Thanks to Jedimom for telling me this story needed something, Larkzen for telling me what that something was, and Red Sith for the final okay. Thanks also to Andy for helping me with some military info.
Mmph. Must be time to wake up.
Hannah Toynbee: human alarm clock. I blink a few times, then see her little green face smiling down at me, hair sticking out in all directions. Guess that's part of the mutation. I could never get mine to lie flat either. "Good morning," I say with a smile.
"I'm gonna be four tomorrow!"
"I know!" Oh, ow. Shouldn't have tried to stretch my arms up over my head.
Her little face grows concerned. "Do you need your medicine?"
"No, I'll be fine. Just a little stiff." Ow. My ribs are still really tender, even though they're technically healed.
"Are you sure?"
"I'm positive. Just give me a minute to wake up and I'll get up and fix you breakfast."
"Okay." She curls up with me on the bed, careful to lean against my left side. All my broken ribs were on the right. I love having her do this in the morning. At some point when I was still in the basement, she decided she was too old to be carried anymore. Agnes seemed to think this was a good thing, but as soon as I was alone, I just started crying. I don't know why, but the thought of never carrying her around again was so depressing. There's just something really reassuring about having her in my arms. I don't know what it is. I just know that when I carry her, everything feels all right. I mean, I knew this would happen some day. All kids get sick of being carried. I just didn't think it would happen when I was flat on my back in a hospital bed. I didn't get a last chance.
But she will still curl up with me in bed, or on the sofa, or sometimes in the wheelchair. I guess that's different. And I'm grateful. I know I'm pretty useless right now, but when she's tucked up against me, I feel like I can protect her from anything. This girl is the most important thing in the world to me. Besides, maybe once my legs are back in shape, I think I'll be able to convince her to let me carry her one last time. I was kind of out of my mind on pain medication when Agnes first told me about it, so I wasn't exactly thinking straight.
I raise my right arm and start going through my morning stretches. That cast's only been off for two weeks now, and the arm and fingers are still really stiff and sore. I'm already back up to ponytails, but I don't have the dexterity for braids yet. Good enough for crutches, though, although I'm still in a wheelchair for longer trips, like going to the school. Feels like I'll never be out of these damned leg casts.
Hannah reaches one finger up and starts playing with my earring. "Do you always wear the same earring?" she asks.
"Because I only have one."
"Do you want another one?"
"No. I like this one."
"I wanna get my ears pierced."
"When you're older."
She sits up and looks down at me, hands on her hips. "Why can't I do it now?"
"It hurts, you know." I reach my left hand up and pinch her earlobe with my nails.
"Ow!" she squeals, and jerks back.
"It hurts more than that, actually. They put a hole in your ear."
"A hole?" Her eyes go wide. "That's gross."
"That's what 'pierce' means."
"Yuck. Never mind!"
"Okay, I'm getting up."
"You need help?"
"I don't think so," I say, pushing myself up with my left arm and waiting for everything to stop aching. She waits patiently by my side until I say, "Okay, you go get dressed. I need to do the rest myself."
She bounds off, and I grab my crutches and slowly push myself upright. Shower, clothes, breakfast, then work. I am so glad to be back upstairs. Just wish Shariya hadn't vanished once I got mobile. I haven't asked her about it, but I'm sure I know why. I mean, we were barely together for more than a couple of months before I turned into an invalid. That's not what she signed on for. She has every right to want to move on.
Good thing I have the kids.
Hannah rides on my lap as I wheel down the hall to the elevator. My crutches are slung in a pouch on the back. I'll be switching over to them once I get to the school. They had me in a motorized wheelchair when I only had my left hand working, but now that I've got both arms, I'd rather wheel myself around. Yeah, so my right arm gets sore sometimes, but still. I vastly prefer being under my own power, if that makes any sense.
I really don't want to go in today. A few of the school's licenses are up for renewal, and after all the time they spent saying that I couldn't work with the kids in any official way, they've suddenly changed their mind and decided that they should get me certified or something, especially since I ended up being the math teacher. So I get to spend the morning being "observed" by someone who decides whether I get to keep working with the kids or not. The professor says not to worry, but that's easy for him to say. It's not his ass on the line. And even if it was, he'd pass no problem.
Hell, I could barely fill out the application they sent last week. I couldn't figure out what half of the questions meant. Agnes thinks it was just nerves, but she's wrong. I'm just not that smart. And then the other half were all things I couldn't answer. Education? None. Just a little when I was a kid and then a little once I moved in here. Job experience? Agnes said to say none instead of saying I was a terrorist. Criminal record? Yep, got one of those. Manslaughter. Eleven counts. Citizenship? Well, at least now that I'm a convict, I actually have a valid Green Card.
