This takes place after "Halloween" and before "Home". Did I mention that this is all Siubhan's fault? The X-Men and the Brotherhood don't belong to me. If they did, they'd be busy filming the second movie already.
Editor's note: Thanks again to Jedimom for letting me post this here. It's a lot of fun weaving our stories together. - Siubhan
**Senator Kelly to speak at Cornell University; Security tight following threats**
"Senator Kelly! Rumor has it that your drastic change of heart on the mutant question is due to the discovery that there are mutants in your own family. Would you care to comment?"
Bland smile. "Does that question remind anyone of Darwin being asked which of his grandparents was an ape?" Laughter in the crowd. Score one for our side. "No, sir, as far as I know I have no mutant relatives. Yet." Appreciative murmur. That sound bite's running on tonight's news.
"Senator! What's the status of your Mutant Anti-Discrimination Initiative?"
"It's still in the early stages, Louise, but when it's ready to leak I'll keep you in mind." More laughter. Time to move before this crowd solidifies any further. I hate being squashed--it's much harder to feel like Senator Kelly than just look like him--but I've told my bodyguards to take it easy. Don't want to come across as callous. Or afraid.
"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, no more questions for now. I have a plane to catch." My car's waiting for me at the curb. I can just make out Mortimer in the driver's seat. The tinted windows hide everything but a vague silhouette, but I still imagine I can see the nervous look on his face. He hates seeing me surrounded by normals. He can't help thinking of every one of them as a threat.
"Let's go, Caleb," I mutter to the higher-ranking of the two guards, and they begin shouldering through the crowd, one slightly ahead and to my right, the other slightly behind and to my left. Nice guys. They seem to be good at what they do. I wonder what they'd think if they knew they were guarding a blue-skinned freak.
The first impact, low on my right side, is so sudden and unexpected that for a second I feel no pain. Then the screams start. Caleb's wrestling his gun out of the shoulder holster but there are too many people here, he can't shoot now, and now the pain tells me it was a stab wound and there are more, higher, between my ribs, in my shoulder, a gash in the hand that's instinctively gone up to protect my neck, and it's all I can do to stay in Kelly's shape, scream in his voice.
I can't see the guards any more, just a forest of feet, mostly shuffling away from me, trying to escape the danger but hemmed in by the rest trying to get close enough to see what's happening, and oh, God, I hurt, did they get the guy, please, please don't let me pass out and revert to my own shape, gotta get to the car--
"Let me through! I'm a doctor!" Why does that voice sound familiar? Hands on my shoulders and I gasp at the pain in the injured one as someone turns me over--
I know her. Jean Grey. My enemy. No, a fellow mutant. God, I hurt, gotta get out of here--
"My car," I gasp in what I hope sounds like Kelly's voice, and I'm thinking as hard as I can, get me out of here before I blow my cover, I hope she's reading my mind, she has to know it's me, she knows what happened to the real Kelly--
Car door open in front of me, Grey and Caleb--where did he come from?--heaving me in, bringing another blinding wave of pain--
Shouts outside: "Look out, there's another one!" Caleb disappears, the door slams, and I manage to say "Drive. Xavier's place."
"No! Are you crazy, we have to get you to the hospital!" Mortimer protests, wide-eyed with shock.
"Drive, Goddammit!" I scream and lose Kelly's form all at once. Grey's doing something to my back and I struggle to close the wounds by rearranging the surrounding tissue, but things are wavering. "Help me," I beg. "He hit an artery. I can't hold it."
"I have to know where it is before I can hold it shut," she says calmly.
"I know where it is! Can't you read minds?"
"Shit," she says disgustedly, and I guess she reads my mind, because the bleeding slows, though I don't feel anything but an extra twist of pain in my back.
Sound is coming in waves now, loud/soft/loud/soft, in time with my heartbeat, and I hear Mortimer say "...follow us..." and Grey answer "I gave them...idea...Northwest..."
"Mortimer, I'm sorry," I say, or just think about saying, right before everything goes blank.
