Disclaimer: Marvel Comics and 20th Century Fox own the X-Men. What's been done to them is copyright 2000 by Siubhan. This can only be archived with my express permission.

The Needs of the One
by Siubhan

Posted 10/19/00

Thanks per usual to Jedimom for helping with the creation and betaing of this, and Red Sith for additional beta assistance.

I think I've corrupted Shariya.

Not only have I got her stealing information out of the computer system for Mystique, but right now, I've got her having a quickie in the broom closet. Tongue's out of the question, unfortunately, but hands work just fine. And even though she's facing the wall and I'm behind her, I'm flexible enough to lean around and kiss her without getting a kink in my neck, which is handy for keeping the sound down.

I never last long after she starts to come. I feel her body tighten and clench, and I'm lost.

Yeah, I love my life right now.

As my head clears, I slide out, and she turns and kisses me hard as I reach into my jacket pocket, pull out a wad of kleenex, and pull off the used condom. Even though I got neutered a couple weeks ago, we still use them, just in case. Jean didn't do the operation, thank god. She's got a male doctor who comes in to look after the teenage boys, and he said he could take care of it. They use lasers now. Didn't even have to cut me at all. Just had to sit on an ice pack for an hour afterwards to keep the swelling down. I should'a done this back when Agnes and Margaret did. Now the only one left who can pass on this mutation is Hannah.

"Oh, I sent Mystique that information she asked for," she purrs into my ear. "Piece of cake."

"Excellent. Mmm, I need to get back to the kids. I said I'd just be fifteen minutes."

"Remember, tonight's our night."

"How could I forget?" Me and Agnes alternate nights out now, although Sundays we both stay in with Hannah. It's Wednesday, so I'll be spending tonight with Shariya. I pull her in for one last kiss, then we pull our pants back up and peek out of the closet. Coast is clear. I drop the wad of kleenex into the nearest trash can, give her one last kiss (really this time), then head back to the school.


Mike's teaching the young kids the alphabet, I've got math for the older ones, and the babies are off with their caregivers. Another average afternoon.

"I don't understand math," Danny sighs.

"But it's easy!" Tanya says. "You just need to practice."

I squat down next to Danny, who's sitting at the corner of the table. Danny's furry like a monkey and has long monkey arms too. Climbs really well. Even though he's a couple years older than Hannah, they get along great because they both love climbing. He's not actually an orphan. His parents just send him here because they want him to be in school with other mutant kids. "It's not easy for everybody," I say. "Don't feel bad. If you practice, it'll get easier."

"But I try so hard!" he whines, dropping his pencil. "Can't I just read instead?"

"You have to learn this. Math is important. Hey, I have a really hard time reading, but I keep trying. And the more I try, the easier it gets."

"You can't read?" he gasps.

"I can. I'm just slow. It's easier for me if I'm not distracted, though. Maybe we should try doing math together in private. You think that would help?"

He looks warily at all the other kids sitting around the table. None of them are having nearly as much trouble as him. "Yeah," he whispers. "Can we do that?"

"Sure we can."


I hear noise in the hallway and look up. It's usually quiet down here. What the hell's going on? Scott bursts in and says, "Quick, we need to get the kids to the subbasement."

"What is it?" I ask, motioning for them to get up. If Scott's panicked, it must be serious.

"Magneto and Sabretooth just broke out, and we think they're headed this way."

Oh shit. They're coming for me. Knew this would happen someday. And I knew from the start exactly what I'd do. I mean, there's only the one thing to do really. Time to do it. Just wish I'd had more time. Things are going so well...

Right, keep a level head. Don't panic. Don't think about it yet. Get the kids to safety. I can't let them get hurt. No one's getting hurt because of me. Especially the kids. Especially Hannah.

"Come on. We need to go downstairs right now." I round them up, careful to keep the panic out of my voice. Can't risk scaring 'em. Gotta make sure they've got no reason to disobey. Once I've got them together and by the door, I catch Mike's attention. "Hey. Take over for me."

"Sure thing."

I hear Hannah cry, "Mortimer!" as she runs over to me from Mike's group.

"Hannah." Oh god. Keep calm, Mortimer. You're doing this for her. This is the last time you'll see her, so keep it together. Make it a good memory for her. This is gonna be tough enough on her as it is. Don't make it worse. I get down on my knees, fighting the shakes, hold her by the shoulders, and say, "Now you stay with Mike, okay?"

"I wanna stay with you!"

