December 9.

"...sing sing a song, sing a so-oonnng... Sing."
Mort sighed with relief and let go of the ceiling, falling to the bed and grinning like a maniac. She sounded in fine voice, today.
And after getting through *this* day, there was just the tenth and the eleventh before her birthday... and their shared freedom.
Or something close enough to it.
Like it or not, Sara would be sharing an hour a day with him, come the new year. Alas, the proviso was that he actually *taught*. Couldn't waste an hour of the kids' time making goo-goo eyes at his girlfriend. And he had to be fair... and - Jesus - it was going to be fucking tougher than he thought.
He could do it. Just for a glimpse of her. For the faint odour of lilac.
And, he had to admit it, to piss Summers right off.

Sara put the robe on and answered the door. "Good morning," she said to Mr Summers.
"Could you get dressed for the winter, please?" he said. "After I visit Jean, I have a job you might be interested in."
"Radio for the blind needs voice workers for their productions of books on tape... and CD books." He smirked. "And I've heard that you're scarily accurate."
"Damn straight I am," she said in his voice.
He pointed her towards her wardrobe. "Get dressed."
"Yes *sir*, Mr Scooter, sir." She saluted, grabbed a handful of gear, and vanished behind a set of bookshelves. "Am I auditioning today, or are we working on a production?"
"That depends on how long the audition's going to run for," he said. "You'll probably meet the rest of the Voices anyway."
"Voices in the Dark?" Sara guessed. "I'll be working with *them*? Oooh, I'm coming over all fangirl..."
"It'll probably be bit parts at the start," he soothed. "Understudying, and so forth. I -uh- Irunthesoundeffects..."
"Under the pseaudonym S.S. Soundmachine, I know." Dressed now, she reappeared with a grin. "Own several editions."
"...meep..." he sighed, blush rising over his face. "Don't tell anyone else? I'd never live it down."
Mischief curled her a smile. "I'll wait until 'mister Scooter' wears off at the very least."
"...it's going to be a looonnnng year..."


The Voices recorded early in the morning, before the station/studio began its "proper" business of the day. Like most radio stations, very little attention was paid to the exterior, making it look like a big, brick box in the middle of the snow.
Sara, bound and swaddled with various layers of clothing, waddled after Scott into the inside. Even inside, it was plain. Businesslike. Sara knew that all the money went to the inside of the studios. The sound baffling, the equipment, the mixer boards, the state-of-the-art recording equipment... it was all they needed to produce anything from music to another world.
There were already people in the studio. Studio 3. Scott breezed in without a care, picked up his copy of the script, and went instantly to the array of bizarre equipment in the back designed for foley work.
"Not a lot for me today," he said.
"Bitch, bitch, bitch," teased a pleasant woman who looked like she could play Everyman's Mom. Her voice, however, had harmonics that Sara recognised from the Voices' reading of _Equal Rites_.
"Granny Weatherwax," Sara squeaked. "You played Granny Weatherwax in your production of _Equal Rites_."
"Scott...?" said EveryMom. "Who *have* you bought with you?"
Sara could feel the blush fighting for dominance already. She shed the big coat so she could turf the mittens so she could pull aside the scarf.
And while this flurry was going on, Scott introduced her. "Beth, this is Sara. She's one of my students."
"Sara Louise Adrien," said Sara, offering her free hand. "Zero to complete fangirl in sixty seconds."
"Good grief, you're completely green." Beth shook her hand anyway.
"I like to think of myself as more blue-ish."
The man crawling on the floor, whom Sara had assumed was a gaffer or some other kind of technician, surfaced from his inspection of the wires and cables. "And what's a nice blue-ish girl like you doing in a place like this?"
"Ba-dum-bum," said Beth.
"Yes! Finally! Someone took the straight line," Sara laughed as she reached for his hand. "Archchancelor[1] Ridcully?"
"By daylight, known as Rick," said Rick. He looked more appropriate for a Santa Claus role than yelling at the Bursar. "Also, if you put me in an echo chamber, I DO A PRETTY DECENT DEATH."
"James Earl Jones would be proud," Sara found a place to put her extra wrappings and divested herself of them.
"This might seem a smidge rude, but... exactly how much is *padding*?"
"Cold weather and I don't get along," said Sara. "Therefore, we erred on the side of paranoia when it came to keeping me warm."
"I'll say," said Beth. "Were it not for the noxious colours, you could have matched the Pillsbury Doughboy."
"I don't knock what works," Sara said. Galoshes off, extra-thick snow pants off, three layers of cardigans and a hoodie, and she was down to what normally passed for everyday wear. Well. Except for the extra-thick socks.
"Yike," said Rick. "You look so much taller when you're thin."
"All right," said the director, "Step up to the mike, honey, and let's hear all your voices."
"All of them?" said Sara.
"Yeah, sure. How long could it take?"
Famous last words.