The next thing I know, I'm lying on my uninjured side in a bed. I must be doped to the gills because there's very little pain. It's too much work to open my eyes, so I just concentrate on what I can smell (disinfectant), hear (purrs, beeps and gurgles of machinery and whisper of air conditioning) and feel (a hand stroking my hair). I pay closer attention to the last, and the minute catch and drag of the fingertips tells me it's Mortimer--his hands have this sort of microscopic Velcro texture. It always amazes me that he doesn't stick to everything he touches, but he tells me it has to do with the angle and downward pull, or something. Whatever.
Now it's important that I open my eyes, so I try again, and again, and eventually a little crack of dim light tells me I've succeeded. I don't think this is a hospital. They're always either too bright or too dark, and much noisier than this. We must be at Xavier's school.
"Mystique?" Apparently he saw my eyelids move, because a shadow bends over me and the hand moves to cradle my cheek. Talking is way too strenuous, but I manage to give him a tiny smile and nestle my face a little more closely into his hand before I have to let my eyes close and just lie still. There's a faint tremor in his hand and I feel so sorry for him in a kind of detached way. I wish I could tell him I'll be fine, it'll all be okay, but I realize with a dull shock that I know nothing of the kind. Later, I think, and then there's another interval of nothing.
The creak of the door wakes me back up, no telling how much later. Someone around here is damn good at calculating the dosage of these painkillers. I feel like I'm wrapped in warm cotton candy. I'm about to try opening my eyes when I hear Mortimer hiss: "If you wake her up I'll sodding kill you."
Whoops. Maybe this would be a good time to practice faking unconsciousness.
"I won't." Soft, crooning voice, just above a whisper. Rogue. "I just brought you something to eat."
Mortimer snorts--quietly. "So what's that, your forgiveness homework for this week?"
"No. I volunteered. I know what you're going through."
"The hell you do."
"Maybe you're right. When my boyfriend was in a coma they wouldn't let me sit with him. They were afraid I'd touch him again and kill him. Enjoy your dinner." The door creaks again and she's gone.
I have to admire her style.
For a minute, I worry that Mortimer will refuse to eat, but finally I hear the soft clank as he removes the cover from the plate. I bide my time, gathering strength, till eventually I hear him cross the room and set the dishes down. Then I take a slightly louder, deeper breath and let it out in a sigh, and sure enough, he's back at the bedside in an instant.
This time I don't find it so hard to keep my eyes open. Good. I can even focus on him. Mostly.
"Hi." I don't sound too bad.
"How are you feeling?" he asks anxiously.
"Pretty good, considering. What day is it?"
"Monday. Well, Monday night, actually."
Ouch. I got stabbed on Friday afternoon. "I'm sorry."
"Yelling at you. Being stupid. Taking those death threats as an excuse to get Kelly's family out of the way instead of as a warning."
"I'll let it pass this time, but don't let it happen again." He sounds just like Magneto. Wait a minute. Did Mortimer just make a joke? I look harder at him. He's trying hard to suppress a smile. It looks very fetching on him.
"So what's been going on?"
"Well, Senator Kelly died. He's lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda in fact."
"Wow. Good trick. Xavier's work?"
"I want to talk to him."
"He wants to talk to you, too. So does Grey. They've been taking turns hovering, waiting for you to wake up."
"Think they're eavesdropping?"
"Probably. Sodding mind-readers."
This suggests possibilities. I grin up at him. "Remember Halloween? On the roof? In vivid detail?"
He grins back. "Ohhhh yes." He laces his fingers through mine, the unbandaged left hand only, careful not to tug on the IV. His other hand's stroking my cheek with the backs of his fingers. It's hypnotic, and I almost forget to think dirty thoughts.
They damn well were eavesdropping too. When they knock on the door and come in a few minutes later, they're both blushing. Prudes.
"How are you feeling?" says Grey, all professional briskness.
"Can't you tell?" I ask sweetly, and she has the grace to blush again.
"I apologize. It's the easiest way to keep tabs on your need for painkillers. Now that you can tell me yourself when you're in pain, I'll stop."
"Good. What kind of shape am I in? I can't feel much."
"You were stabbed in the right kidney, right lung, right shoulder and right hand. The wounds to your hand and shoulder are mainly superficial. Your lung collapsed, but it's working pretty well now. The kidney wound was the most serious. You may remember that it severed an artery. The surgery went well, but it's going to take longer to heal than the others, and it'll be painful for weeks. It's possible part of the kidney will die, and then you'd need more surgery to remove the dead tissue. It's too soon to tell yet."