I don't know what I'll do if they say I can't work with the kids anymore. Can't imagine that they'll let me what with all that. The professor says it'll be fine, but there's no way. Not unless he goes in their heads and messes with their thoughts or something, and I can't see him doing that. He's too fucking principled for something like that. What's the point in having abilities like that if you're not gonna use 'em?
Shit. Here's the door.
Hannah jumps out of my lap, opens the door, and tears through it, nearly crashing into a tall woman in a suit. "Hey, watch where you're going!" Hannah gripes, then keeps running.
Way to go, kid. Thanks for the good first impression.
"Hey Agnes. How was class?"
"The little ingrates are complaining about having to read Shakespeare again." I hear her drop her books in the living room, then head into the kitchen where I'm getting ready to fix dinner. She's giving me that exasperated look again. "Mortimer, would you sit down and let me take care of that?"
"I can do it."
"Sit! It makes my bones ache just to look at you, and I'm supposed to be the healthy one."
I slide into one of the kitchen chairs and prop my legs up on another. "I do this all the time when you're not home," I say.
"I know. But when I am, this is my job. Until you can stand at this counter without crutches, I'm handling this, all right?"
I know when I can't win. "Fine."
She pulls a couple of containers of soup from the freezer and squeezes the frozen bricks out into a pot. "Where's Hannah?"
"She's out playing with the kids. She'll be back for dinner soon."
"So, how did the evaluation go?"
"I have no idea. She had that bureaucrat face, y'know? Where you can't tell what she's thinking. Just stood there with her fucking clipboard and took notes."
"What exactly did she observe?" she asks as she pokes at the frozen soup with a spoon.
"The usual. Math with the older kids, math with just Danny, Jamal pitching blocks at Hannah, Hannah pitching them right back, Tanya showing off a few curse words..."
Agnes groans, then says, "They never behave when there's an examiner around. Trust me. Kids have some sixth sense about it, like they can't wait to get you in trouble for a change. You didn't let Hannah get away with throwing blocks, did you?"
"We didn't let any of them get away with it, so of course, Jamal and Hannah both started crying." I drop my head on the table. "I'm getting fired, and I'm not even technically working there."
"You're not getting fired. You work with kids who've been abandoned by their families, then chewed up and spat out by child social services, and who get treated like freaks if they go outside these gates. The examiner knows you all have your work cut out for you, and that you're not going to produce perfect angels out of kids who've been through hell."
"Yeah, but what about Hannah? She hasn't been through any of that shit, and she's still pitching blocks."
"She's a day shy of her fourth birthday, and someone threw blocks at her. Of course she threw them right back! If she'd gotten all Gandhi about it, the examiner would have accused you of drugging her. So, did you have a one-on-one interview with this nameless examiner?"
I was going to look up again, but I think I'll keep my head on the table. "Ms. Beecham, and yeah."
"Oh dear. What did you talk about?"
"My complete and utter lack of education."
"You should get that...oh, what do the Americans call it? G.E.D. That's it. I know you could do it."
"Besides, you're good at maths, and that's what you teach. It doesn't matter that you don't have a degree. You can do it."
"She gave me a test."
"I'm sure you did well on it," she says brightly.
"It had word problems."
She's not looking so optimistic anymore. "Oh. Well, did you take your time on them?"
"Too much. I ran out of time."
"Well, no use worrying over it now, I suppose. Either you did well or you didn't."
"I'll find out in two days." I lift my head and say, "This is depressing. Let's talk about something else. Did you know that Hannah wants to get her ears pierced?"
"She asked you too?"
"You did tell her no, right?"
"I did one better. I pinched her earlobe to let her know how it'd feel."
"Oh, bravo! It worked?"
"Think so. D'you think we should get her some clip-on earrings for her birthday?"
Agnes nods. "Good idea. I think she'd like that." She looks up at the clock and murmurs, "Bollocks, I need to leave for the airport soon."
"When does Margaret's flight get in?"
"Eight, I think."
"You've got plenty of time."
"Can you believe her?" Agnes laughs. In bad falsetto, she says, "Oh, I wasn't sure I should tell you I was dating a woman. I didn't know how you'd react." She drops her voice back to normal and goes, "We're fucking Toynbees! If we can handle mutants, we certainly can handle lesbians!"