Mort had put on a singlet for the sparring session. Better that than having a bunch of kids pondering his scars, anyway. Let them look at the relatively minor wounds that marched up and down his arms and legs as he mock-fought with Callisto. Let them wonder why he wore weights on his wrists and ankles.
Meanwhile, he could focus on the dance.
Callisto had a very low amount of body fat. Were it not for the sports top and the bun, she would have been very easy to mistake for a male.
It made it easier for him, given his lifelong Thing about attacking pretty girls. But then, so did Callisto's warning that she'd neither give nor take any quarter.
And there were moments when... he flashed back to training under Sabie and Mystique. Sabie laughing at him because he'd been ogling Mystique's breasts and not paying attention to her hands or feet... and paid the price.
He'd still rather flirt. Impress and woo... but he *knew* to at least defend himself. And more, if they were serious.
Callisto was serious. She was faster, stronger and more capable than the average human. She also had a killer instinct and a knowledge of when he was slipping and going easy on her.
He paid the price in bruises often enough, early on, to not go easy on her, now.
The students, lined up to watch, were learning, too. They were learning that, when it came to real combat, rules were only for those with short survival expectancies.
"Enough," said Logan. "Break."
They backed off, settled whatever hackles had been raised, and bowed. Mort stepped off the mat and into the long coat that stopped him getting a chill, then guzzled tepid gatorade as if his life depended on it. Every sense was zinging with awareness, as were his muscles and new bruises. He was sweaty, unkempt, battered and about ready to fall over.
And he felt like a million dollars.
Callisto came up for air from her own bottle of dissolved salts and sugar. "That," she panted, "was one hell of a fight."
"I aim t' please," he smirked.
"Makes me wonder what you'd do with the weights off."
"Kick your arse three ways from Sunday, of course," he said. "The weights make it more even."
"Must start training with weights, then," said Callisto.
"It'd still be unfair." To prove his point, Mort punched up an expendable block, made to be broken by those with a specific strength level. He removed his ankle-weights and neatly cracked it in two with a rapid kick.
"...fuck *me*..." whispered Callisto.
"Can't. Already taken," he grinned, putting the weights back on and sending the block back to be recycled. "Besides, Logan'd have my shredded bollocks with ice cream if I even tried to accept."
Callisto laughed at that. Raucously enough to distract the sparring teams now out on the mats. "He's not *that* serious."
"Yeh? Five quid says he fucks 'imself up if you kiss him on the moosh."
"You're on," she said. She sauntered around the class, right up to Logan and laid one square on his lips. The man was so alarmed his claws sprang out - right through one of his thighs.
Callisto stared at Mort as if to say, _You fucking rat bastard..._
Mort just smiled and waggled his fingers at her. Then, to add arse to insult, mouthed, "Kiss it better."
Callisto, for the first time in his memory, went bright red.
Oh yeah. The school was going to have fun with *these* two.

[1] I'm sure I've screwed up the spelling, here. Too lazy to look it up.


