Continued from yesterday:
“Ally? OmyGod! You’re OK! Dammit, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all *night*. I even went to your apartment, but your landlady chased me out with a broom. Said something about fraternizing with the enemy. Where in God’s name *are* you?”
Alison sighed. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Try me.” Good old Roman. Ever the pedantic one.
She sighed again, clearing her throat. “No, really. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it myself.”
“Ally, I work in Hollywood. There’s very little that can surprise me after the wierdoes, crackpots and all around headcases in that dump.”
“How about costumed superheroes?”
“You heard. Real live ‘let’s go save the world’ types. Place is full of them, from what I can gather. Even have their own jet.”
“Whoa, whoa, back it up a little there, starlet.” Alison smiled despite herself at his use of her nickname. “Start at the beginning. Remember, I had to work last night on the ad-campaign for our new flick, so I missed all the action at the DuBois. Enlighten me.”
The police interrogation was wearying to say the least, but not over-challenging for Warren, who as the son of a major businessman had been schooled in the art of saying a lot without saying much at all. Never the less, the police did notify him that they would be in contact again.
When he stepped outside he was supprised so see that his date from last night, Stacy, was still there.
'Hi honey,’ she cooed, 'I was just thinking, the nights a long way away and, to be frank, there’s nothing much I’ve gotta do today, or nothing much I want to do, anyway, so I was wondering… would you like to join me for a drink? I know a nice little caffe?’
She moved a little closer to him and subtly exuded some more pheromones. Warren smiled almost inanely.
'Sure,’ he said, 'where were you thinking of? I’ll pay.’
Together they walked down the street, Stacy working to keep the chat on small-talk level, keep him relaxed.
Suddenly they reached the part of the highstreet she had been looking for.
'Hey,’ she gasped, 'mind if we stop here a moment? I’ve just got to go in that shop, want to come in with me?’
Warren shrugged, and acompanied her into the indicated stoor, a reasonably sized pet shop.
'I’m thinking of getting an animal,’ she mentioned casually, 'I live on my own and… you know… it just gets awful lonely at times.’
Warren smiled and nodded, 'what animal are you thinking of getting?' he asked.
'A cat,’ she replied, 'I love cats, they’re so intelligent, so independent. You don’t HAVE a cat, you live with one, if you know what I mean?’
'Guess so, planning to get it today?’
'Nah, just window shopping, choosing the right animal takes time, you know.’
They continued to browse, moving from cage to cage, examining the animals, talking about the pros and cons of each one. Eventually they reached a large compound which made Stacy sigh.
'Aren’t they beautiful?’ she said, gesturing the the aviary, it's insides filled with tiny, fluttering birds, almost every colour of the rainbow.
'Yeah,’ replied Warren, watching them swoop, flutter and sing to their bretheren.
'You know,’ he continued, seeing the way her eyes, lingered on them, and observing her entranced expression, 'if you wan’t I could buy one for you. I mean, it and the cat might not get along that well, but if you were careful then…’
'Oh no, thank you but no!’
Warren cocked his head, 'why not?’ he asked.
'See, I wouldn’t have the heart. I mean, I do love these birds, they’re lovely and all, but they make me feel kinda sad.’
'Uh huh. See, birds aren’t supposed to be caged up like that, they're supposed to be free and stuff, flying around in the air. Not cooped up in a mangy little cage for human amusement. It’s not really fair, or at least I don’t think so.’
Warren just shrugged, feeling suddenly uncomfortable.
Luckily Stacy moved on from the birds, and after looking at a few of the other various critters, she took him to the cafe.
Roman’s whistle was tinny down the phoneline, and Alison held the receiver a little away from her ear.
“That’s some story, sugarbeet.”
“Roman, I’ve told you a thousand times, quit it with the banal nicknames. Starlet I can just about handle, but honeybunch, sweetums and anything to do with sweetener makes me feel positively nauseous.”
“Now that sounds more like the Ally I know and love.”
“Gets me everywhere.” She could almost imagine him grinning down the phone, and a smile of her own wormed across her face. The oppressive gloom, the tension in the air seemed less when she was talking to Roman, and she went so far as to straighten her posture the way her fourth grade ballet teacher had always shouted at her to do.