"Seriously! You know, they can have my room."
"No, they're taking mine. You shouldn't be sleeping on the sofa in your condition."
"But I don't need a big bed all for myself."
"Speaking of which," she says, looking pointedly at me over her shoulder, "what's happened with Shariya?"
I shrug. "No idea."
"You two didn't break up, did you?"
"Don't know, really. I suppose we must have."
"And what the hell's that supposed to mean?" she asks, waving the spoon around in the air.
"It...it means that I think she doesn't want to see me anymore?"
"She hasn't said so, but it's pretty clear."
"And you've just let her slip away without saying anything."
"I swear," she grumbles, plunking the spoon on the counter and sitting down next to me. "You are the most exasperating..." She grabs me by the shoulders and says, "Look. Have some fucking backbone, will you? Stop just passively accepting all the shit that comes your way. Aren't you the same man that used to blow up buildings and kidnap senators?"
"Come on, that was different."
"No it wasn't. It was about fighting for what was rightly yours and demanding respect. Same damned thing. So go wheel your arse over to her room right now and make her explain herself. Demand some respect."
"If you don't do it, then I will, and I guarantee you, I'll be a hell of a lot less polite about it than you will. No one fucks with my brother on my watch."
I knock on Shariya's door and wait. Can't believe I'm doing this. She's probably not even here.
Holy shit, she is. "Mortimer," she says, eyes wide. "Um, come in. Let me clear a path. It's a mess in here."
She kicks a few piles of clothes out of the way, and I wheel in far enough to get the door closed behind me. Her room's gotten so much worse since the last time I was in here. There's piles of crap everywhere. Looks like she's been hoarding like crazy. "I know," she mutters, squatting down and trying to straighten out a pile of books, "I really should talk to someone about this."
"Probably. Look, um..." Right, just say it before you chicken out. Think of how much worse it'll be if Agnes comes down here and starts hollering. "I just want to know for sure that it's over. I mean, I never see you anymore. And back when I did, you didn't want to touch me, so I think it's pretty clear. But I just need to know, okay?"
She keeps fiddling with the books. Won't look at me. Shit. Yeah, that's pretty damned clear. She finally murmurs, "I'm sorry."
"Okay." I sigh, then say, "You could have just told me, you know?"
"You were hurt enough already."
"I could have handled it. I've handled a lot worse." I suppose that's it. Nothing left to stick around for. Just got what I already knew confirmed. Another fuck-up to add to my long list. I reach down to grab my wheels and get the hell out of there. I don't think I can handle this and getting fired right now.
"Wait." She looks up at me, eyes all teary, and asks, "Don't you want to know why?"
"Well, it's this, isn't it?" I ask, gesturing at my legs. "Me getting hurt really messed things up. I couldn't...do the stuff we used to do. And it wasn't fair to you to have you play nurse. It's okay. I don't blame you. I know it was a lot to ask."
"That's not it," she sighs, then sits down crosslegged on the floor. "It's not what happened to you. It's that you did it in the first place."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm afraid that some day, you'll do the same thing to save me, and I don't think I can live with that possibility."
For the love of...okay, this is officially the most absurd thing I've heard in years. I can't help it. I'm laughing. Don't care that it hurts. "You broke up with me because of that?"
"Well...yeah. Why are you laughing?"
"Shariya, you don't get it, do you?" I say, flabbergasted smile still plastered across my face. "If Sabretooth came here looking for me, and threatened to hurt Scott, I'd still do it. It's not about you; it's about not letting other people get hurt because of me."
She doesn't look like she's buying it, so I say, "Look, you know I've made a lot of choices that have had pretty major consequences. I was a terrorist, for fuck's sake. And when things got too much for me to handle, I got the people I worked for thrown into jail, which, understandably, pissed them off. Okay, maybe they weren't the smartest choices, but they've been my choices. Mine. I'm not going to let anyone else die because of them."
She clears her throat, then says, "Look, all I ask is that you promise you'll never sacrifice yourself to save me."
"No. I can't do that. Especially not if it's over the choices I've made. I'd do it for you, I'd do it for Hannah, I'd do it for Ororo, hell, I'd even do it for the gardener, and I can't even remember what his name is. My past is my responsibility: not yours, not anybody else's. How I handle it's up to me."
"I don't want you dying over me. Don't you get it?"
"Don't worry. If I die for anyone, it'll be for me."
She looks at me silently for a moment, then rises to her feet, hands balled into fists. "You selfish shit."
