Beaucoup thanks to Jedimom for her suggestions, encouragement, and her Mystique vignette. Laura Cooksey was also invaluable for X-Men backstory info and her mutant cheerleading abilities. Finally, thanks to the Nashoba Valley Winery for their excellent Cranberry-Apple wine. Yum!
Also, fair warning! I have not read the X-Men nor watched the cartoon. All I have is the movie and some character research from the Internet under my belt. So if you're a long-time X-Men fan and these characters don't ring true for you, I apologize. However, as a nod to the fans of the comic, I have spelled Henry Peter Gyrich's name as it is seen in the comic, not as it is seen in the movie novelization ("Guyrich"). And despite the fact that Toad is constantly described as being near-sighted, I'm deliberately ignoring that. I figure any guy who can pick the visor off of Cyclops while hanging from a high ceiling must either have good vision, or is wearing contacts. I'm choosing to go with door number one.
Wait...what's all this stuff attached to me? No... Oh man, my head. Gotta get up.
"Lie down," a voice says through the ringing in my ears, and I feel hands pushing me down.
"No..." God, my mouth hurts. So hard to move it.
"Do you remember what happened?"
I try to focus my vision on the voice, but a sharp pain lances through my head. Oh god, make it stop.
I hear feet moving, then a hand is stroking the back of my head. Everything hurts. I can't feel my hands or feet. I think I'm curled in a ball, but I'm not sure. What...god, my shoulder is twitching.
"Ssssshhh." The hand moves from my head and there are two hands kneading my shoulder. Slowly, the muscle relaxes, and the pain lifts enough for me to open my eyes again.
I uncurl, slowly, and turn to face the voice. I can't see too well, but what I see is blue. "Mystique," I croak, wondering what happened to my voice.
"What do you remember?"
"What d'you mean?" I slur.
"Hang on," she says, and I feel something cool and soothing being rubbed against my lips. "That should help. Now think. What's the last thing you remember?"
Um... Think. "Painting," I say, the memory swimming fuzzily in my brain.
"Anything after that?"
"No. What happened to me?" It's getting a little easier to talk.
"We got in a battle with Xavier's team at the Statue of Liberty. Storm hit you with a bolt of lightning."
"I don't remember that."
"Well, the doctors said that could happen."
"Doctors? Where am I?" I try to sit up again, but pain streaks through me and I fall back, gasping for breath.
"You have to take it easy," she says, stroking my hair. "You were hurt very badly. Your heart stopped, you know. It's still having problems. But no, you're not in the hospital anymore. As soon as I was well enough, I broke us both out."
"You're hurt?" I ask, trying to get up again.
"Not as badly as you," she says, pushing me back down. "Wolverine got me in the stomach with his claws."
"Are you okay?"
"I've been better." Flash of white. I think she's smiling, but I still can't see clearly.
"In prison. He's well, though. We'll get him out soon. But you...you're lucky to be alive. You really need to lie still."
"I don't remember anything," I say, desperately searching my memory for any scraps. I feel echoes of things I think I should know, but I can't grab on to anything.
"Not even us having sex?" she asks playfully.
What? No way. "You're making that up."
"No, I'm not. I'd offer you a rematch, but you're not going to be up for it for a while."
"You're lying." Why is she taunting me like this?
"Mortimer, I'm not lying about either. Don't you want to know what happened to you?"
I try to shrug, but my shoulder starts spasming again.
"Damn," Mystique sighs. "The muscle relaxant should have kicked in by now." She massages me gently a little more, then gets up.
"Where are you going?" I ask, suddenly terrified that she might leave me here.
"I'm upping your dosage. You should be able to handle a higher one. At least, that's what the doctor told me when I was pretending to be your nurse. There. I've injected it into your IV. You should be feeling it soon. So, will you lie still and listen to what happened to you?"
"Okay," I whisper, but I'm not sure I really want to know. I don't think I've ever felt this weak. Well, not physically, at least.
