Continued from yesterday:
Sara was lost. She knew it and acknowledged it, but failed completely to let the situation bother her in the slightest.
It had begun small, as predicaments often do, with the palming of a love-letter into her hand by one of the volunteer couriers between herself and Mortimer. That list of couriers was now legion, and all Sara had to do was a ‘scouts honour’ salute with a letter betwixt the two fingers for it to vanish towards her boyfriend at something approaching Warp Nine. If a courier approached from in front, they'd salute her in a similar manner.
Things were, of course, *far* more restrained around Mr Summers.
Everyone else turned a blind eye so fast that it generated friction burns.
Today’s missive came to her on the way to the Danger Room. Sara read it in slow-mode, something she usually reserved for works of fiction. And, while her eyes were occupied and her feet kept walking, she somehow tread the path less travelled and wound up in this absolute maze of twists and turns.
She’d gone quite far before she realized she was rather alone.
She wasn’t lost. At least, not *badly* lost. After all, logic dictated that she was still in the grounds of the Institute’s estate. It was her precise location *within* those grounds that was the mystery.
And since she had a mystery, Sara had something to *do*.
Primarily, explore the maze she was now in.
Right now, it was pipes and service tunnels. Of course a place this big had to have feeds for water, air conditioning, drainage, fuel, electricity and sundry other miscellany that made life more pleasant to live in a very, *very* large house.
Somewhere in the distance, machinery chugged along on its daily tasks, providing a sort of heartbeat that made the giant creature of the Institute itself.
Sara entertained herself with that mental image. Students tripping through the veins of a gigantic beast that made them learn… shaped them into someone better.
Hank checked his watch. Ten AM. Sara was late.
“What did she do to herself *this* time?”
“I opened the door right into her,” said Emilia. “Knocked her straight into the wall before I even knew she was there.”
Together, they conspired to prop her up in a bed, where the darkly matted hair on one side was revealed to be from a graze, rather than a cut… and Sara had yet again gained a concussion. And what looked to be a black eye on the other side.
Sara tracked his finger, and correctly counted his fingers with her good eye. Therefore, she was more than likely to be able to answer questions.
“What on *Earth* were you doing?”
“W’s lis'nin’,” she slurred. “Di'n’ wanna in'errupt 'nyone.”
“You scared me out of my *skin*,” chided Emilia. “No-one’s supposed to be *down* there.”
“You were there.”
“I’m working down there. Those tunnels are for maintenance access only. How did you get *into* them.”
“Uuuhhhh…” said Sara. Her working eye rolled back alarmingly. Fortunately, it refocussed. “Forget.”
Callisto barged into the area. “There the fuck you are. Get distracted again?”
“Uhm… Yeah. Sorry.”
“Geez,” she muttered. “How friggin cold is it in here? Do you *need* extra-arctic temperatures?”
Hank boggled. “I… hadn’t exactly noticed.”
Callisto found the thermostat and fooled with it. “Some patients are sensitive to extreme temperatures, okay? Concussion plus hibernation instinct equals bad news, got it?”
“The existing environment is *hardly* what I’d refer to as 'extreme’, miz… er…”
“Just call me 'Callisto’. Everyone does.” She found a warmed blanket and wrapped it around Sara, making sure she covered most of her head. "As for 'extreme’… let’s just say the kid has way less in the way of insulation.“
He rallied and bristled. "I am *hardly* overweight, madam.”
“No, but the rumours have it that you’re furrier than the gorillas in _Congo_. Sara doesn’t have that advantage.”
“I think my nose has frozen,” Sara muttered.
“It’s not that cold,” Hank insisted.
“I *feel* that cold,” argued Sara. “Do you have hired penguins, or are the whispers of a fur coat true?”
Emilia was sizing him up. “You *know* what they say about hairy men…”
Hank blushed. “I think that’s all I can do, today,” he said. “You can now all *leave*.” _And please don’t let the door hit your collective butts on the way out,_ he added in his head.
 Description borrowed from a Robin Williams on why he should no longer play 'man-boy’ roles.
Marie chewed on her pencil, staring again at the same sentence she'd failed to comprehend the last thirty times she’d looked at it. Her mind was wide-awake, it was just - elsewhere.
Having an awareness of a former enemy in one’s place of residence tended to do that to people.
But then, Toad - no, Mort - wasn’t exactly an enemy. On the few chances that she actually spoke to him, she got the feeling that he was - trapped. And she hadn’t even tried to talk to him since he arrived here. Even though her eyes singled him out from the scenery every time they shared space.
He looked back at her once, flinched, and looked away as if meeting her eyes hurt him physically.
She’d seen him do that a lot, back when he was with Magneto.
They’d handcuffed her, behind her back, and then suspended her hands so that she would have an awful time of even *thinking* about wriggling free. She was cold and scared and so *uncomfortable* she wanted to cry. Except she’d cried all her tears out ages ago, and now she was thirsty on top of everything else.
