Once again, huge thanks to Jedimom. She helped me brainstorm the logic of this story. Without her, it would have been pretty implausible. You should have seen some of the crazy shit I'd had in mind for this. Thanks also to Red Sith for the nitpicking. And thanks to Nirvana for the lyrics.
Life is good.
I head down the hallway, on fifteen minute break from the boarding school, to go see Shariya. Haven't seen her since last night. Oh man, last night. I'm grinning like an idiot just thinking about it.
She's been here a week and a half, and every night since she got clean, we've had movie night. Soon as Hannah's in bed and Agnes is gone, we download a movie we both missed due to being freaks, make some popcorn, sit on the sofa, and watch it together.
Last night, she made the popcorn while I set up the download ("Iron Giant"), and when she came back, she sat right next to me. Right next to me, as in our legs were touching. Nothing more happened for a bit, so after we finished the popcorn, I faked that I was stretching and then draped my arm along the back of the sofa all casual-like. Yeah, real subtle, I know.
But she sighed and leaned on me.
And next thing you know, I've got my arms around her.
That's all we did, but it was so nice. I mean, we just cuddled. I've never really done that with someone I wasn't already seeing. It was...oh bloody hell, it was romantic.
When the movie was over, she got up with this kinda sheepish-looking smile, thanked me for the movie, and went back to her place. And after she left, I just stood there for the longest time, smiling, still feeling warm where she touched me.
I know it sounds stupid, but I'm really happy.
I hear humming, and I stick my head in the computer room. Yep, she's got the headphones on again. She's got this massive collection of MP3s. Only possession she gave a rat's ass about on the streets was her MP3 player and her collection. When she was homeless, she'd get a friend to download music for her at the public library, since she couldn't go in herself due to the crowds and the staring. She says music kept her alive out there. She listens to some pretty angry stuff. I never really bothered with music, but I like what she's played me so far.
I head across the room, and she's got this look of intense concentration on her face. Almost looks like she's scowling at the computer. But she's also singing quietly as she types. "She should have...been a son." Her voice isn't bad. I try to get in her peripheral vision to catch her attention without startling her, and she blinks, pulls off the headphones, and smiles. "Hey."
"Hi," I say, leaning back against the computer desk. "What are you working on there?"
"Corrupted database." Yup, that's a scowl. "These people need to learn to make backups."
"Can you fix it?"
"I think so. So, what brings you here?"
"I'm on break. Thought I'd come by and see you."
You can tell when she's blushing because her lips get darker. "I had a really great time last night," she says with a little smile.
"Me too." Okay, now I'm grinning like a maniac. "Are we on again tonight?"
Her grin gets wider. "Of course."
We both turn towards the door. Great timing, Jean. Can't you use your telepathy for shit like this? "Yeah?" I ask.
"I, um, I have some news for you," she says, and from the look of it, it's not good news.
"It's not Hannah or Agnes, is it?" I ask, trying to keep my stomach from tying itself into knots before it has good reason to.
"Mystique?" That's a name I haven't heard in a while. Last name I wanted to think about right now, actually. Wait a minute, why would she be telling me something about Mystique unless...
"I'm sorry, but we just found out that she died yesterday afternoon."
"Oh god." I feel lightheaded. My lover...ex-lover. The only woman who'd ever shown me a scrap of affection. The woman I sold out and put in prison. Dead. No. It's gotta be a mistake. "What happened?"
Jean shakes her head. "It's all very confusing. From what they said, she was very sick, and then there was some sort of accident in the infirmary. Her body was burned beyond recognition. They thought it was some kind of trick, but the dental records checked out. Oh Mortimer, I'm so sorry."
"I, um..." Oh god. She's dead. She's really dead. "I need to go. I'm sorry." I need to be alone. I'm not crying here.
"I'll tell Mike you won't be back this afternoon," Jean says quietly.
As I walk out the door, I hear Shariya ask who Mystique is. "She was Mortimer's colleague..."
If she says more, I don't hear it. Oh god, she's dead. If it weren't for me, she'd still be alive. She wouldn't have died in prison. She could have died doing what she believed in. She could have lived doing what she believed in.
Tears are coming down my face now, and I don't give a shit if the older kids see me. They have no fucking clue what guilt is. None. God, I don't deserve to live. I should have died, not her. Not her.
