Continued from yesterday:
Storm was in shock.
She felt… she felt… she wasn’t entirly sure what she felt.
Her nephew, her darling, baby, nephew…
Oh Evan, what did they *do* to you!
It was her fault, of course. If only she had looked harder… seen the signs… tried harder… if only…
‘Uh… hi Miss Storm! You OK?’
Storm lifted her head up, blinking rapidly to clear away the tears.
The boy, or rather several copies of the boy, waved cheerily at her.
'What are you doing here? Should you not be back at the institure? We’ve been looking all over for you!’
All the Jamies had the decensy to look embarred but none, she guessed, seemed overly guilty.
'Well,’ she continued, trying to keep her voice from breaking, 'now you’re here I suppose we should take you back to the institute. I just have some… business… to attend to first, but as soon as I’m finished you’re coming home with me!’
The Jamies looked at one another, as if trying to decide something. Eventually, one spoke up.
'Um… I’m sorry, Miss Monroe, but I… uh… I really wanna stay. Look,’ he continued, before Storm could interupt, 'I know that you think this is dangerous and that I’m not really supposed to be here but… see… I help here! If you knew half the things I’d done, half the ways I helped people, really helped people… Back at the mansion all I do is sit around and get bored. At worst I’m ignored, at best I’m a nuisance. Here… I can help, do things, really do things. Now, I’m not saying I never want to go back to the institute again but… well… I’d like to work here as well… see?’
Ororo nodded, it seemed she had some thinking to do.
Spyke had finally finished sobbing and fallen into an uneasy sleep. Kaze lay one of the pill bottles he’d taken and went to return the rest of them to the infirmary. On the way there Warren met up with her.
“Why did you hide your wings?”
Many times I have had people treat me well or ill because of them. I wanted to figure out if you and the others liked me for me, not me for my wings.“
"Of course we do. How could we not. You’re the only one gentle and persuasive enough to get through to some of these kids. I wish I could do what you do.”
“…There is a reason for that. I am a slight empath.”
“Even if I was not an empath, the way you’ve been acting around me before and after discovering my secret, when you were coherent enough to notice me, has made your feelings obvious.”
“Everything’s all set for lunch for the kids, and we won’t be needed for a while. I’ve always found flying helps relieve stress. Care to join me?”
Both Warren and Kaze realized that with current opinions on mutants being what they were, flying through the streets of New York in broad daylight would not be a good idea, so they flew higher up and played tag among the clouds.
Warren was amazed at Kaze’s flight skills. He was faster, but she could make turns and twists that would be impossible for him. For at least a little while, both were free to play amoung the clouds and forget their troubles.
Upon landing, and going inside Warren had a question.
“When I went out, I always had to wear a trenchcoat to cover my wings. Why don’t you?”
“The bones in the outer part of my wing have two states: one stiff enough for flight, one still stiff, but bendable.”
And with that she showed him how she did it. She folded her wing scapulae straight down and her radii strait up, folding the upper part of her wings against her back. Then she took the long edges of the wing in her hands and literally bent them around and over so that they too lay against her back. Warren saw how loose clothing could easily cover the whole arrangement and still leave her free to move somewhat. With that she took the decorative belt on her pants and used it to bind her wings down so that she could relax her wing muscles. Then she took her jacket, which Warren had brought inside earlier, and threw it over everything. If warren didn’t know better, he would have never suspected a thing.
“You *found* him? Just like that, you *found* him?” Alex lived up to his codename by gesticulating wildly enough to upset a Humane Foundationer with a huge stack of stationary. “Where the heck *was* he?”
“Is,” corrected Ororo. “He *is* all over the Humane Foundation. He’s a gopher-cum-workforce.”
“Literally,” he dodged a collision with five of them, “so I see.”
“Um. Hi, Mister Summers…” said a Jamie.
“You *do* know about the Child Labor laws in this country, don’t you?”
“It’s okay,” said another Jamie. “We’re volunteering!”
A spokesclone decided to stick around. “It’s actually fun,” he said. “We’re helping people instead'a getting in the way. An’ we’re *good* at something for a change.”
“We’re not the littlest, neither,” said a passing dupe.
