_Hank insisted on giving me a painkiller. I was out of the loop for several hours. Hallucinating all sorts of bizarre and interesting things._
_I saw you in there, too. I guess the brain summons what it desires most in times of stress or strain._
Mort stopped reading. "I *was* there, luv," he whispered. But then, he knew what it was like to doubt reality.
He did a literary double-take on the last few words he'd read. The brain summons what it desires most.
What it desires most...
She wanted him with her. Missed him. Desired him.
That phrase alone would keep him warm for hours.
_And just in case you were there,_ Sara continued, _thanks for trying to talk to me. Even though I couldn't understand a blessed thing you said. It all came into my ears like the muted trumpet thing they did for the teachers in those old _Charlie Brown_ cartoons._
_My trip to Pepperland aside for the moment, I hope that this letter finds you in less pain than I'm enduring. It simply won't do to have us both suffering for this chance. No hurling yourself into objects solid, breakable or other. That includes sharp objects and hot things. That's an order._
"Yes, Ma'am," he breathed.
_I do want to be able to dance with you during my birthday party without causing excess discomfort to either of us; so please, please take good care of yourself._
_And speaking of birthdays, I sent a marvellously ascerbic and catty un-invitation to my alleged 'dear darling' mother. Kept a copy for you to laugh at when we finally meet for better times._
_The rest of the student body have apparently taken up arms against our particular misfortune... or rather, the gentleman chiefly responsible. This morning's assault apparently involved purple dye, lederhosen, honey and drag-queen supreme frames for the necessary spectacles. Or is that 'spectacle'? I have seen the purple, since the dye tends to linger, but alas, he'd found himself some proper clothes and eyewear since he was 'hit'._
_I've requested that, in the event of further pranking, they take photographs so that others may enjoy the full effect. I've also informed them that a public webpage on the subject is going entirely too far._
_Write soon, beloved. Knowing that there is *one* line of communication open to us is enough to get me through the day._
_Missing you from here, Sara Louise._
Mort sighed, kissed the note, and added it to his little stash of similar missives in his room. Re-reading her rambling letters gave him solace in the lonely nights. He smirked at the thought of an 'un-invitation' and could only wonder at the sort of fallout that such an item would produce.
Sam heard the scream clear across the house. And considering the size of the house, that was either an impressive feat or a truly phenominal scream. He did not, as he used to do, run. There was a subtle difference between Jaquelline's I've-just-hurt-myself scream and her I'm-outraged scream. Long familliarity with the latter over the past few weeks had made him almost immune to her histrionics. Almost. He still loved her so badly that it hurt to see her like this.
He'd encouraged her to 'take a holiday' from her side of the family. Otherwise known collectively to his mind as the Harpie-vultures. Not only did they harangue and assault one, they also plucked at one's tender portions, tearing one up inside and out.
So far, it had helped some of the core of Jaquelline to emerge, but old habits died hard.
Such as the need to blame someone else.
Jaquelline was red-faced and fuming when he reached her. "That *GIRL*! That *girl* of yours... she-- she-- *ARGH*! Just *read* what she had to say!"
Sam picked up the crumpled stationary and schooled himself to keep his face blank.
_Mommy Dearest,_ Sara had written. _Just a little note to let you know I'm more than adequately prepared for your absence from my seventeenth birthday party on the 12th of this month. I understand that you'll be entirely too busy with your other social concerns to attend._
Sam bit his lip. Jaquelline's 'social concerns' had vanished like fog the instant the news of her abuse of Sara had got out. She was alone and uncomforted by the people she'd thought of as her friends. All she had left was wherever Sam took her as part of her continuing therapy.
_I'm also well aware of your aversion to mutant-kind, and thought it best to exclude you from the guest list, since many attendees will be mutants - including yours truly. Alas, I have yet to achieve mastery of my own genes, so a mutant I must remain._
_Since it is so obviously against ettiquite and social standing to be Seen with a mutant, I shall spare you the awkwardness of the situation, and allow you your complete and utter freedom as to what to do with your time on that date._
Sara had signed it with a, _With love from your daughter._
Sam read it over and winced.
"Exactly. She's doing this to me on *purpose*!"
"Yes," he agreed. "This is the first thing Sara's done to you deliberately."
"First?" Jaquelline got herself ready for another tirade. "Do you have any *idea* how much she's *done* while your back was turned to me?"
"Yes. You've told me some innumerable times. And I've told you that when Sara decides to inflict herself on someone - you'll *know* about it. This--" he gestured with the paper, "--is merely an opening shot."
"This all *her* fault..."