"You heard me. You selfish shit. How dare you decide to just throw your fucking life away when there's so many people who love you and depend on you. How dare you just up and leave Hannah, or Agnes, or those kids."
"I was protecting them!"
"That's the X-Men's job, not yours!"
"Bullshit! It's my job to make sure no one gets killed over my past."
"By dying? By traumatizing your niece?"
"You keep Hannah out of this!"
"You're the one who brought her into it in the first place."
"Fuck this," I snarl, grabbing my wheels again. "I don't need this shit."
"That makes two of us," she says as I slam the door behind me.
"So?" Agnes asks as I come back into the apartment.
I grab my crutches and push myself up and out of the chair. "Yeah, it's over."
"You look angry."
"She wants me to be someone I'm not. Fuck that."
Agnes's eyes go wide. "Go you! There's that backbone I was talking about."
"Hey, thanks for making me do that," I say, lowering myself onto a kitchen chair. "You were right. I was being a doormat."
"So, what'd she want you to be?"
"Someone who'd let other people get hurt because of decisions I'd made in my past."
"You know, I'm not too thrilled about that either," she says, ladling soup into bowls and then setting them on the table.
"You'd rather I did?"
"I'd rather no one got hurt at all." She sighs, then says, "But I suppose if you were willing to let other people get hurt because of your mistakes..."
"Your 'choices,' fine. Then I suspect I wouldn't be able to respect you, would I?"
"What's the point in being close to someone anyway if you're not willing to protect 'em?" I ask.
"You know, I think you take friendship more seriously than most people."
"That's their problem, not mine."
Olivia seems nice enough. Little overwhelmed, but I suppose that's to be expected when you meet your girlfriend's green relatives for the first time. Pretty good looking, for a normal. Hannah's fascinated by her cornrows. Keeps begging us to do that to her hair. Somehow, I can't see her sitting still for the hours Olivia says it takes to do 'em. And Olivia's just won bonus points for sitting with Hannah and playing with her hair.
Phone's ringing. "I'll get it," I say, pushing myself up on my crutches.
"Sit!" Agnes barks, rushing past me to pick it up. "Hello? Oh, yes, just a moment." She turns to me and says, "It's Ann."
What's Doctor Shapiro doing calling this late? Unless it's Mystique. "I should take it in the bedroom," I say. "I'm sorry."
"No, this is your home," Olivia says. "Don't be sorry."
Yeah, I think I could get to like her. And Margaret seems really happy, so that's another win in my book.
I go into my room, close the door, and lower myself onto the bed. Once I've got my legs comfortable, I pick up the phone. Only phone in the apartment that's not portable. No way I want my phone conversations getting picked up easily. "Hello?"
"Sorry to call so late, Mortimer." I hear the click as Agnes hangs up the phone in the living room, then Mystique's voice says, "Happy Hannah's birthday eve."
A huge grin splits my face. "You remembered?"
"How could I forget? You'd always go on and on about it."
"So, how are you feeling?"
"Not too bad."
"Yeah. My legs are still a mess, but they're getting there."
"I saw your chart, remember? I'm not surprised. And how are the kids?"
"They're making me get certified, so I'm probably fired come Thursday."
"The professor thinks they'll certify me, but I think he's off his rocker. I had to fill out an application and everything."
"With lots of blank spaces, right?" she sighs. "You're not exactly in a position to forge credentials."
"That's an understatement."
"Well, here's some news that should cheer you up. The two of them have left the country."
"Really?" Even though the phone's reasonably secure, we don't name names.
"They seem to be headed for Genosha. I have no idea what he's got planned, but I'd say that's good news for you."
"Yeah, so long as they stay there. Hey, how are you doing?"
"Pretty good, actually." I can practically hear her smiling over the phone line. "I contacted my son again. Told him what I was doing with myself now. He wants to meet me."
"That's great news!" I gush. "I'm so happy for you."
"Thanks. I can hardly believe it myself."
"Let me know how that goes."
"I will. So, there's no rush to get back to work for me, but once you can, just let me know, okay?"
"Oh, um..." Damn, my stomach's starting to hurt. "I don't know if I can do that anymore."
"Well...they rescued me."
There's silence on the other end, then she says, "Oh."
"Yeah. I know, I know, I owe you, and I said I'd help. And I really want to, but...it just feels really slimy to keep doing that after they saved my life."
There's another pause, then she says, "I really don't know what to say. You promised me."
"I know," I groan. "Look, lemme think about it. Maybe I can come up with a way to help that doesn't make me feel like a shit."