“C'mon,” Jamie grabbed Alex’s wrist and dragged him wholesale to the baby ward. Things were a lot more cramped than the other wards, but then, they were smaller people. “See? Baby mutants. We’re already getting parents in looking for their kids. We’d do the tests, but… y'know. Klutz-o-rama.” He brightened again. “But I still carry the samples up to the lab. An’ I get coffee an’ look after the garden an’ sometimes the nurses lemme help change diapers. Ew. But I’m *helpful*. Can’t I stay?”
Alex cringed. “Okay. But you’re not giving up your studies at Xavier’s, okay?”
“Okay. It’s a *deal*!” Jamie shook hands so vigorously that he became triplets. “This is *SO* cool!”
Niota watched Logan tense suddenly, sniffing. He turned to Steven and only relaxed after a long, measuring look.
“What was that about?” Steven asked.
“You smell like Sabretooth.”
“You don’t wanna know.”
Logan looked at Niota. “You’ve gotta be Kurt’s kid.”
Niota asked, “Why do you say that?”
“You look and smell like him.”
And with that, Logan left. He knew the training that both he and Kurt had received at Weapon X stuck, and for once, instead of trying to shred the problem, he was going to use his brain. All the files on unused city tunnels were in files at the library. He’d step inside one for the first time in twenty years to try to track down which ones Kurt was using. He deserved to know that he had a kid.
Forge watched the look on Logan’s face via his cams. Perhaps the man was going to find this Kurt, and Niota looked a lot like Nightcrawler. Perhaps if he sent his flying bug network to follow Logan, he’d find the location of the Legion. He’d have to send his top-notch bugs, the ones designed to stand close examination to their sounds, looks, and smells. That was the only way he’d have any chance of “following” Logan undetected.
Back in the garden the pack was alone again. Niota scoped out the garden, and once she was sure they were truly alone, she allowed herself to play. She raced about the boughs of Edgar. She had never had this much fun. Down below, Will and Steven were sniffing everything in sight, and occasionally sneezing at a particularly fragrant flower. Fiona just stood still to take it all in, while Wendy had to touch everything. For the first time in ages, Niota felt like she could relax somewhat. The elevator was loud enough that she knew she’d hear anyone coming, but for now her family was safe. She would make sure they stayed safe and together.
That had been the name.
Most memories of his time at Weapon X were, if you’ll forgive the pun, more than a little fuzzy to Logan, but he remembered Kurt.
Not much, but a little..
A strange kid, thin as a skeleton usually, covered in raggedly blue fur, with a whiplike tail, and two, intense, glowing eyes.
He remembered those eyes the most, the way they had piered out in the dark, the anger in them.
He had been an animal even when he entered, kicking and screaming in the guard’s arms, Weapon X had had it’s work cut out with that case.
He had still been there when Logan escaped, so he could only presume some other power had let him lose.
Kurt, now known as Nightcrawler.
Logan was shocked he hadn’t made the connection before, perhaps it had been the scent from the little girl which had triggered the memmory, these things often worked that way.
So, now he had a kid of his own, and one that had probably experience some of the shit he had, too.
Logan spat into the air, well, he was going to track the elf down, have a chat. For all the good it would do. For all he knew, Kurt could be an animal by now.
Scott was glad Logan had taught him how to get out of knots. He managed to free himself. By a combination of luck, training, and skill, he escaped.
He didn’t even have change for a phone, but that was no problem when he had the Professor 24-hour hotline open. Within half an hour Remy had picked him up and brought him back to the mansion.
Dann was furious. He stormed at Scott, the Professor, the X-men, and everything else he could think of when he learned what had happened. The original speech is unrepeatable, but the basics were that he could not believe that Scott had been so stupid as to have gotten caught, he should have let the Legion finish him off so Dann wouldn’t have to do that, that this would take forever to fix, and a good deal of language that made even Storm blush.
Throughout the entire…conversation, Jean was curious as to what had happened.
_Please don’t look now, I’ll tell you everything after Dann’s gone._
Half an hour later, Jean learned what had really happened. Scott had been so brave and noble to have helped those children, and so compassionate as well. She began to see a wilder side to Mr. Military. She considered that maybe her mother was right and Scott was the right man for her.
“Let the man go.”
“But he *hurt* Dundee!”