"You have second degree burns on your face and first degree burns on most of the rest of your body. Your heart has an irregular rhythm. You have fractured bones in your legs, and several fractured ribs from the muscle spasms the lightning caused. You still have muscle spasms. You probably have tinnitus and vision problems. You'll probably have headaches for a while, and you'll probably have trouble sleeping. And you seem to have memory loss. The real miracle here is that your tongue is unscathed. The doctors couldn't explain it. Storm told them the bolt traveled through the railing to your tongue, and that matches the burn pattern on your body. It's a damned good thing you float, because otherwise the police would never have fished you out of the harbor in time to save you."
"Will I get better?" I ask.
She pauses. "Probably. We'll see."
"So when my memory comes back and I remember that you didn't have sex with me?"
"If that memory doesn't come back, then I'll give you a replay," she says, bending over and kissing my forehead gently, but it still stings from the burn. "Now sleep."
It's not easy falling asleep with the ringing in my ears, but eventually, I do.
And dream of lightning.
Wait, where am I? What's going on? What's all this stuff on me? Why are my ears ringing?
"Ssssshhh." I feel hands gently pressing me down, and I try to focus. Blue. "It's okay. Remember? Storm hit you with a bolt of lightning."
Right, I've heard that before. God, my head hurts. "What's happening to me?" I manage to croak out through parched lips.
"You're disoriented. It'll pass."
"Yeah. You said that before, right?"
I feel something familiar and soothing being rubbed against my lips. "Your mouth's burned."
"Yeah." I reach up slowly, wincing as my arm spasms, then gingerly touch my face. It feels hot and tight, and my hands are tingling. "How bad do I look?"
"Not so bad. You're healing fast."
I focus a little sharper, and finally see some details on Mystique's face. She looks tired. "Are you okay?"
She shrugs. "I was sleeping."
"Wait, you're hurt." I remember that now. "You should be resting."
"I will, as soon as you're okay."
"I'm okay," I say. I'm not, but I will be. For her.
"Yeah." I try to grin, but it feels like my lips are going to crack open, so I have no idea what my face settles on.
I see her nod. "Okay. Try to get some more sleep." And then she walks out of focus, and I think I can make out that she's lying down.
I close my eyes and even out my breathing, hoping she'll buy it. I can't tell if she's sleeping. I can't see that far, and the ringing in my ears is too loud for me to hear her. I'm remembering more and more from earlier, I think. Fractures. She said I'd fractured ribs and my legs. I slowly move my hand across my chest and feel the bandages through my gown. Okay, that explains why that hurts.
Is she asleep? I hope so. I lift my blanket up slowly and squint down. Yeah, I think I see plastic splints on my legs. Ah! Damn! Leg cramp. I grit my teeth, but that hurts too, so I try to lie as still as possible until it goes away. Don't want to wake her.
There. Okay. Made it.
I turn my head and look over in her direction again. I can kind of make out a splotch of blue. I guess that's her head. Gut wound. Those are nasty. I can't believe she's up and about. I should be taking care of her, not the other way around.
If only I could get up.
Okay, Magneto's in jail, and Sabretooth... Did she say anything about Sabretooth before? Ah, who gives a fuck? He's a shit. Besides, he's fine. He's always fine. Heals up nice and quick. I still can't remember what happened, but there's no way Sabretooth left before it was over, and since we lost, he probably had some healing to do.
I squint back over at the splotch of blue. She should have left me in the hospital. I can't believe she's taking care me when she's so badly hurt herself.
My heart's racing, can't breathe, can't think.
I open my eyes and reach out to grab hold of the only thing I can see. Blue.
"Not so hard. Just breathe. Relax."
Oh god, chest's so tight. Heart hammering.
Slim fingers pry my hands loose and squeeze them tightly. "You'll be fine. Just breathe."
Slowly the thundering in my chest calms. God, everything aches. I focus on the blue. "Mystique."
"That's right. Hold on, let me get you some more painkiller." I close my eyes, watching ghost images of electricity flickering behind my eyelids, until the pain slowly starts to fade into a haze.
"You should check me back into the hospital," I murmur.
"No way. I'm not letting the cops get you again. Hold still." She dabs something cool across my face. "Ointment for the burns."
"Take care of yourself. You're hurt. You shouldn't have to worry about me."