“Listen, Roman, I need to ask a favour. The people here… they're real nice and all, but… I’d feel a lot better with a few of my things around. A little familiarity might help me get my head together.”
“Considering what you’ve been through, I think we can stretch to that. Most people need counselling after an ordeal like that - although it sounds like this Xavier guy might pass for the job.”
“Counselling? I just need a new home.” She exhaled noisily, perusing a nail broken in the skirmish the night before.
“So you’ve really decided to move in there, then?” Roman sounded cautious, as if treading on dangerous ground by bringing the topic up.
“What else can I do?” Alison asked. “I’m guessing this morning's papers don’t have a good word to say about me, and those legions of fans my publicist likes to talk about won’t be much of a legion anymore, I'll bet.”
“Cheerful, aren’t we?”
“I’m being realistic, Roman.”
“And I’m trying to lighten the atmosphere a little.” She almost felt him give one of his special smiles. The kind that made his chin dimple, and the laughter lines around his eyes crease right up to the temple. "If you’ve decided to take Xavier up on his offer of room and board then I’ll support you, starlet. Although, I must admit, from what I’ve seen of these 'X-Men’, I’m not exactly thrilled at the prospect of having my girlfriend living in a house with several eligible bachelors who like to wear tight leather and spandex.“
"You’re a fine one to talk, Roman Nekobah! I saw your last movie!”
“Guilty as charged, I suppose. So when do you want me to swing by your place. I still have that key you gave me, so gaining entrance without the Landlady From Hell skewering me shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Soon as possible would probably be best.” She ran a hand through her hair, feeling a mass of greasy quills and deciding on impulse to hop into the shower she’d spotted in the en suite as soon as this conversation was done. “Listen, Roman, I really appreciate…. this.”
“What? Fetching your stuff? No biggie.”
“No, I mean… standing by me and all. I know my being a mutant’s not exactly news to you, but… well, I’ll completely understand if you'd rather cut contact with me now I’ve been outed.”
A pause. The line crackled with faint electricity, and Alison held her breath in anticipation. There, the ball was in his court now.
“Why would I want to do that, Ally?” Roman’s voice was soft and low; the most serious he ever got.
“Your career…” she said lamely. “Mine’s shot to pieces by this media revelation. I don’t want yours going down in flames too.”
“If it does, at least it’ll have company, right?” He gave a half-laugh. “Ally, I’m going to sound corny as hell now, but I’m not lying when i say that I love you, and if people have a problem with us being together; well then, that’s bad karma for them. I’ve got enough of a nest egg from producing to keep me going, so my career isn’t really a factor. You are.”
“Flatterer,” she sniffed, blinking back a sudden wetness attacking the bottom of her eyes.
“Like I said, it gets me everywhere.”
“The new movie’ll be ruined - ”
“Ach, it was probably gonna be ripped to shred by the critics anyway. You know they don’t like singers making the transition to acting.”
“I’ll be 'round in a couple of hours. See you later, gorgeous. Just remember to let me past the security at that place, OK?”
“You… are late.”
_Bite me._ Jean attempted an apologetic smile, brandishing the shopping bag and explaining how she’d needed to purchase some suitable swimwear for the shoot. She even extracted the tiny red two-piece for inspection, and received a terse nod for her troubles.
Gregorio turned out to be a thirty-ish man of dark hair, grey eyes and pale complexion. His features were vaguely hispanic, and he had a smattering of stubble across his chin, which he was wont to rub at when deep in thought. A gold stud graced either ear that matched the seventies-esque coin strung about his neck. His clothes looked as stylishly rumpled as any male model’s, and there was an aura of intrinsic arrogance that hung around him like a shroud, even to the non-telepathic.
Jean hated him on sight.
_Fashion victim,_ she thought as he caught a glimpse of himself in one of the huge mirrors strategically placed around the room. Reflective surfaces seemed to be the motif of Sunshine Studios - though whether for atmosphere or to satisfy the egotism of the photographer was debatable. They were absolutely everywhere, lining the walls of the foyer and hallway, and stretching across the ceiling of the room she was led into to meet Gregorio. Her feet made a sharp tapping noise, and she looked down to see that the floor was also mirrored, albeit with a sheet of reinforced glass laid across the top for expense’s sake.
