thought she'd have a normal life here. There's no normal life for her, anymore than there is one for me.
Maybe he'll finally get it as the kids start coming in. Maybe they'll convince him.
I reach across his desk and grab a pen and a piece of paper. "Here, let me just give you my mum's email and phone number, okay? She'll have some good non-violent ideas for you, although some of what she did may be a little radical for your tastes."
"I remember reading about some of that on the Internet," he says. "The street blockades were very memorable."
"Still can't believe mainstream media over here didn't cover any of that. Bloody cowards," I grouse as I slowly spell out my mum's email address then double-check it to make sure I've gotten all the letters in the right order. I before E. Yeah, I got it. "Here." I slide the paper back over to him. "She'd be more than happy to talk your ear off, so it might be safer to use email instead of the phone."
"Understood," he grins. Finally! A clear emotion. "I will be in contact with her. And remember, I want you to sit in with me when I call the orphanages. Phone negotiation skills aren't that hard to pick up."
"Yeah, I will," I say, standing up. "Um, that all?"
"Yes, that's all."
I head out, and as I'm walking down the hall, I pass some windows facing the back. The kids are out at recess, and a few of them are playing football...er, soccer. A little kid's got the ball, and I can feel my heart pounding as I watch him race across the yard, the other kids in pursuit. And when he kicks it into the goal and the other kids pile on him, it's all I can do to keep from jumping out the window, pulling them off, and beating the snot out of 'em.
They're smiling, Mortimer. Even the little kid on the bottom. They're having fun. No one's gonna get beat up over this. It's just a game. That kid isn't you. It's okay.
I close my eyes and desperately try to calm down, but it's not working. These fucking memories just won't leave me alone lately. Not since that damned shrink started making me dredge them up. Right, if that bitch is going to force me to relive my childhood, then I'm just going to fall back on old habits to cope.
A few minutes later, I'm on the roof of the mansion, facing the front, watching and waiting for Agnes's car to come up the drive so I can make lunch for her and Hannah. I'm safe up here. At least, I feel safe. Okay, so some of the people here could get up on the roof with minimal effort, but my subconscious doesn't care. All I know is, when I'm up high, I feel safe.
God, in a couple of weeks, we'll be taking kids in here and I'll be working with them. Me, the guy who can't even watch a bunch of kids playing without freaking out and climbing up to the roof. Well, I don't care what shape they're in when they show up here. They're not going to end up like me. They're not going to have memories of being tied down, or spat at, or beaten up, or taunted. They're not going to be afraid of physical contact. They're not going to think they're disgusting. They're not going to automatically assume that a group of kids heading their way means they're about to get a beating, and that any adults in the area will be looking the other way. They're not going to think they did something wrong, or that they deserve to be hidden away from the world.
I don't care what it takes. Hell, I'll even talk to Shapiro if it comes to that. But these kids are going to come out all right.
I swear it.
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