"That's what I'm telling you."
"She *packed* her *bookshelves*?"
"Which particular word do you have trouble understanding?"
"I have trouble with the whole idea that one sixteen-year-old kid can have a small library."
"Most of it was in storage," said Sara, turning the corner to find her two newest educators, Mr Logan and Mr Summers. "All the better to prevent mother from burning it. Hi," she offered a hand to either of them. Which they stared at. "Sara Louise Adrien. Go-to girl for finding copies of just about anything... and that's your one warning."
The short fellow with the cigar looked her up and down. "You're green," he said.
"No, Mort's green. I'm somewhat blue-ish." They weren't taking the straight line either. Darn. "I was told where to find you for the ritual relocating of boxes."
"Huh?" said the fellow with the interesting eyewear.
"Professor Xavier told me to tell you to help me move in," Sara supplied. Must not attempt to strangle the Phys. Ed tutor. He has to have positive points somewhere... There are no stupid people, just stupid moments. "This way," she said, gesturing for them to follow.
Her life - or the bits of it she particularly wanted to keep - fit into a small U-haul. Most of the actual space was taken up by books, profit-in-potentia, and Creations. Only a small percentage was things she actually used every day.
"Um," said the Phys. Ed tutor. "You have a hamster on your head."
"Yes. That's Chuckie. This is probably one of the few times you'll ever see him outside of some kind of plastic barrier, so treasure the moment. Poor creature's agoraphobic... but he's too happy to see his Mommy to risk losing sight of me again. I'm his security blankie." She grinned, picking up her body box by both handles. "Watch the archive boxes. They tend to go at the bottom."
"Corpse case?" said the man with the glasses.
Joy. He can read, she thought. Down, girl... "Don't worry, it's completely fake. I mostly use him for set dressing."
Ororo breezed past and found a box for herself. "She calls it Dead Fred. Don't ask."
Sara began hauling Fred and his container up to her new digs. Behind her, the teachers were talking.
"Why wouldn't I want to ask?"
"'Cause you'll find out," said the smoker. "Ain't'cha heard ignorance is bliss?"
"She makes movies," said Ororo. "And believe me, you might just prefer ignorance..."
Their voices faded to a murmur as she took her burden upstairs, and found Kurt and Mort setting up shelving. Or, more correctly, trying to fill the shelving with interesting bits - like Chuckie's labyrinth.
"With the right amounts of string, blu-tack and tape, that maze can go in amazing directions," Sara informed. "And since we're still rearranging furniture, can I have a clear path between the bed and the balcony, please? Oh, and a sunless nook for the computer. Sun reflections are just nasty."
"I'm not even trying to set up your computer, luv," said Mort. "Think I'm runnin' out of brains with this lot." He gestured with a tubing part.
"RTFM," Sara joked. She found the piece of card with instructions for assembly on it, and handed it to the other man in her life. "And let your imagination be your guide."
On her way back to the U-haul, some unguessed signal made the halls fill with a solid stream of teenaged mutants. Sara 'eep'ed and tried to get out of the way... fast running out of 'way' to get out of.
Attempting to climb the walls - even backwards - had long been a personal joke. It was only when the tidal forces of moving bodies ebbed that she noticed her feet were a longish way from the ground.
Sara shut her eyes and prayed that whatever force held her to the wall suddenly didn't decide to let go. She could feel gravity wanting to pull her to the ground. The fall wanted to eat her.
Too scared to move, she had little choice but to stay put.
"Ach..." Kurt growled at the diminishing hum that meant that the inducer had run out of juice. Sooner or later, everyone's going to have to get used to you, junge... At least this time, he was in an empty corridor.
Well, he added at the sound of agitated breathing, almost empty.
"Hallo?" he risked.
"Uhm... little help?"
Kurt looked up - not that much further up than her normal height, in fact. "Sara... was?" She was stuck to the wall. "How did you get up there?"
"It just kinda happened," she quavered. "Can you help? I'm... I'm scared of heights."
The hamster was treating an outflung arm like a balance-beam, stopping only to sniff at this or that in the hope that it was food.