"You have to stay with Mike. And once you find Mummy, stay with her."


"No arguing." I pull her into a big hug, fighting back tears as she wraps her arms around me. I don't want to do this. I really don't. I want to stay and watch her grow up, climb trees with her, let her know she's loved and she's not a freak. But I can't. I have to do this. There's no other way. Gotta make sure she lives to grow up, with or without me. "I love you sweetie," I murmur.

"I love you too," she says. I know it's just automatic on her part, but it means the world to me to hear her say that.

I give her one last squeeze, let go, and kiss her on the forehead, gut churning. This is it. I stand up and give her a little push. "Go on now."

Tanya runs back, grabs Hannah by the hand, and says, "Come on! We have to go!"

Oh good girl. She's doing what she's told. Hannah looks back at me, but she walks away obediently. I stand in the doorway and watch until she steps on the elevator and the doors close behind her. Good girl.

All the little kids are downstairs now. The older kids are still milling about, but they look like they're making their way to the basement. Okay. Time to do this. Time to make sure no one gets hurt because of me.


"Shariya?" No no no no...

She runs down the hall and throws herself in my arms. God no. I can't fight the shakes anymore. Don't make this any harder. Don't make me change my mind. Please don't make me change my mind. "Come on," she says. "We have to get you downstairs."

"I'm not going," I say.

She pulls back and gapes at me. "What?"

I take a deep breath and say, "They're coming for me. You know that, the X-Men know that."

"So you have to hide!"

"No, I can't."

Her lips have gone white. She gets it. "Oh god."

I hear the sound of crunching metal off in the distance. That's gotta be them. They're almost here. "I won't put the kids in danger because of me," I say. "I won't."

"Don't be stupid, Mortimer! The X-Men can protect you. Come on!" She grabs my wrist and tries to pull me along with her, but I don't budge. I can't budge. I have to do this. Why can't she understand that? She drops my wrist and cries, "Dammit, what's wrong with you?"

"I'm not going to let anyone get hurt because of me."

"You're going to die!"

My throat feels like it's closing up, but I manage to whisper, "I know."

"But what about Hannah? What about the kids? What about me?"

I take her tear-streaked face between my shaking hands and say, "I told you, I won't let any of you get hurt because of me. This is my responsibility. I need to do this." I take a deep breath, then say, "Don't tell anyone until I'm gone, okay? Please?"

She stares at me, lips pulled thin, then whispers, "I won't, damn you."

And I run for the front door and into the snow.

Someone screams my name--think it's Jean--but I don't let that stop me. They're coming. I can hear them. And I'm going to make it easy for them. They're not going to have any reason to set foot on these grounds. None at all. I'll be waiting for them outside the gate. I'm not gonna let my past put these kids in danger. I'm doing what's right.

If I'm lucky, they'll kill me quick.

The gates blow off their hinges, and I duck, letting them sail over my head. "I'm right here!" I call, jumping the last dozen feet to land outside the gate. My anklet's probably set off the alarm by now, but that's the least of my worries. Just get me away from here before the cops show up.

I hear Magneto's voice. "Making things easy for us, are you, Toad?"

"Yeah." Where the hell is he? I look around, but can't see anything. Just the empty country road outside the Institute.

And then the twisted wreckage of a car crashes down next to me. I jump back, right into a solid wall of flesh. I don't need to look. I already know who it is. The split second before Sabretooth's fist connects, I feel that eerie feeling of not being alone in my brain, but it's too late. Whatever the professor was trying to do, it's too late. They've got me. The kids are safe.


Mmph...head hurts.

Oh shit. Don't move, Mortimer. Maybe they'll think you're still unconscious.

"So, you're awake," I hear Magneto say. Damn.

I open my eyes and try to get my bearings. I'm lying in the middle of the floor in one of the backup lairs that Magneto constructed in case the main one was discovered. Guess the professor didn't pull this place out of my brain. Good.

"You know, Toad, you're very lucky to be alive right now. Sabretooth here wanted to kill you."

I hear his familiar growl from behind me. Oh god.

"However, I was able to dissuade him by pointing out how much more enjoyable it would be to kill you slowly."

Oh god.

"What, nothing to say in your defense?" Magneto asks. "No pleading for your life? No offering up information in exchange for your freedom? No begging to rejoin the Brotherhood and prove to us that you've still got the stuff? Whatever did they do to you? Some sort of answer would be appropriate here, you know."