"No. You're not going to get arrested."
"I don't care," I say, trying to prop myself up on one elbow and failing. Ow. That was stupid. "You're too important to be babysitting me."
Was that a laugh? I still can't hear very well. "And you're not important?"
"Not as important as you. Not by a long shot. You're still filling in for Henry Gyrich, right?" She doesn't reply. "Right?"
"Actually, for Senator Kelly." She says it so low I almost don't catch it through all the ringing in my ears.
"The...the senator? What happened?"
"He's dead. I listened to the audio playback from our headsets when I got us out of the hospital. Storm and Jean Gray said that Magneto's machine killed him. Do you remember Magneto using it on Kelly?"
I squint and think. "Yeah, I do. Yeah. But they're lying. They have to be lying."
Gentle fingers stroke my hair. "Maybe."
"How can you say that?" I say, feeling panic rising in my chest. This is crazy. Doubting Magneto?
"I may not like the X-Men, but I don't think they'd lie about something like that."
"They killed him. Magneto's machine must have worked. It must have! How can you even question him?"
"Ssssh. Breathe. You have to relax or your heart's going to go nuts again." She sighs and takes my hand in hers. "Magneto's not a god. He makes mistakes sometimes. This was one of them."
"I can't believe you're saying that. I mean, you're saying the X-Men are justified for doing this to us. Aren't you?"
"I don't know."
My head's racing. I can't believe she'd question Magneto. He saved us. He...no, breathe. Breathe. Panic doesn't do anything. Never has. You should have learned that by now. Okay, focus. "So what are you doing as Senator Kelly?"
"Trying to kill the Mutant Registration Act."
"And you're taking time out to be my nursemaid?"
"It gives me a chance to rest too."
"But what you're doing is important..."
She silences me with a finger on my lips. "We're doing this for the wellbeing of mutants everywhere, right?"
"Your wellbeing is just as important to me as all other mutants. Probably more so."
"No arguments. But I do need to go. The senator has an appointment. You'll stay put, right? No trying to get up?"
"I promise." Don't want her to have to worry about me.
"Okay." She bends over and gently kisses my hair. "I'll be back. Rest."
"Mystique?" I call out.
She turns. "Yes?"
"I...um. I have some really weird pieces of memory involving Darth Maul. Is dementia one of the symptoms of lightning strike?"
"That was me."
I'd never noticed how pretty her laugh was before now.
She left water by the bed. I probably shouldn't have drunk it. Now I have to pee.
Okay, I can do this. I have an empty water container and a deep desire not to wet the bed. Right, prop myself up on my elbow, turn over onto my side, wait for the pain in my ribs to subside, give up and just grit my teeth and bear it.
Much better. Now I just need to put the container down...oh shit. I can't reach the ground from here. Deep breath. Think.
I experimentally flick my tongue out a few times. Right, it doesn't hurt that bad. And what room am I in? Relax and focus. You can do it. Okay, I'm in one of the labs. There's a sink about ten feet away. I can do this. It's kinda gross, but I can do this. I screw the top back on, grab the full container with my tongue, and deposit it on the edge of the sink. I really shouldn't make Mystique empty it, but I don't think I can pour it out without getting it on my tongue, and that's too gross even for me.
Zapped through my tongue. My face is burned, my body's a wreck, but the one part of me that should be totally french-fried is fine. Figures. I'll bet my slime gland is working fine too. I stick a finger in my mouth and probe at it. Yep, feels fine. The two least appealing things about me are fully functional, and the rest of me is a wreck. As Magneto would have said, "How apropos."
Think...what do I remember? Painting. I remember that. Some really weird Darth Maul memories. That was Mystique? I guess that explains it, since I've never really liked guys, but why would she have sex with me? She's so beautiful. Okay, what else? Senator Kelly. I remember him a little. Magneto and his machine. Beautiful sheets of white light. And...a train? Yeah. Blast of red. Cyclops? It'll come to me. Fuzzy memories of the Statue of Liberty.
Ow. My head hurts again. Right, no more focusing and thinking.
I hope Mystique's okay.