"I need you to back off on the painkillers. I can't think straight, and we need to talk."
"All right. It's late, and you need your sleep, but I'll give you a half-dose tomorrow morning. That should leave you clear-headed without letting the pain get too intense."
All this time, Xavier's sitting in the background, observing. Or maybe more than observing. I conjure up a memory involving Darth Maul. Neither of the two psychics bats an eye. Okay, maybe they are staying out of my head.
Finally they're gone and I can concentrate on Mortimer. Or try to, at least. Just these few minutes of talking have exhausted me. "Get some rest," I tell him.
"I've been resting."
"I mean real rest. Sleeping. In a bed. Did they give you a bed?"
He grimaces. "They offered me one. In their bloody dormitory. I told them I wasn't leaving you, so they set up a cot in here. It's behind you, on the other side of your bed."
"Well, use it then. I'm okay. I'll call you if I need you."
I don't have to fake my yawn. "Go ahead. You heard the doctor. I'm going to sleep. You might as well, too."
He opens his mouth to object again but yawns before he can stop himself. I smirk at him.
"You know, I could get tired of your being right so often," he says.
"Well, you can console yourself with the thought that I was dumb enough to get stabbed. Sleep well."
Morning. I have definitely been spoiled by Grey's careful pain management. Was I complaining yesterday that I couldn't feel anything? I take it back. The hand hurts every time I try to close it. The shoulder hurts every time I move my head. The lung hurts every time I breathe, and the kidney just hurts.
All right, you asked for this. Grit your teeth and get on with it.
Grey's finished fiddling with the IV pole and she's got the wheelchair pulled up to the bed. She looks expectantly at me. Damn her.
"Mortimer. Um, I...would you mind going somewhere else?" I say. Please, I'm saying with my eyes, don't watch this. Don't watch me cry if I can't handle the pain. Don't watch Grey and Xavier be patient and tolerant and gentle while I flinch and whimper. And he gets it. He doesn't like it, but he gets it.
"Sure, love. Back in a while." He turns to Xavier, cocky and impudent, and oh, my heart hurts for him, alone in this place I forced him into. "Mind if I tour the grounds? Or you want to send a watchdog along with me?"
"Feel free," Xavier says. "Classes are in session, so there won't be many people about. You might like to try the gardens. Down the hall, last door on your right, through the courtyard and out the doors on the opposite side." He can afford to be generous. He has me as a hostage.
Mortimer tugs his forelock in a parody of respect. "Much obliged." He gives me a cheeky grin as he goes, but I can see the tension in his posture, in his hands. He hates this, and I don't blame him.
Xavier's leaving too. Considerate of him. "Call me when you're ready, Jean," he says, and she nods.
"All right," I tell Grey. "Let's get it over with." And I clench my teeth as she lifts me, as gently as she can, into a sitting position. Eerie sensation, even pressure all over my body, not at all like being picked up by a person. No wonder it freaked Mortimer out when she grabbed him in midair at the Statue of Liberty.
"Take a minute to catch your breath," she says, her arm behind my back to steady me. That's a lot more comforting than that bodiless non-touch. Tears are running down my cheeks already.
"Okay, you win, I'll talk," I gasp, and startle a smile out of her.
Eventually we get me into the chair, and then to the bathroom, and I'm even able to wash with the help of a waterproof stool and a handheld shower head. I'm exhausted and shaking, but still glad to be vertical. If I'm going to stand up to Xavier and Grey, I'm going to need every shred of psychological armor I can come up with.
For example: apparently it embarrasses them for me not to wear clothes. (Prudes!) So I don't. I certainly don't need them for warmth, and I'm not ashamed of what I look like. If I had more energy I'd morph into a supermodel and watch them try not to look at that.
I really wish I could have a bit more pain medication, but I'm not going to ask for it now. After our little talk, maybe. When it'll make them feel guilty without losing me stoic points.
