Fire - Standin' around
Jonothon Starsmore furnaceface
Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Brooklyn, Sunday Fandom Time

Several hours later, Rinoa was in a daze. By normal logic, her magic should have run out by now, but being a Sorceress meant it didn't. There was no limit. Or if there was, a few dozen (or hundred) healing spells weren't going to put a dent into it.

But the more magic she used, the more power itched to come out. Something bigger. Something grander. She ached to find the people responsible for this and hurt them. Show them something they should be afraid of.

As if that would help. They'd classify her as a mutant, blame all mutants for what she did, and ramp up their efforts.

She quelled the voice as best she could, by whatever means necessary. Near the end, she was running on fumes, emotionally, but only wishing she were, magically. Magically ... she had as much at hand as ever, and the same unrelenting itch to use it.

Maybe she could find something to blow up, back home. Something in the Danger Shop. For now, she was going to take deep breaths and keep a tight leash on her control.

Squall had run out of magic -- or, at least, out of Curagas and Curas. He needed a quiet place to commune with his Guardian Forces so that they could refine more from his items... and while he was looking for one, he found Rinoa.

She looked exhausted, and Squall felt awful for not checking in on her sooner. Did she need company? Did she want to be alone? He sat down next to her -- not too far, not too close -- and watched for her reaction.

Rinoa didn't ask. Later, she would feel guilty about that. Later, she might realize these were exactly the kinds of situations that made it imperative that Sorceresses have Knights. Later, she might realize that she and Squall should talk about these things.

For now, she was going to feel a surge of relief, near gratitude, that he was nearby, and panic at realizing how worn her control was.

She grabbed the sleeve of his jacket and yanked him towards her, craving his nearness. Needing to bury her face in the fur of his jacket and be soothed. She felt like she was leaching some kind of stability out of his very marrow.

Maybe she was. There was a bond between them they didn't entirely understand. Maybe all Sorceresses were vampires. Maybe she'd worry about it when her nerves weren't so frayed, and she wasn't this close to doing something that she would regret.

Squall held her tightly, securely, and stroked her hair. He wasn't sure what to say, and so he said nothing -- he just wrapped the whole of his being around her, to keep her safe. He was her anchor, her safe place, the rock for her to stand on, and that was all that mattered. She needed him, and so he was there.

He wore black, and white, and red, but he seemed blue right now. Like an ocean, or the sky. Infinite and calm and deep.

She wriggled slightly to press her forehead against the side of his neck, instead of his jacket. Better. The fur was fuzzy and soft; his skin was a clearer connection.

She drank deeply, immersing herself in his calmness. Weaving it into her shields, around the exposed nerves, until there was more than just her own broken will keeping the lines clear. Keeping her driving, and not the power itself.

Squall's heart started to beat faster, and not just from her nearness. Sure, he was intending to exude calm and absorb her anxiousness, but that was metaphorical -- this, whatever she was doing, was something he could feel. It was a real bond, forged of something more substantial than love...

Whatever it was that she was drawing from him, he had plenty more to give. He clutched her close and kissed the top of her head. She was safe, now.

She was safe. She had been in control, if barely, when she started. She had enough now to be certain that she wasn't going to start blowing up civilians if they mouthed off about mutants.

Exhausted, but with a growing sense of alarm, Rinoa forced herself to stop. She pulled herself back abruptly, feeling the sharp disconnect when she left the circle of his arms.

She wasn't sure if she had hurt him, or if she might have caused him some kind of damage. She would heal him. She would fix it. Honest. Later.

Right now she was not going to make herself sick thinking that she might have, or she'd start throwing up and undoing whatever it was that she just did, and then she would have screwed him up and she might start blowing civilians up anyway, and that would be double-extra-bad.

Squall reached to pull her back. "Hey," he told her softly. "You're not okay."

"I'm sorry," she said, very softly. "I'm ... I'm fine, now."

She wasn't letting him pull her back. She couldn't have this conversation now. Please.

Squall nodded. "You're not," he countered. But he wasn't insistent -- if she didn't want to, he wasn't going to press.

He must have felt that. Why wasn't he scared?

"Later," was all that she said. "Please?"

Hopefully when not surrounded by the bodies and the dying, and somewhere that, if she needed to react, she could.

