Violet could barely sit up after that noise in her head, but she managed it. Somehow. She was lying on the mattress near the computer. She could see Brisco's shoes twitching just past the divide into the mouse-sized kitchen.
There was a woman on the floor nearby. Obviously in distress.
Whatever had hit her... just hit them.
Violet recovered enough sense to manhandle the woman onto the mattress and stuff a pillow under Brisco's head. Then she managed to find the radio. "Officers and civilians down at fifth and twenty-second..." she panted. Tears still ran down her cheeks. "I think the whole building's hit... is there anyone to help?"
"This is officer Parr, please respond."
Surrounded by the screams of anguish around her, listening intently to the static-ridden hiss of the radio, Violet closed her eyes and prayed. God, whatever's going on... make it stop!
Mommy had dropped the milk. It had spilled out all over the floor and soaked into her clothes and hair. Sammy had no idea what to do. There was no-one to help.
Sammy was so scared he wanted to throw up.
"Mommy, please," he cried. "Please... wake up? Mommy? Mommy!"
Good-news, bad-news. Good news, the pregnant lady was not experiencing stress-related contractions. The bad news... whatever this was was causing wide-spread panic and fear.
And the largest number of able bodies was completely unable to even reach the largest mass of the stricken. Escape would only cause more panic when-if the rest recovered. Assuming that the thing that just struck the real mutants down was the same thing that struck the rest, and that it would be over soon.
When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me, Sara thought, mind bleak. She went round in a circuit, checking pulses and breathing, waiting for some sign of dire stress that meant - what?
What could she do?
What could anyone do?
The President of the United States rubbed his head. "Did anyone else... feel.. that...?"
Everyone else in the oval office was down. Hurt. No sign of any attacker. Clutching at their heads.
What the hell was happening?
After a subjective eternity, the screams died down. The radio crackled to life, various officers reporting in for information. Lost and alone, they elected to at least not be alone.
She rushed to his side. "Brisco. You're okay? Anything still hurting?"
"Yeah, I'm indestructable, kiddo." In spite of his bravado, Brisco moaned. "Man, my head hasn't felt this bad since after my first kegger..."
Next, the woman. "Ma'am? Are you okay?"
"...not old enough to be ma'am," she moaned. "Ow... What happened?"
"I dunno, I just woke up and everyone was in pain and I couldn't do anything and no-one was at Base and, God, I was so scared..."
"OmiGod, the kids!" The woman ran for the 'phone.
"...mom..." Violet whispered. She scrambled for her cellular.
Sara yawped, inadvertently blending. "I'msorry," she said, possibly on automatic.
"You got no right to touch me," said the man she'd just been checking. "Stinking filthy mutie!"
Sara recovered her composure, if not her default colour. "In case you haven't noticed, sir, you are also in here on the suspicion that you are a 'stinking filthy mutie'... I'd watch your tongue, if I were you."
All around, people were recovering. Getting up. Seeking comfort with whomever they knew best.
Sara found hers in Mort's arms. Dissipating stress made her weep into his unitard.
"C'mon, inside," Callisto was barking. "Everyone inside the shelters, now! We don't want those assholes to start shooting, C'MON! Inside! Hup hup hup hup hup!"
Sara stored her tears and began gathering and ushering people who were still foggy on the details, lingering behind so others could get clear.
"Go! Go! Go!" Mort was hustling others along. He picked up a lost little scrap of a kid who was still crying as he propelled the last of them along. "You too, luv. Move. Don' wanna ge' shot."
Sara belatedly realised he was talking to her. Her sluggish feet got moving when he took her hand.
People inside the shelters went instantly to their chosen bunks. The one place that was familiar amongst the confusion. Children clustered together in wailing balls. Sara and Mort cuddled together around their instant adoptee and let vent to their immediate stress.
"When you woke up," said Mort, at last. "You said something."
"Someone knows where we are," said Sara. "That noise... it was three words. All mashed together and overlain in a jumble. 'Find them all'. That's it. Nothing more than that purpose. I'm guessing they found us, but..."
"Why do the other... lot?"
"There's an extreme illogic, there," said Sara. "They found us. They had us... and then they switched sides."
"Maybe th' boss din't... like the results."
"Maybe they - whoever they are - are a complete psychopants."
Mort laughed at that, blessing her with a kiss on her cheek. "Lord love ya, babe."
The very small child had fallen asleep in her arms. There was something about that level of trust that struck her as supremely sincere. Another part of her found it odd that the supremely impersonal captors had allowed the kids to have underpants, but forbidden the adults - or near-adults - to have a similar privalege.
