Continued from yesterday:
After the fiasco with the paints, lights and the spaghetti, the Warren decided that some sort of ‘proper’ decoration was needed.
So it was that, after fishing up some funding the, Humane Foundation started to be decked in large amounts of gold and silver tinsel.
Everyone joined in, Kaze and Warren flew round the rooms, hanging decorations on hard to reach nooks and crannies in the walls. Sandra organized teams of volunteers, putting them to tasks ranging from cooking to decorating to teaching the children some of the little traditions of the season. Around the halls Dr McCoy’s deep, baritone voice could be heard singing 'deck the halls with bows of holly!’ in jubilant tones.
And everywhere the little, mutant children joined in. Some suspicious, many bemused, but most excited and overjoyed. This was, most concluded, a truly magical time.
The only person not joining in with the festive frolicking was Logan.
He stood by the door now, scowling as he watched Sandra hang baubles upon the branches of a fur tree.
'You intending for Warren to sit up the top of that?’ he asked.
'Only after several sherries, if we’re lucky,’ joked Sandra, tying some silver tinsel upon a branch.
Logan didn’t crack so much as a smirk.
'Cheer up, hon,’ said the plump woman, throwing a grin the surly Canadian’s way, 'you look like your best friend just died.’
'Ain’t got no best friend.’
'And now you sound like Spyke,’ sighed Sandra, 'and even he’s joining in! you see these lovely icicles he made?’
She gestured to the pile of bone shards which Spyke had provided, they’d been covered in silver spray paint and, Logan had to privately admit, made rather good, if unconventional, icicles.
Not that he’d ever admit it publicly of course. He just grunted. 'What’s up? Not into the seasonal spirit of things?’
'Don’t see the point.’
'Not see the point of Christmas?’ Sandra sounded honestly shocked. 'I’m an atheist,’ said Logan, 'so all this religious… stuff, just goes over my head. Don’t see why I should celebrate somethin’ I don’t even believe in.’
'But it’s not about that,’ protested Sandra, 'not really. Do you think Warren would allow this if it was? He’s keeping the religious side of it to a minimum, he doesn’t want to indoctrinate any of these children into any religion. Christmas is… or should be, about being with your family, loving ones fellow man, it should be a time of hope!’
Logan threw back his head and gave out a hollow laugh, 'lady,’ he chortled, 'I ain’t got no family, and neither have these kids. They ain’t experienced much of the loving of fellow man, neither. Neither have I for that matter, as for hope… well… in my experience, I’ve learned better than to hope. And so shall they, probably. See, it’s all pretty pointless from where I’m sitting.’
'Well then,’ said Sandra putting her hands on her hips, 'you’re a very sad man, Logan, or should I call you Ebenezer?’
'Bah humbug,’ growled Logan, before stalking out.
Logan continued to watch the festivities from a corner. He wanted to join in, but he knew what would happen if he did. He’d get attached to the kids, then they would grow up, grow old, and die, leaving him alone again. He’d rather be alone by choice than alone by loss. Getting close just hurt too much.
Logan felt a tug on his pants. One of the four-year-olds, Faith, was looking up at him. “Mithter Logan,” she lisped around a missing tooth, “my pretties are turning out all lumpy. Will you help me?”
Why did these things always happen to him?
Jean sat alone in the mansion’s bathroom. She’d been in there for quite a while, now, and knew she should leave before her team mates became suspicious.
She didn’t want that, not now.
She found herself unable to stand though, unable to even move her eyes away from the small piece of test paper she was currently holding. Such a tiny thing, yet so large, so important…
It was Christmas, nearly, was this some, strange gift or a twisted, obscene curse?
Shakily, using the wall as a support, she raised herself and staggered over to the sink. Turning on the tap she picked up a flannel and began to wipe her face, to get rid of the tear marks that tracked her cheeks.
She looked into the mirror, before her stood a slender woman in her early twenties, her uniform revealing smooth skin and strong muscles. It was a powerful woman who looked back at her from the mirror, a woman on the rise, a woman who would, and perhaps could, do anything for her team. A woman who loved adventure, who was independent, who was powerful.
Jean found her hand reaching down and touching her midriff.
She made a decision.