"Nothing. They didn't do anything," I say.

"Ah, so you just rolled over and exposed your belly to them with no prompting. Well, your beloved X-Men will not be able to find you here. I took care to make sure there were enough telepathy-blocking helmets to go around, and your monitoring anklet wasn't on for more than the first five minutes of the journey. So I'm afraid they won't be coming to rescue you."

"I know. I don't want to be rescued."

"Now this is interesting. A self-sacrificing streak. And just what are you protecting back at that school, hmm?"

Shit, no. Don't go back there. Don't you dare. Okay, calm down, Mortimer. The X-Men have had plenty of time to get ready for them by now. If they do decide to attack, they'll be able to stop 'em. Calm down. The kids should be safe. Whatever happens, just don't fight back. Just lie here and take it. Don't give 'em any reason to go back to the school. You can do this. You've been beat up before. It's just pain. You can do this.

"You've always been too expressive for your own good, Toad," Magneto chuckles. "You are protecting something, I can tell. Still, no sense in going back to the Institute when we have exactly what we came for. Oh, I could find that precious niece of yours and watch you scream as we torture her, but that won't really accomplish our main objective, now will it, Sabretooth?"

"Can I hit him yet?" he growls.

"By all means. But don't kill him. Not yet." Magneto walks to the far wall and sits down in a large, metal chair. "And do be sure not to block my view. This is as much for my enjoyment as it is yours."

Suddenly, I'm curled up in a ball, wheezing. Didn't see that coming. Kicked me right in the ribs. Oh god...I think he broke one. Can't protect myself from the rest of them after that one. All I can do is pray that I pass out from the pain. Don't beg. Think of the kids. Just think of the kids.


"Such a noble savage you've become, Toad."

Oh god. Everything aches, and I taste blood. Can only get one eye open. He's still in that fucking chair. Hurts like hell if I take too deep a breath. Why haven't they killed me yet?

"I should have had that brat Hannah killed as soon as you told me about her. Then you never would have gotten so soft. Oh, but you delivered her right to the doorstep of the X-Men. That's right. Very smart move, on your part. I clearly underestimated your cunning."

Don't you fucking threaten Hannah, you bastard. Don't you dare. An image of her walking onto the elevator with Tanya floats through my mind. She's safe. Good girl. She's safe. She's safe because I'm here. Gotta remember that.

"You love that girl, don't you?"

"Yeah," I whisper.

"Do you love looking down at her happy little green face, knowing that you've helped condemn her to a life lived behind the Institute's walls, hidden away from all the people who would taunt and abuse her? Because as we both know, hiding is so much easier than fighting. Why change things when you can instead simply disappear? Makes the normals so much more comfortable, don't you think? Of course, some day, she will catch on that she's a prisoner, and then what will you tell her? That you used to fight but had to give it up because you got caught? That you cared about freedom once, but now you only care about safety? What will you tell her, Toad?"

I'll tell her that I gave it up to be with her. I'll tell her that I learned to help by being sneaky. I'll tell her that I decided to help mutant kids. I'll...

I won't tell her anything. I'm going to die.

Maybe Agnes and Shariya will tell her for me some day.

He gets up and starts walking over towards me, and I close my eye. Don't have the strength to keep it open anymore. This hurts worse than when Storm nailed me. And at least she didn't taunt me too.

"So tell me," he says, boots ringing across the metal floor. "Did you think that by turning us in, the X-Men would make you one of them? Was that it?"

The boots stop by my head, and I try not to flinch.

"You should have known better. They only take in pretty mutants, well-educated mutants, mutants with manners. Not boorish green oafs like you. Oh yes, they took in that Wolverine fellow, but he's not nearly as dull-witted or ugly as you, now is he?"

"It's not like that," I whisper. "Didn't expect them to take me in."

"Then what did you expect, Toad? Absolution for killing that little girl? Was that it? Were the three of us and our movement a fair trade for some sniveling brat?"


"I hear Mystique is dead. Blood for blood? Does that make you happy?"


"Look at me, Toad."

Swallowing hard, I open my eye again, and see him kneeling beside me.

"You are an ungrateful wretch. I found you in that orphanage. I rescued you from abuse and ridicule and I brought you back with me to the United States at considerable personal expense. I taught you to be angry at your mistreatment at the hands of normals instead of being their doormat. I taught you to fight for your freedom. You were nothing before you met me. Just a whipping boy for ignorant normals. And you repay me how? By having me jailed and then consorting with the enemy."

