Continued from yesterday:
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 susurration 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.”
Scott Summers did what he always did when he blamed himself for another mutant’s injury. He lingered, forcing himself to watch over them and, when he was capable, inveigle himself into their care and recuperation.
Sara looked a lot younger when she was asleep.
They’d had to improvise with her restraints, owing to the fact that there was no way the traditional arrangements would have worked. Her injuries covered her left arm and a swath of skin along her back. Hardly up to the standard of a typical second-degree burn in a human, Sara's injuries were much worse for her because her epidermis was alive.
He’d made himself listen to Hank’s lecture on her skin.
How each 'scale’ was actually a cluster of nerves, pigment cells, and muscles intricately woven together into a tiny, neat package.
None of them were larger than a freckle.
Sara herself had told Hank that her skin was amazingly informative. Every touch was like gathering a novel’s worth of information on the head of a pin.
Small wonder, then, that her brain was wired to process large amounts of data at phenomenal speed. Otherwise, she’d match Avery in terms of not keeping up with events.
And also small wonder that she was currently asleep under the influence of pain medication. Even first-degree burns - the majority of her most recent injuries - would be agony for her.
Hank’s newest formula, a mixture of acetominophen and antihistamine, had her numbed to the pain without making her loopy. And since she was largely unconscious, that meant a reduced likelihood of further seizures.
Unfortunately, when she was *awake*… she was in the high risk zone. They needed her awake so she could eat, and to answer the obvious medical questions. The obvious compromise, to keep her *just* medicated enough to relieve discomfort, yet have her awake enough to be aware, was a very thin line to balance on.
Sara should be coming back 'up’ from her drug-induced stupor any minute, now. Scott nuked a small serving of nutritious broth for her while Hank re-dosed her injured skin with silverzine.
Just in time. “Can’t let you out of the restraints,” he reminded her. "If you have a seizure without them, you could aggravate your injuries.“
Sara blinked, still halfway 'under’. "Really did it t’ m'self th's time,” she mumbled. “What’ll I do f'r an encore?”
The exchange had been exactly the same almost every time she awoke. Except the first few, when he established the correct pattern.
“I hope you won’t *need* to have an encore,” he said, doling out a spoonful of broth for her. “We’d actually like you to go through twenty-four hours *without* coming in here, you know.”
A wise-ass smile. “I’m not my best when I’m worried about those I love,” she murmured, accepting more soup. “And lately, I’m worse when I get cold.”
“I know,” he said. “I should have kept an eye on you.”
Sara winced. “I seem to recall… mutual bouts of nausea…”
Scott froze, staring at the all-too-familliar face at the infirmary door. “What’s *he* doing here?”
“Wouldn’t you?” said Kurt. “In the same situation?”
If, by some miracle, Jean turned up in some hospital… he’d move heaven and earth to get to her. But this wasn’t about him and Jean.
“We had an arrangement,” he put the soup down as he stood. “It hasn't even been four days.”
The Toad looked dishevelled. Gone was the cocky and arrogant warrior. "Please,“ he said. "I’ll do anything you say. Just ten minutes. Ten little minutes. Just a little time with 'er. Please. She needs me. I… I can 'elp. Five minutes? Five minutes… I’ll fix all th’ plumbin’. I’ll supercharge yer cars. I’ll fix anythin’ you like. Anythin’. Just a coupla minutes. I can help… Just let me help? You want a pound o' flesh? Name the fuckin’ cut.”
Sara whimpered and hissed.
Toad bit his lip and danced in agitation, torn between the want to get close to her, and the arrangement they had. He could clearly see the irritated flesh, each spot of a scale blinking in pain. “I can help her. Please. Just let me help her…”
A tiny noise.
“For God’s fucking *sake*… she’s in *pain*…”
Maybe it was guilt over ultimately causing her current condition. Maybe it was some frisson of sympathy worming its way through a chink in the armour that was his perception of the man. Maybe it was the near-ceaseless and desperate babble.
Whatever it was, Scott stepped aside. “Help her, then.”
Toad moved so fast there was red-shift. “I’m 'ere, luv. Shhh…” a gentle kiss to her forehead. “I’m gonna have t’ touch yer burns, but it’s gonna be all right. Just take it easy…” He focussed intensely on his hands, which developed a sheen. Then, gentle as a butterfly, brushed his shiny skin against her burned and scorched flesh.
Sara hissed, then breathed out a great sigh of relief. "…oooooooohhhh… *Bless*…“
"You watch out fo’ tinglin’,” he said. “Means it’s wearin’ off. An’ if you start t’ get swellin’, it means it ain’t any good for you anyway.”
“…mmmmmmmmh,” said Sara.
Toad moved around to her back, tracing the path the fire had made on her skin. “Le'me know if I missed any spots, eh?”
“Not that I’m complainin’, luv… but you usually talk and *I* make agreeable noises.”
Scott kept his eyes on him as he returned to the soup. Sara was drowsy and relaxed, but awake. “You need to eat,” he told her.
“…okay.” She obediently held her mouth open for a spoonful.
“What on *Earth* is that substance?” Hank wondered.
“Technic'ly? Guess it’s some kinda nerve suppressant. I leak it all over th’ place when I hurt. Numbs th’ pain. I can control it a bit… not a lot, but enough.”
“I didn’t notice any when I was suturing your thumb,” he said.
“'Course you bloody didn’t. You were sewin’ me up. Can’t have a soddin’ doc sewin’ you up with numb fuckin’ 'ands. Just di'n’t let meself feel the pain.”
“And this morning?”
“Remembered it. In exquisite ball-breakin’ detail.”
He had no reason to lie. There was no… motive behind those words.
Perhaps… just perhaps… Toad was telling the truth. Not only about his abilities, but also about his emotions.
And yet it was still *wrong* to allow a grown man within touching distance of an underaged girl. Not when his intentions were clearly immoral.
But he kept *restraining* himself - every instant, in fact - from taking action based on that intent.
For the first time since his initial dismissal of the man, Scott began pondering the Toynbee equation.