'God bless you merry gentlemen,
Have nothing to-’
Hank’s latest mumbled Christmas carol was interrupted by a knocking at his lab door. Moving away from the slides he was studying, he lumbered over to the door.
It was a rather solemn looking Jean Grey, 'Merry Christmas!’ he greeted, opening the door wider, 'please, come in and share the seasonal cheer!’
'You’ve very festive, McCoy,’ commented Jean, stepping over the threshold. Jean and Hank were good friends, having met even before he joined the Humane Foundation. They’d gone to college together and, whilst they’d never been best friends, they’d come to know each other rather well.
'I love this time of year,’ laughed Hank, 'who couldn’t? The presents, the food, the children, the good cheer! Ah, if only every day was Christmas… plus,’ he added, reaching from out under his desk to reveal a box of small, yellow cakes, 'it’s an excuse to eat even more Twinkies! Want one?’
'No thank you,’ replied Jean, a smile finally finding its way onto his face. All too soon it was gone, though 'Hank,’ she began, 'I… I’ve come to ask a favour of you.’
'What?’ asked Hank, taking a bite out of a Twinkie.
'It’s… kind of private… I want your confidentiality on this…’
'You have it, of course,’ said Hank around his mouth full of Twinkie, 'your request will not leave this room!’
Jean’s next words caused him to drop the other half of the Twinkie, and nearly choke on the half he was munching.
'Hank… I want you to help me have an abortion.’
Kaze was on the rooftop. It was peaceful up here, despite the bustling metropolis below, and she took solace in the wind ruffling her hair and feathers. Her wings were free, but rested lightly against her rounded back, unused. Somewhere to her left, she could hear a pigeon billing and cooing to another, uninterested bird, and when they flew off seconds later she watched them leave.
“Penny for them?”
She spun. “Warren!”
He stood in the open doorway of the emergency stairwell, arms folded and expression unsure. “Should I have knocked?”
She didn’t reply. Instead, she simply turned back, kicking her feet against the brickwork.
“You could fall from there, you know,” he said as he came over.
She shrugged. It was needless comunication, and they both knew it. Silence fell between them, broken only by the intermittant rustling of feathers.
“Aren’t you cold in just that?” Warren gestured to her sweater.
“I’m fine. Really,” she added at his look. “Warren, I know you’re just looking out for me, but please leave me alone. I need some skytime.”
“Skytime? You’re going flying?”
“No, I - It’s what my mother used to call it. Time by myself, to think about things.”
“Oh.” Another pause. Then; “Is this about your brother?”
“I hate intuitive people. Did Miss Grey tell you to come check up onme?” Kaze had seen the woman arrive in her car, watched as she trooped up the stairs of the Foundation and rang the doorbell.
“You don’t have to be a telepath to tell when someone’s not a hundred per cent,” Warren said softly. He turned around to lean backwards on the tiny wall on which she was perched. hands braced against teh concrete. “You know I’m always here ifyou need to talk, don’t you?”
“I know.” Kaze sighed, and looked at him. “And thank you for that. But I really don’t want to right now. Telling about… it just stirred up a few memories I’d rather have forgotten, is all.”
Warren bobbed his head, gaze distant. “I get the same thinking about my father. We had some good times when I was a kid, all told. It’s a shame things had to end on such a bad note.”
“They don’t have to. He *is* still alive, after all.”
“Not to me. Neither is my mother, since she took his side in all of this.” He looked down, perusing the back of one hand. “What was his name?”
“Who? My brother?”
Kaze took pause, nibbling her lower lip. Finally, after a moment or two of what looked like soul-searching, she murmured, “Caro. He was sixteen years old when he died. He’d be twenty-four now.” Then she whispered, “It’s his birthday on the tenth.”
“Ah.” In a flash of elucidation, Warren understood what had inspired the sudden funk - aside from telling the story of Caro’s demise, of course.
On impulse, he moved closer, and laid a hand on one of her wing-backs. Kaze tensed, then relaxed, allowing his fingers to rest there.
After a few minutes, she spoke. “Thank you, Warren.”
Warren didn’t say anything. There was no need.
“Ah…boss…?” Tech knocked tentatively at the sheet of metal that covered the opening that lead to Nightcrawler’s quarters. “I think you better come take a look at this.”