"I'm sorry," I whisper, even though I know he'll take it as an insult. He's right. But I can't undo what I've already done. Can't do anything to make it up to him. I've already done the only thing I can. I've handed myself to him. It's not enough, but it's all I have. Like he said, blood for blood.

"Sorry," he repeats. "You're sorry. Well, I'm afraid that's not good enough." He looks down at my chest, then back up at my face. "I suppose it's time for me to get my own hands dirty for a change."

And then he presses his hand down on my battered ribs.

If I could take a breath in, I'd be screaming right now.


There's a growl somewhere off to my right. Hell of a way to wake up. Ow.

"Don't think you're allowed to beat on me when Magneto's away," I say.

"Fuck Magneto."

Still can't see him. Shit. He never liked me. Maybe I can taunt him into beating me to death. One good blow to the head and I'll be a goner. Or maybe he'll kick me in the stomach again and rupture something and I'll just bleed out. Best I can hope for, really. Can't fight back, can't risk escape. If I do, they might use the kids to get me back. Can't let that happen. Gotta make sure I die here. If I could, I'd just off myself and be done with it, but I can barely move. I'd piss him off physically if I could, but I can't aim my tongue or my slime with only one working eye. 'Sides, if my aim were off and I suffocated him, Magneto might take his anger out on the kids. Still can talk, though. "Don't think he'd be happy to hear you say that. Aren't you supposed to be his errand boy?"

A fist comes crashing down next to my head. "I'm nobody's errand boy."

"I'm sorry. I meant to say that you're his bitch."

He snarls and moves towards me, and I'm hoping this is it. I close my eye and brace myself for the blow.

But it doesn't come.

"You know what I learned in prison?" he finally asks.

"Why don't you tell me?" I hiss.


Just my fucking luck.

"I also learned that no one likes a snitch. Best way to keep someone from doing that is to keep them from opening their mouth."

And then the blow comes, smack into my jaw, and I can feel the bone snap. Just when I thought I couldn't hurt any worse...oh god...make it stop. I'd plead with him if I could, but my mouth's useless.

"That'll shut you up," he growls as he walks away.


How many times have I woken up? Can't tell. I think I'm awake now, but I could be dreaming, for all I know. Hope it's a dream. That means the screaming's not really mine. Means that boom I heard didn't really happen either.


Can barely get my eye open anymore, but I open it enough to see a streak of red shooting past me. Cyclops? Are the X-Men here?

Lightning arcs over my head, and I close my eye again. Too tired...they shouldn't be here. Shouldn't have come looking for me. Should be protecting the kids...

Fresh pain, but it's different. I'm being lifted off the ground, held by someone. Hear Jean's voice say, "We need to get him to a hospital right away."

Another voice, close enough that I feel it rumble against me. "Steady big guy." Logan? Logan's holding me? Is that me whimpering between the coughs? Just break my neck, please. Just get it over with.

"Jean, he's in some serious pain. Can't you do anything?"

Hand against my forehead, then everything fades away...


I hear beeps.

Try to focus on them. What are they? Rhythmic. Can't figure out.

"I think he's coming around."


"Oh, thank god."


Okay, I'm in the hospital. That's it.

"Take your time, Mortimer. You're safe now," Shariya says.

Fingers brush through my hair, then disappear. Come back...

I hear the sound of velcro ripping, then the fingers are back, and a warm tingling fills my head. So nice...

"Is that safe?" Agnes asks.


"He's smiling."

Too tired to stay awake...



This time, I manage to get my eyes open, although one's still pretty swollen. There's a nurse checking my I.V. bag, but other than that, I'm alone. "Where are my sister and my girlfriend?" I croak. Throat hurts. Jaw hurts. Gotta use shorter sentences.

"It's very late. They've gone back to the hotel," the nurse says. "Would you like some water?"

I nod.

She's already got a cup with a straw ready. Oh this feels so good. When I've had as much as I can manage, she puts the cup back down by the side of the bed and says, "You're a very lucky man."

"What, to be alive?"

"No, to have a girlfriend like Shariya." Her green eyes suddenly shift to yellow, then back to green. "She contacted me the moment she could get to a computer."

"You found me?" I gasp.

"I found which hideout Magneto had you in, then sent an anonymous tip to the X-Men. My group didn't have the resources to break you out ourselves in time."

"But...the kids..."