Kitty watched the securicam feeds as Scott came back with Sara. The latter of the two was unrecognisable under the sheer volume of warm clothing, which showed that he did care about her continued health.
"Now," she murmured, "let's see if I'm *right*..."
Ororo, lurking over her left shoulder, stared intensely at the main screen as Kitty flipped views. "I still don't think your theory has much merit, Kitten[1]."
"So put twenty bucks on it," she said, watching the car pull into the garage. "Heeere we go-o..."
The main display followed Sara. There was even a little status screen with the local temperature.
Sure enough, in the mud room, Sara divested herself of nearly all layers of warm gear. She even got rid of the extra-woolly socks and put some loafers on. Either they clicked on the floors or Sara was in a good mood, because she started tapdancing.
And the minute she got rid of that last coat... Sara started missing mishaps. With grace and style, even.
Watching Scott flinch at every near miss was freaking hillarious.
Scott eventually stopped her, though. Kitty turned up the sound and subtly lowered the temperature by a few degrees.
"What is *with* you?" he said. "Normally you can't go five steps without stubbing a toe or something, and today - you just missed five breakables and two pitfalls without even *trying*..."
"Must be a good luck day," Sara shrugged. She rubbed her arms and put on her coat. "And why not? I feeeeeel *goooooooood*." Whack. Elbow straight into banister.
"*HA*!" Kitty yawped with glee, and dove out into the hall. "I knew it! I *knew* it!"
"Pardon?" said Sara.
"What?" said Scott.
"It's your skin!" Kitty almost danced with glee. "When you're all rugged up, you're just about walking around *blindfolded*! Just three more degrees and you'll be almost accident-proof."
Scott absorbed her rapid-fire babble. "You have *got* to be kidding me."

[1] Ororo keeps calling Kitty 'Kitten' in the comics ^_^


Sara was still rubbing her dinged elbow. "I'm... *blindfolded*?"
"Effectively," Kitty allowed. "When you're not -uh- paying attention, your subconscious takes over navigation and you just can't *do* that when over ninety percent of you is covered up." A shrug. "Guess your skin's visual acuity isn't all that high."
Sara giggled. "I can just imagine *that* eye test... 'now cover *both* your eyes and try to read the second line'..."
"So," said Mr Summers, "all I have to do is raise the standby temperature by three degrees and no more mishaps?"
"It wouldn't hurt to keep the bodyguard," said Sara. "Belt and braces... plus I have this thing of turning corners into closed doors, walking into oncoming traffic, finding breakables the hard way..."
"We *know*," said Mr Summers. It was the voice of patience lost over many a near-accident.
"On the plus side, I tend to deflect those itty bitty fragments that are really hard to spot in a new wound..."
"Sara..." warned Kitty.
"I know. I'm not helping."
"Will you two girls be okay from here?"
"An oh-so-subtle way of asking if you're next on the watcher-roster," translated Sara.
Kitty laughed. "Hi. I'm Katherine and I'll be doing my damndest to keep you away from injury this morning..."
"Charmed, I'm sure," Sara grinned. "Shall we do horrendous things to diets with a waffle iron?"
"Ooo! Yes, please!"

Ororo watched them go as she approached Scott. "That was an interesting denoument."
"Blindfolded," said Scott. "Huh."
"Should we batten down the hatches or just step into a nook?"
"Whenever Sara starts cooking, word gets around."
"Oh. *Stampede*..." he sidled towards a handy wall. "I keep thinking we should enlist Sara for the obligatory Yuletide party, but I keep having these visions of trying to get her *out* of the big kitchen."
Ororo laughed. "On the other hand, it would give her a task to perform..."
"In the middle of all those sharp objects?"
Now she winced. "And the mashing and mincing ones, too..."
"Though I can't recall the last time Sara hurt herself in *kitchen*..."
"Must be the heat," said Ororo. "No coat and less accidents." She shook her head. "Why didn't we see it before?"
"Hidden in plain sight?"
Delicious smells wafted their way. Ororo started counting under her breath.
{Bamf!} "Want me to snag you some, liebchen?"
"Five seconds," she said, "Are you feeling ill?"
"I was asleep," defended the blue elf. "Now, should I grab a stack and eat them in front of you, or...?"
"Yes, I would love some."
"Maybe we could take them back to back to bed, ja?"
Scott matched his shades. "Do you two mind not saying things like that in the halls?"
"You're no fun," grumbled Kurt. {Bamf!}
And from the kitchen, "They're still *cooking*, Mr Wagner..."
"What is this, over-the-horizon snack radar?"
Ororo laughed. Once again, Kitty had nailed it.