"Do you know what happens to a Toad that gets hit by lightning? Same thing that happens to everything else."
Pain like nothing I've ever felt before... body spasming... falling... falling... water...
"Lie down!" I hear through the thundering in my head, and I try to focus, but there's red in my eyes and all I can feel is pounding through my entire body and I just want it to stop. Please make it stop.
"It's okay," I hear, and there's a body holding me, cradling me, crooning in my ear and stroking the back of my head. The pounding slowly subsides, and as my senses clear, I realize I'm sitting up in Mystique's arms.
"I remember now," I whisper.
"You nearly went into cardiac arrest," she says, gently lowering me back onto the bed.
"Oh my god, you're crying." I reach up and try to wipe away her tears, but she intercepts my hand and kisses it.
"I'm fine," she says, clearing her throat and standing up abruptly. "You, on the other hand, pulled out your IV."
"I'm okay, really." I sit up again to prove it. Ow. "See?"
"You shouldn't be doing that," she chides, trying to push me back down again and failing. Finally, she smiles. "I guess you are feeling better."
"How are you doing?" I ask, looking down at her bandaged belly.
"Oh, I'm fine."
"You're getting thinner," I say, reaching out and brushing my finger along the outline of her ribs.
She snatches my hand away. "I'm fine," she snaps.
This is all Wolverine's fault. "I'll kill him for you," I vow, anger churning in my belly. How dare he hurt her?
"Mortimer," she sighs, then stands and reaches around behind the bed. "Lie back," she says, pulling out a control box. "I'll change the angle of the bed so you can sit up without straining your ribs."
"I'm fine!" I protest.
"I know I'm lying when I say that," she says, fixing me with a serious stare.
I sigh and lean back. She would have to whip logic out at me. The back of the bed slowly rises up, and she's right. This does feel a lot better. "I meant it though. I'll get Wolverine for you."
"Not necessary," she says, heading for the door.
"Where are you going?"
She looks over her shoulder. "I'll eat if you eat."
"Deal." Anything to put some weight back on her.
She comes back in a minute later, holding out a sandwich. "Chicken. I know how much you like birds."
"Thanks." I take a small bite and chew slowly. My mouth still hurts, but if I take it slow, I'm okay. Before I swallow, she gets up again and comes back with water. "Why don't you want me to take Wolverine down?" I ask. "Do you want to do it yourself?"
"No, I don't. Look, it was a fair fight. We pounded on each other for a while, then I tried sneaking up on him, and he got me, fair and square. Besides, he was right. The machine didn't work. We would have killed people with it."
"I can't believe you believe the X-Men," I protest.
"I can't find any sign of Senator Kelly anywhere," she says, then takes a bite of her sandwich.
"They killed him. Or they've imprisoned him."
"I doubt it. It's not their style. Face it, Magneto was wrong. They had every right to try and stop us. I'm glad they did, even though I wish you hadn't been hurt. And besides, the work I'm doing now will make a difference."
"Even if you're hurting yourself to do it."
She shrugs and takes another bite. We eat in silence, even though my stomach's in knots. Magneto has to be right. He has to be. I can't believe she's saying this. Maybe Xavier got to her brain. Yeah, that's it. I remember him doing that to me. Freaky feeling. But she looks like herself. She's not acting out of character. Damn.
"Look," she says after she finishes her meal. "I know you look up to Magneto. I know he pulled you out of a nasty place and gave you hope and a purpose. He helped me out too. But that doesn't make him automatically right all the time. He made a mistake, and a lot of people could have died."
"I don't care," I protest.
"You should. They never did anything to hurt you."
"They would if they could."
She shrugs again. "You never know. Think of it this way: if we had killed them, it would have destroyed our cause."
"But they'd be afraid of us."
"They already are."
Oh. Yeah. She's right. And it hasn't helped yet. Damn. "I don't know what to do," I say helplessly.
"There's no easy solution. Which is why I'm doing what I can to sway public opinion by taking the senator's place."
"Maybe Magneto will have other ideas when we get him out."
"Maybe. Be right back." She stands and heads toward the sink. Oh shit.
"What? Hey, how did this container get here?"