"Sssh. The children are fine. Magneto and Sabretooth won't be in any shape to go after anybody for a long time, especially anybody on the X-Men's compound. The X-Men planted tracking devices in them--plastic, of course--and Shariya made sure to send us the frequencies. So there's two mutant groups working to keep tabs on the two of them. Right now, your kids are the safest kids in the world."

"Thank you."

"I'm impressed, Mortimer. The X-Men must think very highly of you to send the whole squad out to rescue you. Even Storm showed up for you."

"Really? Thought I saw lightning."

"Do you want some more water? Pain medication?"

I shake my head. Getting too tired and sore to talk again.

"Get some more rest," she says, leaning over and kissing me lightly on the forehead. "You've got a lot of healing to do, and there's a lot of worried people who'll want to talk to you tomorrow."

The kids...dammit...they're not safe if I'm still alive. They'll come back. They'll use them to get to me. They'll...

I feel her hand gently stroking my forehead. "Ssssh. Don't worry. Sleep."

Damn her. It works.


Hands. Pain.

I startle awake. "Ow."

Jean's suddenly at the head of the bed. "We're just checking your injuries to make sure they're healing properly," she says. "Is the pain bad?"

"N...no. Not too bad."

"We'll try to be more gentle now that you're awake. Besides, we're almost done. Does it hurt to talk?"

"Yeah, but I can handle it."

"Don't be stoic. You're in pain. I'm going to raise your pain medication."

I'm not going to win this one. As she reaches over and adjusts my drip, I look down to see one doctor taping bandages to my chest, which is what hurt, and another two studying the color of my toes where they're peeking out of my leg casts. "How can we tell if his circulation's being cut off if he's green?" one asks.

Jean snorts and says, "Compare their color to the color of his face. He goes pale just like everybody else. He just goes pale green instead of pale white."

"Why am I in a regular hospital?" I whisper. Okay, I can talk without moving my jaw much. And she was right. A little more painkiller is helping. Just hope it doesn't make me sleepy. Need to stay awake. Need to find out what happened.

"There wasn't time to get you back to the Institute. You were coughing up blood when we found you. You needed immediate medical attention, so we brought you to Minneapolis. We'll be bringing you home in a couple of days if all goes well."

"Rest of the X-Men went back, right?" I ask, terrified all of the sudden that the kids are alone.

"It's just me, Agnes, and Shariya here. Don't worry. What you did was very brave."

"I just did what was right..."

"Mortimer, I don't know if any of us would have been able to do the same. I know I couldn't have."

"Sure you could've."

She smiles at me, then gently reaches down and tilts my head to look at the side of my face. "Do you have any idea how much hardware we had to put in you to put you back together?" she asks. "You've got plastic rods everywhere. The hospital wanted to use metal, but I talked them out of it for obvious reasons."

"S'at what's holding my jaw together?"

"Mmm hmm. And your legs. And your ribs. And most of your fingers. And on top of that, we had to do surgery to mend a punctured lung, patch up various abdominal injuries, and to draw fluid from your cranium. Plus you seem to have an irregular heartbeat, which is odd, because it's inconsistent with the rest of your injuries."

"I had it before. Storm."

"Oh," she sighs. "I didn't know. Well, that would be consistent with lightning strike injuries. I take it only happens infrequently, and is more likely to happen when you're stressed?"

I nod.

"I'll add that to your medical files when we get back. You've been unconscious for four days, you know."

"I had no idea." Oh ow. Rest a sec. Use your tongue instead of your teeth. Okay. "How are Agnes and Shariya doing?"

"They've been better, but they were really heartened that you came around briefly yesterday. Oh, and did you notice those?" she asks, gesturing at the wall.

I squint across the room at the patterns of color. Can't see too well right now. "What is it?"

"The children drew those for you. We taped them up yesterday."

I wish I could see the details, but the colors are great. Really lights up the room. "Wow. That was really nice of them." Ow. "How are they holding up?"

"Well, they're scared, of course. We're doing all we can to let them know they're safe, but it will probably take a while for them to actually feel safe again. And they're all terribly concerned about you."

"What'd you tell them?"

"That you used to be friends with some people who weren't very nice, and that they were mad at you. Which is the truth. You know, you're very lucky we got that anonymous tip when we did. If we'd found you any later, you'd be dead. Any idea who could have sent it? We have no clue."

"No," I lie, hoping she's not scanning me.

One of the doctors says, "He's healing well. Everything's ahead of target."