"Can you move your foot?" he asked. "Stretch it out towards the floor?"
Slowly, by shaking degrees, she did so. A cautiously-tapping toe found the floor and solidly slammed into it. The other leg followed, jerky, before the rest of her slowly slid into the corner and folded up.
"...you must think I'm dreadfully silly..."
"Nein," he soothed. "Fear can be a very powerful enemy. The most powerful, since it can control you when nothing else can." He gently brushed her hair, calming her. "A very dear friend of mine hates small rooms... much like you hate heights. She works very hard every day to beat it. And so can you."
Her pet found his arm and clambered on to it.
Kurt moved very carefully, trying not to spook the little creature. "Hallo, kleines... are you being brave for her? Or are you looking to see if I have any cake?"
Sara wiped her eyes. "Chuckie usually doesn't climb other people," she said, and then opened them.
Kurt's heart fell. And now comes the screaming...
 Yes, I know Hugh Jackman's 6'something, but Logan's cannon height is around 5'4"[IIRC], so I'm writing him as 5'4".
Sara's response was a delighted smile. "Mr Wagner... you've been holding out on me."
Kurt blinked. "Ah... I have?"
"Of course you have. I've missed such an opportunity to compare notes. Why on Earth did you hide?"
He was personally amazed that she didn't see it. A lifetime of bad reactions flickered through his head. "I... didn't want to scare the horses," he finally said.
Sara giggled, relaxing out of her trembles. "Silly Elf," she said. "They don't let horses in New York, they tend to scare the cars..." She untangled herself from her curl whilst standing up.
"Elf?" said Kurt.
"You look rather elfin," she said. "And the sense of humour matches, too."
Kurt shrugged. "I suppose it's a lot better than some *other* nicknames I've had."
"Plus your accent hails from the Black Forest... though you're hardly a little Elf."
"Who knows," he said. "Maybe there are bigger elves, somewhere." Even though he was delighted to find a genuine non-reaction to his true self, he still had to ask. "Why were you not afraid?"
"Chuckie's an excellent judge of character," said Sara.
 The original objection to cars when they first came out - and why they had to have a guy running in front with a red flag. True stuph.
 Bumper sticker oft seen on Volkswagons, "Made by der little elves in der black forest"
There are events in life that are much better viewed from the outside. Much like the current situation in Sara's room. Two mortal enemies, each unaware of the others' presence, are mere feet away from each other.
However, through a series of uncanny happenstances, they manage to avoid actually seeing each other.
One man, seeking a screwdriver, ducks behind a pile of boxes just as the other turns his way, seeking a resting place for the object in his hands. He turns away to sort books onto a shelf just as the sought tool is found and the seeker returns to his work.
In one case, each man grabs a tool set down an instant before, by the other.
Such a spell can not last for long.
"More grist for the mill," Sara announced. "Nice to see you two getting along. I thought there'd be fireworks for sure."
"Fireworks?" said both men together, turning to face the lizardine girl.
Like the bubble to the pin, the peace - and the magic - is broken.
Scott's hand flew to his visor.
"Sara! Down!" Three men warned at once.
Kurt put down his box - marked 'fragile' - as Sara turned towards the obvious sign of danger...
And threw her box - 'library 3.5' - to him with a, "Catch!"
Books spilled in a flutter as Scott fumbled.
Both Kurt and Mort coiled to pounce. Too late. Far too late.
Sara had her hand in front of Scott's visor and herself between him and Mort.
"Please don't shoot my boyfriend?" she said. "We haven't even had a first date."
Words have power. Some, like the N-word in the wrong neighbourhood, can get you killed. Sara's choice of 'boyfriend' caused a veritable cloud of emotion.
Kurt, the most subtle of the reactees, allowed a sly smirk to spread across his face. He'd detected undercurrents in the way those two interacted, and was pleased that his suspicions were confirmed.
Scott's temper boiled. What right had this girl to claim a man old enough to be her father as a paramour - and why was she insane enough to do it? What did he do to her in order to have her in his thrall?