"Is it? *You* decided to judge her by your family's standards, Jaquelline. Is it any wonder that that's the first thing she'd throw in your face? You put her in a school that was ill-suited for her aptitude--"
"She didn't complain at the time."
"Because she loved you and wanted you to be happy," said Sam. "I think the latter half of that prior statement is being forgotten as we speak, Jaquelline. Do you really want the first half to go the same way?"
"Stop taking her *side*!"
"I'm on *my* side," argued Sam. "I always have been. All I ever wanted was for the both of you to get along and be *happy*. You're the one who believes love is a once-to-one-person thing. You're the one who can't see beyond the surface of things... how it all *looks* to the outside. You're the one who's seen everything else and every*one* else except *yourself*." He took a deep breath. Calm. He had to maintain calm. Even though he was aching inside. "You used to be so *expansive*. What made you fall in on yourself like this?"
Jaquelline put her ever-present glass down, contemplating it. It and the transitory alcohol within had been her constant waking companion since Sara had learned how to open her cot and go exploring. "I... my options were - limited."
That was a true-Jaqui moment. The trembling echo of the real *her*... peeking out of its cancerous shell after far, far too long.
"Your mother's options *for* you, darling."
She pushed the glass away. "Yes." She blinked. "What else am I supposed to do?"
He smiled comfortingly. "Let's start with a simple question, then. What do *you* want?"
Jaquelline thought about that, stripping off her bracelets and jewels in the process. "I want," she finally announced, "to tell that old hag of a mother of mine to go *stuff* it."
Sam could have cheered.
"Fuck society," She said, hurling her glass at the sink, where it and the ice shattered and scattered. "Fuck all of the shallow, pretentious *snobs* who couldn't stand to be near someone who was caught out. I'm going to be *ME*!"
The real Jaquelline was slightly smaller than her shell, having been constrained for so long. But she would grow.
Sam had always liked helping her grow.
 I'm fairly sure someone had an objection to _Yellow Submarine_ based solely on its imagery, and thus connected it to drugs.
Sara was lost. She knew it and acknowledge 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 humiliation. 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 rocketted 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 prechewed latex are certifiably insane. Bleh. :P
Mort's eyes snapped open in fear. Something was wrong. Something was missing. Something life-threateningly important. He checked out his quarters rapidly. Nothing gone. Nothing messed with.
But then, he had buggerall in the way of posessions, anyway. Not important ones like--
A flurry of movement to the bottom left drawer inside his wardrobe. He felt into the back. The box was still there. And a paranoid check ensured that its contents were both intact and undisturbed. He put it back, breathing a sigh of relief.
The sun's first light turned the snow outside his window a beautiful gold, setting some crystals in it to sparkling like diamonds. People everywhere *missed* this, every morning... but not--
That's what was missing.
She wasn't singing.
Mort scurried up the nearest wall and put his ear to the ceiling. Hoping. Praying. *Wishing* that he could hear her move or catch a tentative strain of her song.
He understood at last the unique horror in Poe's line, "silence there, and nothing more."
Ignoring the hot moisture streaming down his cheeks, he fled his room and charged up the stairs towards her. Sara never missed a dawn. Even in the camp she rose to contemplate the early colours with a hunger of need that she couldn't answer without breaking some other part of her essential self.
There had to be something desperately wrong for there to be silence in her room.
He never remembered opening her door. Just standing on the threshold and staring at the space that was her shell.
He'd helped her construct this cocoon. This place of ultimate safety. It was as much Sara as the girl herself. It was full to the brim with her... and yet it was empty.
A soulless husk.
Sara wasn't here.
He knew it. He could feel it in the air. Smell it in the absence of lilac. Sense that somehow, despite the fact that he could only see a small portion of the room, Sara was not here.
Mort checked anyway.
Bed neatly made. Computer in standby mode. All her books - and there were a plethora of them - neatly in their place. Her curtains were drawn.
That was the scariest.
Sara's place was in the light. No wonder she hadn't come back to this dark place.
Mort opened the curtains and double-checked the balcony door's latch.
Closed. Firmly so. Impossible to shut and lock from the outside unless one could phase... and Kitty was on *their* side.
He paced in a circle, looking for a clue. Whimpering as his breathing rate increased. Desperately seeking some kind of hint. Some message. *Something*...
Where had she *GONE*?
Kurt found him running between the common access rooms in a state of obvious disarray. Mort was only wearing his pyjama pants and still had bed-head. Neither that, nor the anguished noises escaping his throat made any impact on him. He was clearly stricken by the absence of something.
No. Some *one*.
He hadn't heard.