"Don't open it!"
She freezes. "What is it?"
"I...uh..." I can feel myself flushing. "I had to go to the bathroom," I murmur.
"Ah," she says, a grin quirking the corners of her mouth. "I should have expected that. Wait, how did you get it over here?"
"Tongue." She nods and goes to unscrew the lid. "Don't!"
"Mortimer, it's perfectly natural. And you had a catheter in before. It's not like this is the first container of your urine I've emptied."
I groan and drop my head in my hands. "I wish you hadn't told me that."
I hear her pouring it down the sink, then peer between my fingers to see her washing her hands. She then reaches for her bandage and slowly peels it off. "Hunh."
"Is it okay?" I ask, putting my hands back in my lap.
"Looking pretty good. I'm mostly keeping the bandage on to keep it clean at this point." She looks up, grins, and heads back to my bed, morphing into Princess Leia on the way. "So, do you remember your request?"
"Oh god," I groan, dropping my head in my hands again.
She sits on the edge of the bed and peels my hands away from my face. "You turn the prettiest shade of green when you blush," she notes.
I am totally mortified. "Look," I stammer, "you don't need to do this. I just said it to be funny."
"I take requests," she grins.
I look down at her bare midriff and see the three faint claw-marks and a surgery scar. "Are you sure you don't need to cover those up?"
"They're fine. They're sore, but they're fine. Why did you pick Leia, anyway?"
"Oh, 'Jedi' was the last film I saw in a theater."
"You're kidding!" she gasps. "That was ages ago!"
"Can you change back?" I ask. I can't look at her like this. It's too weird. I feel dirty.
"Sure." I hear that odd shifting sound, and she's herself again. "So how is it that you haven't been in a movie theater in 20 years?"
"I stopped going when it became too hard for the orphanage to cover me up."
"Cover you up?"
"Yeah. So people on the street couldn't see me and make fun of me. We wore donated clothes, and when I hit puberty, I got too stocky for most of the stuff we had, so they stopped taking me out."
"I didn't mind much," I shrug. "When they'd take everyone else out, that meant there was no one around to tease me."
"Mortimer, I..." She reaches out and puts her hand in mine. "I wish you hadn't had to go through that."
"It's okay," I say. "It's over."
"Except you still never go outside unless Magneto has you doing something."
"Well, no. But that's okay. I mean, I'm used to it."
"Well, I kind of know how you feel," she says, squeezing my hand, and I look up at her in disbelief. "I was born looking like this, but didn't learn how to shapeshift right away. And I wasn't that good at it at first. I'd slip sometimes and show my real face. People were awful to me."
"How could they?" I gasp. "You're so beautiful."
She pulls her hand away and blinks hard, and I see tears in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," I stammer, hand over my mouth. "What did I say?" Oh god, I made her cry.
"No one..." She swallows hard. "I don't think anyone's said that to me when I've been wearing this face."
And now I get to hold her. I don't ever think I've heard Mystique cry before, and it's breaking my heart to listen to her do it now. She's so beautiful. How could anyone think of her as ugly? I'm ugly. She's a goddess. A stunning royal blue goddess with beautiful red hair and sunny yellow eyes. God, non-mutants are so stupid if they can't see past her color and her scales!
Her sobs fade away, and she sniffs and pulls back, looking down at the ground nervously. I take her hand in mine and say, "I want you to write up a list of anyone who ever told you you were ugly. As soon as I feel better, I'm beating them all up."
Good, she's laughing again.
She wipes at her eyes, then clears her throat and says, "You know, for a virgin, you were really good with my body. How did you learn so much?"
I'm pretty damned sure I'm blushing again. "I read a lot."
"Where did you read up on that prostate trick?"
Yep, I'm blushing. "Um...I read a lot."
"I didn't think straight male porn mentioned that."
Blushing when you have second-degree burns on your face is amazingly painful. "Er...I read a lot. I figured I'd never get any the old fashioned way, so I've read anything I can get my hands on."
"And this from the man who said he wasn't into guys," she teased, poking gently at my arm.