For Mort, the world had taken on a whole new aspect. Boyfriend. She'd said 'boyfriend'. And he knew that Sara only minced words when she was trying to be polite. Light shone on him from above and a chorus of angels sang in his heart. Somehow, that one word from her lips transformed him from ugly, unwanted Toad into something... infinitely better. Maybe not a prince, per se, but at the very least a human being with worth. In that one moment, with the power of that one word and its speaker, Mister Mortimer Toynbee was reborn.
And residing in Sara's chest - was doubt. Had she meant to say that? Was it too demeaning to call a grown man 'boyfriend'? Did she have any right to claim him at all? What if he didn't like her like she liked him? What if he was appalled? What if...? She turned, seeking reassurance from him.
And found it in what could only be described as a shit-eating grin and an undeniable aura of complete bliss.
Sara returned a shy smile and a squeak of, "...hope you don't mind..."
He just stood there and grinned wider. Shone brighter. There was a sense of... potentiality in him. As if, at any minute, he'd break into a full-blown musical number.
Mort didn't mind in the slightest.
"Luv, I wouldn't mind if you proposed," he said.
She could drink the confidence in his eyes forever and never have her thirst quenched. He didn't play games with hearts... he knew. That's what I want, she thought. Oh yes.
 Paraphrased from an early ish of ElfQuest
"You can't be serious about letting him stay," said Scott.
"Scott... I would not be the person I am if I forced him to leave. This school has always been a place of refuge and recuperation for mutants who have needed the help. More than one life has been changed by that simple fact - as well you know."
Scott froze. His mind filled with the dark, distant memories of life with Mr Winters. "That's a low shot and you know it, sir."
"Someone has to remember," said Xavier. "Every student here has some piece of themselves... some part of their pasts that they don't want acknowledged... something they'd rather everyone forgot."
"Really? Is redemption any less possible for an adult than a child?"
He sighed, turning away and venting his frustration on a piece of walnut panelling. "Don't you start... please."
Xavier, in spite of the emotions boiling off his student, smirked. "I warned you that she'd find out about Mr Toynbee's... accommodations."
"She told me off in Ethics. As a thought exercise. The way she worded it, I--" His head joined his fist on the panel. "I nearly didn't catch it."
Professor Charles Xavier covered his mouth to chuckle.
"Damnit, this is not funny."
"Not that, precisely... I was considering the subsequent -ah- reaction." He had received five students who had decided to go to the top with regards to Mr Toynbee's subterranean quasi-incarceration. "You may have a revolt on your hands."
"I told you the Toad was nothing but trouble!"
"Th' Toad's dead, cocky," said the man as he barged in. "None of you seen 'er?"
Xavier, who knew instantly who he was talking about, said, "No... Sara's not anywhere nearby..." a moment of concentration. "I can't sense her above ground level..."
"I checked, 'er bike's still in th' garage."
"The remains of her bike," Scott absently corrected. Those who knew what it was under the obvious history of abuse had ganged up and turned it into the school Shop project... which was currently in pieces until specified parts and tools arrived. "No other vehicles--?"
"Nuthin'," said Mort. "No sign of 'er anywhere."
"Then, gentlemen," said Xavier, "we must seek her by other means."
Mort instantly followed him, practically oozing agitation.
Scott followed out of outrage. "Sir! You can't let him down there..."
"Mr Toynbee's intentions are pure," said Xavier.
"We've both been fooled before," said Scott.
The argument continued - cyclically - all the way down to Cerebro's door.
"All I'm saying is he's an obvious security risk."
"All I'm sayin' is you're an utter bloody prick, mate," said Mort. "I haven't done anything to you, yer students, yer stuff... what the fuck is your problem?"
"You're my problem! Sir. Please. Don't let him in there."
The door hissed open with a, "Welcome Professor."
And then all three of them found Sara.
Amidst parts and pieces of the machine. Head down, as the saying went, and tail up.
"See?" said Mort. "If you weren't so fuckin' paranoid 'bout where I am, I could'a bloody stopped her."