"I'd better find Callisto. See if anyone misses this little one."
"I'll go with," said Mort. "After that lot... you need a bodyguard."
Sara blushed. "Thank you."
 I have no idea what the official rank of rookies is, so I'll be changing this as soon as I know.
"...medical facilities crowded to the brim. Even the experts are mystified by what appears to be a very short term medical malady. Rumours about another mutant attack are unconfirmed at this time."
The TV cut to a White House representative.
"It stands to reason that, if a mutant is responsible for these attacks, then that mutant would have also suffered from the attacks. As to why half the population was attacked at a time... we are still working on finding all the answers. We have declared a state of emergency, and ask that all citizens please do what they can to remain calm. No-one has been able to find any lasting effects from this attack, and we will be releasing official statements to that fact."
The off-screen Media barked questions and flashed cameras as they took pictures.
"Keep in mind that everyone on the planet, mutant or human, has been struck down by this. There is no known agenda at this time. Ladies and Gentlemen... I cannot answer your questions, as we do not have the answers ourselves. The President will be giving an official statement tomorrow. That is all."
Unconsciously, Avery reached out to find the nearest hand to hold. He looked away from the screen to find that everyone in the house had sought a similar comfort without the need for telepathy.
"Four days," said Sara, after the last squeak died from the PA. "Four days and they sentence us without a trial." Now that the kid had been handed off to her temporary carer, Sara's hands twiddled and fidgetted with themselves.
"Ain't certain," said Mort. "There's people out there... I know. They'll do something."
"...i've missed the sun for four days..." Sara's fingers twitched independently.
This was more frightening for him than her distance. "You right, luv?"
"I think I'm drowning under circumstance," there was a worrying look in her face. As if she feared throwing up, yet knew it was inevitable. But this was a more unnamed dread. Something was happening inside her and it had her panicked. "It feels... crowded... in my head. My boxes are trembling..." She fought to achieve that familiar stony blankness, but it wasn't working.
"We'll walk," he said. "That's doin' somethin', right? Long as we're doin'... somethin', you be okay." He guided her outside, consciously walking away from the men with the guns. They were still twitchy, and waving two visible and obvious mutants under their noses was no way to end a bad day. Or their lives.
"Dissapatory activity is all very nice, Mort, but I have my steam valves and they're blocked by this... place. I need the dawn's light and no gawkers and there's people watching everywhere... if I only had a harp... Or a project. Something to make..." Her breathing was becoming rapid and shallow.
Mort knew such concern in him was wrong, but he couldn't help it. He had to help her. He owed her. He needed her. He needed to help. "Make words," he said, desperate. "Make a story. Tell it as we... go, eh? Tell me 'bout... 'bout... Chuckie. 'Ow'd you ge' 'im?"
"He was... a sort of science project for the Remedial Ed. class," said Sara. When they passed the halogen glare of the lights, her pupils were pinpoints. She was trembling, and it wasn't with cold. Though cold was a factor. They'd have to get inside, soon, or the threat of winter would bite at their bare toes. "A rather impromptu one, though. The class pet had a myriad of babies... we all named them after characters from Rugrats. And then their mother abandoned them."
And you know how much that hurts, don't you, luv? Mort kept her walking.
"I think it was the only time the whole class agreed on something, you know. We flew into research like nothing else. Made up a formula and bottle-fed the little things. We hand-sewed pouches to keep them warm and with us..." she gestured with both shaking hands at her collarbone. "Re-enforced them with wire so the nastier folks wouldn't crush them, and those little baby hamsters... I don't think I was ever in a room so full of collaborative ideas. It was an absolute flurry. And at the end of it, we were all mommies... You should have seen him, he was so tiny..." A blink. "But then you have. You've been into my albums."
"I shouldn't 'ave," said Mort. "'S an old, bad... 'abit."
"More than forgiven, dear. No doubt, the local constabulary are ripping it all apart as we speak. All my secrets laid bare."
"'Ow'd yer class do?"
"Only one fatality, owing to a rather determined Senior. He was duly reprimanded and actually sentenced for cruelty to animals. Stole the poor creature and smooshed it." Her eyes teared up. "At least it was quick."
Mort had never dared care for anything in his life. Any attachment he made, any thing he liked... was soon taken away from him. Pet rats and mice fed secretively in the dark were poisoned by baits or crushed by traps. Stray cats given the few leftovers even he couldn't eat were rounded up by animal control. And when he spent too long in the company of birds... the tree they nested in was chopped down for 'sanitary reasons'. Mort had learned hard not to let any little creature near his affections. It was fatal for them. Better for him to look at them as yet another source of meat, than to feel anything and get hurt again. And again. And again.