“What is it?” Nightcrawler growled. Tech baulked, something had got his hackles up, he didn’t want to know what it was.
“The factory that was making those Nicecrawler dolls?”
Nightcrawler picked up on a single word. “Was?”
“It’s all over the news…” Tech explained as he led his now interested leader towards their main meeting rooms. The large, hobbled together television set was set to stolen CNN.
“Repeating the hour’s top story…” It warbled to itself. “The Luvum’s toy factory just outside New York was demolished today in what police have labelled a brutal terrorist attack…”
The scene changed to the site of the former factory which appeared to have collapsed in on itself…there was nothing left but rubble. “As you can see…” The field reporter said. “The structure has completely collapsed. There has been no official body count as yet, but a full shift of one hundred and fifty employees were on the lines when the incident occurred…rescue workers are still attempting to locate any survivors.”
“Good Gott…” Nightcrawler breathed.
The scene switched back to the studio. “Though no group has claimed responsibility for the attack it is believed to be the actions of the Legion of the Unwanted, who previously launched a similar attack on the company…”
“Whoa!” Tech gasped. “They’re blaming us?”
“Who else are they going to blame?” Nightcrawler growled.
“This time he’s gone too far!” Scott snarled as he flicked off the same news report. “We can’t let him get away with this…”
“I’m not so sure he did this.” Jean shook her head. “It’s not his way…”
“Yeah…well I guess you’re the expert!” Scott turned on her angrily. Jean met him with equal ire.
“As much as I don’t want to stick up for him…” Remy began in hopes to diffuse the pair. “But Jean’s got a point… he’ll scare people… beat the living shit out of 'em even… but he’s no killer…”
“So it’s a coincidence that a factory making cuddly toys in his likeness just happens to fall down?” Scott turned on the Cajun now.
“It fell down…” Hank frowned, momentarily lost in thought. “Do they have the ability to make a building fall down? If I remember rightly, Nightcrawler’s more the blow-the-damn-thing-up kind of guy…”
“Are you saying he’s being set up?” Jean asked.
“Perhaps…” Hank shrugged. “But if so, by whom?” 'Perhaps it might be prudent for you to slip off and have a little chat with him…’ He thought to her. I doubt he’d do you any harm…and there is, after all, that other little matter you need to discuss with him…
'THAT has nothing to do with him!’
'I believe it has a little to do with him…’
Yes, 23 chromosomes worth, to do with him. I hardly call it that a big deal. Thought Jean in reply.
It’s a life, Miss Grey, you of all people should appreciate that!
Jean managed to supress a wince at the sting in Beast’s thoughts, are you going to help me or not? You said you needed more time to think about it, so I invited you here. Now you’re here, tell me what your answer is!
We’ll speak alone, I want you to hear my words aloud.
'Jean?’ asked Scott, 'you OK?’
'Yeah,’ assured the telepath, 'just a bit of a headache, that’s all. So, what’s the plan?’
'Well, first we talk to the Professor, but after that I think we should split up into two groups, one to examine the crime scene, the other to go into the sewers, see what Nightcrawler has to say for himself.’
'Good idea,’ agreed Jean, 'how about I lead the first team, you go for the second?’
'That’s what I was planning.’
Remy’s, Ororo’s, Hank’s and Petior’s eyes switched between the two mutants, for some reason there was a thick tention in the air, a tention that had existed for the past few days, a tention between Scott and Jean, though only Remy, and possibly Hank, had any idea of what was behind it.
'Fine,’ agreed Jean, 'Mr McCoy, as we’ll be entering a disaster area, may I request your assitance? You could be invaluble in helping the wounded?’
'Of course,’ agreed Hank.
'Good, come with me to the Med-bay, we’ll pick up some supplies there.’
Jean arose out of her chair and marched away, closely followed by Hank.
Scott fumed as he suited up. The Professor had approved their plan, although he had tried to suggest that Scott and Jean switch roles - he thought she might have a better chance of getting answers out of the Legion’s leader. They had both refused. Scott was more than a little irritated at the speed with which his team-mates, especially Jean, had stood up for Nightcrawler, but he was at least a bit reassured by her unwillingness to be the one to contact him. The last thing she needed was any kind of entanglement with the terrorist.