"Sara," Xavier prompted. "What are you doing?"
"Hm?" She surfaced. "Oh. Um. I wanted to see how it worked," she said. "Did you know that about half of these parts are completely superfluous? They're an open avenue for sabotage... and you really should think about that door, too. Anyone with a mirror, some foil and a rudimentary knowledge of electronic security systems can just barge right in."
She appeared to notice, for the first time, exactly what she'd done. "Oh. Heh." She blushed. "Object lesson?"
Mort finally wiped the grin off his face. "Looks like you had the wrong security risk, mate."
"Sir, this has to be a front... they're in cahoots."
"No, we're in a basement," said Sara. "In a machine with an almost ludicrous sense of over-design."
"Sara..." said Xavier. "Can you put it back together?"
"With or without the excess parts?" Sara gestured at them. "Because the latter might require a little re-engineering..."
"Sir, he's set this up on purpose..."
"Just put everything back, thankyou."
"And just 'ow the fuck am I supposed to be th' bloody leader of this?"
"You're the criminal mastermind - you tell me."
"I can tell you definitively that Mr Toynbee has not even thought of Cerebro until we actually got here. Sara... merely got bored enough to take a look."
"I kept bloody tellin' ya she needs a keeper," said Mort. "But you'd rather be my bloody keeper."
"Someone has to keep an eye on you."
"I'd volunteer," said Sara, reconnecting parts, "but some paranoid bantling keeps locking me away from him - and vice versa."
"It's for your own safety," Scott hedged. "You're still just a kid an--"
"I have faced down my own Dragon, sir. I have eked out existence in a situation where I was expected to break down and beg for mercy. I have fought your enemy and won, sir. I am not 'just' anything." Anger colours rippled briefly over her skin. "Do not demean me with 'just', thankyou."
Scott was stunned. So stunned he didn't realise Mort was easing out of his battle stance at her words. "I-- I didn't--"
"Think?" Sara finished. "Perhaps you should, in future. Not all problems are solved with muscle and brute force."
 Reference to X-Men, the first movie.
 _Emperor's New Groove_
 Synonymous with 'bastard'
"No," said Mort. "'E's righ'." They were the most painful words he'd ever said. They sundered his heart for certain. No physical pain ever hurt like this.
Sara was incensed. "I beg your pardon?"
"You're sixteen, luv," he said. "I shouldn't be doin' 'alf the things I'm doin' with ya."
"Kissing? Holding hands?" she provided. "Dates?"
"All of it. Especially the kissin'."
Her eyes filled with moisture. "But... I just got used to the concept," she said, "that someone actually wanted t--" her voice cracked into inaudibility as her tears fell.
It took supreme effort to resist the impulse to embrace her. His arms twitched to hold her, and it took almost more than he had to draw them back to himself. "I'm sorry," he said.
She'd been piecing parts together, almost absently, right up until that 'sorry'.
Words have power. That 'sorry' took all the motive power out of her. Drew the life out of her by slow degrees.
"I have to step back," he said. "You're still too young. I... could 'urt you."
Her skin, always an indicator of her emotion, drained of her usually bright colours. "Next week, I turn seventeen?" she offered. "Then it's only one year..."
Congratulations, Xavier 'said'. You've won. Do you yet comprehend what damage winning will do?
He had to be annoyed to sound that way in a telepathic communication. Their relationship is currently illegal. Unhealthy.
You have no idea, 'said' Xavier. *Look* at her.
He saw a girl sagging through depression. She was young. She'd get over it.
You're so certain?
Then let them stay separated for that week. I'm sure the damage will become obvious before then.
Teenage histrionics, he dismissed. A tantrum over what she can't have.
And your intense focus on this, rather than coping with your loss is...?
My own business. Sir.
"One week," said Xavier. "I think that's worth your freedom from your current - accommodations..."
"Sir!" Scott objected.
"You mean the eight-by-five bunk-room with no windows?" said Mort. "I'm more or less used to it."