Once I'm back in the bed (on top of the covers) half-sitting, half-reclining, curled up on my side like a Roman at a banquet (which is fairly comfortable to my injuries and makes me look far more relaxed than I am), I give Grey the nod to tell Xavier to come in.
"Do you want Toad with you?"
"No. I have things to say that he might not want to hear."
"All right," says Grey, and Xavier taps on the door, then opens it and wheels himself in. "How are you feeling?" he asks with his usual courtesy.
"Not bad, thanks. So--what's the news? Did they catch the assassin?"
"Yes. They've arrested a Cornell student who apparently had ties to the Friends of Humanity." He's too well-bred to be overtly sarcastic, but his voice and the arch of his eyebrows show what he thinks of that name. "One of your bodyguards was injured in the struggle, but he wasn't badly hurt."
"Caleb or George?"
"I'll have to--damn! I can't tell my secretary to send him a get-well card, can I? This is going to take some getting used to. Weren't there two assassins?"
"No. That was a ruse Jean used to get your guards away from the car."
"Oh. Okay. What about my bill?"
"It's got five new co-sponsors. They think they'll have a final version ready to introduce next week. It's still gaining support."
"When's my funeral?"
"Tonight. It'll be on C-SPAN, if you want to watch it. They're expecting protests from anti-mutant groups, so security is tight."
"And my--I mean, Kelly's family? How are they taking it?"
"They're not granting interviews."
"Damn." I wish I hadn't had to do that to them. I didn't spend much time with them--couldn't; they'd have spotted that I was an impostor--but they seemed like nice people. And it seemed like they genuinely loved the Senator.
Xavier looks as though he's reading my mind, but maybe he's just reading my face. "Mystique. You didn't kill Kelly."
"I helped. And I did work him over pretty good before we delivered him to Magneto. I enjoyed it too."
"There aren't many of us who haven't fantasized about slapping the smirk off that face," Grey commented. "And you did a lot to undo what he'd done to us. We owe you."
"Well, you saved my life. That's a start. And you didn't turn us over to the police."
"How could we, and maintain the illusion that Kelly introduced that bill?" asks Xavier. "But now we need to discuss where we go from here."
"Well, I can give you the inside scoop on Kelly's activities, who his allies and enemies are, what I was planning, that sort of thing. But there's something I want from you first."
"I want you to take a note to Magneto. In my handwriting. And I want a reply, on the same piece of paper, in his handwriting."
"The guards will have to look it over first."
"No problem. We have prearranged codes. It'll look harmless. He'll have heard about Kelly's death. He needs to know that Mortimer and I are still alive."
Xavier frowns. "If I'm going to take a risk like that, I'll need more from you than information on Kelly. I need to know about Magneto. His plans. His headquarters. His contacts."
I smile slowly. "That, Professor, is why I didn't want Mortimer in here. He's loyal...to a fault. Magneto's going to be out of the picture for a long, long time. I think the rest of us need to be...flexible."
Xavier and Grey glance at each other. The same look comes over both their faces: intent, probing. They must be communicating psychically. Creepy.
"Agreed," Xavier says at last. "I can get in to see him tomorrow. But it'll take at least ten hours to get there and back."
"Not a problem. Once I have his reply, we can talk some more." I look up at Grey, letting more of my discomfort show on my face. "Now can I have some painkillers? And can you get Mortimer back?"
"Of course." She pulls on a pair of latex gloves and busies herself with a vial and a syringe. A quick glance as she's injecting it into my IV gives me the name of the medication and the dosage. It's good to be an informed patient.
Meanwhile, Xavier's wheeling himself out, and apparently sending someone to fetch Mortimer, because he arrives, slightly out of breath, just as Grey finishes lowering the head of my bed.
He shoulders her out of the way, an anxious look on his face. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. I just wanted you with me, that's all."
"Did they--" he glares at Grey as if he's only waiting for one word from me before he starts dismembering her.
"No, no. I'm fine. Thanks, Doctor," I say to Grey as she leaves, and to Mortimer, "Settle down. We need to talk before these painkillers make me too sleepy."
He pulls up a chair, still keeping one hand on my arm as if he's worried I'll disappear. "You should've sent for me sooner. I didn't want them grilling you," he says, scowling.