And then *he* came. One of Magneto’s minions. Toad. She could see why he had that name. Everything about him was as unpleasant as the amphibian he was named after. He smelled like mildew and fusty, forgotten corners… and he looked like he had started growing mould.
And yet, he bought her a drink. Bottled water. Held it carefully for her so that she could drink with as much dignity as possible. He offered her a sandwich in silence, always twitching his head away. Either checking over his shoulder or he had some kind of nervous tic.
Rogue refused it, pulling her lips in and shaking her head.
He gently pulled her hood up for her, and gave her a blanket, covering her legs.
“Why?” she asked.
Another tic over his shoulder. “Been there, done that,” he whispered. "Need anythin’ else?“
"How 'bout a key?”
He looked stricken and distraught. “Can’t.”
“Making friends, Toad?” said an amused voice.
He froze. The look on his face was a book with big letters. It said, _Oh, *FUCK*!_
Magneto had managed to creep up on them. Hardly surprising, since he was floating casually in midair.
Toad turned. “Just… uh… just…”
Magneto smirked, amused at the big joke presented to him. “She won't follow you home, Toad… even if you gave her the chance. Honestly. Do you really think she could *like* you?”
He sagged, head lowering.
“You *could* try to kiss her. If you think that would change anything.”
_You fucking bastard,_ thought Rogue.
“No?” Magneto tilted his head. “Then why pay such - exquisite attention to the girl?”
“…she’s just a kid,” he muttered.
“So was I, when They came for me.” He lowered himself to the ground and strode over to her, raising her face to catch the light. “Go ahead. Tell her she’s pretty and you think you like her.”
His body was still as a stone, save for the rise and fall of his chest. His dark eyes spoke of a lot of hurt. Old wounds. Re-opened and vigorously probed by the old man.
“Tick tock…” goaded Magneto.
Toad hung his head and turned completely away from her.
“Good. Now that you have nothing else to do, I suggest you prepare the boat.”
“Yes,” he said.
“Never forget it, boy.”
Magneto released her, picking up the discarded sandwich. He pried it open. “Gourmet fare,” he mused. “He *does* like you. Pity.” And just like that, he left her alone. Laughing all the way.
The Toad she met then was different to the Mort she glimpsed in the corridors. Mort was taller, for a start. Held himself prouder. He had less of an aura of trepidation around him.
Sara had done that, somehow. She’d picked up a toad and turned him into… someone new. And yet, all the work was invisible to just about everyone.
Rogue startled and blurted a, “Yes, mister Scooter?”
The class laughed as Scott blushed under the purple dye.
He continued on like a trooper. “Are you having trouble with the work? Something you don’t understand?”
“I…” she thought about it, looking again at the same words that she’d read and forgotten innumerable times. “I guess I’m just outta focus, today.”
“Must be going around,” he joked. “Take a break and clear your head, okay?”
She collected her things. “Thanks, sir.”
Rogue found Mort cleaning up the rec room - W and K optional - just like a janitor or some other invisible but necessary worker. Her recent thoughts made her stop and watch him.
He broke the silence, this time. “Yeh?”
“I… Thanks. Ah mean… for tryin’ to help when… youknow.”
A quirk at one side of his mouth. “Coulda done a lot more,” he said.
“You were scared,” she said. “He… kinda… He fucked with your head.”
A bigger smile. “Nice way to put it, luv.”
“Well, he *did*.” Guilty about bringing up those phantoms, she dumped her things in a corner of a couch and began helping him pick up. “Ah swear, he musta played head-games with every word that came outta his mouth.”
“I bloody let him,” said Mort. “Didn’t see nuthin’ else for me.”
“You still tried to do something,” she said. “Even in the middle of all that, you *tried*. That had to take somethin’.”
He snorted. “Sara reckons there’s no reward in tryin’.”
“No, she repeats her *mom*. Ah have no idea what *she* thinks of makin’ an effort.”
Mort slammed more trash in his bin. “That *fuckin’* woman…” he shook his head.
“I know,” said Rogue. “The dragons in this world have a lot to answer for.”
This time, a genuine smile. “You’re pickin’ up the language.”
She shrugged. “It’s infectious.”
 In case you don’t get it… rec room - wreck room.
She found Mr Summers staring at an old photo in the hallway and seized any opportunity to distract herself from the memories of her most recent humilliation. Sara crept up on him, examining the picture.
A small crowd of teenagers grinning around a bald man in a wheelchair. One, a redhead, had that windswept look that was only achieved by running back into place after setting the timer.
“Good gracious Dr McCoy looked gawky back then,” she said by way of an icebreaker. “But then… pot, kettle, black.”
Summers barely moved. “Do you *always* sneak up on people?”
“I schooled myself to move quietly. Sorry,” Sara blushed and tried not to cringe. “An ancient, well-drilled habit, I’m afraid. I’ll try to step on more squeaky boards for you if you’re bothered.”
He turned to face her for the first time, and his face shifted in concern. “What happened to *you*?” he said. “Another argument with an inanimate object?”