"It's up to you, Scott," said Xavier. "The security risk of having Mr Toynbee treated as a normal resident of this establishment in return for his - restraint... in regards to Sara for one week. Or... you allow things to continue as they are with a chaperone of my choosing."
"I'll stay away from him for a week," said Sara. "It's worth it to let him have the sun."
"Sara..." objected Mort.
"You shouldn't be locked away like an animal," she said. "I remember what that was like. One week? Chicken feed." She wiped her face. "We can survive one week."
Scott weighed the bargain in the balance. One week. "One week," he said. "And then we renegotiate."
Dawn crept slowly over the snow-covered landscape. Somewhere near her balcony, but not actually on it, Sara was singing.
News of that particular morning ritual had got around as fast as the men who were prepared to deliver bruises or worse to anyone trying to peek at it. After that, it became part of the routine, everyday business of a school that played host to many, many kids with varying idiosyncrasies.
His glasses turned the snow a bright pink as he crunched across the desolate expanse. In a handful of minutes, the early risers would awaken and manufacture snow sculptures, snow angels, forts, snowballs, and - in general - make chaos out of the naked white order that had fallen during the night.
But none would follow his tracks to disturb the snow into this grove. None would cavort and play in this secret little place.
The place where Jean's memorial lay was sacrosanct.
He bought flowers there, no matter what the cost, and cleaned the snow off the stone. And deeply regretted that her body had never been found.
"...sing sing a song... sing a soo-oonnng..." Sara opened her eyes. "Sing."
Dawn's light always refreshed her. Made her feel better.
As she leaned over to grab her robe, she spotted a desolate figure trudging into the trees. He was carrying flowers.
Only the glint off his glasses identified him as Mr Summers.
Forget the robe. She was getting dressed for the snow.
Scott reverentially dusted the snow off the cold memorial, reading again the words etched into the stone.
In the memory of Dr Jean Grey
He picked the light dusting out of the dates, and swept the dead flowers aside in favour of the new.
"I wish you were here to talk to," he whispered. "I wish you'd let us help... if only..." He sighed. There was no point in talking to stone. It was a dead thing. Jean wasn't here.
She wasn't anywhere.
There were no goodbyes for him. No closure.
Just the stone... and the cold.
"You come here every morning for her," said Sara.
Scott whirled, facing the chameleonic girl. She was wrapped up like a mummy against the cold. Mittens, coat, muffler... the whole works. "What are you doing here?" he challenged.
"I never knew her," she said. "I saw her on the TV once, speaking out against the Mutant Registration Act. She started me on the path that lead to the support BBS, the tolerance site..." a quirk of a smile, "the death threats... The whole deal. Even before I found out I'm a mutant myself... she started me thinking about what it was like on the wrong side of prejudice."
Scott stiffened at the words she chose. "This is not the place for another debate."
"No. I know. I'm stating a fact, Mr Summers. Dr Grey touched my life, too." She remained still, standing outside of the invisible barrier Scott had drawn around this place. A barrier everyone seemed to sense... and respect. "There's a philosophy that every life touches at least one other. Whatever good there is that they do... lingers in those other lives. And so long as that good lasts - the spirit of that person lives on. I rather like that philosophy. Can you guess why?"
Mute, now, wondering what the hell she was up to, Scott shook his head.
"Because there are those who, once touched by good, choose to perpetuate it. I don't think Dr Grey's spirit will ever be allowed to perish under that system."
Scott thought about that. About the lives she saved on a daily basis. About the lives she saved in her final moments... and how they moved on, helping others.
Even those who didn't strictly deserve such help.
But then... Jean, too, had been plucked from the ashes of defeat by a very unique man. He remembered a strange, withdrawn girl who suffered from the voices in her head... Were it not for Xavier, she'd still be in some mental institution. Alive... but broken.
She salvaged people in Xavier's name.
Could he do no less for her?
Unshed tears fell at last for her. The air went out of him and his knees cased him to fall.
And without much sound at all, Sara was nearby. Lending comfort.
"Remember with joy," she said. "And keep her spirit with you through your actions."
All he could do was sob.