Mort could smell her cooking, and the cinnamon was working its magic. And nutmeg. He moaned under his breath. He could smell the sugars caramelising.
O God...
Sara and pastry manufacture were an *experience*. People put on pounds just watching the treats come out of the oven.
It was more than an effort of will to hang back. It took supreme measures just to stay where he was. Those supreme measures currently involved clinging with all his might to a corner and repeating the words, "Remember the deal," over and over.
His grip was slipping.
"Mercy dash," announced Kitty's voice. Right next to him.
He had to back up to focus. "You woh?"
She presented a covered platter. "Sara managed to defend these for you. Hot off the press, as it were. She says she's sure you'd be missed in the feeding frenzy, but it's best not to chance it."
Mort lifted the cover. She'd spelled out 'love you' in cookies. "Thanks," he said. He inhaled deeply. Oh yeah. That was the stuff.
"Better take 'em away from here before some of the smaller kids try to mob you for handouts," Kitty advised. "I gotta get back to the mayhem."
"Tell Sara I said to watch out for 'erself."
"Roger dodger," and Kitty was gone back through the wall from whence she came.
It was way easier to walk away from the kitchen, now. He knew where she was. He knew she was safe. And more importantly, he had a pile of her culinary art to cram his belly with until he made himself sick.
Even with the forced absence, life was good.


Sara was in her element. Who could have guessed that she was a feeder? And so many people eager to accept her offerings... it never used to be like this.
Cooking by herself was something - covert. Hidden under the veil of the help and discretely delivered to mother so that the woman never knew Sara was even remotely involved.
She even delivered Bake Sale donations anonymously. All because of the one time she *did* use her name and her offering was used callously as a football by jeering jocks.
They'd never make her cry[1].
Sara adjusted her behaviour to suit, up to and including turning her emotions off at the daily locker rat, but she never displayed her inner reactions to her victimisation. Never. She'd boxed it up and packed it away.
And Sara got used to the idea that nobody would ever want any part of her.
That had changed with Mort. After an initial bout of suspicion, he was eager and willing to gladly engulf any culinary offering she could scrape together.
Which encouraged her to bake cookies for the kids.
Who, in turn, made their Moms seek her recipes.
Which turned out to be phenominally popular.
Sara found a unique and almost perverse joy in making treat-food, and a near unholy delight in watching people enjoy what she'd made. People *enjoyed* her.
It had bought on fits in the past, but not any more. Just the odd twitch or tic as her mind battled with two conflicting ideas.
Just *maybe*...
All the things she'd been told... all the conclusions she'd reached... had originated with little-minded people who had no better reason to help her along her darkened path than that she didn't *look* as nice as they did.
And in this place - there were no appearances.
None to keep. None to judge by. No vanity. No peer system beyond ideals that ultimately did not require a physique.
Sara felt like a fish discovering clean water after living in an almost-perpetual filth.
For the first time in forever, she began to hum without feeling ashamed of herself for humming.
Even with the absence of Mort... life was getting good.

[1] _Cat Ballou_ side-fling ^_^


Sara was blushing, since she'd exhausted the kitchen's supplies of ingredients, but she felt like a million dollars anyway. Everything was, as the show tune said, coming up roses.
A tic reminded her that she still had some emotional unloading to go through before she was *completely* healed. Apparently, her dark side rather expected something bad to happen to her, now.
Sara whispered her mantra as she skipped through the halls. Her body wanted to dance...
_Well... why *not*?_ They had a dance studio in here. Nobody would care a fig if she was too tall and gangly to dance properly. And, since Mr Wagner had decided to join her shadow, she hardly had to worry about seven years' bad luck[1].
Purpose behind her direction, Sara jogged up to her room, found something brief-but-passable and snagged some of her favourite bootlegs.
There was a sound system in the studio, and someone had made sure it was bootleg-friendly. No doubt, Kitty had done it. Or one of the technomages with little better to do.
Regardless, it took to her personal tune storage unit like an amphibious avian to dihidrogen monoxide.
Sara closed her eyes so she wouldn't have to fret that anyone was there to see her knees, and waited for the randomiser to pick a tune.