And yet, right next to him was a girl who had been just as battered by life as him. She stole and hoarded little moments of positivity like a treasure. She bonded with things, animate or not. She cared, and cared deeply.
Mort had watched her, holding that little girl. Cradling her. Savouring every moment of having a child in her arms... because she knew it wouldn't last and very likely suspected that she'd never have the chance to do so with her own.
"Yer friends'll look after... 'im," Mort soothed. "C'mon. Lets get inside. 'S gettin' cold."
"Getting?" Sara smirked, wry. "Dear, my feet are turning into icicles."
"Better 'urry," he grinned. "Don't want 'em t'... melt."
There. A genuine laugh. That was better.
They shared the same bed, that night, spooned together for mutual warmth under the two blankets they were 'issued' with the bunk-bed.
Mort swore he got high just sniffing her hair. Such a marvelous drug - the presence of a soul who wanted to be near him - lulled him into the deepest sleep he'd ever enjoyed.
Mort snored. An almost subliminal snarl that she was long used to from watching over him in his time of need.
The most worrying thing, right now, was the slightly possessive male hand lying gently over her left breast. Or rather, her excuse for a breast.
On one hand, she thought she should feel glad that there was a man out there - correction, in here with her - that liked her body enough to grope it. On the other hand, there were those myriad of lectures about men only wanting one thing from a female, any female. Not that mother much expected Sara Louise to attract any kind of attention, but if she ever did, it would be the wrong sort.
And on a third hand... he wasn't exactly groping, anyway.
His arm embraced her, true, and the hand in question seemed to have ended up there by pure accident. It seemed happy where it was, lightly resting around the curve of her excuse for a bosom... and -oh dear- his thumb had started stroking her. It was through the one layer of clothing she now possessed, but still...
"...lovely," he whispered into her hair. "...beau'iful..." Mort gave heave to a very contented sigh and squeezed her closer to him in his sleep. "...don' ev'r leave me..."
Sara's eyes grew moist as she watched the darkness. What sort of abused, tortured soul would he have to be to have such dreams of her?
Why did he even like her?
"...kiss ev'ry scale," he whispered. "...name ev'ry colour... anythin' y' want, luv... anythin'..."
Sara sucked her bottom lip in to try and stop it trembling. Things like this just didn't happen. Nobody could dream wishful dreams of her.
Hot tears spilled from her eyes. One half reached the pillow instantly while the rest pooled briefly at her nose.
Things like this did not happen.
Nobody liked Sara Louise.
She was useful, and that only barely. Nobody could possibly want her for anything more than fulfilling a basic need.
Sara covered her mouth to muffle the involuntary sobs. Couldn't wake people up. Naughty girl. Wicked girl. Only serves her right to end up in a freak camp in the first place. Never any good. Never...
Mort, still buzzing and mumbling in his sleep, found her neck and deposited a very chaste, yet intensely loving kiss near her collar.
Sara was unable to stop the box bursting, over-full as it was with unshed tears and unwelcome trembles. Her arms tried to fling out rigidly from her sides. Her head snapped back and her breath sucked in with an ugly quasi-slurp.
She only registered Mort's noise of pain on the edge of her perception. The rest of her was falling deep into terror.
Anywhere but here.
"Ow... Whut?" Mort narrowly dodged another blow by sheer instinct. "Shit!"
Sara was convulsing. Noises escaped her that sounded like attempted murder.
"Anyone 'ere a doctor?" He called into the dark. "I need some 'elp!"
A thump in the direction of the stairwell. Someone had leaped down from the upper floor.
Mort barely got hold of each bicep, easing his weight onto her so that she couldn't injure either of them. God, if anyone could see in the dark, this would look so fucking bad...
"The hell are you doing?" said Callisto.
"She's 'avin' a fit," said Mort, voice all panic and confusion. "Dunno wha' 'appened. Ge' 'er legs."
As if in answer to the inevitable 'why', one of Sara's legs fully extended and caused a nasty splintering noise near the foot of the bunk.
Callisto swore and moved. Mort could just pick out the shape of her amongst the rest of the rest of the shadows.
"You do know that holding an epileptic down is the worst thing you can do," Callisto grunted with effort.
"Don't think she's epileptic," said Mort. "It's somethin' else."
Underneath him, Sara bucked, causing him to crack his head on the bunk above.
"Ow. Fucking sod of a cow!" He coughed, of course, at the pain of one word too many.