“You shouldn’t be keeping alligators, anyway, Orpheus,” said Nightcrawler. “He’s a friend of mine. Let him go.”
Logan spat and wiped slime off his face. “How many pets has that kid *got*?”
“I’ve found it best not to ask,” Nightcrawler gave him a cloth. “Anything important, or did you just pop by for a coffee?”
“Wiseass,” said Logan. “Some of them kids upstairs are spliced from Weapon X DNA.” He lit a stogie. “And we both know someone who was in Weapon X.”
“However briefly,” Nightcrawler rubbed a remembered ache. “Boy or girl?”
“Ya got one daughter that I know of. Who knows how many of 'em got a fragment? I got a boy, upstairs. Practically my clone. Recognised a few others. Can’t remember from where.”
Kurt just sighed. “She’s better off in the sunlight,” he decided. “If someone adopts her - she’ll *know* she’s loved, ja?”
“Big 'if’, bub.”
“Got to take a chance,” he said. “It happened once. It can happen again.”
Logan puffed. “You *do* know you can sneak some of these kids upstairs an’ nobody’d know.”
“They’d know,” said Kurt. “I’d know. People would be able to guess, mein Herr. And I’m not putting any numbers on anyone’s arm.”
“Just a thought. These kids need homes. Proper homes. Flyboy’s workin’ on findin’ a place. Do the math.”
“Mind if I work it out at my leisure?” said Kurt. “Sometimes I don’t have a head for figures.”
Logan glared at him. “Ya *like* 'em. Don'cha?”
“A little.” He looked down. “A lot.” One hand reached up and touched the ring that dangled by the cross. “More than anything.”
“And killin’ yourself for 'em is gonna help 'em - how?”
Now it was Kurt’s turn to glare at Logan.
“I can smell it on ya. You ain’t been eatin’ right.”
“I’ll have to think about it,” he said. “You go back topside before anyone misses you, ja?”
“I’m plush, what do you expect?”
'So,’ muttered Faith, 'that’s your dad…’
'Yeah,’ replied Willaim, grinning inanely, 'ain’t he awsome?’
'Didn’t stick around long did he,’ Niota remarked, 'not much for the father-son bonding thing, is he?’
William growled, 'Shut up, you don’t know nothing.’
'He said I didn’t want to know my dad,’ whispered Steven, almost to himself.
'He didn’t say anything 'bout my parents,’ added Faith.
'Maybe,’ said William, 'he don’t know anything, maybe he’ll tell you later?’
Faith shrugged, 'Least you know something,’ she said to Niota, 'you know you’re dad’s name, and you know that he looks like you! Isn’t that cool! You’re not alone any more… hey, perhaps he’ll come and pick you up!’
'Oh joy,’ was the girl’s dry response, 'now I know the freak-gene runs in the family.’
'Aww, don’t say that,’ protested William, 'he’s your dad.’
'No,’ Niota protested harshly, 'he’s the guy who gave me a few chromasones, nothing more. If he was my real dad… he any of these people were your real parents they’d have come to rescue you a long time ago. They’re… they’re just genetic doners, at best, at worst they’re another government trick. We can’t trust them yet, you gotta remember that, we can only trust each other. We are the only family we have, right?’
'But…’ protested Wendy, 'but, they’re so nice!’
'Yeah, the old trick, come on, they just want to brainwash us, probably.’
'And what if you’re right?’ said William, 'what if they ARE our parents, what if this guy, Kurt, is your genetic dad? Don’t you want to know about him, just a little?’
'If, *if* he is my father,’ replied Niota, 'then he’s some poor wretch who is probably braindead by now, he’s probably working for the government, or living off rats in some alley. He probably… he probably isn’t even interested in me. Why the fuck would he be?’
Niota would have added more to this, but her speech was interupted by a familiar sound. The sound of sobbing.
She turned and saw that it eminated from Steven, who was crouched by the tree, crying softly, large tears rolling down his furry face.
Niota crept forward, towards the young boy, before tenderly putting her arm round him. She did this slowly, touching, on the whole, was not something most of the children welcomed.
'I… I was wrong,’ sniffled the feline boy, 'I… I got it all wrong.’
'What did you get wrong?’ asked Niota, her voice full of tenderness.