"Well, I'd sworn to myself that if anyone ever offered me sex, no matter what gender they were or how many limbs they had or even if they were coated in slime, I'd take them up on it, because I might never get another chance. So I read up on everything I could, just in case."
"Where do you get 'coated in slime' porn?" she asks, looking dubious.
"I had to use my imagination for that," I joked, then got serious. "But I'm really glad it was you."
She bites her lip, then says, "I'm going to cry again if you don't cut it out."
God, what a beautiful smile.
She's gone again. She left me some books, but my eyes aren't quite back to normal, and focusing on words hurts. Besides, I'm not that great at reading. The orphanage said I was retarded, but the specialist Magneto hired to test me said I just had a learning disability. Whatever. Either way you look at it, my brain doesn't work normally. I managed to read the back cover, though. It looks good. Maybe there's a taped version of it I can get somewhere.
I squint across the room and see one of the headsets sitting on a set of shelves. Do I want to listen to the playback? I don't want to doubt Mystique, but I don't want to doubt Magneto either. But there's no way to trust them both, I guess. Maybe Mystique's just being gullible.
No, I should listen for myself.
Okay, face is kinda tight. If I'm going to do this, I need to do it right. There's too much clutter on the shelf with the headset for me to be able to chance missing it. If it all falls on the ground, I'll never pick it out. Get some ointment on my face, some more on my lips. Okay, everything feels limber. Squint, focus, and...
I stare down at the small headset and realize my hands are shaking. Breathe, Mortimer. Don't be a baby about this. Breathe. Exhale.
I fit it in my ear and hit playback. I fast-forward past my fight and Mystique's, then listen through the faint ringing as the X-Men try to talk Magneto out of using his machine. I hear the girl screaming in the background. Rogue. She absorbs powers. Wonder if she'd absorb anything out of me? Probably nothing she'd want to keep.
Then Wolverine. " You're so full of shit. If you were really so righteous, it would be you in that thing."
Damn you, Wolverine. I hate you.
*Sniff* What is that smell? *Sniff*
Oh great. It's me.
Okay, look around. No Mystique in sight. Perfect.
I can make it to the sink. I just have to take it slow.
Sit up, swing your legs over the edge of the bed. That's a good Toad. You can do this. The sink's only ten feet away. You can walk ten feet. They're only fractures. You've had broken bones before.
Okay, feet on the floor. Oof, not so easy with the splints, but if I bend my back just right. Ow ow ow. Ribs. Breathe. Ride it out. It's only 10 feet. There's a stool there. Oh, ow. Breathe.
I spin around, falling back on the bed in the process. "Oh, hi Mystique," I say, trying to sound casual. "I was just heading for the sink."
"You should have waited for me to get back first."
"Didn't want to be a bother."
"You'll be more of a bother if you hurt yourself again."
Oh, didn't think of that. That was stupid. "Um, look, I just wanted to wash up."
She groans and puts her head in her hands. "I'm sorry. I haven't sponged you off since you woke up. I've been so busy..."
"No, please don't apologize!" Oh god, please don't let her cry again. "I can take care of myself. Honest."
She looks back up at me, and she looks exhausted. "Let me get you some crutches, okay?"
"You do realize a shower will hurt? You're covered in burns."
"I don't care. I reek," I say as I hobble along next to her. She's so tall. I'd noticed that before, but somehow with me on crutches, it's even more pronounced. Wish I were tall.
"Well, it's going to be a quick shower. And I'm going to help. It'll go a lot quicker if we both work together."
Blushing again. Great. "I can do it..."
"Mortimer, I've seen you naked."
"I know, but I was healthy then..."
"I cleaned you off when you were unconscious."
Blushing really hard now.
"You have a lovely body, Mortimer."
If it is possible to die of blushing, I think I'm about to find out. "It's squat, and its got warts," I mumble.
"It's muscular, and besides, mine has scales," she counters. I open my mouth, but she holds up her hand and says, "No, I'm not going to listen to you drag yourself down any more today."
We finally make it to the bathroom, and I guess it's not possible to die of blushing, because I would have by now. I take a deep breath and look in the mirror. Oh god. Just when I thought I couldn't get any uglier...