"Great," Jean says. "We should be able to take you home in a day or two. Well, I shouldn't use up all your energy. Agnes and Shariya have been waiting to see you. I'll let them know you're awake."


She smiles and leaves the room, and it's so nice not to be getting poked at anymore. Damn, my jaw's hurting even more, but I don't want more pain medication. It's hard enough keeping my head clear with the amount I've got in me already. Is there any part of me that doesn't have stitches or a cast? Looks like maybe that'd be my nose.

"Oh, thank god you're awake," Agnes gushes as she comes in the room. Shariya's a step behind her, just smiling at me, I think. She's far enough away that she's fuzzy. Well, fuzzier.

"Hey," I say with a small smile. Hurts my face if I try to smile any wider than this. I can feel the tug of stitches in too many places, plus it makes my jaw hurt again.

"Don't you ever do something this stupid again!" Agnes shouts.

Whoa. "I had to..."

"No, you didn't!" She looks livid.

Shariya looks at her, then comes around to the other side of the bed and sits down near my head. "How are you doing?" she asks quietly.

"I'm okay."

Agnes still has a mad on. "Look, it's bad enough I've got Logan running off playing hero all the time. I don't need you doing it too. What were you thinking? Were you trying to get yourself killed?"

"I was trying to keep them from hurting the kids."

"The X-Men could have done that! You didn't need to leave. You didn't need to offer yourself like some fucking sacrificial lamb. Dammit, I spent the first twenty-three years of my life not even knowing that you existed. I will not lose you! Do you hear me? I will not lose you!"

I look over at Shariya, hoping from some support from her. She has to know it was right. She has to. She puts her hands gently on my cheeks and says, "I'm with your sister on this one. If you ever do something that stupid again, I'll hunt you down and kill you myself."

"I thought it was the right thing to do," I whisper helplessly.

Agnes collapses into a chair and says, "It probably was. That's the rub. Oh, here." She reaches into her bag and pulls out Hannah's battered old Kermit doll. "She wanted you to have this." She tucks it next to me on the bed.

"Thanks." I don't care if it hurts. I'm grinning again.


Scott brings the jet by two days later and flies me back to the Institute. Smoothest landing I've ever felt, which I really appreciate right now. I'm sitting up, which is good, but I can't stay that way for too long. Hurts too bad. But I really don't want to be wheeled into the Institute flat on my back. It's important to me that I at least be sitting up. Don't know why, but it is.

Can't wait to get out of this chair and lie back down again, though.

As they slowly lower my chair down to the floor, I hear Hannah squealing from the other side of the hangar. "He's back! He's back!"

Logan's got her by the hand. "Now remember what we told you. You have to be gentle. He's hurt badly. No jumping, no climbing."

"Come on!" She's yanking at his hand with all her might, hair flying everywhere. It's hysterical. I'd laugh, but that leads to pain and crying and that's no good. So I just use the two healthy fingers on my left hand to prop the Kermit doll in my lap back up. He fell over during the flight, I guess. Yeah, she's the reason why I haven't been talking much today. Wanted to rest my jaw up so I could talk to her once I got back. It's hurting less, though. Guess all that plastic's doing the trick.

I finally make it to the floor, and Hannah does her best to race for me with Logan in tow. "Hey sweetie," I say. "Thanks for letting me borrow Kermit."

"Mortimer!" She's jumping up and down in excitement, but she's being good. She's not touching me. "You're back!"

"What happened to your hair?" I ask. It looks like there's a ponytail holder dangling in that mess somewhere.

Logan shifts his weight uncomfortably and says, "Look, I'm no hairdresser, okay?"

I shouldn't tease the man. Not after he saved me and all. Can't help it, though.

"Are you okay?" Hannah asks.

"I will be. I'm gonna have to stay downstairs in the infirmary for a little while, though."

"I'll visit! I promise. I'll read you a bedtime story every night. And you can keep Kermit until you're better."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, you keep him."

"Thanks, sweetie."

"Come on," Jean says. "Let's get you lying down."

Agnes scoops up Hannah, turns to Shariya and asks, "You can stay with him, right?"

"I've got him."

"Okay. We'll be down later," she tells me.

"For a bedtime story," Hannah adds.

I can't help but grin. "I'll be waiting for you."