'My dad… back… back at the lab I… I used to think about him, thought he was… was… I dunno… this famout scientist or somethin’, (sniff) you know, an explorer or… or an aronaught, or even an astronaught… thought he’d… he’d be a hero… used to think about him all the time but… but… now I… I don’t want to know. He said…. he said I don’t… I don’t want to know.’
With these words the young boy broke down all together, and Niota held him, stroking his hair softly.
'See what I mean,’ she said to the small crowd of children peering over her shoulder, 'it’s a game. All a brainwashing game. They’re trying to break us again. But they won’t succeed. Why?’
She drew herself away from Steven, who’s cried had subsided a little by now.
'Because,’ she continued, 'we’re stronger than that. Because we don’t believe in them. We don’t believe in their science, their god, their families. We believe in each other, we’re all the family we’ll ever need or want, we won’t abandon each other. We’re family,’
With these words she spat on her hand and held it out. One by one the others did likewise, and put their hand on top of hers, though little Wendy had to be held up by William to accomplish this feat.
Their pact was made, they were a group, they were family.
All the family they felt they could ever need.
When Logan returned, Niota got in his face, literally by clinging to his shirt and putting her nose about two inches from his.
“How could you do that to us! You hurt my family. You told us just a little bit and themn you left. You hurt Steven. What right do have to mess around in our lives.”
Logan waited until Niota got off of him. The kids scents were helping him remember more, so he answered. “I told you that much because I figured you had a right to know. I left to find Niota’s father. I’m back, and I’ll tell you what you want to know. And Steven, I didn’t know your father before the government got a hold of us. He might have been an ok guy before. I don’t know haw many people they’ve managed to get to.”
Wendy asked first, “What was my daddy like?”
Logan answered, “I didn’t know him much. He was a loner, but you could count on him in a pinch.”
Fiona asked, “What about mine?”
“I knew your mother, not your father. Girl was wild, loyal…one of the finest ladies I ever had the pleasure to know.”
Since it looked like Niota planned on staying silent, Will asked, “What was Niota’s daddy like?”
“You mean what is he like. He’s one of the finest men on the planet.” He looked at Niota. “Once people figure out whose kid you are, some people will tell you that, others will say he’s a monster, and everything in between. Truth is, he’s protecting his kind and only stays away because he thinks you’ll have a better life here.”
The others seemed to be starting to trust Logan, but Niota kept her distance. As long as she was wary, her family could afford to keep some slight part of their childhood, ragged as it may be.
Evan woke up, feeling frazzled.
“Would you like some milk?” The warm, friendly voice came from the woman sitting in the comfy chair nearby. Evan remembered her as the assumed aunt. She was, he vaguely recalled, somewhat famous.
He took a breath, and thought twice about his usual rejoinder before he nodded.
She got up and poured him a tumbler, then sat on the bed to guide it into his hands. “I found a lock of your mother’s hair amongst my things,” she said. “I gave them some so they could make sure… You *are* my nephew… and I’m so sorry I thought you were dead.”
Evan drank the milk, guarded. It was cold and pure. He remembered Aunty Ro as being a lot taller. Lavender perfume and a pale khaftan and laughter at the inevitable handprints… clinking bracelets and a ready smile.
This woman had the white hair and the right colour of her skin… but everything else was different.
“Aunty Ro was soft and warm and bright,” he said. “I don’t know who you are.”
Warren retreated to his office to find he had a client.
“Still want me for PR purposes?” said the blue demon.
“I think the media would have a *fit*,” said Warren. “Especially after that factory fire.”
Nightcrawler grinned. “I thought I’d better remind them I still have teeth,” he said. “So how’s life in the middle of the war?”
“I think I’m getting a handle on running a refugee camp,” Warren sipped his coffee. “So far, we’ve had three death threats and a dead rat from the FoH and somebody donated half a million dollars in the name of their dead kid.”
“Deformed. A mob got 'em and– well, you probably remember that one. Nasty stuff.”
“I heard about it when I got out,” a talon-nail touched the cross and the ring. “History aside, mein freund… I have to ask–”
“Not today. Tomorrow, maybe.”
“Turning into a telepath?” Nightcrawler tented his hands. “Or perhaps you’re a precognative, ne?”