_He’s gone too fucking far this time, dammit. I don’t care what they say, this fiasco has his name written all over it in neon lights._ Cyclops slammed his locker so hard the door bounced before swinging closed again and latching. He turned to where Gambit was eyeing him. “You got a problem Cajun?” he snarled.
“I ain’t the one wit de problem,” he answered with a raised eyebrow, before exiting the locker room quickly yet in no apparent hurry.
Scott took a deep, calming breath as he closed his eyes and switched his sunglasses for his visor. Unfortunately, the calming part didn’t work. _The bastard *killed* innocent people, just because he didn’t like a damned stuffed toy. I helped him. Gave him money, supplies…. I *helped* him and look what he did._
“Dammit! I helped that asshole do this.” He bounced a fist off his locker in a final fit of impotent rage, then stalked from the locker room to join his team.
Nightcrawler poked around what was left of the Luvum’s factory. He’d had to wait until the rescue teams had pulled out taking their high powered spot lights with them. The sight of all those body bags being loaded into silent ambulances…he’d had to cover his eyes…but he had to find some clue as to who had perpetrated this crime…those nameless bags no doubt had families…families that would have their vengeance through him!
He had decided to come alone, he blended with the shadows far better than anyone else…and he just didn’t feel comfortable with Spiral since his discovery of her with his doctored likeness. There were still a few clean up teams working, but he managed to avoid them easily enough. It was the bright flash of an oxy torch off to his left that caught his eye, several more quickly joining it. Stealthily he crept towards the impossibly blue-white glow, thankful for his ability to grip any surface. His golden eyes widened at what he saw.
The building’s structural supports had been somehow wrenched from the wreckage here, twisted and moulded as if by a giant hand to spell out a message.
'You will not belittle your superiors’ it read. A team of men were working to dismantle it, to hide it from the world.
His head flicked towards a sudden very angry, very raised voice… a voice he knew all too well.
“There’s no point hiding it from us!” Jean said as she brushed past. “I can read it in you minds!”
“We have orders.” The police officer said as he hurried to catch her. “Need to know only…”
“Well, we need to know!” She barked at him. Nightcrawler saw her baulk at the message in twisted metal. “Oh my God…” She whispered. She looked extremely pale, haggard, terrified. What did she know that he didn’t?
“Oh my stars and garters…” The big fellow with her muttered. “How on earth did he…?”
“He didn’t.” Jean said, pulling him aside. “Nightcrawler’s never believed himself superior to anyone…almost the opposite in fact…” Clinging to the shadowed wall above her, he bristled at the comment. “I can only think of one mutant group that does…with a leader more than capable of doing this.” She gestured at the message. “And if it IS him…” Her hand came to rest on her belly.
“I still think you should think…”
“I AM thinking!” She snarled. “If we’re up against him…I don’t have time to be out of action…and even if I did take this through to its conclusion, can you imagine the pressure he could put on us if he got a hold of it?”
“A child through whom he could control both the X-Men and the Legion…”
Nightcrawler clamped a hand over his mouth to stop his gasp of shock as his keen mind put two and two together. She was carrying his child…and she was planning to get rid of it…without even telling him of its existence!
That wouldn’t do…wouldn’t do at all!
Sam wriggled, jiggled, twisted and kicked - quite impressive, considering the length of his legs. Yet the mass of bodies pinning him down didn’t let up, and he remained where he was, wide-eyed.
Jubilee advanced, grinning, with scissors at the ready. “This is for your own good, Sam.”
“Aye, listen to the gal,” Rahne advised, sitting on his arm and massaging an elbow where a lashing and thoroughly gymnastic foot had caught her. “Else I might have to bite ya where it counts.”
“Move!” Sam pleaded, but Catseye seemed to find the whole ordeal rather hilarious.
She was cleaning her face, feline-style, cross-legged on his chest. Her weight was dead, though he could still breath, and he had the feeling that if he were not moving about so much, she might have just curled up there and gone to sleep.
“Fuzzy-face must have chop,” she said firmly, eliciting a wince from the male contingent of the room.
“Time to polish up the language skills, girl.”
Jubilee took a lock of sandy hair in her hand and started snipping.
The howling could be heard all through the Institute.
Hank wiped the sweat which was accumulating on his brow, he’d been helping with the wounded for the past few hours.