Once upon a time, back when Jonothon had been running with Generation X, he'd taken the enhanced senses of a fellow would-be-hero-in-red-tights and he'd broadcast them over the population of a neighbourhood, so that with their own temporary Spider-Sense, they'd know that the money they were clamouring for wasn't even remotely safe.

Thirty seconds of Spider-Sense, which had practically knocked him flat at the time, had absolutely nothing on several hours of completely fabricated calm. How Raven managed it for even a few moments was Jono's best guess. How he'd managed it for the better part of an afternoon?

He was sitting in the doorway by this point, keeping a tired, if attentive, eye out for whatever backup Xavier's might have sent. He didn't want to be here any more. Selfishly, it stung to be the freak among freaks, and still relegated to sitting in the doorway where the sight of him wouldn't frighten the people inside. Realistically, their fear and pain was still hammering on his sorry excuse for a psionic shield, and he was going to have a headache from this for a week.

And, beyond all of that, he was seriously envying everybody else for their ability to puke.

Karla collapsed on the ground next to him, sagging under the weight of everything. "Kiss kiss," she muttered, resting her head on his shoulder. "You know, when you suggested a vis--" She paused and raised her head to look at him. "Your shields are crap," she said. "I've seen sieves that were tighter than they are."

Karla was too tired for even her usual levels of tact.


And then there was a shield going up over over his mind, like a glowing Sapphire wave of calm.

And, just like that... silence. Blissful silence. Jono practically fell over in relief, himself.

//Never was good at shielding,// he muttered, leaning back against her. It was sheer force of will that had kept him from just laying back on the floor and passing out. //Then again. Remember back in High School, when I was so in denial about being able to read things that I didn't think I could pick up on this sort of nonsense at all?//

Of course, he'd also been so closed-off psionically, it was a wonder he could even speak for a while back there.

Karla snorted. "Course I remember," she said. "It wasn't as long ago for me as it's been for you."

If the surroundings hadn't been so dire, she might've cracked a joke about his age and memory loss. But this was neither the time nor the place.

"This has to be even worse for you than for the rest of us."

//I dunno,// Jono replied, mumbling a bit. //What's it like for th'rest of you?//

For him it was... guilt, mostly. That he'd dragged his friends into this mess in the first place.

"Agony," Karla said. "The pain, the terror, the sheer hopeless despair. I can feel it pounding against my shields. Worse, I know that if I open myself to it and touch anything in this place, I can see exactly what they did. I can draw it out of the wood and relive it over and over until the memory is too faded to see. And even then, I can still feel it."

She reached out to lace her fingers with his. "I'm still..." okay, glad was not the right word "...I'd rather be here, helping you, than happy and safe back at Fandom."

Jono gave her hand a light, somewhat shaky squeeze. And then furrowed his brow at her fingers. They were so... thin, between his own. Like somebody thought it would be funny to replace her fingers with twigs.

//I would rather none of this happen at all,// Jon admitted, loosening his grip on her hand. It was unnerving, feeling like he could grind her bones together just by touching her fingers. //But... thank you... for everything. This. I know this is a touch... upsetting.//

Jonothon's gift for British understatement was showing, again.

Karla noticed him looking at her fingers and slipped them from his grasp, hiding them beneath her pants grown far too large, just in the past few hours.

"You came for me in Agio," she reminded. "I at least had an inkling that it was going to bad. You didn't even have that."

She shrugged and looked out towards the street, where busy people went about their lives, unaware of the horror that took place just a few yards away from them.

"I'm your friend," she said quietly. "We all are. Which is why we're here. Because you needed us."

//I did,// Jon agreed, reaching for her hand again. No, he wasn't going to let her hide so easily. Nobody had ever let him do it. //Desperately. That doesn't mean I can't be sorry that you had to see this. Years spent telling all of you how th'world looks at us can't possibly...//

He shook his head, bitterly.

//Sworn to protect a world that hates and fears us. Sounds so... simple. Too simple. We put a roof over th'heads of mutants who have no place else to go, we fight off giant robots and racist fanatics on both ends of th'gene pool. And they don't hate us any less. They don't fear us any less. We hide. We put up walls and segregate ourselves from society. And how are they supposed to stop fearing us if we never give them the opportunity to understand us?//

Apparently, after the potions had run out, Jono had sat and brooded and exuded psionic calm and had gotten thinky.