“No, this time it was in the field of better education,” she said. "Logan plus Callisto plus Basic Defense Training equals posterior a la mode, alas.“
“In the vernacular… I had my ass handed to me,” she blushed deeper. "On a silver platter.“ Desperately reaching for the metaphorical straw, she picked out the windswept redhead. "I don’t believe I’ve seen her about the place.”
“No. You wouldn’t.” A dark cloud passed over him.
“…oh fudge,” Sara muttered. “Open mouth, insert foot. That’s Jean the younger in that photograph, isn’t it?”
“She changed a lot,” he said. “Not that I saw her, then.”
Sara’s eyes narrowed, examining the image in obsessive detail. The glasses were in shadow, but they were still darker than the now-usual red. And there, half-concealed behind him, the edge of a wrist loop and the hint of a cane…
Little details stood out, now. The way he felt for a door before he reached it. The intricate neatness of his room, yet the absence of any other obsessive-compulsive habits. And combined with what she’d seen of his power… “You were voluntarily blind,” she blurted.
“There was an alternative?” he said.
“A rather vile one,” she said.
“Vile isn’t my style,” he said, staring at the photo again. “I didn't see this until a year later…” A wistful half-smile. “I swear, we must’ve wrecked the place every *day*, back then.”
“And yet you redeemed yourselves. Again and again, I should think.”
His finger traced over the image of Jean Grey. “Yeah,” he whispered. He cleared his throat and gave her his authoritarian glare. “Are you going to make another point or something?”
“There’s no point in making one if it’s going to miss,” she said. “We have a deal, and we’re bound by it. It’s just…”
 Because Sara has a lot of time to waste, she scoped out his quarters. When he was elsewhere, natch.
“There’s absolutely nothing preventing you from slamming Mortimer back into the dark after the week is up. Or… or demanding that the deal continue until I give up on him or–” her voice cracked from worry and pre-emptive grief, “–he gives up on me. Or dangling the prospect of visiting time over either of our heads if we shape up to some unattainable ideal. Or just remov–” her voice gave out for good.
Had to remember not to box it up. The Professor said her boxes were unhealthy and the seizures were a *light* symptom of what they could do to her if she continued the bad habit of boxing things away.
And going into the new regime in front of the man who held her fate in his whim would be… inappropriate. He may surmise that she was playing for sympathy. Putting on an act to get what she wanted sooner.
Sara put her hands over her face and wished she could vanish entirely, not just make her skin blend to the point where she was very, very hard to spot. She could feel it happening. That strange, crawling sensation that meant her scales were matching themselves to their environment.
Summers laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay. C'mon…” He guided her into the mini-kitchen. The traditional lair of the determined sulker and/or private-personal business into which no-one was allowed to pry. “You look like you need a tub of ice-cream.”
Sara unhid in order to find a seat, then resumed hiding her tears and attempting to think calming thoughts so said tears would go away.
Summers delivered a hoarfrost-obscured cylinder and a spoon to her, and kept a similar set for himself. “I figure no-one’s about to object if we take the stuff that’s from the back, so… it’s pot luck.”
Sara chipped ice away from the lid in order to prise it off. “Sort of a combination archaeological dig and freezer clean-out. Practical and efficient. Your key words, it seems.”
Summers cracked into his with slightly more violence, ripping the lid almost in two with his struggle to gain access. “Still trying to work out the Summers Equation?” He seemed less irritated about it, now. Or perhaps he needed to laugh.
“You have to admit that you are trickier than cold fusion,” she said. "There are… pieces. Fragments of formulae that work… and yet have no connection.“ Sara yelped as her lid rocketed away from its prior home and sailed clear across the tiny alcove and neatly into the bin. "I'll never do that again in a million years,” she sighed.
“On the plus side, someone *was* watching,” said Summers. He extracted a spoon’s worth and put it in his mouth. Judging by the way his face twisted, it wasn’t a good idea. “Gyeaurgh… What flavour *is* this?” He scraped frost away from the lid. “Rats. Japanese.”
Sara plucked it from his fingers. “Prawn Misu,” she gave it back and tried a bite of hers. Ick. Ick ick ick ick ick and yeurk.
“Can’t be worse than Prawn Misu,” he said.
“It is. *Bubblegum*.”
“Euw…” He took another bite from his tub. “Suddenly, I’m feeling luckier.”
“Having experienced Prawn Misu ice-cream, I’m inclined to agree.” Some masochistic instinct made her match him spoonful for spoonful. “I think this particular attempt at mood-busting can be classified as a resounding failure.”
“Meh… I dunno. It *could* be salvaged.”
“Oh? You have an idea?”
“Truth or dare with a twist,” he said. “Dare is take a bite. Refuse to answer and take a bite. Get caught in a lie and take *two* bites.”
“And the goal is to make the other eat the most ice cream?”
Famous last words.
 And yes, Japan does have ice cream flavours like this.
 It might be just me, but I happen to think that people who *want* to eat things flavoured to taste like pre-chewed latex are certifiably insane. Bleh. :P