Gregorio clapped his hands - not once, as most people might do, but in a staccato that made Jean’s teeth grind of their own accord.
“Well, depsite this, we shall progress anyway. Dominique?”
_Gregorio? Dominique? What’s with these people? Can’t they just have names with one syllable?_
A skinny thing in stilletto’s tottered through, dress draped around her with pouches of loose fabric where breasts, hips and butt were supposed to go. She gazed at Gregorio with huge moony eyes rimmed in kohl, and her mouth had a natural downward pout Kate Moss had worked years to cultivate. “Oui, Monsier Fradas?”
“Take Miss Grey to the changing facility. See that she looks… at least presentable. Then deliver her to Make-Up. See if they can do something about her sallow skin tones and fleshy cheeks. I will allow no flab to soil my art!”
_Well excuse *me* for being a healthy weight and not some stick-insect beauty pageant drop-out._ It felt better to think the words, but Jean had to make sure she wasn’t sending them telepathically, too, and fixed a smile in place as Dominique bobbed her head and teetered away like someone had sewn the cheeks of her ass together.
Levitating the tripod with her mind Jean sent it, javelin like, flying towards Gregorio’s backside, where it rammed straight up his–
'Open your legs a little more, darling, wonderful, now pout like I told you, no, I said pout, not sneer, move that arm, I want it *away* from your–’
Mentally gritting her teeth, Jean did as she was told, whilst running numerous simulations and fantasies in her head. These mostly involved Gregorio, photography equipment, and large amounts of pain.
She was not enjoying herself.
The makeup hadn’t been so bad, actually. The women there had been quite pleasant, she’d even talked to Jean the mechanics of photography, and given her tips about what shades looked good on her. Heck, she had quite enjoyed the makeup, as it had happened.
It went down during costume. She had come out wearing her red two-piece, and had been informed that the plan had changed. She had been shown, instead, to a silver bikini, even smaller than the red one. So small, in fact, that it barely covered her nipples and other important areas. She had been told by Gregorio, at the time, that he hoped she shaved well.
This was quite enough, after a heated argument, she had managed to persuade him to let her wear her original costume.
Now he was busy putting her in the most explicit positions possible, whilst all the while complaining loudly at various aspects of her body.
She was going to KILL somone soon if she didn’t get out. And she might enjoy it.
Elsewhere, others had their problems, too.
“Get him to the clean room!”
“Verdammt… We *told* you not to poke him!”
“…wanted to see why…”
“*Filch*… Next time can you *pretend* we have a good reason for saying these things?”
“…I’ll make a memo.”
Kurt rolled his eyes. “And *you*, Orpheus. We’re going to have a word about your *pets*. Get Patch. Now.” He ran beside the crowd. Patch might not be able to do it. That wound could so *easily* become infected…
Mother was waiting in the clean room. She was carrying a bundle of suspicious proportions.
“Taking your work home with you?” he sneered.
“A present,” said the shapeshifter. “Just in time, it appears.”
The bundle moved. “…broken…” said a small voice. A quadradactyl hand moved aside the covering blanket, revealing a very small child. She was pale, and wore only hospital scrubs, but she stepped down from Mystique’s embrace like a professional with a purpose.
Tiny white hands descended onto Filch’s torn side.
Blood flowed *backwards*.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said Mystique. “She’s too young. But we know from Meggan that powers manifest in times of stress.”
Her hair was close-cropped - like someone who owned a razor and not enough time had cut it - and blue-white. Her impassionate eyes were bright, new-leaf green.
Blood began to dribble out of her nose.
“But they rarely cause self-injury,” Mystique added. “Especially not to this extent.”
The horrid gash sealed itself into unwounded skin. The girl fell down. Kurt caught her, automatically wiping the blood from her face.
She reached up and smiled. So innocent.
There was a number on her arm.
With a bar code.
“Who put that there, liebchen?” He tried to remain calm. Couldn’t let his anger show. Never before had he wanted to *KILL* so badly….
Fake niceness. It was easy to do. “Do you have a name, kleines? Something they call you?”