"What's happening? Do you need help?" Mort recognised the voice as that of the pregnant woman with the not-quite tumour.
"Stay th' fuck back," Mort rasped. "'S dangerous."
To think... a year ago he wouldn't have cared. Not for Sara. Not for any of the souls trapped here. He would never have expected them to care back.
Someone else arrived from a different vector. Mort sensed hands on top of his that soon drifted off. Sibilant words in another language, soothing and cooing.
"Dad MÈngr, t'atchÈs upr·l u ku ttÈm... mang·s at˙t ta sassarÈ pen·s ta siny·n latchÛ. Pregen·s t'avÈs andrÈ ke mengr jÈle. Mang·s at˙t ta lamÈ ker·s sa kwa ta kamÈs tu ag· upr·l i ki tchikk sar upr·l u ku ttÈm. DadevÈs deng u marÛ per sassarÈ. Muk ta dzhal li bessah· ta grijÈm sar lamÈ muk·s ta dzh·l u nafÈl ta griÈ li vavÈr ammÈnd. ShigerÈng dur·l tar u xrÌvje ta nÌng amÈng u nafÈl. AmÈn."
Mort only recognised the last word. He sniffed back moisture in his nose, and mentally cursed a God that would do this to someone like Sara.
After three repetitions Sara's jerking motions subsided. Her noises quieted. After a fourth, they stilled completely.
Mort sniffed again, only now aware of the pain flowering in the back of his head. He gradually eased away, sitting beside Sara. "The 'ell'd you do?" he said.
"This little gaji... holds much evil inside her. Beng made in her mind. Good drives them out. Sometimes, they fight."
"Please tell me I didn't happen to anyone?" Sara's voice trembled.
"Minor stuff," Mort sniffed. "Scared th' crap outta... me." He wiped his arm on his sleeve.
"Who are you?" said Callisto.
"I am known as Emilia," said the stranger in the dark. "My people remember another time when good people were bought inside wire cages by men with guns."
"The Rom, yes?" said Sara.
"You weren't speaking Yiddish or Jewish, before," said Sara. "And I have something of a knack for languages. Sorry." Sara wriggled, sitting up. "I'm afraid I've only learned, 'Nais Tuke'."
"Who are you, to see right through me when you see nothing?"
"Just because I can't see in the dark doesn't mean I can't listen, dear," she said. Mort heard the smile in her voice. "Relax, please. We're all the same behind the wire. Besides, I know what it's like to have lies flying around you and the truth ignored."
No doubt, a source of those many 'fights' Detective Nosey had mentioned before their arrest. Mort found himself nodding. He sniffed. Stupid running nose. "You 'elped," he said. "That's worth more'n what... anyone might reckon 'bout... ya." He offered his hand.
"I cannot... I am marhime. Dirty."
"Luv? I'd lick yer feet... even if you'd stood... in dog shit."
Emilia's hand was warm. "I suppose... to those men outside... we are all marhime."
"And to the devil with the lot of those opinions," said Sara.
 The Lord's Prayer in Romani. From http://188.8.131.52/www1/pater/JPN-rom-sinte.html
 Because Rom traditionally have several names in order to combat bad things finding them. One is a name by which the gadje [us] know them, one's their tribe-name, and one is their true name, one that's kept secret until they're married AFAIK.
"It's almost dawn," Sara murmured. "Everyone who can should get some rest."
Mort made to find a space beside Sara.
"Not you, Mort. You hit your head. You have to stay awake for an hour, at least."
A hand felt the back of his head. "That, and you're bleeding," said Callisto. "We have to do some wound-cleaning at least."
"You're taking him to the taps over the snow?" said Sara.
"How do you know it snowed?"
Mort sniffed. He couldn't smell a fucking thing, what with his sinuses tingling and jangling from their collision with her skull.
"He still needs that wound washed, and we don't have many options, here."
"We can still improvise." Soft shuffling noises. The indistinct shape of someone finding things in the dark by feel and memory. "I'll need your feet, dear."
Perplexed, Mort put a foot up by her crossed legs. Something smooth and dry went over his foot, guided by Sara's hands, twisted, folded and finally bound in place by the ankle strap of his unitard.
He examined her work as she repeated the process. It was white. Cotton. But beyond that...
"Don't pick at it, dear, it could come undone." Sara snugged the last binding tight. "It probably won't last, anyway, but the point is to last long enough. I'm sorry, Callisto, but I've run out of available pillowslips."
"I have one I can use," she said.
"I have the other," said Emilia in the dark. "Be quick, but be thorough. A little scuffing is better than a lot of blood."