Ororo found them some time later, practicing a tango. Her resultant flare of envy was brief, owing to the letcherous smirk Kurt shot her when he sensed her presence. Sara's face was almost scarily blank. A sign she was concentrating on the inside, not the outside.
The song ended with a classic pose, which Sara broke with a deep blush.
"Eep!" Sara said upon spotting Ororo.
"It's all right," soothed Kurt. "Ororo also teaches dance."
"Serendipity," chirped Sara.
_Darn that economy mode._ "Er... Pardon?"
"If it isn't too much to ask, perhaps the two of you can make sure Mr Toynbee can dance? I rather plan on -er- sharing the floor with him at some stage. At my party."
Famous last words, indeed.
Sara, able to learn quickly and absorb information at a rapid rate, had only a glancing concept of what it was like for other people to learn. She'd left them with only three days to teach a fighter and a thief how to fake it on the dance floor.
It took most people a few minutes to learn how to fake a Samba. That was easy enough. It was the *other*, rather ecclectic, music in her collection that gave them trouble.
Toynbee got the 'sweats' whenever he touched Ororo, and considered dancing with Kurt to be 'poofy'.
"I could wear a wig," suggested the teleporter. "I'm told I look fabulous in a cocktail dress[2]..."
"And it takes a *very* confident man to say that," joked Ororo, still trying to massage feeling back into her hand.
Mort had fallen into a funk. "Ah, fuck yer both," he mumbled.
"Was? Don't you *want* to dance?"
"*Yeh*... with *Sara*."
"You can't learn on the dance floor," said Ororo. "Especially something as complex as a tango."
Mort went a very strange colour when he blushed. "Sharrup," he muttered.
Kurt made a little 'back off' gesture. "Is it something else?"
"I got a Thing, awrigh'?"
"Ah. I see. Pretty girls... they used to make fun?"
"We will not make fun," he said. "Sara... *wants* this. *She* will not make fun. If you want - we can lock the door and close the windows. No-one can see to laugh, ja? And I promise you - you *will* be graceful."
Glare. "An' how d'you promise that, cocky?"
"I've seen you fight." Kurt smiled. "Sparring takes as much co-operation as a dance. It has a beat... you have to read your partner... The only difference is in the intent."
"If it helps," offered Ororo. "You can close your eyes and pretend I'm Sara."
"Too short?"
"Y' don't smell like lilac."

[1] Dance studios contain lots and lots of mirrors. Remember Sara's reputation with breakables? Yeah.
[2] Side-fling to one of the early ish's of _Excalibur_ in which Nighty somehow wound up in drag...


Ororo stared with utter confusion at the man, then looked to Kurt. "*Lilac*..."
"Don't look at me," he said. "I'm not in the habit of sniffing ladies who aren't my girlfriend."
"Maybe Logan...?"
"Logan's busy hiding from Callisto... and vice versa." Kurt pondered. "There's always Rahne... she can verify any nose news."
"That still doesn't solve the problem at hand."
Kurt got a wicked grin. "Ready for some creative use of the danger room, liebe?"

"Oh look, a wolverine in the wainscotting[1]."
"Tallwater, ya got five seconds to piss off, okay?"
"Sorry, needs must," she flourished a piece of paper. "I need to go shopping for party supplies and you're the only person who can drive a big enough truck."
Logan partially unfurled from his hiding place. "*Truck*?"
"One, *all* of the Guthries are coming, and that's instantly fourteen people. Two, we already know what happens when I start making tasty treats. I need to allow for natural attrition. Three, it turns out I have more friends than I thought possible. Hence the truck."
He emerged cautiously, checking the air and scanning up and down the hallways. "And Xavier okayed this?"
"After my hazelnut praline muffins?"
"*Riiiiiiigggghhhht*...." he started dragging her towards the car pool.
"Besides, I know this place that does cheap bulk stuff and I know how to get discounts on top of that, so--"
"How the hell did you *find* me?"
"Oh, that was easy. You positively *reek* of cigars."

[1] As opposed to a mouse ;)

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