Karla tried to keep her hand away for a moment, but gave that up as both futile and a waste of energy. She let Jono take it, even let him bring it up and examine it if he wanted. She wouldn't be able to hide what she looked like for long.

"That's part of why landens fear us back home," Karla said dully. "Because we keep ourselves separate. We're like these...untouchable, unknowable beings of great power who sweep in and take care of things and then sweep out. Even if there weren't the occasional--" or not-so-occasional "--Blood bastard who sees landens as easy prey, that's still not a recipe for understanding or friendship or...anything."

//And would th'landens do this to you, if they got the chance?//

Jono didn't think that they'd be able to so much as twitch wrong in the direction of the Blood. The impression that he'd gotten at Agio was that there was a very reversed sort of dynamic in Kaeleer. That those with the unfathomable power had had ages to create a society that worked, a system in which they could exist, and the landens, being powerless and lesser, had to live on the sidelines, tolerating the Blood, pulling together lives out of whatever was left for them on the side.

//We're new,// Jono ventured, turning her hand over gently, coming to terms with how much she'd just given of herself, for the sake of people like him. //Mutants. There have been a few here and there throughout history, granted, but this... There are millions of us. And maybe a few generations ago, there were probably less across th'world than there are in th'mansion alone. We swept up out of nowhere. At this rate, in a few more generations, we'll be it. Provided we survive that long.//

Words like Genosha leapt to mind. Sixteen million dead. Sixteen million.

"Hopefully not," Karla said, answering his first question. "There have been landen uprisings in the past. There are so many of them--they can do a lot of damage and kill a lot of people before they're--stopped." Karla just barely managed to stop herself from saying 'put down.' Even if she'd just meant the uprisings...that wasn't a phrase she could bring herself to use. Not here. "It usually happens when the Blood forget that we're the rulers because we're the caretakers, of both land and landens, and not simply because we have powers they do not."

She stared down at her hands. "If you survive that long. You're thinking about that dead island, aren't you?"

Jono's gaze flicked up from Karla's hands to her face in an instant. Locked there, tried to bore into her, though he wouldn't have dared attempt to use use powers for anything that mere observation wouldn't glean.

//Among other things.//

She knew about Genosha?

//Every time you turn around, they've come up with some new, creative way to exterminate us. This is... comparatively, it's...//

This was nothing. A drop in the bucket. A hundred or so lives. The equivalent of maybe one Sentenel's rampage, if it could be put down quickly. Still horrifying. Still a nightmare. Barely a scratch on the surface.

"Jean stopped by for a little chat last night," Karla said with no inflection. "She took me on a tour in her mind like her name was Lorna or something for a visit there. It was very educational."

Or, you know, traumatizing. One of those things. But it helped explain why Karla hadn't slept well last night.

"It sort of puts things like this, like Agio--Hell's fire, even like Azarath into perspective. At the same time, though--it was so big. It's hard to think of that scale. This hits me. I can see every face, maybe even learn every name if I wanted to. Same thing with Agio. But that island? Too much. You know what I mean?"

//I think I have some idea, yes. That island held well over half of the world's total mutant population.//

So... it was not exactly something to be taken lightly.

//... Why did Jean stop by for a chat?//

"Because she was displeased with me," Karla said. "Our philosophical views do not mesh well. I don't think I'll be invited back for happy socializing visits once we're done here."

You know. To put it mildly.

//Raven mentioned that you threw Annie out,// Jono noted, after a moment. //And Wolverine was muttering about you early this morning, when the X-Men came to gather him up for their mission. You do seem to be making a bit of an impression around th'mansion.//

He was going to have to go around to everyone there and apologize on Karla's behalf, wasn't he?

If they were less stupid, Karla wouldn't have to tell them about themselves so often.

"Wolverine tried to stab me after I asked him to get Jubilee some water," Karla said because she still didn't quite get what the Hell had been Stinky's problem, "and I did throw Annie out." She ground her teeth together a bit.

"...I let her back in when we left." See? That was...something!

It was... better than nothing?

//Wolverine is more animal than man at th'best of times, and had just pulled a girl that might as well have been a daughter of his down from a cross,// Jono noted. //I think he can be forgiven for not being completely cooperative.//

... It did help that, now that Stacy was gone, Logan was pretty much the only member of the X-Men that consistently seemed to give Jono the benefit of the doubt. It was possible that he was a smidge biased.