“Nothing like,” Warren flumped down. “I know you have kids down there. I know you’re strapped for resources. I know I have six-hundred-some kids already up here so what’s a few more?”
“I heard a similar argument recently,” said Nightcrawler. “It’s beginning to make a lot of sense.”
'Residents have been asked to stay in their homes and close all doors and windows as the smoke from the factory may contain substances harmful to health. The fire brigade claim that the actual fire itself should be under control in the near-’
'You OK Jean?’
Jean looked up from the TV. For the last few hours she had been in her room, having become bored of Dann’s latest tirade. She could still hear him ranting down stairs.
She smiled at the face, Remy’s face, which was peeking round the door, his usual rogueish grin plastered across his features.
'Yeah,’ she replied, and yawned, 'just a little tired, I guess, got sick of the lecture downstairs and thought to come up here, watch some TV, perhaps.’
'Anything interesting on?’
'Just the news. It’s mostly about Angel’s foundation, but apparently there’s been a factory fire too. A toy factory, filled with dolls, dolls modelled after Nightcrawler.’
Remy snorted, 'The Legion of the Unwanted strikes again! What fool would want to have a doll of that asshole anyway?’
'Come on now,’ protested Jean, 'he’s not that bad. I wish he could have set on fire the printing factory for that newspaper.’
'Jeanie,’ said Gambit softly, slowly coming to sit down on the bed besides her, 'don’t talk like that. He’s the enemy. Sure, he’s not as bad as some, but he’s still a bad guy. There could'a been people in there, non? We can’t loose sight that he is the villain in all of this.’
'Is he?’ pondered Jean, 'I don’t know anymore, Remy, I honestly don’t. Time was when things were simple, it was us against Magneto, us running from the humans but protecting them. That’s how it was, simple. Easy. Now… now with the government and the FOH and the Legion of the Unwanted, I don’t know who’s what any more. Remy… are we still the good guys?’
Before the cajun could reply the they heard something on the TV wich made them turn and pay attention.
’-of course I agree in spirit with the Foundation’s aims,’ said a dark haired, handsome man in a tailored suit, 'but I’m just not sure about the practicality of it. We have over 600 mutants in one small area? What happens when their powers emerge? What happens when accidents occur? Mark my words, in a city like this accidents will occur and lives will be lost.’
'So,’ said the interviewer, 'you don’t believe that the founder of the foundation, Warren Worthington, is capable of keeping his charges under control.’
'Or doesn’t want to,’ replied the dark headed man smoothly, 'we must remember that Worthington himself is a mutant. And though he probably indeed has the best intentions, his status will undoubtedly colour his outlook. All I am saying, at this point, is that the Foundation is ripe for accident and misuse.’
'Will you have any solid policies on the federation in your election manifesto?’ asked the interviewer.
'No, not as yet,’ replied the man, 'we need more time to think, but with luck we should come up with some solid policy on it soon.’
'Thank you Mr Creed, any final words?’
'Yes, new times are coming, a new age is dawning. Soon we’re all going to have to chose sides. Chose a place to stand in this new world. Chose that place with me, with Graydon Creed, we’ll lead you to a safer future.’
'Thanks you Mr Creed,’ finished the interviewer, and the scene changed back to the headline desk.
'Remy no like the sound o’ that,’ muttered Gambit.
'Me neither,’ agreed Jean, and she huddled under the covers.
'You OK?’ said Gambit, gently, 'if you want, I can stay with you…’
Jean gave a soft smile, 'I don’t think so, Remy. Thanks for the offer, though. I think I’ll just stay up a little longer, see what else is happening. You go back downstairs.’
Remy sighed, seeing that he wasn’t really wanted, and did as he was told, closing the door behind him.
Jean was left alone in the semi dark, only the screen of the TV lighting the room. She put her arms round her knees and watched those flickering images. Trying to find some sort of comfort, some sort of certainty.
She didn’t succeed.
Times, they are a changin’.
Sandra told Warren, “I’ve got all the paperwork for screening families for the children in place. Seventeen families have already applied, and within about a month we’ll have to get started on home visits.”
“That soon? It seems like none of the children are even close to ready to leave.”