That did it. People were going to die. “Where did you find her–” he turned to face her, but the woman was gone. “–Mother?”
“Pretty,” said the little girl, stroking his fur.
Kurt sighed. A puzzle-piece, a miracle and another mouth to feed. All in one.
Warren watched Stacy over the rim of his coffee mug as she tipped her own to her lips and drank deeply of the aromatic contents therein. A slow smile spread across her face, and she closed her eyes, scenting the depleted liquid.
“No matter how many times I come here, I still love the smell of their coffee,” she said, somewhat dreamily.
“Brazilian, isn’t it?” Warren asked, tasting his own. She was right. It was good - not too bitter, not too sweet, and with just the right amount of kick to it.
Stacy shrugged. “I think so. I’ve never asked, actually.” She took another sip, licking her lips to catch excess drops in such a way that managed to appear both innocent and strangely alluring at the same time.
Warren was finding himself more and more intrigued with her as the day progressed - and not a little attracted. There was just some kind of aura that surrounded this girl, pulling him towards her with all the strength of a planet’s orbital field. Several times now she’d proved herself to be witty, down to earth, and generally good company, with an undeniably hot bod to boot - four things that generally didn’t appear together in any given female companion, he’d found.
The social functions he’d been attending since practically pre-school tended to turn up the most vapid, insubstantial girls the world had to offer - all of them rich and 'eligible’, as he was constantly being told by a mother, who was insistent he should 'marry well’ in order to continue the Worthington family line. Yet with each one presented to him, Warren had turned a little more from that world of champagne glasses and ruthlessly flippant conversation. That is, until his wings prevented him from attending the functions at all. In that way, he supposed they’d been a boon. Yet his mother had kept putting through calls from each of the girls she favoured for him, giving them his email address when he stopped answering the phone, and giving them stamps for letters and postcards.
It was like, he’d thought more than once, being a piece of meat on display. _An exceptionally rich slab of meat._
But not Stacy. Kathryn Worthington hadn’t vetted her, and in some small act of rebellion, this made Warren want to spend more time with her. Stacy was everything those high society girls were not, and from what he’d seen, she didn’t seem to care what the rest of the world thought about her, either.
“So tell me,” he said, taking the plunge, “What do you do for a living?”
Stacy raised an eyebrow, an enigmatic smile curling the edged of her mouth. “What a boring question. Is that all you can think about?”
He shrugged. “My witty repartee needs some work, I’m afraid. Coffee doesn’t exactly whip me into a verbal frenzy. So what do you do?"
"You mean apart from snag handsome men into buying me coffee?” She put down her cup, running the tip of one slender finger around the rim. “I'm a Recruitment Officer.”
Warren tilted his head to one side, trying not to dwell on the fact that she’d just called him handsome. “Recruitment Officer? What’s that when it’s at home? No offence meant.”
“None taken. I chase around after people to join this… company I work for. You know, giving interviews, deeming whether they’re right and have the proper qualities for certain jobs - if we have a place for them. That sort of thing.”
“You man the proverbial door to let people in and out.”
“Got it in one,” she nodded, latticing her fingers beneath her chin and gazing searchingly at him. “So you’re the eminent Warren Worthington, then? No need to ask what *you* do for a living.”
“Fending off my mother is a top priority,” Warren admitted, “But I'm taking on a more active role in Worthington Industries as my father gets older. No more living off trust funds for me. I actually have to *work* for my supper nowadays, instead of just singing for it.”
“And all the great parties are just a side thing,” she grinned, somewhat rapaciously.
Warren pulled a face. “Greatness is all in the eye of the beholder. Believe me, those parties are nothing special. I don’t go to them for fun, just in the hope of making a few more business connections.” He shrugged. “Some people are easier to interact with once they have a few glasses of wine in them.”
“I know that story,” Stacy said cryptically, and rasied her mug, preventing him from asking after the meaning behind her words. “I avoid that kind of nightlife these days. Too much on my plate without having to worry about stuff like that. My boss is a perfectionist,” she said by way of explanation. “He demands results *really* quickly, and won't accept anything less than the best. Practically runs the company into the ground.”
“Sounds like a real slave driver.”