//And Annie is... invaluable. We can't afford to risk her leaving.//

All of this was presented levelly. Carefully. He suspected that Karla wasn't in the mood for another lecture, especially if she'd already spoken to Jean, but at least on the Annie bit... He had to say something. It had been done on his behalf, after all.

"So it's all right to let her talk to you like that?" Karla asked. "Because she's invaluable and you're--what? Expendable? Just another mutant? That's bullshit, Jono, and for a school that's all about brotherhood and tolerance, they're doing a shitty job of enforcing it on their own grounds."

She folded her arms angrily across her chest, cherishing the bit of energy her temper was providing.

"Annie's supposedly there for her son, who I'm sure would love to be spoken of the way she talked about you. You think she'd honestly walk away from him and this because of me?"

Karla's tone probably spoke worlds of what she thought about Annie if that were the case.

//She wouldn't walk away from him,// Jono said softly. //Hell, she put up a fight for his sake a few days back when all of bloody Alpha Flight tried to steal him and all the other children away. But she could sure as hell take him with her when she leaves.//

He shrugged.

//Straw that breaks th'camel's back. Telepaths are a dime a dozen. Shitty telepaths are worth even less. But she's single-handedly responsible for th'health of every single mutant in that school. If she leaves, we're down to bleeding out Warren some more.// He raised an eyebrow. //Unless you were hoping to stick around.//

Which he doubted.

//I can handle a few words, Karla. She's also stitched me up again once or twice. Which is a feat, when you bleed bloody fire.//

"It's not just what she said to you," Karla said, trying not to just jump up and scream, Don't you see? Don't you understand?! "Think of that stupid, hurtful comment. Think of how it made you feel. What if it hadn't been you she'd said that about? What if it was some other kid with no mouth? Someone young, someone impressionable?"

Wait, no. She was making her point all badly. Darkness, thinking was so hard right now. "I'm saying she is part of your team, part of your school, part of your home. And yet she can stand in the middle of a room full of mutants, in a room full of children who had been crucified because of what they were, and announce that one of their own isn't good enough for a relationship. Isn't worth falling in love with. Isn't normal, isn't human enough to be wanted or desired or loved. So what the fuck kind of message is that sending everyone? That maybe the humans are right? That they'll always be lesser? Or that it's all right to shit on Jono, because he's not human enough, he's too low on the totem pole to matter."

She jerked away from him, too angry to be touched right now. "Either way, it's shitty message to send to anyone."

Jono stared at her for a long while in silence, grasping at straws, not quite certain what to say.

//Karla... Angelo has said things like that about me. Doubted I even had feelings because of how I look. Lee once told me to stay in th'car because I looked like a mutant. Robert bloody Drake was th'first to inform me that I was Sugar's freak sideshow publicity grab. And while he was right, there were probably better ways to go about it than inviting himself into my flat and kicking over th'furniture.//

He shrugged.

//Maybe I am lesser. Or maybe there's just... something about me that people have trouble wrapping their heads around. I don't know. Do you see they way people look at me? Other mutants at th'school? Even th'ones here were shying away and muttering monster at me. Them! I was giving them Squall's healing potions and they were trying to hide from me! I'm sick and tired of wrapping myself up like a parcel, so I don't. But I'm th'first to acknowledge that I'm not exactly an easy sight to swallow, too.//

... This was probably not the direction this conversation was supposed to head in.

Not if he didn't want Karla hunting around for something heavy to whack him with.

"I...I can't even..." She just gaped at him for a few moments. " really feel..."

There were no words. words. Just a moment of shock followed by one of heartbreak.

"Jono, I..."

No. Words.

Aaand now Jono was ticking things off on his fingers. Almost casually, oddly enough.

//Vampires in Sookie's world steer clear of me because they figure I'm already a walking dead man. Medics in Squall and Rinoa's world made me sit naked for hours while they tried to put me out. Jacob once threw a fit at me in class because I invaded th'sanctity of his brain. Alice threw herself clear across Groovy Tunes th' first time I wandered in looking for either music or a job. Raven followed me for months before I agreed to let her heal me. Karla, these things... they add up. I'm different. I get that.//

"Different. Does not. Mean. Lesser." Karla said, fierce for all that the words were spoken softly. See, Jean? This was what she'd been talking about!