Soft noises in the gloom, such as those made by someone binding their own feet with a couple of pillowslips.
Mort let himself be guided to the door.
It had, indeed, snowed. Shallow drifts formed across the expanse of bitumen that promised more bitter cold to come. He could already feel it leaking into his bones. Mort hated the cold, but it loved him like nothing else.
"Try not to step in it," Callisto advised. "Stick to the dry parts where you can."
And that was the last thing he remembered her actually saying. The cold slid into his skull, effecting his mind.
There was snow in the trough. He remembered staring at it as she plunged his head under the tap again and again. Snow in his face. Cold. Bad.
Hold it there! You have a nosebleed. If you throw it away again, I'm tying an icicle to your face. How many fingers? Damn. Still bleeding. Crouch. Bend forward. Pinch your nose. No, pinch your nose. There. Stay still. Quit rocking. Head forward. Quit rocking!
Ouch. Hurt there. Get off. Been good. Never did nothing.
Head. Forward. No, you stay still. Look at your feet. Feet!
Blood dripping into the snow.
Hold your nose, damnit! And hold still. Jesus... Ha! There's the bastard.
Well, I told you to hold still...
Again, he was plunged under the water. Mort yowled in the process. He'll be good. He'll be good. Never done nothing, and he'll never do it again. Swear.
Where was Sara?
Had to find her.
Hard grip on his arm. Stay on the black. Stay on the black. This way. THIS way. Stay on the black. Left. Right. Left... STAY on the BLACK.
He wanted Sara... Where was Sara?
Nearly there, now. Come on. How many fingers?
Uhm... One? One? One?
A hand down his shirt. Ow! HOT.
Geez, you don't keep a lot of heat, do you? Just a little more. Keep moving, now. On the black...
Door. Inside. Hot, here. He hissed, wanting to go back outside. Back to Sara. But the firm grip pulled him into the heat.
Let go! He had to find Sara.
And she was here. Weren't they outside? How?
Hot. Hot blankets. All around him. Sit up, dear. That's right. Take these wet things off your feet. Good boy... Tuck them in, now.
Vigorous hands, rubbing over him. Fit to wear him away. Mort swore he'd be good, just leave him alone... but they never stopped.
Lightning... no. Flourescant lamps. Flickering on. Hurt his eyes. White things hanging from the upper bunk resolved into damp pillowslips. Four of them.
Sara was right there. Beside him. Making friction burns across his back.
The buzzing around him resolved into words.
"...know what it's like, being a heat-hog myself. Cold just seems to creep right in and it's hard to get it to go away." Sara. So glad she was here.
Emilia had dark eyes and cafe-o'lait skin. She had the look of a mother as she alternately breathed on or abraded his hands with her own.
She looked... normal.
"Ah. You come back to yourself at last. Wondering if I'm a hidden mutant?"
"I tell fortunes, I pretend I can see the future," she smirked. "I was far too good at it for my neighbours, so... they report me and I wind up in here. They could not put me away from being Rom. They could not report me for running an illegal business... I was not. They had no noise, no illegal goings on to have me removed. I followed every letter of the law." A bitter laugh. "And then the attack on the White House comes. Every mutant is a suspect... and they suspect me for being a mutant. At last they get rid of their 'unworthy neighbour'." Emilia spat on the floor. "New dawn of tolerance, HA!"
Mort smirked. He remembered that campaign. All colours united together. Very touchy-feely. Except when it came to the matter of those who were blue, green, and any other new hue cooked up by the X-gene. On that point, the government stalled, was stymied, and otherwise hemmed and hawed.
"There's only so much tolerant men can tolerate," said Sara. "To paraphrase the mahatma."
Outside, trucks ground and beeped. Something was happening.
Nobody amongst the assembled quasi-slumberers was inclined to peek outside and see what was happening. At least, not until the indelicate sound of flamethrowers came from the east.
One bold soul poked his head out. "They're clearing the area near the conveyor belt with the flamethrowers," he reported. "The trucks are putting up those concrete barricade thingies."
Sara laughed. "Anyone who previously doubted the power of reverse psychology... now owes me a dollar."
The rest of the captives joined in. It was bleak humour, but they could take what they could get.
The PA squealed into life. "All prisoners now assemble near the food delivery system. Stand ready for a special announcement from the President of the United States."
"At least they haven't slid the word 'human' in there, yet," Sara's tone was bitter, but it earned another laugh.
Everyone filing out wrapped themselves in their single blanket before joining the group game of dodge-the-snow.
At least the tarmac at the conveyor was warm. If only for a handful of moments. The sun was starting to melt the rest of the snow and the last of dawn's colours faded into day.