"Well, even if you can't, I've still got her helping out," she says, once again carefully not naming names.
"Yeah, how's she doing?"
"That's an odd question from you."
"I meant how's it working out with you and her?"
"Great. How's it working out with you and her?"
"Well, it's over," I say.
"I'm so sorry."
"No, don't be. It's fine. I'm fine."
"Too bad I'm a fugitive," she teases. "Otherwise, I'd step in and take back over."
"Oh come on!" I laugh.
"We had good times together," she says wistfully. "When we worked, we really worked."
"Yeah, we did. I miss that."
"I do too. Well, third time should be the charm."
I laugh. "I'm not getting a third time."
"You didn't think you were getting a first time, and I'll bet you didn't think you'd be getting a second time, either."
"Yeah, that's true."
"I should probably go so I don't show up as a suspiciously long phone call on the Institute's phone logs. Get better, and give Hannah a birthday kiss for me."
"I will. Take care."
I hear the click as she hangs up, and I gently put the phone back on the cradle. Third time. She's delusional.
Still, she's right. I didn't expect the first two times. But a third?
I pick up my crutches and make my way back to the living room.
Party at the school went well. It was just us, Jean, the professor, and the kids. Oh, and Ms. Beecham and her fucking clipboard, taking notes the whole time. At least there weren't any more tests today. Dunno if I should ask her how I did, or if that'd count against me or something. I hate this.
But now I'm home, and I'm not going to think about that shit. I'm just going to focus on Hannah. Agnes threatened to amputate my legs with a kitchen knife if I get out of this chair at any point during the party to do anything other than go to the bathroom. Then Logan helpfully suggested that he just put a bucket by the chair so I wouldn't even need to get up for that. Mercifully, Olivia seems to be handling us well. She says she's just happy to finally be dating a woman whose family isn't prejudiced. Apparently, her own family's pissed that she's dating a white woman.
I really don't understand normals.
So I get to sit here all night in the easy chair with my legs propped up on a footstool. At least I'm not gonna be the center of attention. The school had a welcome back party for me when I was finally well enough to go back for short periods of time, and I thought I'd die of embarrassment.
There's a knock on the door, and Rogue pops her head in. "So where's the birthday girl?"
"Rogue!" Hannah squeals. "I didn't know you were coming!"
"I wouldn't miss your birthday for anything," Rogue says, dropping to her knees to be eye-level with Hannah. "I brought you a present."
"Hang on." Hannah runs out of the room, leaving Rogue kneeling on the floor, gift bag still in hand, with a bemused expression on her face.
"What is she doing?" Rogue asks, tugging on the collar of her turtleneck. She always wears one when she knows she'll be seeing Hannah. Agnes just shrugs. "I gave up trying to predict that girl four years ago."
Hannah dashes back into the living room, pulling on her hooded sweatshirt. I get it now. She puts the hood up, then gives Rogue a big hug. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Margaret whispering something to Olivia. Probably explaining Rogue's problem.
"Oh, you're so sweet!" Rogue says with a huge grin, reaching into her bag. "Here, I got you something I hope you'll like."
Hannah and Rogue sit together on the floor, and Hannah rips the wrapping paper off her gift. "Skipper! Oh, she's green like me! I didn't know Skipper was green."
"Well, this is a very special Skipper," Rogue explains. "There's just one green one in the whole world."
"She should have a green uncle," Hannah says.
Rogue looks over at me with a grin and says, "I think I've got enough paint left to fix up a Ken doll for you."
"What do you say?" Agnes asks.
"That's a great gift," I say, smiling down at Rogue. First Kermit, now a green Skipper doll. She's a godsend.
"She needs more clothes," Hannah says as she pulls off Skipper's shoes.
"Well lucky for you, I thought of that," Rogue says, reaching back into the bag and pulling out another gift."
"Ooh, thank you!" Hannah squeals, ripping into it and commenting on all the outfits.
Agnes sighs and looks over at me. "She's going to lose all those little shoes. I just know it." But she's smiling. How could she not be? A green Skipper. Rogue's a genius.
Margaret stands up and asks if anyone wants anything from the kitchen, then turns to me and says, "And 'no' is not an answer I'll accept from you."
"Will you accept, 'Really, I'm fine. I don't need anything'?"
"How about, 'I'm not actually hungry or thirsty right now'?"
"But you will be eventually, and you won't bother to tell any of us, so you should have something in reach for when that occurs."