"Are you what people expect? What they're used to? No. But that doesn't mean that other people have the right to--especially back at the mansion--the idea that you're something to swallow--"

Words still hadn't gotten much easier.

Jono ran a hand through his hair, and then shrugged and flopped backwards, staring up at the ceiling with his back in the blood and the splinters. It was going to be a bitch on the leather.

Oh well.

//Karla, I'm not just different, I'm terrifying. Maybe that's how they reassure themselves that they've got something they can use to protect themselves when they're faced with...// He waved a hand up at the ceiling. //Chamber. Hollowed-out telepathic burning corpse. I've only ever met one other mutant with powers like this, and he was all fire and bones. Bloody bastard, too, but at least bones are... cleaner, somehow. I'll probably end up like that someday, too.//

Fewer bones, though. He was missing a few of those.

It didn't even occur to him that a couple of years ago, what he was stating now with a dull sort of acceptance had been the same thing that he'd argued with people for hours over his right to feel sorry for himself about.

"You are not a corpse," Karla said stiffly, slowly pulling herself to her feet. "If you're confused about the difference, look around."

A full day of Healing and the living were still outnumbered by the dead.

"I don't think I can continue this conversation right now." Not without a lot of food and a significant amount of sleep, anyway. Otherwise she was liable to just start screaming. Or hitting. Or both. "Excuse me, Jono. I've got a few more Healing webs to spin."

She wanted to tie that in to some kind of cutting remark about corpses again, but was just too tired to think of one. Instead, she just gave Jono one sad, rather disappointed look, shook her head, and walked away.

But the shield around his mind remained.

Jono didn't sit up. He didn't look around. If she was going to stalk away, after giving him that look, then she was more than welcome to do so.

He knew damn well what corpses looked like. He'd seen more than his share in his lifetime, too. They looked like him. And they were corpses specifically because they looked like him. Freaks. And why shouldn't people think he was one? He didn't breathe, didn't eat. There wasn't a heartbeat to speak of. If he closed his eyes and stayed there on the flat of his back, nobody would ever know the difference. He'd be just like the rest of them, if he just didn't bother thinking anymore.

Let anybody be disappointed who wanted to be. He lifted a non-committal hand, waving after her, and then closed his eyes.

The silence and the calm were both wonderful things. He'd just lay there and appreciate both while his strength trickled back, looking every bit the corpse that he wasn't allowed to be.

After her talk with Squall, Rinoa counted to a hundred, and then a hundred again, and then a hundred one more time. Some of the sharp edge of that feeling was dissipating, if slowly.

She had stood up to pace when she spotted a familiar figure nearby, one she hadn't yet said hello to, this trip. she felt a stab of guilt. As bad as this might be for her, as bad as this might be for any of them, it had to be far worse for Jono. This was his world, his home, and he had been the one to call for help.

And so, not sure if it was welcome, Rinoa moved over towards Jono, and reached to gently place a hand on his shoulder.


Jono wasn't going to stay on the flat of his back in the face of this. Wasn't going to let it show just how tired all of this made him. This wasn't even near being the worst that humanity had done to mutantkind. It wasn't. But being here, surrounded by the dead and the wounded, it was difficult to remember that.

Or maybe it just served to highlight that fact all the more.

//Hey, luv.// He wasn't quite looking up as he sat. But he wasn't pulling away, either. //I'm... sorry you all had to see this.//

"I'm ..." Rinoa paused. In all honesty, she couldn't say that she was happy to have seen it, so she tried to find the right words.

"I'm glad we could be here," she decided. "I'll take a few nightmares if it means we saved some lives. You would, too."

Jonothon nodded a little. Tired.

Too bloody tired.

//That's why I'm here. I... haven't run away yet. Keep wanting to, but there's just so much. And even if I can't fix anything, if there's a chance that I can make any of it at all better...//

But it was starting to make him tired. And he'd thought all this time that his powers had made a hollow shell of him.

Rinoa was nodding, and filing that away quietly. It dovetailed with what Karla had said, about Jono staying here even though this place didn't seem all that good for him.

"There's a point," she said, trying to word this delicately and gauge his reaction. "Where ... it starts feeling like you're too burned out to help, because it's too much. I had to keep coming out here today. That's not running away."