“It takes about a year to check into the complete background of a family, and by that time more of the children will be ready to get out. There are already a few that were only in the lab for a few weeks that could leave now if we had any families ready to take them and the families were willing to still take them to see a psychologist.”
One of the problems with mutant children is that they can get almost anyplace. Niota’s family had found some locked doors and wanted to know what was behind them. Although she was only three, Wendy was already very good at picking locks. The others theorized that it was tied to her mutation.
When the children entered they found many metal cans that were tightly sealed with a strange kind of lid. Then stood no chance against Niota’s enhanced grip.
Once the cans were opened the children could see the brightly coloured, strange smelling contents. Wendy experimentally stuck one finger in the liquid, then wiped it on the wall. It left a bright streak behind.
Niota and the others looked at each other for a moment, then as one grabbed as many cans as they could and ran out into the hall to play with them. Niota had to open them for everyone.
Two hours later Logan walked in to see the children painting the walls. There were five Jamies who had obviously tried to stop the children tied up in a corner. The decorations consisted of random streaks, doodles, handprints, and elf-prints across walls, ceiling, and floor. All five children were covered in paint from head to toe. Much of the paint on the children was obviously from the doodles of the other children. Logan took another look at the Jamies. They’d been decorated too.
_Keep calm. Keep calm. These are terrorised kids. They prob'ly never *seen* paint before. Time to *act*, as in 'stage’…_ “You kids okay?” he asked. “None of you ate any of that stuff?”
There was a small chorus of head-shakes.
Logan let himself appear to relax. “That’s good. That stuff ain’t the safest to play with, y'know. Yer all better off with the kiddie paints in the art room.”
He popped a claw and freed the Jamies. “An’ ya really shouldn’t tie folks up. Could be dangerous.”
“Dangerous how?” said Fiona.
“What if Jamie was coming to get you away from Bad Men?” said Logan. “You’d have never known. Now come on. Time ta get cleaned up.” He reached up and plucked the elf’s kid from the ceiling. “Paint ain’t good when it gets stuck on ya.”
“Is it *poison*?” asked Wendy.
Logan thought hard about saying 'yes’, but didn’t want the kids afraid for no good reason. “Only if ya try to eat it, kid. It’s just good to wash up.”
“Why?” said Steven.
The line struck him from _The Jungle Book_ and Logan smiled. “Be clean, for the strength of the hunter is based on the shine of his hide.”
The kids - including Jamie - conferred on that one. Logan used the excuse to herd them gently towards the elevator.
“How can you get strong from bein’ *clean*?” wondered William.
“Psychology,” said Logan. “You look after yourself, you take a bit o’ pride. You get confidant. That gives ya an edge.” He grinned. “Ya *wanna* have an edge, don'cha?”
The cheer - for him - was deafening. These kids, trained to be weapons of a sort, liked the idea of advantages.
Well, it *was* one way of talkin’ 'em into things.
“We have an ad? We’re barely two days old!”
“We *have* to make the people aware,” said Sandra. “This one’s tasteful and discrete. Very sincere.” She slotted the tape into the player.
White words on a black screen. _In every decade, one group has struggled against prejudice._
Clips faded in and out. Women’s rights. The peace movement. Martin Luther King… and Warren Worthington III.
“While I am alive. While I have the right to make my own decisions… that is *NOT* going to happen again.”
His speech faded to white words on a black screen. _You have a chance to do the right thing, this time._
A shot of a child holding up a doll. Numbers clearly visible on her arm.
_Support the Humane Foundation._
“It’ll play with our TV spots, and independantly during daytime TV. I figure homemakers would be the most sensitive to the cause.”
“It’s a little strong,” mused Warren.
“We’ve got to be,” said Sandra. “The FoH and the Anti-Mutant League are already on talkshows, going on about monsters out of control.”
“What?” Warren made a face. “Only one kid so far’s used their powers and that’s *Spyke*! The rest of them are too scared.”
Logan poked his head into the office. “Hey. Need a hand.” There was a kid clinging to his back who was *mostly* blue.
Sandra just sighed. “I *knew* we should have put the paint in the safe.”
“We have a safe, now?”
“Best just to store stuff we ain’t usin’ off site,” said Logan. “Mutant kids can get into *anythin’*."