Kurt fielded him on the next pass. "Mort. *Mort*. Calm down, bitte... I know where Sara is."
Quicker than lightning, Mort seized his collar. "*Where*?"
Now was not the time for brute truth. "Calm down. *Please*. You'd better sit."
Fear and dread overwhelmed him. "...no... please tell me she isn't--"
"Sara's alive, freund. Just try to calm down. I'll tell you everything."
He fell into a froglike crouch on the very edge of a seat, coiled and ready to leap towards Sara, whatever the cost. The effort of sitting so still whistled rapidly between his teeth. "What. Happened?"
Kurt found a spare blanket on a couch and draped it over his naked shoulders. "A series of accidents and mistakes," he began.
Bobby and Rogue were sort-of making out while Avery was spacing out. The sort of typical night-time arrangement in which everyone conveniently ignored everyone else as long as they didn't make too much noise.
None present noticed Sara staggering in, nauseated colours washing over her exposed skin. Avery heard her mumble, "Word of warning. Never get in an ice-cream duel with Scott Summers," but quickly forgot as he blinked onto channel 3.
Unheeded, Sara made a beeline for the fireplace and fumbled to light it, the hissing sussuration of her shivering easily lost under the noise of flipping cable.
After that point, reconstructing events was pieced together from a veritable bouquet of 'should have's.
Rogue should have noticed the increase in amber-gold light. Both she and Bobby should have heard the soft 'whoomph' as Sara's coat, soaked as it was with ancient paints and solvents, ungently ignited. Avery should have listened better and remembered in time what happened when Sara's core temperature was lowered.
All of them should have run for an extinguisher, rather than allow Bobby to instinctively use his powers to put out the blaze.
It was all over in ninety seconds.
The securicam footage showed what *happened*, but not what the players on the screen were thinking and feeling at the time.
Ten seconds were lost in averting disaster when Sara's sleeve, too close to the flames, lit... and Sara failed to notice. A further twenty were lost to her contemplating the flame and realising her arm was getting hot. It took her five to get to Bobby and Rogue, fifteen to gain enough of their attention to ask, "Where are the fire extinguishers, please?" which cost a further five seconds, including comprehension. Rogue wasted a second screaming, drawing Avery's attention as well as Bobby's to the spectacle of a fellow student on fire patiently waiting for an answer to her question. At ten seconds left, Bobby iced Sara over, extinguishing the flame.
They had just enough time to feel good about that before Sara fell to the floor, apparently dead.
Their panic roused the kids in the neighbouring rooms to gawk and spread the panic until Hank was summoned. Hysteria reigned supreme until he announced that Sara wasn't dead, just in a sort of suspended animation akin to hibernation. A state he would keep her in until he was certain that any new wounds were sufficiently dealt with.
"It was a very thick coat," Kurt said. "In a way, it saved her from more severe injuries... but it allowed for more of her to get - scorched."
"Is she all right?" Mort repeated.
"She's in shock," he said. "Hank's been having trouble keeping her warm, and keeping her out of pain without knocking her for a loop. Apparently, her skin is very sensitive and the bur--"
"*IS* she *ALRIGHT*?"
Kurt looked down at his feet, finding no easy answers there. "She's in a lot of pain. I'm sorry."
"Where?" he made to get up.
Kurt gently encouraged him back down. "Not yet. There's something else you have to know."
"But what else could-- ofuck... she had another soddin' seizure, didn't she?"
He couldn't meet Mort's eyes. "Not just one."
A tear-ridden gulp of air. "Fucking bastard sod of a cunt... *No*..."
Kurt closed his eyes. Steeled himself. Knowing the man had a right to know, yet dreading the inevitable reaction. "We've had to strap her down. Under medication, she lacks the focus she needs to... dissipate them. We can't risk her injuring herself any more... not after she fell out of the bed, the first time."
"No. No. No no no nonononononononoooooooooo..." Mort's voice trailed off in a whine. He'd curled up on himself, hands holding tight to fists of hair, rocking in place and choking down sobs.
Kurt comforted him, sitting on the arm of the chair and holding the poor man steady amidst a torrent of emotion. "It's going to be all right," he whispered. "We're looking after her. She's going to be okay. I promise." Were their positions reversed, were it *his* best-beloved in the infirmary and Mort telling him what had happened... what would he need to hear the most? "I'm deeply sorry I had to tell you... but you had a right to the truth. You had the right to be prepared for what you'd see."
Mort just sniffed and sighed. Still shaking from the impact.
"Do you want to go see her?" Kurt offered.
"Mate... I'd belly-crawl over broken glass an' razor wire if I knew it'd get 'er better."