//What, taking a moment to breathe, in th'middle of something overwhelming like this?// Jono raised an eyebrow a little. //I go to the island when I can manage it. Last time, I held a charity concert and slept with half th'bloody island. I think Seifer was among them, actually. Time before that, I turned into a pony. I'd almost prefer staying around here in th'body I know.//

And then, a moment later, he added, //That said... I told Raven I wouldn't be here much longer. I think... I've probably got about another month left, Fandom time, before I put in my notice and retire from this. I promised her.//

"Everyone slept with Seifer, last time," Rinoa said bitterly, shaking her head. That was ... a story for some time when they weren't sitting among so many bodies. "I'm ... happy you're not staying here, long-term. I mean, I know it's your home, I just ..."

She trailed off. "It's not my business," she said -- thus marking possibly the first time she'd ever been self-aware to recognize that, ever -- "but I'm not so sure it's good for you."

//It's not good for anyone,// Jono pointed out, softly. //Wasn't any good for these people. Wasn't good for any one of millions who have died before. Of course it's not good for me. But that doesn't mean I'm doing anything but th'right thing.//

Which... when you didn't have a hell of a lot else in your own world, seemed so much more important at the end of the day.

"No," Rinoa said. "But you can't save everyone. You can only do what you can do. And you have to take care of you, first. I just ... wanted to say that, that's all."

She gave him half of a smile. "Now you can tell me to mind my own business," she offered.

Jono eyed Rinoa for a moment, sitting there in that total, breathless, lifeless silence that he was sometimes prone to slipping into. And then, a few seconds later, it was like somebody had flipped an 'on' switch again and he nodded.

//Only, I won't. Won't tell you to mind yer own business, I mean. Rinoa, yer sitting here in th'middle of... a nightmare,// for lack of a better word, //and if that doesn't earn you th'right to say that you're worried...//

Well, nothing really did.

The silence was ... unnerving, she would admit. Mostly because there was no way of gauging what he was thinking. And she had spent the week being rude and lashing out at people, and getting (deservedly) yelled at, so if he'd taken it badly, she wouldn't have had notice to run for it.

"I am," she admitted. "The nurse says rude things. It's not okay."

//She says rude things while she's saving our lives,// Jono noted, raising an eyebrow. Rinoa hadn't even been here for Annie's little spiel about his mouth or lack thereof. Word... certainly got around, among this lot. //I think any one of us, any one of th'people here would take cruel words and a gentle hand over what humanity usually deals us. Especially knowing that she's trying.//

There was another undercurrent to that. Something a little less coherent, less word-shaped, that drifted along with that. Something that suggested that he was used to it, that he knew better than to take it to heart, that it didn't really matter anyhow, because it was him and not any of the other people there, that he was well aware of how unnerving he could be, and Annie didn't have benefit of having known him for years before seeing him run around with less face than a scarecrow, unlike everyone who was raising a fuss about it.

And something tired.

It did. Gossip traveled faster than light. And she could sense his weariness, suddenly, and it was more his space to be upset about it than hers. She knew that. Except ...

She held her hand up, now, so that he could see her mangled fingers.

"I used this in there, to calm down some of the ... I don't remember the term," she apologized. "The people who look especially different? To tell them it was okay, that I wasn't one of the bad guys. I didn't meet this Annie-person, and last night I wanted to yell and scream at her, and right now I'm too tired to do so much as slap her if she walked up to me and called me names. But ... it's not just you this affects."

She was glancing at her fingers again, curiously detached. "The other students, at that school," she said. "They hear her say things to you, or about you. How do they know they're not next?"

On top of that silence from earlier, it was probably difficult to tell that Jono was staring at her fingers, now, since his eyes had gone solid white, a by-product of too much power expelled trying to keep people calm, coupled with fatigue, both physical and emotional. But yes, the fingers were... interesting.

They reminded him of Penance's, though shorter, not diamond-razor sharp all along their edge or anything.

Normal, to the freaks like him.

//Some of them call themselves Morlocks,// he offered, settling on the easier part of the conversation. //The ones who can't possibly function in society and don't have anywhere else to go, so they slip into the underground, into the tunnels beneath the city. Don't know how many here were that, but they'd be th'least likely to be missed...//

Okay. That wasn't much easier, after all.