"Five days," whispered Sara.
They grouped together in cliques. New friends or old, it didn't matter. People with some common thread stuck to that which they knew.
As some warmth slid gradually back into the day, those gathered under the guns murmured amongst themselves, shifted their weight, and watched the outside.
Sara was blowing steam rings by the time the fanfare came to a finish.
"My fellow Americans... In this time of adversity, we are being offered a moment. A moment to recognise a growing threat within our own population, and take a unique role in the shape of human events..." A crackling buzz, a peculiar sound in the background... and then nothing but silence.
Sara counted in her head. ...four, five, six, seven, eight.
"We appear to be having some technical difficulties with the sattelite link-up with the White House. We will return to the Presedential address as soon as this problem is cleared up."
"Maybe the mutie assassin got his mark," said someone.
Morbid laughter, which Mort, Callisto and herself did not share.
Sara listened with half an ear to the 'other news' meant to fill in dead air. Imagining furious technicians sorting out tangles of cables, tapping away at computers and - in general - creating the sort of harassed melee that inevitably resulted from technical hitches at a very important time.
"And it sounds like the White House is back online. We return you to the Presidential Address."
One, Sara counted. Two, three...
"...mister President..." someone whispered.
Tittering broke out.
The President cleared his throat. "My fellow Americans... In this time of adversity, we are being offered a moment. A moment to recognise a unique opportunity to alter the shape of human events..."
Hell-lo... Someone's altered the script.
"We stand on the brink of a choice. We can choose war. A war against a people we perceive as dangerous - a people who are also our children, our relatives, our friends... Or we can choose peace. The attack, just a few short days ago, was perpetrated by a member of mutant-kind."
Sara reached over blindly, and found Mort's hand.
"This mutant... attacker... bore a knife. A knife that had the legend 'mutant freedom now' on a ribbon tied to the handle. This man obviously thought there was no other way to get his message across."
Their hands tightened their grip.
"My fellow Americans; the fact that one man felt in such dire straights says too much about the current atmosphere of human-mutant relations. One mutant had the ability to overpower security, and come within inches of murder. I am... eternally grateful that he chose not to complete that irreversible goal.
"We must consider, as a nation, that there are mutants who live their daily lives without any cause to use their uncanny abilities against the human race. We must consider that there are those amongst us who, though they possess the famous X-gene, do not have any mutant ability. There are those who live each day in terror, because of us... because of humans."
Interesting correction, thought Sara.
"We must consider - and consider carefully - our next step forward. We stand at a crossroads, mutants and humans together, and must choose which path we will take.
"I hope that we shall together choose the path towards peace... towards an equitable arrangement between ourselves, and those amongst us whom we currently fear. To that end, I hereby grant an amnesty towards my attacker..."
Whatever he said next was drowned out by a joyous yawp from the assembled and incarcerated mutants. One that she, too, had to be a part of. Only later, much later, would she discovered that the man had invited his would-be-assassin for an official visit in which the official documents would be officially drawn up.
The party mood was unquenchable. Somewhere behind the din of mutant celebration and the spontaneous eruption of This Land is Your Land, there was a plea from the President for the mutants and assumed mutants in holding facilities to have their constitutional rights defended.
"...to the gulf stream wa-aa-aters, This land was made for you and meeee!"
"Good morning," said the President in the lull. "And God Bless."
Sara put her hand on her heart. "God Bless America,"
Others joined, "Land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her... Thru the night with a light from above."
Some were still dancing to _This Land is Your Land_, some were just jumping around like fools and yawping with glee.
It was chaos.
It was marvellous.
It was colder than Hell and she'd never felt so warm.
And Mort swept her over backwards and kissed her square on the lips.
Only in a moment like this, only in supreme and divine euphoria... could she ever accept such a passionate confirmation of their mutual feelings for each other. And especially, Mort's feelings for her.
"Lord love ya, Sara Louise," he said, helping her up.
"And God bless us, every one," she chirped. There were trays lining up on the conveyor belt. Hot porridge and cereal and scrambled eggs with a carton of milk for each of them. Sara would forever remember it as the meal of freedom.
Even though freedom was a long time in coming.
 Like smoke rings, only harder to manage. And yes, I can do them.
Henry paced when he was on the phone. It was a very simple displacement activity, but it beat the heck out of getting into an interesting equation and missing the actual call through inattention.
"I'm sorry," said the secretary, "but no-one at this office is willing to take the case."
Hank crossed off the number on his little list. "Do you know of anyone who might?" he enquired.