I open the door, a sob hitching in my throat. Oh god. I killed her. I turn and close the door, and start to crumple against it as I feel my knees giving out.
I turn and look up to see Mystique standing in the middle of the living room, pointing a gun at me. "Mystique?" I whisper, catching hold of the doorknob and pushing myself back up to my feet. But...no, it can't be. "They said you were dead."
"It took me a while, but I finally figured out how to fake it. Now, we'll forget that you got me put in jail if you come with me right now and help me rebuild the Brotherhood without Magneto."
She's alive. Oh thank god, she's alive. "I...I can't. I promised Agnes and Hannah."
"Right." Her arm tightens as she takes aim. "Goodbye, Mortimer."
She relaxes and smiles. "Reconsidered?"
"No. Just...don't do it here. I don't want Hannah to find the body."
She lowers the gun with a sigh. "Damn you."
She's alive. Thank god, she's alive. Thank god.
"You're such a fucking softie," she snarls. "That girl ruined you."
"She saved me."
"You would see it that way." She paces across the room and looks at a picture of me, Hannah, my sisters and my parents that's hanging on the wall. Running her fingers across the glass, she says, "I had a lot of time to think in prison. All the time in the world."
"I'm sorry," I whisper.
"I came to an interesting conclusion." She turns and looks back at me. "It's my fault we ended up in jail. If I'd just pretended to give a shit, you never would have gone to the police."
"A little girl died."
"It was an accident. We're terrorists, Mortimer. We can't let ourselves get broken up over every little accident or we'll never accomplish anything." She takes a few steps closer to me, then stops and looks at me intently. "What's with the tears?"
"I thought you were dead."
"Oh no. No you don't," she seethes, yellow eyes blazing. "You can't sell me up the river, then cry for me. Make up your mind, Mortimer. Which is it? Do you care about me, or do you want me to rot in jail?"
She points the gun at me again. "Sit."
I slowly walk over to the sofa and sit down, and she takes a seat opposite me in an easy chair. "If you shoot me, the X-Men will hear it, you know," I say. "They'll come running. And even if you're gone by the time they get here, Logan'll smell you and know you're alive."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"You know, I'm trying very hard to understand you," she says with a scowl.
"I want you to be free. I want the Brotherhood back in action," I say, finally wiping the tears from my face with shaking hands.
"So why'd you have us put in prison in the first place?"
"I wasn't thinking clearly," I murmur.
"Oh no, you're going to have to do better than that. You did it in exchange for your own freedom."
"I had no idea they'd do this. I thought I'd be put in prison too."
"House arrest must be pretty cozy," she says, leaning back and crossing her legs. The gun's still aimed squarely at my head. "I've been watching since this morning. They've got you doing day care. How sweet." The irony in her voice is pretty thick.
"I like working with those kids."
"You like being the X-Men's servant?"
"Hey, the school was my idea," I say, leaning forward.
"You seriously expect me to believe that."
"It's true. I told the professor he wasn't doing anything to make life better for mutants, he asked what he could do, and I told him we should start taking in visibly mutated kids."
"And he listened to his pet convict?"
"Yeah, he did."
She grins coldly and shakes her head. "You're one of them now, aren't you?"
"God, no! I told you, I want to see the Brotherhood get back on its feet." Okay, I can do this. I can pull this off. I can get out of this alive, and I can make a difference again. Just need to convince her. Think, Mortimer. Think. Okay. Right. I've got it. I take a deep breath and say, "What I did was selfish and stupid, and I don't blame you for wanting to kill me, but I want to live, and I want to help."
"I'll help you from inside. They trust me. I don't know why, but they trust me. I'll feed you information. Anything you want."
She's clearly thinking about it. "How do I know you won't just turn around and make the same offer to them?"
"'Cause they're not doing enough. People like me and Hannah and those little kids still can't go outside without being stared at."
"It all comes back to Hannah, doesn't it?"
"How far will you go?" she asks, gun slowly lowering.
"I won't sabotage anything."
"Don't want your new friends to get hurt?"
"Hey, they're good people. Well, most of 'em. But mainly, I don't want to get caught, and I don't want to do anything that'll hurt the kids. Besides, there's two mindreaders here. Anything major happens, and whose brain do you think they'll invade first?"