//... Most of the other students at the school don't particularly like me, either. But even if they did, even if it's not okay, you have to understand... they're used to hearing things like that. Most of them don't even hear it anymore.// He looked up again, with those white eyes, glancing around the room. //I'll... talk to somebody about it, though. Not for my sake. For th'newer students, at least. Many of them are just children, yet.//

"It wouldn't make it hurt less," Rinoa said softly. Thinking, strangely enough, of Seifer, and how all of Garden had made him into a pariah for what he had done, when he had never had a choice in it.

"Jono?" she added, uncertainly. "I'm ... I'm sorry your world is like this."

It sounded childish and naive, surrounded by bodies and death and decay, but Hyne help her, it was all she had.

Jono had fallen into silence again, gaze falling to his knees and flames licking up around him, low and blue and looking just as tired as the rest of him.

//Thank you, luv. So'm I.//

The hours blurred together, her sense of time being replaced by body after body after body as she Healed. Her webs had run out by the...fifth? sixth?...patient and after that, she resorted to controlling the amount of energy she was using on the injured by will alone. It was the mental equivalent of catching a waterfall with your hands and just letting a trickle through to the person beneath.

She was exhausted. She was filthy. She was numb.

Actually, that last one was a lie. But maybe if she told herself that often enough, it would come true.

Old Warren
It had taken a bit of doing to find a hospital that had no aversion to treating mutants. It had taken longer, still, for the ambulances to start to arrive. But the sound of the sirens meant, if nothing else, that they could all take a moment to exhale before the bustle of paramedics joined in on the jumble of things going on around them.

Warren took advantage of that moment to take stock of the state of their healers. Tired. Terrified. Horrified. Streaked in blood and sweat and wearing worry on their sleeves.

And that one...

It took some doing, but he stepped up to Karla, and then crouched down in front of her, eyebrows furrowed in concern.

"You've lost weight."

"My mother always said that a gentleman never commented on a lady's weight," Karla said, trying to sound teasing and mostly just sounding...exhausted.

There was a surprise.

"...Is it that obvious?"

Old Warren
"Painfully." Warren might be the one who more often than not was associated with diplomacy, his pretty face complimenting his attempts at pretty words whenever the press was nearby. But, sometimes, there just wasn't room for diplomacy. Or tact. "You're done, now. The paramedics will take it from here."

You've just been told, Karla.

And if there was one thing Karla was good at, it was listening!

"I'm fine," she said. "I just need a few minutes to finish stringing up more Healing webs."

She held up a half-finished web to show him. That would change his mind, right?

...It would probably help more if her hand wasn't shaking while she did.

"I'm a Healer, Warren. One with a lot of magic at my command. And the paramedics will have enough on their hands with the people who aren't still three-quarters dead."

Can't you see, Warren? She couldn't stop.

"I'll get better. But if I stop Healing now, they might not."

Old Warren
"I said, you're done."

This, Karla, was what your boyfriend might someday be like. He was speaking in that same calm, quiet voice that he usually used. Only, unlike his younger counterpart, there was a wealth of certainty, even in spite of the fatigue, to back that soft tone up.

"A stiff breeze could knock you over right now. You are going to sit right there and stay right there if I have to get your boyfriend to sit watch over you."

If he'd had to unplug yesterday to keep from bottoming out, he was going to damn well pull Karla's plug today, thanks.

"You have no idea what I'm capable of," Karla said.

That was grown-up for 'You're not the boss of me.' See? She was learning!

"I can do this. It's what I've trained for. It's part of who I am, just like your wings are part of you."

She pushed herself to unsteady feet and tried to stumble past him. "If these people die, what am I good for?! What is the point of all my power and all my training if I can't even help?"

Old Warren
Sorry, Karla. You come on a mission with the X-Men, you take orders like one.

"Even my wings couldn't hold me up right now, part of me or not. You have helped. Now." He pulled himself to his feet, spreading his wings to their full span, and looked down at her, eyebrow raised. "Sit down. Take a rest. You've done more than your share, and these people are in good hands, now."

And this would be why Karla would never, ever be a team player. She didn't take orders very well. Or 'at all' really.

"Aren't you listening to me?" she hissed. The answer was 'no,' Karla. No. "How do you know, they're in good hands? Can you trust them? Really? And what about the people here? Do you really think they want to be rounded up by more humans and carted off to a hospital? After everything they've been through? I'm one person! Compared that to the dozens more I can help!"

