Notes: Why yes. Chapter three, at last. This chapter
is dedicated to the lovely, lovely people who sent me feedback on the first
two chapters, because they're the only reason that there is, however belatedly,
a chapter three at all. Now, would anyone like to be the reason for chapter
CHAPTER THREE: THE PASSPORT PHOTOS ARE ALL OUTDATED
"Hmm." The deep voice of a man who would be introduced to me as Doctor Henry McCoy rumbled above me. "I believe she may finally be waking up." Actually, I'd woken up several minutes earlier. I just wasn't opening my eyes.
Possibly not ever again.
"Then you better get your blue behind outta here McCoy." The voice of Doctor Reyes ordered. "I don't want her freaking out again. Especially not with those claws of hers."
I don't have claws, I assured myself. She's talking about something else. Someone else. Someone else with claws, geez, I should really get outta of here ... oh crap ... denial is so not working for me...
I gave in, and opened my eyes, pinning McCoy with them as he made a belated, abortive attempt for the exit. "Uh..." he said, trying his best to look harmless and not-there, and staring at me with what I can only describe as panic. I thought that was both hilarious, and rather sweet, that someone who looked like they could rip me into shreds should be panicked at the idea of me, freaking out.
"It's okay." I croaked, feeling the quite absurd need to reassure him, "I'm not gonna freak." Yeah, I thought, and if you believe that, I've got a bridge in London you might like to buy... But he beamed at me as if I had, with those six words, proved my worth as a deeply intelligent and admirable human being. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.
'So now', a little voice at the back of my head offered, 'you're warm and fuzzy absolutely all over'.
I was to come to hate that little voice.
"Oh good. Excellent. So ... it's Leah, yes?"
"Yes ... hey, wait, how did you know that?" I sat up, glaring at them suspiciously, and looking around for exits. "How did you know my name? Are you a, a whatsit? Telepath? Did - did you read my mind?"
"Uh ... your driver's licence, actually." He indicated the table next to the bed, and my now rather tattered wallet, with a slightly apologetic shrug, and what was probably a politely hidden smile.
"...oh." Oops. "um. yeah. Leah. that's right." I writhed briefly in embarrassment before deciding that whoever's fault this whole stupid mess was, it patently wasn't mine, and so I had no particular obligation to be overly zealous on the niceness front. "Who are you? And where am I?" And why aren't I waking up to find this was all just a terrible dream?
I really didn't expect them to tell me anything. I mean, you know, costumes, masks - secret identities, right? I was expecting, "ha ha, you may call us 'ExcellentBlueManster' and 'DreadlocksGirl', and we have brought to our cunningly hidden secret hideout, the location of which is, you know, secret and cunningly hidden," or something equally asinine.
What he actually said was, "Oh, I do apologise. Doctor Henry McCoy, and this is my colleague, Doctor Cecelia Reyes. We've brought you to our home in Salem Centre. It seemed for the best, all things considered."
"Oh." I was a bit disappointed, to be honest, with this blatant display of friendly openness. I'd kinda been counting on them giving me something stupid to get annoyed at, so I could be -- well, angry, rather than terrified. If they were going to be nice to me, I was completely screwed. "But you - you are superheroes. Right? I mean ... there was spandex."
"Well, yes," said McCoy.
"Hell no," said Reyes at much the same time.
"That is to say," McCoy continued, shooting his companion an impatient look, "that I am, or used to be, and that Cecelia here is still contemplating the issue."
"Of joining the X-men. Which, of-course, is who we are." He made a little 'ta da' gesture with his hands.
"The X-men? You're like, the American version of Excalibur, right?" McCoy looked slightly taken aback.
"Well ... yes. Essentially ... you're English, aren't you?"
"It's the accent." I had an accent?
"Oh. So. Um." I looked down at my hands. I turned them over. I held them up close to my eyes.
They were still furry. I still had claws. I was still...
"A mutant." Deep breath. "I'm - I'm really a mutant then. Really. No joke."
"No joke," McCoy confirmed gently.
"And the, um, fur and everything..."
"Oh." I was silent for a moment. "This is all just ... a bit of a surprise." I was bucking for a codename already: Understatement Girl. "I thought mutants manifested in puberty, y'know?"
"They do, as a general rule. However, sometimes latent mutations can show up later - triggered by immense physical or emotional trauma, usually."
"Well..." Hank shifted slightly. You've no idea how unnerving it is to see a big blue gorilla wriggling like an errant schoolboy. "Not exactly. I mean, yes, certainly, in a sense, but ... I ... Well, I suspect that the explosion itself - uh - killed you. For want of a better phrase."