"They didn't. We negotiated. Xavier's going to get word to Magneto that we're both still alive. And some other news he won't know he's carrying." I smirk and he relaxes a bit.
"I don't trust them."
"Neither do I. But we do have some interests in common. They're not going to do anything that might derail that Mutant Anti-Discrimination bill. That means no police. Which gives us time to make some plans. Xavier's taking the message to Magneto tomorrow, and bringing back an answer tomorrow night. In return, I've agreed to give him information about Magneto's plans and assets--will you listen for a minute!" I say, because he's yanked his hand back as if I were burning him, a look of horror on his face. "It doesn't matter because by the time Xavier gets back here, you and I will both be gone!"
"You can't travel like that!"
"I can do whatever I have to. If necessary, you can carry me. I've been here before, remember? I know where they keep their cars, and I know their security system. Have a little faith, would you?"
He frowns. "I'm worried about you. What if you get an infection? Or what about what Grey said about losing part of your kidney?"
"We'll just have to take that risk." I yawn. "I'm going to need to sleep for a while. What time is it?"
He glances at the clock on the nightstand behind me. "Eleven forty-five."
"Okay. Plenty of time." I settle myself more comfortably in the bed. The painkillers are kicking in at last, reminding me again how much the cessation of pain feels like euphoria. I smile up at Mortimer. "Tell me a bedtime story. What did you do while I was consorting with the enemy?"
"I had an interesting conversation."
I let my eyes slide closed. "Go on. I'm listening." I visualize the scene as he's describing it.
"Must be nice to be as rich as Xavier," he says. "He's got a lovely garden. Huge old oak trees. It's been a long time since I climbed a tree. I used to do it all the time when I was a kid. I could get higher than anyone else, and of course I didn't have to worry about falling, so it was a convenient way to hide.
"So anyway, I got comfortable on a high limb--lovely view over the grounds, by the way, daffodils in bloom, new leaves on the trees; it's a marvelous day out. So I'm soaking in the scenery, right, and I hear someone coming. It's that kid, Rogue. She doesn't see me 'cause I'm not moving and anyway I blend in. So she comes right to the tree I'm in, takes a look round to make sure nobody's watching, and starts climbing. Not doing a bad job, considering. Must of been a tree climber herself when she was younger.
"At first I think I'll just be still till she goes away; then I think, nah, don't want to chance scarin' her." I can hear regret in his voice. "It went against the grain, you know? What Magneto had us do? I don't mind a fair fight, but she's just a kid and she never had a chance." He chuckles a bit. "Now if she'd been in a bathing suit and we'd had to capture her without the trank dart and without touching her skin, that could of been a challenge."
"Shame on you," I say sleepily. "Cradle-robber."
"Just checking to see if you were still with me. So I call out to her, you know, to let her know I'm there. She says, 'I'm sorry, didn't mean to intrude,' and she starts climbing down. But I say, 'no problem, stay if you like,' (I mean, I kind of felt sorry for her) and we get to talking."
"What about?" I ask.
"Kelly's bill, mostly, and the chance it might do some good. She's pretty naive, like all the rest of 'em. Thinks the normals just need to be educated. That kind of peeves me, so I say, 'You know what the difference is between us and you lot?' and she says 'Yes.' Just like that. So I say, 'Go on, then, what?' and she says, 'Most of us can pass for normal--or we could when we were little--and you can't. So most of us remember being loved by normals, and all you can remember is being hated and feared. Once we got our powers they couldn't handle it, but still it's not the same.' So that kind of strikes me, 'cause she's right, you know? I'd never thought of it like that. But I say, 'Hang on, what about Magneto? He looks like a normal.' And she says, 'Yes, but he grew up being hated because he was a Jew. And then he lost his family in that concentration camp. So he's kind of had both experiences--your kind and my kind.' I thought that was interesting."
"Mm," is about all I can manage. He sighs.
"Goodnight," he says softly, and kisses my forehead.
The next time I wake up it's dinnertime, and I actually manage to eat something. Xavier's got a good cook. I pretend to be a little tireder and sorer than I am, and Grey ups the dosage on the painkillers. Excellent. Let her have a good night's sleep secure in the knowledge that I won't be stirring till morning.