'Pass me some more bandages,’ he ordered.
Jean moved to comply, but found they were all out, 'I’ll go back to the Black Bird to get some more,’ she said, and moved away.
She pressed the key code to ender the jet, and marched inside, moving streight to the supply cupboard where more bandages and other medical paraphanalia had been kept. She noticed a strange smell in the room… somewhat unpleasent like… like… rotten eggs…
'So,’ came a cool, melodious voice, carrying with it a germanic lilt, 'when were you thinking of telling me? Humm?’
'I wasn’t,’ stated Jean, streightning up, it didn’t take a telepath to know he’d found out, she could tell by his first comment, by the dull, background anger in his voice.
'You can’t do this,’ he growled.
'You know damned well what!’
Jean clasped the bandages close to her, 'no, I don’t. And if you’ll excuse me, I’ve work to do.’
She moved to the door, but a three fingered hand caught her arm, held in in a vice like grip.
'Let go of me.’
Her voice was calm, smooth, but with a fierce undercurrent, like ice upon a fast flowing stream.
He complied with her demand, 'I’m sorry,’ he muttered, 'but we need to talk.’
'Because it’s my child, verdammt! It’s my child you’re talking about killing!’
'It’s not a child, it’s just a collection of multiplying cells at the moment. That’s all.’
'Oh, I suppose it makes it easy for you to think of it that way, does it?’ Nightcrawler’s tone was sharp now, sarcastic, 'what give you the right to say when something is alive and when it isn’t? What give you the right to end a life!’
'What do you care?’ snarled back Jean, 'what the hell do you have to do with any of this!’
'It’s a child of my seed! I have everything to do with this!’
'You have nothing to do with this! You havn’t a clue! This is my body, Kurt, my body!’
Her voice was practially a scream now, a yell which put Nightcrawler back on his heels.
There was a clanging sound outside, undoubtebly someone just knocking over a piece of rubble, but it brought the two mutants back to reality, they lowered their voices.
'It’s my body,’ repeated Jean, 'Kurt… Kurt I can’t do this, I don’t have time!’
'So you want to kill our child because you don’t have time for it, ja?’
'It’s not our child, Kurt, it’s a mistake, an accident, something that can still be put right!’
'How can you call a child, any child, an accient? Jean, I know this is hard, but it’s done. If you’re pregnant, then it was meant to be, God meant it to be, how can we deny that?’
'I’m no Catholic, Kurt,’ sighed Jean stroking the bridge of her nose, 'I’m not even much of a Christian, don’t try to work that argument with me.’
'Then what arguement do you want?’ asked Nightcrawler, his voice high with despiration, 'what is it that can turn you from this, why are you doing this?’
'I can’t do this now,’ repeated Jean, 'I have my life ahead of me, a career, a duty, I can’t just sacrifice that all because of a one night stand, because of a momment of maddness? I can’t.’
'Oh, so you’re aborting because of your career, because of your duty? What about your duty to this child, then? What about the sanctaty of life? I thought X-men didn’t kill.’
'But why should I have to sacrifice everything for a mistake? Why should I have to carry a child I don’t want and probably can’t look, after? How is that fair?’
'It isn’t,’ Nightcrawler’s voice rose again, 'life isn’t fair, Jean? How is it fair that I was beaten to a pulp and nearly burned whist people like General McAllister live healthy lives? How is it fair that I was born a freak when others are born looking normal, living normal lives? How is it fair that the childen of the Legion of The Unwanted live in sqallar and decay when other children live and dance in the sunlight? How is any of that fair? It isn’t, life isn’t fair, but it’s still life and we should respect it. You can’t just go throwing something like this away, just because life treated you badly. That makes you no better than… than… than any bastard on the face of this planet you could care to name!’
Jean seemed moved, but she stood her ground, 'it’s not just about me, or about this… this child. It’s about everyone. Something’s coming, Kurt, something really bad, and I’m going to be needed at full form to deal with it. How will the X-men cope without me? We need all the heroes we can get Kurt, and I… the world, just can’t afford for me to be a mother, not now.’
'Fein, then I’ll look after it! I’ll take it in, ja? Would that be better?’