Her ears touched her shoulders. “He’s an OK guy; just very driven. The guys upstairs are on his back a lot, from what I can gather, so he vents his frustration on the rest of us. But his heart’s in the right place, and we all appreciate his badgering when things finally pay off.” She picked up the large chocolate chip cookie, one of the two they'd ordered, and broke a piece off. Crumbs dropped onto the tabletop, and she casually swept them onto the floor. “One thing about my boss is, he always gets results. *Always*.”
They’d elected to sit in the corner, away from all prying eyes save those of the sepia photographs of old Hollywood movie stars hung everywhere on the walls. The cafe’s decor revolved around Hollywood and film-making, yet stayed just the right side of tasteful. Warren wondered how he’d never noticed this quaint little place before, then decided it was probably the location - tucked away down a side-street he never would’ve found had he not been looking expressly for it.
“Sounds like an interesting guy.”
Stacy shrugged. “I guess you could say that. You gonna finish that cookie, Cookie?”
Despite himself, Warren flushed, pushing his plate towards her and completely missing her sly smile at his verbal fumbling.
Not the kind of girl Mrs. Worthington would approve of, indeed.
They were walking together, heading for one of *his* haunts, a little bookstore/coffee shop that he loved to lurk in, when Greg came running up to him.
“OmyGod. Warren. You’re okay… I thought they’d got you?”
“They?” Warren raised an eyebrow.
“We need to discuss this somewhere out of the way,” Greg began tugging on his arm, leading him towards a quiet diner. “You won’t freaking *believe* it.”
Stacy trailed along in their wake, heels clicking on the sidewalk.
“*No*…” Stacy was agape. “Shiva?”
“I dunno. Some weird shit indian Goddess with six goddamn arms. And the freak *with* her. Some kinda devil… had *bones* coming out of her *skin*. Mutant *psychopaths*.”
The air grew cold.
“Greg,” said Warren, “Remember who you’re talking to.”
“That phrase *really* annoys me,” said Stacy. “It’s like a word association thing. Black, white. Day, night. Klingon, warrior. Mutant, psychopath.” She snorted. “It’s like everyone on the planet read *way* too much Dick Tracy and they think anyone who’s different is automatically out to *get* them. Yeesh.”
Warren was staring at her. “You’re one, too. That 'skin condition’ of yours…”
“Scales.” She hiked up her skirt to let them have a peek. “You? Your 'back condition’?”
Warren slurped back drool and blinked a little before he said, "Wings.“ He lifted his ever-present long coat so she could see the top of one.
Stacy gasped. "Oh *wow*… They’re *beautiful*…” She feigned normality whilst the waitress bussed a table next to theirs. “You shouldn’t have to hide, it’s a crying shame.”
“Those purple scales of yours are nothing to pout about, either," Warren murmured. "I bet they look wonderful in the right light.”
Stacy looked down. “Pity nobody’s gonna know. You know how everyone feels. Heck, you were *there*.”
“Yeah.” He sipped his coffee. “Idiots with guns.”
“Guns?” Greg looked even more distressed. “That business with the Dazzler? Did they try to shoot you?”
“No, just innocent audience members,” he said. “Then we had hot and cold running mutants in the room and things got a little crazy.”
“I thought it was crazy the minute the army guys turned up.”
“They were the FoH, dear,” said Greg. “Not army men.”
“Are you sure?” said Stacy, pretending innocence. “Because I could *swear* their gear matched and *fit*.” Another subtle pheromone-amp, just enough to get them to agree with her.
“Y'know… at their rallies, they all look like survivalists,” said Warren. “Mismatched camo gear. No two bandoliers are alike. That sort of thing.”
Someone on the news was interviewing a spokesman for the FoH. The redneck in question was denying any responsibility for the attack the previous night.
“Like *him*,” said Greg.
“We know of no clubhouse or organisation associated *with* us who would have perpetrated such an act,” the guy was saying. “And none of our charter members would have done such a thing without due authorisation from the Head Council. Having *said* that, I want you all to know that Alison Blair and *FREAKS* like her are on our list! A mutant bitch like her doesn’t belong on the stage - she belongs in a *cage*!”
Stacy shuddered. “Nie wieder, asshole.”