"She's right," Agnes says. "Actually, you know what? We can just put the cheese and crackers on the table next to him."
"Cheese?" Hannah asks, standing up and looking around for it.
"You're still hungry?" Agnes asks incredulously. "You ate two pieces of lasagna and a huge piece of bread at dinner."
"But I want cheese!"
Agnes sighs, then asks, "What do you say?"
That girl's always hungry. I remember what that was like. I couldn't eat enough as a kid, and the orphanage didn't seem to eager to feed me extra. Wonder if that's another reason why I started doing the bird thing. Margaret brings the tray of cheese and crackers over and puts it down right next to me, and Hannah reaches up and snags a couple of pieces before sitting back down with Rogue and Skipper.
"So, what will you be washing this down with?" Margaret asks. "Don't tell me you won't be getting thirsty."
"You on any pain medication right now?"
"Right, I'm getting you a beer."
"You're just as bad as Agnes," I call after her as she heads for the kitchen. She turns and blows me a kiss.
"The family resemblance between the four of you is amazing," Olivia says.
"I don't look a thing like any of them," I say.
"No, there's definitely strong a resemblance when the lot of you get expressive," she says. "You all make the same faces. And you're the spitting image of your father."
"Yeah, it's kinda freaky," I say. Margaret returns with several beers, and hands me one. "Thanks."
"As soon as that's empty, I'm getting you another one," she threatens.
"You trying to get me drunk on Hannah's birthday?" I joke.
"Just have some bloody cheese before I force-feed you," she replies, settling back on the sofa and handing a beer to Olivia.
"I take it back. You're worse than Agnes."
We've had cake, we've handed out more presents. Kitty and Bobby just left, but Jean and Scott and Logan are still here. So's Rogue. Hell, Ororo stopped by briefly. Blows my mind. I thought she hated me. But this party isn't about me. It's about Hannah. Hmm. Ororo was at my welcome back party, though. Weird. Has to have been for the kids.
Hannah's covered in the costume jewelry that Margaret bought her (must be some sort of psychic Toynbee thing, because she'd already bought them in England before coming over), and is playing with the Legos I got her. I don't actually get a salary, but when I need to buy something, I just tell Agnes and it's taken care of. The professor offered to pay me a salary, but I dunno. I'm not here because he wanted me. I'm here because this is the only way I could stay out of jail. Wonder if I'll have to get a salary if I get certified. No, don't think about that now. Maybe I do want another beer after all.
I start to lever myself out of my chair and say, "Here, let me come down there and play Legos with you."
Agnes points to the kitchen and says, "I told you, I have knives, and I will use them."
Logan takes his arm from around her shoulders and says, "Nah, don't get up," and grins at me while rubbing his thumb between two of his knuckles.
"I've been sitting for hours," I groan.
"I know. It's wonderful," Agnes says with a smug grin.
"You should threaten him more often," Margaret adds.
Logan puts his arm back around Agnes's shoulders and she leans on him with a contented grin. Margaret and Olivia are discreetly cuddling as well. Nice to see my dating luck isn't a Toynbee thing.
Hannah climbs over the arm of the chair and settles down in my lap. Looks like she's getting tired. "So how was your birthday?" I ask.
"It was great." She leans against my chest, then says, "I wish we could climb trees together again."
I tighten my arm around her and say, "We will. I'll be better eventually."
I catch Logan out of the corner of my eye, and he's tapping on the inside of his elbow. Jean sees him too and says, "You haven't had a plasma transfusion since you came back up here. I could set one up for you later tonight."
"You should keep that stuff around for emergencies," I say.
Logan shakes his head and says, "It doesn't store forever, and besides, I'm a freaking dairy cow when it comes to how fast I produce the stuff. Just do it." Margaret's whispering another explanation in Olivia's ear on the other end of the sofa.
I look down at Hannah. I want to climb trees with her so bad it hurts. "Okay."
After the guests have gone, it takes a lot of convincing to get Hannah to go to bed. She's just so damned excited about her birthday that she can't calm down. It was cute for about ten minutes, but when she decided to cling to the ceiling, it got old fast. She knows I can't climb up after her. What she didn't count on was me yanking her off the ceiling with my tongue. I hate having to do that, but she was being a brat and Agnes told me to go ahead. I'm just glad Olivia was with Margaret in my bedroom when I did it. It's weird having a new person see me do that. The more time I spend around normal folks, the more self-conscious I get about it.