Tears were trickling down Jean’s face now, and she fancied she saw moisture in Kurt’s eyes as well. She felt shocked at his proposal, never imagining that he could be so magnamonious.
Yet slowly, sadly, she shook her head, 'no Kurt, I’m sorry.’
'Verdammt! Will you stop being so bloody selfish! Will you stop thinking about yourself for a momment and think of the child! Of the life you’re willing to destroy!’
'But I am, that’s why I’m doing this.’
She took a deep breath, 'Listen, what could I give it, Kurt? What could you give this child? Do you really want to see it grow up amongst the darkness and the filth of the sewer? Do you want to exile your child there?’
Kurt opened his mouth to speak, but Jean put her finger over it, 'no,’ she whispered, 'you wouldn’t, or you’d have taken Niota down there. Kurt… when I have a child, I want to give it everything. I want it to have a nice home, a good education, a safe life… I want to love it, Kurt, I want to give it all of my time and energy and heart. I can’t do that now. Even if I kept it, what would happen? I’m afraid Kurt, that if I had this child then I couldn’t give it any of that. I’m afraid it I had it… I wouldn’t love it, not really, because it’d always remind me of what I lost, of what it had cost me. How could I condmenm a child to that life, Kurt? I can’t. It’s better this way, for everyone.’
Kurt was sobbing now, tears rolled down his face. He was trying to compose himself, his hands clasped on his sword hilts so hard that his knuckles were white though the blue skin.
'You don’t know that,’ he whisperred, 'you don’t *know*!’
'No, but I’m pretty sure, and I don’t want to take the chance. I’m not asking you to agree with me, Kurt, I’m not asking your permission, I’d never want you to have that guilt on your shoulders. If anything bad comes of this, it should be on my head. It’s my choice, my body.’
Jean had heard Kurt talk in many ways, she had heard him sob in grief, howl in anger, laugh in mirth, but never had she heard him produce these tones. So light, so delicate, so vulnerable, he spoke like a child, his eyes wide and pleading and desperate.
'Is… is it me? Is it because it’s my child, because it’s a freak?’
'No,’ she replied, 'no, it’s not, not really, though I do worry that if I do have this baby, then it might be used against us all. I don’t want this to become a living weapon, a tool. My baby, the one I want, whomever its father is, deserves a lot better than that.’
'Is there nothing I can say to change your mind?’
Jean shook her head, 'no,’ she whispered, 'no… I don’t think so…’
Niota was fighting with the tinsel. She’d never come across anything quite like it before, and wasn’t sure she liked it. Or it liked her. It kept trying to wrap itself around her legs and tail, and when she pulled it off again, little bits flew everywhere, getting in her fur, her hair, her eyes…
This Christmas lark was all very well, but tinsel… well, tinsel she could do without.
She was just removing the last of it from between her toes when a loud sigh snagged her attention. ifting her head, she stared past the other kids playing around with decorations, sensitive ears twitching. A solitary figure hushed past the doorway, and the aura of sadness coming off it was almost palpable.
Despite all her years of captivity, Niota was a caring soul. She disliked pain, especially the emotional stuff, and especially when it involved others. True, this wasn’t off immediate concern to her little 'family’, but still… the figure’s lights were wrong, and they made Niota feel funny; like something was amiss that shouldn’t be.
She removed herself from the hustle and bustle, following the figure down to the kitchen. The blind hobo - what was his name again? - was guarding the front door, but she bypassed him via.
She peered around the doorframe, upside-down for a moment. She was at the kitchens, and the figure with the bad lights was pouring a coffee from the decanter. Niota recognised the lady with the wings, but couldn’t remember her name. Mentally, she tagged her as Bad Lights. But Bad Lights had proven herself a friend and caregiver before, so if was safe enough to approach.
Bad Lights turned, startled, when Niota spoke.
“Excuse me?” She blinked, then looked around. “Shouldn’t you be with the others putting decorations up?”
“I was.” Niota paused, squatting on a tabletop. The idea of a specific fodplace never even occurred to her. For her, the table and counters were just different levels of floor, and to be treated as such. Had the cupboards been open, she might have wound in and out of them like an acrobat or house cat. “I don’t like tinsel,” she said at last.
“Well, that’s a first. Why?”
“Bitty. Why are you sad?”