I give it an hour after the last sound of footsteps in the hall, and then I reach over and switch off the infuser and detach the tube from the IV needle in my arm.
"Mortimer!" I hiss. He's awake almost instantly, ready for a fight.
"Shh. Everything's okay. It's just time to do a little exploring, that's all. Can you carry me? I need my energy for morphing."
"Okay, just a sec." I open a small hole in the skin of my arm and the anesthetic-laced IV fluid that I've isolated in a pouch under my skin dribbles out into the wastebasket.
"That's really not something I wanted to see," Mortimer comments, looking a bit queasy.
"Well, you don't have to look. I needed a clear head. Come on, give me a hand out of bed." He scoops me up, very carefully, and I snuggle into his arms in spite of the twinges of pain it causes me. "Mmm. Have I told you I like having your arms around me?"
He grins and squeezes me very, very slightly. "Where to?"
"Down the hall and to the left. I think there's a room not far down that way where they keep the medication. There may be some other interesting stuff too."
Oh, yes, there certainly is. Mortimer keeps watch as I morph my fingers into thin probes and pick the locks on all the cabinets and drawers inside the room. Drugs, bandages, medical records, Grey's laptop (oh, very nice, we've got a little gizmo at the lair that can open that up like an oyster), gloves, medical devices, surgical instruments. In a small refrigerator, more medicines and some other items I take careful note of but decide not to share with Mortimer. Not yet.
I memorize the locations of the things I want, lock everything back up, and get Mortimer to carry me back to my room. After Xavier leaves the mansion tomorrow, we'll be able to get what we need and get out of here in short order.
In the meantime, before I reconnect the IV and drift off, I think I'll spend a little quality time with my fellow criminal. I've missed kissing him, and we certainly won't have time for it tomorrow.
Next morning everything goes like clockwork. Xavier comes in right after breakfast to get my message to Magneto. "Got a pen and paper?" I ask. He hands them to me and I scrawl a short note. It would be easier, and maybe faster, to write with my uninjured left hand, but I need to be sure he can recognize the handwriting. It's mostly polite chatter to Magneto about hoping he's being treated well, yadda yadda, but with code embedded in it letting him know where we are, what we're planning, and that the longer he can stall his old friend Xavier the better. I hand the note to Xavier, wincing at the pull on my injured shoulder.
"Thank you," he says. "I should be back with a reply sometime this evening."
About half an hour after he leaves, Grey comes in and Mortimer cold-cocks her before she even realizes he's behind her. We leave her strapped to my bed with the IV in her arm and a generous, but not dangerous, dose of painkiller dripping into her. I don't know if that'll keep her from being able to undo the restraints with her telekinesis, but it might slow the others down while they try to figure out if she's really herself or me trying to pull something on them. Anyway, it gives us a window of opportunity.
Next door, we take what we need. As we finish with each cabinet, Mortimer spits slime through a drinking straw into the locks. It'll take them that much longer to figure out what we've taken, and might make them suspect we've planted a bomb. The more we can delay them, the better. Mortimer stuffs most of the things into a trash bag while I raid the refrigerator.
"What's that?" he asks as I tuck a few bags of liquid into a small styrofoam cooler.
"Tell you later. Let's go."
And it turns out to be as simple as that. We get to the garage without meeting any of Xavier's staff or students, liberate a car, swap it for another in a parking garage in the next town, and by nightfall we're back in the lair. Xavier should just now be getting back to his mansion, too late to find us with Cerebro now that we're inside the shielding Magneto installed. I'm tired and sore, but I can't stop smiling, thinking of what we might find once we've hacked into that laptop. But right now I'm going to bed and I'm rigging an IV for myself and treating myself to some lovely drugs.
"What's in that? You said you'd tell me."
"Oh yeah. I forgot," I lie. "It's plasma. Should speed up my recovery time, if I'm figuring correctly."
"What? Isn't that dangerous? What if it's the wrong type?"
"Plasma doesn't have a type. You can give anybody's to anybody."
"What if the donor had, you know, a disease or something?"
"Not this donor," I smile, and turn the bag so he can read the label.
It takes him a minute to decipher it, and then his eyes widen.
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