"We're sorry," she said. "but we are not able to give any referrals at this time. Thankyou for calling Hangem, Sicem and Mawl. Have a nice day."
The fifth pen in as many phone calls shattered in his hand. "...but I have promises to keep," he muttered to himself, wiping the ink off and gathering the shards, "and miles to go before I sleep."
"You should like, so not hold pens when getting fobbed off," said Kitty. "That one almost wrecked the carpet."
"Company," said young Albert. He was peeking between the curtains, and had been since he woke.
"It's Ms Munroe," said Avery, flipping between morning toons.
"It is Ms Munroe," Albert grinned. "How--?"
"She feels different."
Hank opened the door. "Cavalry at last," he cheered. Then he noticed she was wearing black. Ororo never wore black. Unless... "Who--?"
Cold sorrow washed over him. Not Jean... Of all of them, he'd have thought her indestructable. "Why?" he asked.
"She felt it was the only way."
News circulated as it did, replete with tearful denials and the full compliment of mournful embraces. In a time of loss, companionship was sorely craved. Everyone took it a little differently. All gathered what belongings they had and shuffled into vehicles in a silent gloom.
Back to their former sanctuary.
Hank followed Ororo's licence plate in a numb blur. Everything he'd been told by the kids skittered about in his head. Everything he knew danced about with those jumbled facts in a bizarre gavotte.
And when he got there... the school he knew and loved as a young mutant was a wreck.
The soldiers had left the ruins as quickly as they'd arrived. Water from Bobby's ice shield still pooled on the floor, mixed with the blood of dead soldiers.
All gone stale in their absence.
Someone upstairs was vacuuming.
Of such domestic details is aftermath made.
Avery listlessly pulled darts out of the wall, careful not to let them prick him.
Kitty air-walked over the stagnant puddle, searching for towels and mops.
Another began opening windows, letting the air in.
Little by little, each one of them began the chore of restoring their sanctuary to its former welcoming feel. Re-enforcing their home.
And it would be home again.
 Side-fling to the many, many times Jean Grey has come back from the 'dead'.
As Jubillee was fond of saying, there were priorities, and there were priorities. Since most of the mess in the foyer had been swept up - or swept up to the point where she started getting in the way - Kitty raced to her room, air-walking through ceilings that became floors, racing along corridors and cutting corners in a way no-one else could.
And that was when she ran into the demon.
Only in retrospect would Kitty question the little details in her first impression. Okay. Retrospect and heavily sarcastic questioning from Jubillee, much, much later in the day.
He was clinging to the wall as she ran out of it, so she got a really good look at the blue face, yellow eyes, sharp, sharp teeth, and the multitude of scars.
An unholy roaring noise only amplified things.
She started screaming before she'd even fully emerged.
The demon leaped away from her, crying out, "Heilige sch¸tzen mich!" and incidentally collided with some unexpected statuary.
It was then that Kitty's eyes picked up the tridactyl hands, the spaded tail, and the cloven feet.
She screamed again.
The apparition before her rolled backwards, regaining his feet and reaching for something inside the folds of his coat. "Unreiner Geist! Wer ¸berhaupt Sie und alle Ihre Begleiter sind, die diesen Bediensteten des Gottes besitzen--"
"What is going ON up here?" Ororo emerged from a different pathway.
Kitty shrieked and ran behind her.
The thing that the demon thrust out at her was a rosary.
Ororo stepped forward and turned the vacuum cleaner off, ending the 'unholy roaring'. "Kurt, are you okay?"
"Is HE okay?" Kitty yawped.
"Kitty, you can phase. He couldn't hurt you even if he wanted to."
"Was?" said the demon. His arm began to slacken. "She is... one of us?"
Ororo turned on Kitty. "I warned you about phasing through the halls, didn't I?"
"But--" Kitty protested. "But-- But--" She held a shaking finger in the demon's direction.
The demon sighed, sagged and turned. "It's all right. I'll go."
Ororo reached out without looking and trapped him by his wrist. "No... you're staying here until at least after the introductions. Besides, I need to look at that cut."
"Cut?" The demon reached up and touched where he and the statue had met. Red blood against skin blue like the night. "Ach... This has not been my week."
"What are you?" Kitty blurted.
"...three hundred and seventy-four..." he muttered. Louder, he said, "Would you believe - mostly harmless?"
 Part of the exorcism ritual
Kitty had gone white and Kurt was instants from balking and running on her. Ororo let her grip on his wrist slide into his hand. His unusual fingers gripped firmly as if to say, _Thanks._
"Kitty Pryde, this is Kurt Wagner. He was instrumental in helping us."