So once Agnes gets Hannah tucked in, and all us adults are hanging around in the living room together, Jean comes back with an IV bag and hooks me up. "God, look at your arms," she sighs. "You didn't lose any muscle mass, did you?"
"Don't think so. Still really stiff, though."
"That's a damned useful mutation. When you're feeling better, I'd like to see if I can isolate which particular genes of yours are responsible for that, if you don't mind."
"Fine with me."
"Well, I'll be back in a couple of hours, but if you want to go to sleep earlier, just call me and I'll take the needle back out."
She opens the door, and Shariya's standing there, hand raised like she was about to knock. They both startle, then Shariya looks in and says, "Oh, you have company. I'm sorry."
"No," Agnes says. "Come on in. Shariya, this is my sister Margaret and her girlfriend Olivia. Shariya's our systems administrator here at the Institute. And we were just about to go do a tour of the building."
"But it's late," Shariya protests as Jean slides past her.
"No one running around the halls," Agnes replies, standing up decisively. "It's perfect timing."
Margaret knows damned well who Shariya is and what's happened between us, so she takes Olivia by the arm and steers her out behind Agnes. "Good to meet you," she says as she walks past, then shoots me an expectant look as she disappears out into the hallway.
Shariya closes the door behind them. "They didn't need to do that."
"Well, you know how my family is," I say with a shrug. God, I can't believe she's actually here. Didn't think she'd want to talk to me again after yesterday.
She points to the IV and asks, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, it's just more of Logan's plasma to get my knees healing up quicker."
Wrapping her arms around herself, she says, "I'm sorry I haven't been helping. And, um, I'm really sorry about yesterday."
"Me too. Could, um...do you wanna sit down?" My neck's starting to get stiff from turning around to watch her.
"Sure." She perches on the edge of the sofa then says, "I shouldn't have yelled at you."
"I shouldn't have laughed either."
"But I still stand by everything I said."
"Yeah, me too."
Right, this is going nowhere. Great. This is awkward. I have no idea what to say, and Shariya's not talking either. Looks like neither of us is gonna cave. I can't pretend to be something I'm not. When you look like this, you don't really have the chance to learn how. Yeah, I went out in disguise with Mystique a few times, but that was different. Even if I could pretend, I'm not gonna lie to get Shariya back, and I'm not gonna change either. I don't care what she says. It's not selfish to take responsibility for your own past. It's selfish to ask other people to do it for you. And cowardly. I'm not a coward.
Shariya looks up from her hands and looks around the room. "Oh, was it Hannah's birthday today?" she asks.
"Yeah. She's four."
"I should get her something."
"You don't need to."
"I know, but I want to."
This is still awkward. "Um..."
She winces and looks back down at her hands. "Yeah."
Right, nothing ventured, nothing gained. "Look, I know this sounds like a bad movie, but can we just be friends again?"
She lets out a deep breath then flashes me a smile. "I'd love that."
That's a relief. I grin back. "Great." And maybe once I'm better, she'll stop worrying about what I might do, and we can try making it something more again. But I'll happily settle for being her friend. It's not often I get a chance to make friends, after all.
"I'll start helping you with your knees again."
"Only if you let me help you with the hoarding."
The alarm clock's here, and it looks like she's brought Skipper with her. "Good morning, Hannah."
"Mummy's in the shower, but she said she'll make breakfast when she's done."
"If I get up now, we can surprise Mummy and have breakfast already made before she's out of the shower."
"No, you have to rest and get better," she says, settling down in the crook of my arm and marching Skipper across my chest.
"You sound so grown-up," I say, curling my arm around her.
"Well I am four!"
"That you are, sweetie. Okay, I'll be good."
Hannah goes to class. I wish I could join her, but I get called into the professor's office instead to face Ms. Beecham and the clipboard. He's behind his desk, she's standing next to him, and I'm on the crutches, not in the wheelchair. Yeah, I'm sore, but I want to be on my feet when I face her.
Ow. Maybe I'll sit after all.
Ms. Beecham grins down at me. Oh shit. This can't be good. She's just buttering me up before she fires me. Or she's happy to see the uneducated freak get booted. Shit. I wish I'd skipped breakfast, because I feel really sick all the sudden.
"So," she says, "as you know, I've been observing you for the past two days. I've also spoken to Professor Xavier, your coworkers, and Doctor Shapiro."
"Plus there was that test," I sigh.
"The test," she says, sitting on the edge of the desk. "You ran out of time on that."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"So, let's say you need to blow out a window with a hand grenade."