Once I'm settled in the infirmary, in a pretty comfortable bed, I might add, Jean and Shariya tape all the pictures back up. I can see them clearly now. Some of the younger kids just drew me brightly colored scribbles (although the predominant color in all of them is green), but Danny and Tanya drew some pretty amazing pictures. Danny's has him and Hannah sitting on the monkey bars looking sad, and Tayna's drawn a pretty accurate picture of my head with a band-aid on the forehead that says "get well soon" underneath it. I think she was being a little optimistic about how badly I was hurt.

Jean's got me hooked up to a bag of Logan's plasma to help me heal faster. Sure helped Mystique, that's for sure. I hope it works for me too. I hate this. I hate being helpless. I can deal with the pain, I just don't like being dependent on other people. This is worse than when Storm nailed me. Then I was up and on crutches in just a few days. Here, I'm looking at lying flat on my back for weeks, if not months. And there's not a damned thing I can do on my own. Both my arms are in casts. Left one's only from the elbow down, although all but two of my fingers are in splints, but the right one goes all the way up. And my legs are even worse. They had to reconstruct both my knees. Sabretooth fucked me up good. God, I hope this was enough for him. Please don't let them come back. I can't do anything to stop them now. Can't even wheel myself out the front door again. They should have left me in Minneapolis. I tried, but they wouldn't listen to me.

I hear the hum of a wheelchair motor, and turn to see the professor approach. "You're a lucky man to have so many children think so highly of you," he says, looking at all the pictures. "So, we'll be sharing a common means of locomotion for a while."

"Yeah. Don't think I'll be walking for a while, or using crutches." I hold up my arms a little, showing off both casts.

"They say you're healing fast. Perhaps you have an additional mutant ability?"

"Wish I had Logan's healing powers right now."

"Don't we all. Well, look on the bright side. No monitoring anklet until you're out of the casts."

"Guess now would be a good time to make my escape," I grin. Oh ow. Don't grin that hard, idiot. The stitches on my cheek are killing me now. Jaw's okay, though.

"Are you all right?" he asks.

"Yeah. Just pulled at some stitches."

From the corner of my eye, I see Shariya head towards the bed and look at my cheek. "They look okay," she says, then sits down in the easy chair someone's put beside my bed. Looks pretty out of place, but I'm glad someone did it. I suspect I'll have a hard time talking her out of spending most of her time here, although I'm sure as hell gonna try.

"Well, I'll leave the two of you," the professor says. "I just wanted to come down and see how you were doing."

"Wait, before you go..."

"Yes, Mortimer?"

"Why'd you do it?"

"I should be asking you the same thing. But I already know your answer."

"But I don't know yours."

He folds his hands in his lap and says, "Because no member of the team gets left behind."

"But...I'm not an X-Man. I'm a convict, remember? I used to be in the Brotherhood. Still would be if it weren't for...you know. And it was my fault that they came here in the first place. My being here put everyone in danger."

"You are a resident of the Institute, and a teacher and caregiver for our younger students. You may not be an X-Man, but you are part of the Institute's team. And we were all deeply touched by the magnitude of your sacrifice. It was the least we could do to repay you."

I'm too stunned to speak. Hell, I don't even realize my mouth is hanging open for a while. He thinks that about me?

He smiles at me, then says, "Get some rest. The children need you back. Shariya, be sure he rests, will you?"

"I will."

He turns and wheels off, and I just lie there, flabbergasted. They think I'm part of the team? Me? The guy who nearly killed a few of them? The guy the court stuck with them? The guy who's been stealing information from their files?

Shariya jolts me out of it by saying, "I'm not leaving your side, you realize," then kissing me lightly on the lips.

"Mmm. No, you should go back upstairs to sleep."

"See that chair? I can sleep in that. I'm little enough."

"Really, I'll be fine. Besides, you're not that little. You're my height. You should sleep in your own bed."

"I'll sleep better down here."

"Look, we've only been together a few months. You shouldn't feel like you need to play nursemaid. I mean, I know it's asking a lot, and I'm sorry..."



She wags her finger at me sharply, suppressing a smile. "Ssssh."

Shit. Shouldn't have watched "Austin Powers" with her last week. Can't help but grin at her Doctor Evil impersonation. "Well...at least let them get you a cot or something," I say, knowing I've been outclassed.

"I think I could be talked into that," she says with a smile. "Now do like the professor ordered and rest." She takes in and lets out a deep breath, and suddenly looks amazingly calm. I think I know what's coming next. She reaches up for her right glove, undoes the velcro strap across the back, slides it off, then starts stroking my head with her shining palm.



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