I couldn't help wishing he'd tried a little harder to find that 'better phrase', as I started blinking frantically in a way I've long since perfected. The kind of blink that says: "oh. bugger. i was really hoping the afterlife would have a better library than this."
"What I mean to say," Hank continued awkwardly, "is that you were right at the centre of the blast. No-one else anywhere near you survived, which would indicate that your injuries were probably of a fatal nature, and it was that which triggered your mutant abilities."
"So they saved my life." He gave me that smile again, pleased that I'd got it.
"Oh yes. Unquestionably."
"Well. Good. That's ... nice. Great. I mean ... yeah. I guess this healing thing -"
"- healing factor, fine, will come in pretty handy, when people are stringing me up and stoning me out of town and so on." Silence. "Won't it."
"... I'm glad you can see the bright side." Hank said eventually. I was really liking him. "Would you like to get up now?"
I plucked at the bed sheets with my exciting new hands. No, I thought, actually, I wouldn't like that at all. What I would like, I considered saying, is to duck back under the covers and hide. What I would like, in fact, is to be provided with a flashlight, a good book, and a lifetime's supply of chocolate, so I will never have to come out again.
But I felt like that pretty much every morning, so I said, "um. okay," and let McCoy take my arm. He really was a very nice shade of blue.
"How do you feel?" he asked solicitously, as he helped me out of bed.
"Fine -" I started, then swayed, " - uh - well, a little dizzy, maybe." He nodded, learnedly.
"Increased lung capacity," he informed me. I glanced down, and shook my head.
The first thing I demanded was a mirror.
Okay, so there's probably those that would suggest a young woman, such as myself, on being blown up, shot at, and thereafter rescued by mutant vigilante superheros, would prioritise differently. Would demand more important things - like chocolate, and coffee, and sedatives.
And there's probably another lot of 'those', that might point out that, all things considered, I wasn't in much of a position to be making any demands at all.
But said those can go fuck themselves, because I wanted to know what the hell I looked like, okay?
So Hank and Cecelia gently led me into a room down the hall, and put me in front of a full length mirror, and stood back to let me ... look.
Like ninety percent of the earth's women, I'd never been entirely happy with my entirely ordinary body. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't obsessive about it; it didn't give me night-sweats to know that I was a few pounds overweight, rather more inches too short, and completely unremarkable in every other way.
But all the same, from time to time, I'd thought wistfully about being a little bit different. A little bit more in some ways, a little bit less, in others. I'd wanted to be taller.
I'd wanted to be thinner.
I'd wanted to be noticed.
And looking at my brand new body, still trembling unsteadily on my too-long legs, still shaking with just-been-blown-up reaction, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that my years of dedicated atheism had been foolish and in vain. There was a God after all. And somewhere up there, she was laughing her ass off.
Because the reflection I saw was ... beautiful. In a furry sort of way. In a terrifying, horrifying, alien sort of way.
So tall, I had to stand back to see myself clearly. Almost seven feet.
Thinner than I'd been my entire adult life, all the extra weight distributed to height instead.
Long, muscular limbs that looked like they should be more muscular than they were; dangerous, and fit, and capable of achieving grace. Like a furry ballerina -- like a lion might look, if lions did ballet.
Short, golden fur, that grew shorter, lighter and more delicate on my palms and face. Almost not there at all - but only almost.
Hands that were mostly the same too, but not quite, because the fingers were longer, and had claws attached to them.
Shoulder length, dark blond hair, that was exactly as it always had been, yet no longer looked familiar in this context.
And beautiful, yeah. Beautiful, sure. Noticeable - absofuckinglutely. If I'd been looking at someone else, I'd have been impressed. I'd have been admiring. I'd have been ... scared.
But it was me. I was looking at me.
And 'scared' lacks the kind of emphasis you need to express that sort of absolute terror, when you look at yourself, and see nothing at all you recognise.
But I battled panic down. I could handle it. Beautiful, I told myself. In a way. And I could handle it. I could live with it. Learn to like it even. And I'd be fine, I'd be totally okay, I'd be mature, I'd be dignified, I'd be...
-- and then I met my eyes in the reflection.
And I think I made some sound, I don't quite remember, it was another of those moments, oh, I was having so many of them, when time seemed to alter and halt just so the sight could burn itself inexorably into my memory, and change everything forever.
They were green.
I babbled this aloud, I think, to my silently sympathetic audience: they were green, they were green, they were meant to be brown, but they weren't, they weren't, they were green. They were bigger, wider, all but pupiless, and green. Green. Green.
I never knew how fast I could move until I leaped away from the sight of myself to hit the wall behind me at the speed of panic, and bolt from the room entirely.
So much for handling it.
to be continued....?
Um, well, in an infinite universe, all things are possible.