"I know, it looks awful," Mystique says, standing behind me and putting her hands on my shoulders. "But it's a lot better than when you first were brought into the hospital. You'll do fine. You're healing well. If we keep putting ointment on your face, it should heal without scarring. Hey, you kept all your hair. That's apparently an accomplishment."
"My lips look terrible."
"They'll probably be a little scarred. Nothing major, though. Believe it or not, your mutation worked for you in this case. The doctors said that if you'd had normal human skin, the burns would have been worse, and you would have had major scarring. Of course, your mutation worked against you with the fractures. If your muscles weren't so strong, your spasms wouldn't have been so severe. Now, let's get this gown off of you and get this shower over with."
She helps me shrug off my hospital gown, and I do my best not to act self-conscious, but the burns are making that really difficult. I feel even more like a leper than normal. "What about the bandages and the splints?" I ask.
"They're waterproof. They stay on. Now sit," she says, gesturing to a plastic stool in the shower.
"I can stand."
"But this will be easier and quicker for both of us if you sit."
Okay, she has a point. I settle down, back to the shower nozzle.
"Brace yourself. This will hurt."
"Oh fuck!" I yell as the water burns against my skin. "Turn the temperature down!"
"The water's cool," she chatters as her hands start quickly but gently soaping me down from behind. "Trust me on this one."
"It stings!" I protest, but reach for another bar of soap and quickly lather up my front. One of these days, I'm going to have to learn to listen to her. If only it didn't hurt so much, this would be fun, like a letter to Penthouse or something. Only I would manage to have a shower with a beautiful naked woman be an agonizing pain-fest.
"Don't wash your face," she says, strong fingers working shampoo into my hair. "The burns are worse there."
"I wasn't planning on it," I say as I scrubbed out my armpits. "Am I clean yet? Please say yes."
"Just let me finish rinsing your hair. Okay, let's turn you around and make sure your front is rinsed."
"It is," I say, teeth gritted as she turns the stool around.
"Trust me, you don't want soap drying into a burn. It'll just hurt worse."
Ow ow ow ow. Wait a minute. "Hey!"
She grins wickedly at me as she moves her hands away from my crotch. "Didn't want any soap left in hard to reach areas."
"You didn't have a hard time reaching it!"
Off goes the water, and I breathe a huge sigh of relief. I don't even care that I'm sitting here naked and burned in front of a beautiful woman who was just fondling me. I'm just glad the pain's stopped. Mystique quickly towels herself off, then slowly and gently pats me dry. This is sad. I'm too drained even to get an erection, which normally isn't a problem for me. "Hey, um, now that I've got the crutches, you don't need to stay here," I say. "You can go do the Senator Kelly thing full-time."
"Senator Kelly is on vacation," she says as she scrubs at my hair with the towel. "He's taking a well-deserved rest after having a miraculous change of heart and vigorously campaigning against the Mutant Registration Act."
"Well then, since I have crutches, I can take care of myself so you can get some rest."
"That would be nice," she says, draping the towel on the rack. "But I want to eat first. Here, I got you a nice fluffy robe and some slippers. Stand up and put your hand on my shoulder."
Together, we ease me into the robe, I slide my feet into the slippers, and I grab the crutches as we head back out toward the kitchen. "I think we have some turkey," she says.
"I do eat more than just birds, you know," I say.
"Why do you do that, though?" she asks, a hint of disgust on her face.
"I learned to do it when I was a kid. I'd run away from the orphanage every now and then when things got bad," I say, settling into a kitchen chair. "And I'd get hungry. And birds were pretty easy to catch as opposed to, oh, cows and pigs."
She's laughing again. "I just got the strangest mental picture of you trying to take down a cow with that tongue."
"I could probably annoy one pretty well, but not catch one," I shrug, smiling.
"A literal tongue-lashing, eh? Oh look, soup!" she says, pulling a couple of cans out from the depths of the metal shelving. "Clam chowder okay?"
"Sounds good. Do you want help?"
"You sit. I'm just going to microwave it." She empties the cans into bowls, pops them in the microwave, then fills two glasses with water and heads back to the table. "So, you'd eat them when you ran away. Why do you eat them now?"