Old Warren
Please, Karla. Warren argued and won against far more stubborn people than you. Hell, he and Logan had it out on a regular basis.

"There comes a point where you have to accept that not every human out there is out to kill us. If they were, what point would there be in our trying to make peace with them at all?" He looked back momentarily as the paramedics started filing in with stretchers, with medical equipment. A good many of them looked just as overwhelmed by the sight below the floorboards as any of the X-Men's team had been upon getting here. "You're one person. Do you have any idea how many lives 'only one person' can destroy, when they push themselves so hard that they break?"

He reached forward and put his hands on her shoulders, seeking out her eyes with his own, intense and ice-blue and not about to back down.

"Sit. Rest. If it will make you feel any better, we'll send one of ours with them to the hospital, to make certain that they're safe. But you need to stop. Now."

Karla's chin trembled. "I think I have a b-b-better idea of what I can do without br-breaking than you do!"

And she was near her limits. She knew that. But she still had it in her for one or two--or maybe three--more...

She looked up at him, eyes brimming with tears. "It hurts so much just to be here," she said. It almost sounded like begging. "I can feel them. All of them. Their pain--what they went through. I can't feel all that and just...not. Please, Warren. Let me help them. I can."

Old Warren
"You can let them go, Karla," Warren said, softly, managing not to crack in the face of that desperation. He knew full well that he would have been the same way yesterday, had his younger self not possessed the same healing factor that he had. But that, right now, was beside the point. "This... this is a sort of healing, too. Being shown kindness and concern by the same people that did this to them. They need to understand that not all humans out there are like that. Otherwise, how many of them will harbor the same hate that the Church of Humanity showed them?"

There was a bit of a desperate undertone to that, something that Warren didn't dare bring to the surface.

The X-Men didn't just fight humans and sentinels, after all. A lot of what they did involved mutant supremacists gone superpowered terrorist. People who decided that it was either them or us. And it would kill him to see any one of these faces ripping up the streets in a blind rage directed at any and all humans who dared to exist, innocent or no.

"We've gotten to most of them, Karla. Enough that nobody else needs to die, today. Let the medics on fresh legs take it from here. Let them do penance for what humanity did to them. We'll make certain that Xavier's doors are open to anyone who needs refuge. And there will be a good number that will resist the paramedics. Sit. Rest. And those will be the ones that we worry about, when the time comes."

Great. Back to the nurse who thought it was all right to talk about how one mutant was unworthy of love while he stood not ten feet away. Back to a school where apparently it was okay for her to do that. Karla struggled to keep the bitterness off her face, but was too tired to make a proper go of it.

"Will you watch over them?" she asked, willing her voice not to quaver. She had about as much luck with that as she had with the bitterness. But, of everyone here, save Jono, Warren was the only one she trusted to keep and eye out for them. She could see enough of the Warren that she loved in him to ask this of him. "And if they need more Healing than anyone can give--not that I imagine I'm all that welcome back at the mansion--but I Heal minds as well as bodies, and--"

Full sentences were hard, okay?

Old Warren
"I'll watch over them," Warren promised. "Each and every one of them. I'll accompany them to the hospital until I can be positive that they're in good hands, and I'll be the first to step up and say something if I think for a second that they aren't."

And then, just faintly, he managed a smile.

"And I'll be certain to keep your offer in mind. Though, for the most part, I think they'll be able to find enough people who understand what they've been through in order to get by. There's more holding that place together than money and an X-gene."

Yeah. There was all that acceptance and tolerance she'd heard so much about--and seen amply demonstrated the day before.

She wanted to say that, she really did. But Karla was tired of fighting. Tired of arguing. Just...tired.

"Thank you," she said quietly instead. "I wish...thank you. It means a lot that you would do that for them." She gave him a weak smile. "I know my gratitude isn't really worth a damn. I'm just...some girl with a nasty temper who's dating a different version of you. But you have it anyway."

[Almost done! There's one more after this, and then I'll stop spamming your flists, promise. There's a catch-all warning for just overall unhappy/manic depressive/genocide/racism/X-Men sorts of discussions within, but nothing actually really happens in this post, so yay? This one follows this, this, this, and this! Preplayed with trigons_child, glacial_witch, whateverknight, and angelo_wings who rocks like a rockstar for coding this one up! NFI, NFB, and OOC? Still welcome!]