What? I look over at the Professor, then back at Ms. Beecham. "But I don't do that anymore!"
"I know. This is a math problem, not a grenade consultation," she says, and I think she's joking, but my stomach hurts even more now. No way in hell she'll certify an ex-terrorist. Shit. "The window needs to be on the sixth floor or higher of the building, because the lower floors are occupied by people you like. You need to know how long the explosion should be delayed after you pull the pin."
"It's not when you pull the pin. It's when you release the lever."
Her eyebrows shoot up. Ah shit. Wrong thing to say. "What do you mean?" she asks.
"Um, there's a lever on the side of a grenade that you hold on to. First you pull the pin, and that arms it, and then you let go of the lever, and then you have however long before it explodes. Unless it's an old German grenade..." I trail off. Shit. Gotta learn to shut my mouth.
She takes a deep breath. "You learn something new every day. Right, how long the explosion would be delayed after you release the lever. So, first, if you're throwing an object straight up in the air, what equation would you use to represent its motion?"
"Okay, it's a physics problem. S equals negative sixteen T squared plus V sub zero T plus S sub zero."
"And what does that all stand for?"
"S is distance from the ground; T is time, measured in seconds; V sub zero is the initial velocity; S sub zero is the initial distance from the ground."
"Okay, so assuming for the sake of simplicity that you're throwing the object from ground level, and the initial velocity is eighty feet per second. When will the grenade be at least sixty-four feet off the ground? And how many seconds' delay will you need?"
"Okay, S sub zero is zero; V sub zero is 80 feet per second; so negative 16 T squared plus 80T is greater than or equal to 64. Subtract 64 from both sides. That gives you negative 16 T squared plus 80 T minus 64 is greater than or equal to zero. Multiply both sides by negative one-sixteenth. That reverses the inequality. That gives you T squared minus 5 T plus 4 is less than or equal to zero. Factor that and you get T minus 1 times T minus 4 is less than or equal to zero. If it's less than or equal to zero, it can't be a positive number, so T has to be less than or equal to 4 and greater than or equal to 1. So the solution's 1,4. The grenade will be at least 64 feet off the ground between 1 and 4 seconds after I throw it." I pause. "Except I don't throw grenades anymore."
Now she really smiles. "Congratulations. You're provisionally certified."
"I'm what?" No way I heard that right.
"You passed. That question was much harder than anything on that written test. You clearly know your math, and you clearly can teach it."
"But...are you sure? I mean, what about the application form? I had all those blanks on it. And I failed that test 'cause I couldn't read it fast enough."
"True, you have no real formal education, and true, you have a documented learning disability that makes it very hard for you to read. But you're not a reading teacher. You're a math teacher, and a damned good one. Plus you're great with the kids, and they adore you. Frankly, we'd be stupid to let you go."
"Um, thank you," I say, and it feels like my cheeks are burning. I can't believe she just said that. I mean, I just do the best I can.
"You're welcome. It's the truth."
Wait a minute. "Provisionally? What do you mean by that? What do I need to do?"
"I'm giving the professor a list of courses that you'll need to take to get certified."
"But I can't leave to take classes."
"Don't worry. We can have instructors come here, plus some of them can be done over the Internet. I suspect you'll be able to test out of most if not all of the math courses. And yes, the test questions can be given orally. We just need to get you up to snuff for the state of New York's certification standards. We can certify you provisionally since you're at a private school, but we'd really like to get you fully certified since the school is partially funded by state money." She grins again and adds, "And maybe once you're paroled, you can use your certification to get a job that doesn't require throwing grenades."
"Yeah, well, I'm sure that'll be part of the terms of parole," I say, and she laughs.
"Congratulations, Mortimer," the professor says. "So, will you be sharing the news with your colleagues, or should I?"
"Oh, I'll do it myself, but I've got an appointment first."
"Looks like it's good news," Jean says as I make my way in to the infirmary.
"Yeah, provisional certification."
"I'm late, I'm sorry," Shariya says as she runs through the door.
"I just got here. It's okay," I say as I hand Jean my crutches and push myself up on the table.
Jean stands behind Shariya. "Ready?"
Shariya strips off her gloves and lays them down next to me, then positions her hands face-up over my knees. "Ready."
She flips her hands over.
I'd forgotten how good this feels.
The grenade example was written up for me by Jedimom, who has a far, far better grasp of math than I do. It's taken from Demana, Waits, and Clemens, Precalculus Mathematics: A Graphing Approach, 3rd ed., 1994, Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., pp. 112-113.
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