"Good point." She's thinking it over, I think, and my gut's churning. I don't want to die. She's got every right to kill me, but I don't want to die. Not anymore. And I don't particularly want to be a mole, because I don't want to get caught and thrown in jail, but it's the least I can do to repay her and help the cause. Just need to be careful how I do it. God, she's beautiful. Stop it, Mortimer. Focus. "That's not enough," she finally says. "I can't rebuild the Brotherhood on my own."
Shit. Wait... "Did you hear about the pro-mutant protests when you were in jail?"
I snort. "I guess that's no surprise. Okay, see, a friend of the professor's worked with my mum to organize some protests. Get mutants into the news in a positive way, you know? Mostly peaceful, of course, but some mutants there weren't so peaceful. They did a lot of property damage, but didn't seem too bothered if people sometimes got hurt. And they firebombed the headquarters of Friends of Humanity. Did it after hours when no one was there, but still. You should try and contact them. They might be willing to join the Brotherhood."
"And how would I find them?"
I grin. "Well, it just so happens that the X-Men are keeping tabs on them. They think they'll be at the next pro-mutant rally to mess things up. It's in L.A., in front of Paramount Studios, this Friday afternoon. The peaceful mutant group's going to be protesting the portrayal of mutants on television, and they expect this other group to show up and get destructive."
Finally, a real smile. "That's information I can use. Okay, I'll be contacting you soon. How can I get email to you without suspicion?"
"I have this court appointed shrink," I grumble. "Name's Ann Shapiro. She's an idiot. You could probably hack into her email easily and set up a redirect."
"You still remember our codes?"
"Right. You'll be hearing from me." She gets up heads for the window.
"Hey," I say, standing up. "Aren't you going to get Magneto out? I could help you with that too. The professor visits him every week, and I think he's got the schematics for his cell in his office."
She shakes her head. "No. I'm doing this without him."
"Because you were right about one thing. We had too many innocent victims."
I smile. "So you do care."
She shrugs and says, "It's bad P.R." I think she's lying. I think she does actually care. She used to. Maybe she does again.
"You should go," I say. "Agnes and Hannah will be back from playgroup soon."
"Oh, they've been delayed," she says coolly.
I don't even think. I just shoot a wad of slime straight into her face and slam her to the ground. She drops the gun as she struggles to free her face. "If you hurt them," I hiss, squatting on her chest. "Prison or no prison, I'll kill you right here."
She turns her head and morphs her face concave so the slime pops off, and starts coughing hard, trying to shove me off of her with one arm. "Can't breathe," she croaks, so I take my feet off her, but keep a hand around her throat. I'll kill her. I'll fucking kill her.
"They're fine!" she finally gasps. "I swear."
"What did you do to them?"
"Drained their gas tank and tampered with the gas gauge. That's all."
The thundering in my ears starts clearing, and I stand up, slowly. She'd better be telling the truth. "If they come back with so much as a scratch on them..."
"It won't be from me." She looks up at me from the floor. "Damn. You still do have some fight left in you."
"Don't you forget it. Anything happens to either of them..."
"I wouldn't do that." She eases herself to her feet, holding the mask of hardened slime in one hand, the gun in the other. "You really think that little of me?"
I just shrug.
"Cover for me when I go, okay?"
"Yeah. Good luck."
"Same to you."
And she heads out the window.
Right, cover for her. I still have a blanket from when we shared an apartment. Still smells like her too. I know, pathetic, isn't it? Okay, open all the windows, put the blanket out in the living room. Need to kill the smell before Logan comes by next. I know he can sniff out people when they're nearby, but I don't know if he can pick up on 'em after they're gone. Still, can't hurt to make some effort. Um...right, blanket goes in the chair where she was sitting. And I should wrap myself up in it to make sure the smell on me's older, not fresh. Damn, this had better work. Hopefully he won't come by today, and Agnes'll just head straight to his place. I think I can convince her to do that. If I have Shariya come over early...yeah, that'll work.
If I get caught...
No, can't think about that. The Brotherhood has to get back together. We need someone out there doing that work again. And I have to help. I can be sneaky. Spent the first half of my life being sneaky. I can do it again. Especially for her.
And maybe, just maybe, I can get Shariya to help. Not yet, but someday.
Need to test something first.
"Can we talk in private?"
"Yeah, hang on." Shariya saves her work, closes the database, and stands up. "Are you okay?"