Kurt was relaxing in her grasp. "Hallo," he said. "I'm sorry for startling you."
Kitty's eyes, gone wide, were following the tail.
"Kitty..." Ororo warned.
Kurt squeezed her hand and let go, threading his rosary into his vest. Pocket-watch style. "It's all right, Frau. I get this a lot." A mischievous smirk, and the spade rose in front of Kitty's startled face. "Hallo," he squeaked, manipulating the spade like some kind of puppet. "I am Kurt's tail. Would you like to say 'hello' to Kurt? He's back here..." The spade made a pointing motion back at its owner.
Kitty made a tiny 'eeep' noise and fell through the floor.
Ororo groaned and massaged the bridge of her nose. "I'm halfway tempted to introduce you in assembly... Get it over with all at once."
"It takes weeks to 'get it over with'," counselled the demonic teleporter. His tail helped gather the vacuum cleaner. "At least I took care of the glass."
"And now I get to take care of you. Again. I'm *sure* you know the way to the infirmary..."
There was minor pandemonium amongst the returning students. Kitty's story was getting increasingly fantastic and both Bobby and Rogue were arguing over salient points at maximum possible volume.
This was highly unnecessary.
"That is ENOUGH!" Scott separated the combatants. "Mr Wagner can't help his appearance and we - especially - should not judge him based solely on that." Even though he had a hell of a problem with it, at the moment. He was sure the guy was a decent fellow, but...
So much was going on that he didn't want to deal with and the blue man was just another reminder of who was missing.
"But--" said Kitty.
"No 'but's," said Scott. "He was essential in retrieving the Professor and he needs somewhere safe to stay."
"He's nice," said Rogue. "When ya can get 'im talkin', he spins quite a tale."
"He already has a tail," Kitty argued. "You know? Sticking out of his butt?"
"It's part of his spine," said Bobby, rolling his eyes. "Everyone makes that mistake. Geez..."
"He has a tail?" said Avery.
"I thought I like, mentioned that," Kitty huffed.
"I wonder if he's blue all over," said Jubes.
Scott sighed and tried to find some small corner of peace. He couldn't deal with this. Not now.
The snow had melted and heat settled into the bitumen by the time lunch rolled around. Some of the crowd around the fence had thinned. Apart from a bristle of cameras filming the fence in progress or the muties, of course. The camera crews never really left.
Sara was getting worse.
Nervous tics invaded her usually graceful movements, as a slight stammer invaded her speech. Her fingers played in the air, seemingly independent of each other.
"Why hasn't anyone come to take any statements? When's our trial? It's not as if we're a flight risk. I haven't seen any lawyers," Sara babbled. "We should have lawyers. Even some just-past-the-bar lawyerette. Something. We have rights. Don't we?"
Mort kept her walking. It was all he could do. Short of finding Sara a new hobby in this place completely barren of hobby-eque materials.
"What do you want of me, Mort?" she asked.
"Wha'ever you'll le' me... 'ave, luv," he said. "F'r as long as... you want t' give... it."
Her head began tic'ing to the side. "Theoretically... mmm-mathematically... logically... im-mmm-possible. Divide by zero error. I think my universe is crashing."
Quick. He had to distract her from the potential public fit. "Did you run that... pro-mutie site before ya... found out?"
"Hmn? Yes. Of course I did. Intolerance is something of a bug-bear of mine. Especially after I looked up a few anti-mmm-mutant sites. KKK meets neo-nazis meets all the worst mythos from our hideously racist past. Up to and including ritual cannibalism. Mutant or not, there had to be a positive voice." A twitch of a smirk. "Crying because it's alone."
Another one of her obscure jokes. He laughed anyway. "You get trouble with hackers?"
"Oh, not after I wrote the whole thing in assembler," she said. "Anyone willing to go to that much trouble deserves the vainglory." She stopped.
Part of her clothing had caught on the wire. It was some effort to get it loose.
Sara sighed. "That's me. Always snagging some loose thread on something. If I had a... sewing... kit..."
Her eyes had gone distant, but not inside. They were focussed far into the distance.
"I recall, mister Toynbee, that you mentioned you can create a self-hardening ooze."
"So it's theoretically possible to turn a scrap of thread into a needle... and if I have a needle..." she grinned like a maniac. "We can make alterations."
So it was a manic idea borne of pure desperation. Mort didn't care. Sara desperately needed something to do.
This would help her.
 A little dig at all those Kurt-gets-hurt Movie!Fics out there
 Terry Pratchett's description of the vitamin content in a particular fast-food joint.