I shrug. "Acquired taste, I guess. I like them."
"Yeah, but raw?"
"Humans are the only animals that cook meat. What's the big deal?"
"Okay, point conceded. But if you could take care of yourself, why did you go back to the orphanage? Why didn't you just run away for good?"
"I'd eventually get lonely. I know, pathetic, isn't it?"
She reaches out and takes my hand. "Not at all."
Oh no. She's going to cry again. Good, saved by the microwave.
"So how long are you going to take Senator Kelly's place?" I ask as she comes back with the bowls.
"I don't know. I can't do it forever. I wish Magneto were here. He's a much better strategist than I am."
"Once I'm better, we'll get him out."
We sip in silence for a while. I miss him too. It's not so much that he's nice or anything. Because he's not. He just...well, he gives me something to do. Something to hope for. A reason to exist. I spent so long without one, but it's hard to go back to that. I hate being pointless. "We'll get him out."
"I think I need to get a doctor in here to look at your ribs and legs," she says. "There's only so much I can do on my own. I want to make sure you're healing well."
"Magneto has a private doctor who's come down here before."
"Right. I'll call him. How are the headaches?"
"Down to a dull roar. I can deal with them."
"I'll leave Tylenol and water by your bed so you can self-medicate if you have problems."
"I want to go back to my own bed, if that's okay."
"Your bed's depressing," she says. "I can't believe you live in that hole."
"I don't need much..."
"Your bedroom is a closet, and your bed is a notch in the cave wall with some bedding thrown in. I'll rest much better if I can keep an eye on you. You're coming to my place."
"But your place is outside the lair."
"I know. A room with a little sunshine wouldn't kill you. And a real mattress would be good for your ribs. And I've got a television and a computer to boot so you won't be bored."
"I don't want to be a bother..." She shoots me a glare, and I squash that sentence before it goes any further. "Thank you. What name do you go by out there?"
"Would you rather I call you Raven?"
"It's not my real name. I actually prefer Mystique. And no, I won't tell you my real name."
"It's not me anymore." She shifts uncomfortably in her seat, then smiles. "You know, it's October 7th."
What does that mean? Shit, is it her birthday? Think, Mortimer, think. Wait, she's just changing the subject on you.
She continues, "Yes, I'm changing the subject. I was just thinking, Halloween's not too far off. You should be better by then."
"I hope so."
"And to celebrate, I'm going to take you out dancing, if your legs can take it."
"No, I don't go out," I protest.
"But it'll be Halloween. You'll be in costume."
She gives me a once-over, and I finally get it. "Oh, um, I guess so, but I...well, my clothes are pretty nasty."
"I'll get you something." And then she morphs into me, then shifts again.
"I don't get it. Who are you?"
"This is you with human coloring," she says, using my voice. "I can go out shopping for you. Think of me as an animated clothing dummy."
"That's not me with human coloring," I whisper. "That looks too...normal."
"You mean handsome." She shifts back. "I keep telling you, you're a good-looking man. You just happen to also be green. And I've thought of the perfect costume." She morphs back into me, only with an amazing suit and a crown. "The Toad King."
I laugh. It's just too silly. Me? A king? "And what are you going to dress as?"
She morphs again back into herself, only in a beautiful black gown, a crown, and my skin, eyes, and hair color. "Your queen. So, is it a date?"
"Um, I can't dance," I protest.
"Then I'll teach you. Is it a date?"
"Just how long is Senator Kelly's vacation?"
"Halloween's on a Saturday this year. Is it a date?"
"What about Magneto?"
"We can break him out on All Saint's Day. Is it a date?"
I look over at her, at that expectant smile, the kindness in her eyes, the tenderness she's shown me these past few days, the dedication she has to making the world a better place for mutants. I need a purpose. A reason to exist. Maybe she can be that purpose. Maybe it isn't too much to dream that someone might actually care about me. Maybe it won't be dangerous to hope again. No way to know unless I try. Hell, she's even willing to wear my skin. How many other people would do that for me? I smile back at her. "It's a date."
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