"I will be." I hand her a sweater, take her hand, wait with her in the computer room until a group of kids finishes walking down the hall, and lead her out the front door. She knows exactly what I've got in mind, because she hops on my back without prompting once I'm facing the side of the building. Doesn't take long to get up on the roof and find a good place to sit. We won't be able to do this much longer. Winter's coming. "What did Jean tell you?" I ask.
"That Mystique was your friend and colleague." She pauses, then says, "But...um...I'm guessing she was more."
"Yeah. She was my lover for a few years."
I watch her face to see how she reacts. She looks away, out over the trees, and I think she's bothered, although she looks like she's trying not to show it. It's not easy for her to hide her emotions, what with the tabby stripes and all. Even the smallest expression really stands out on her face.
"I should have told you earlier. I'm sorry," I say.
Her eyes widen and she turns back to me. "Told me earlier? Mortimer..." She snorts. "No, you didn't have to tell me that you once had a girlfriend. You're entitled to have a past." She looks down at her feet and bites her lip. "I'm jealous, but that's my problem."
"We'd broken up..."
"That's not it." Picking at her shoelaces, she says, "I'm jealous that you've actually dated someone. I'm not jealous of her." She looks up at me briefly, then back down to her shoes. "Okay, maybe a little jealous of her," she murmurs, lips flushing.
"I was pretty surprised by it myself," I say. "I never thought I'd ever have something like that in my life." Especially from someone so beautiful. "But, um, that's not all I wanted to talk to you about."
"Then what?" she asks.
"You need to know what I did with the Brotherhood."
That catches her attention. She looks right at me. "Tell me."
She already has a general idea of what I've done, but now I tell her the ugly details. I tell her everything the X-Men know, from the mission to Liberty Island to the mutant chop shop in El Paso. I tell her about the times I killed people for the cause: both the guilty and the innocent. I tell her how Magneto saved me from the orphanage, gave me a sense of purpose, and taught me not to passively accept my fate. And I tell her about the night when I broke down and turned myself in, all because a little girl died by accident and no one but me seemed to care.
And she just sits there, silently, the whole time I'm talking, as expressionless as I've ever seen her.
Finally, when I've told her everything I dare, I say, "That's it. That's my life of crime."
She's silent for a long moment, turning again to look out over the bare trees, and I just wait for her to speak. If she rejects me now, then at least we'll get it over with before I fall too hard for her. And if she's sympathetic... That would be a dream come true. To have someone here with me who feels like I do, and who might eventually come to help me. It's probably too much to ask for, but I have to find out. I can't leave her learning the details of my past to chance, or worse, to the X-Men.
I'm a lot calmer than I imagined I'd be right now.
Finally, she turns back and says, "I'm bothered by the parts where innocent people got hurt, but other than that, I'm glad the Brotherhood did what it did. Someone has to fight for us, after all."
"And um, you do realize I'm responsible for landing them all in jail."
"I do." She's silent again for a moment, and I can feel the guilt gnawing at me like it always does when I think about this. She tilts her head and says, "The way I see it, if they didn't care about the death of an innocent little girl, who was probably a mutant anyway, then they needed to be stopped. I mean, if you lose all empathy, then you're not freedom fighters, you're just criminals."
"You mean that?" I ask, not quite daring to believe what I just heard.
"Yes, I do. And I also hope someone else takes up the Brotherhood's fight again. We need someone out there fighting for us so we don't need to hide in places like this for the rest of our lives."
"Wow." I didn't realize how tense I was until it started melting away just now. "I'm really relieved to hear you say that."
She grins. "I figured. Hell of a place to tell me, though."
"Whaddaya mean?" I ask. We talk up here all the time.
"Well, if I'd had a problem with what you said, I'd be stuck up here with you, now wouldn't I?"
"Shit, I'm sorry," I groan, dropping my face into my hands. "I didn't think..."
"Sssh. It's all right. You just wanted to take me somewhere private. Just, for future reference, this isn't the place for bombshells. Now..." She shifts closer to me and puts an arm around my shoulders. "I want you to tell me all about Mystique."
I look back up at her. She's so close, our noses are almost touching. "Why?"
"Because she was a huge part of your life, so she's important to me."
She guides my head down to her shoulder, gently stroking at my hair, and I can't help but talk. And even though I was afraid I'd have to fake my grief, I don't, because I still ache when I think back to when things were good between us. Happiest years of my life. I had a girlfriend, a cause, my freedom, and my family: everything a freak could ever need. "She was beautiful..."
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