Metro: Pictures of You
Metro: Pictures of You
This is the story of us all
This is the first sound of a newborn child,
Before he starts to crawl
"This is the war that's never won
This is a soldier and his gun
This is the mother waiting by the phone
Praying for her son"
— John B. Crawford, "Pictures of You"
Chapter 1: Morning Patrol
Saturday, October 27, 2007, Parent's Day, oh-just kill me now-thirty-hours
somewhere along the south perimeter road
Mikkel Andersen was officially miserable. The weather wasn't cold enough to warrant heavier clothes; he'd only be venting heat plumes that would give his position away. What the weather was though, was chilly, overcast and wet with rain. The ground was cold and damp too. However, he'd been informed that something happening tonight would affect one of his watch list targets, so here he was, wet and miserable, patiently watching from a half-concealed position for whatever might happen.
The operative was well-aware that useful information beyond 'something might happen - we are talking about Whateley Academy here' was hopelessly unavailable. After all, like most of the personnel assigned to keep a discrete eye on the students and staff, he technically wasn't even supposed to be there. Incomplete intel was just part of the game.
Earlier in his watch a student had already sneaked into the forest, away to the south, but that path led to a village of weres, and to a stand of trees that the school's security force considered even more dangerous. Than weres. In the forest. Under a full moon like, for example, tonight's. So the agent stayed as he was, miserably staking out a school, in weather only a miserable Canadian could love, miserably hoping that his last moments on earth didn't include fangs, claws, and the smell of wet fur.
Security officer Derek R. Johnson was having another of those rotten patrol shifts that latch onto a person's nerves and won't let go. He could complain, deeply and far, far off-duty, about what the Academy was meant for, but not about the foul-weather gear issued to Security. That worked as promised, unlike his assignment to this hell-forsaken place. No, the problem was that this year's Parents' Day was too close to Halloween for the comfort of anyone attached to the unit. Maybe not every mutie needed to be put down– although Johnson had such a long personal list of those that really, really needed to be – but Security and the Range Crew had been hit far too hard last year just for doing their jobs. Instead of acting as part of the team when they had needed every hand on deck, he'd let them all down by pursuing his own personal agendas and ending up in the hospital weeks ahead of the survivors. Now, here he was, patrolling the south side of campus facing Sector Tango with Auxiliary-my-ass security officer Jensen, supposedly because they'd both survived Class 3/Class X encounters in the past year. Yay, team.
Whether the employment paperwork specifically read 'Auxiliary' or not, Mads 'Metro' Jensen was missing a nice, warm dorm room designed literally for his sleeping comfort. Other than that, the cool, wet air was kind to his lungs and would slow down dehydration; these were good things. Dispatch had radioed out to them that Bloodwolf's tracer was headed past them: on a full moon that was to be expected. Shortly after that, Valravn confirmed the student's identity. Being a couple of the school's geographic orphans, Mads and Thomas were among the best picks for taking on a graveyard shift to ease the stresses on physical and astral security that a Parents' Day presented. Hence, no nice, warm, sleeping arrangements for now.
Meanwhile, the usual security hazards, Ultra-Violent List students like himself and Bloodwolf, and Derek R for 'Robert the Plant' Johnson included, didn't just take care of themselves. There were no good reasons to slack off on patrol, just nothing interesting going on.
On the other hand, there was no reason not to have some fun with uninvited guests, yeah?
Johnson knew something was up when Jensen suddenly stopped and signaled a halt. "Someone up ahead. Wait here."
"Understood", Johnson crouched and double-checked his gear before scanning the area ahead for masked heat signatures or worse. He already knew from working with the guy, that tracking the smaller, faster Jensen would be a lost cause.
Soon, he heard a very quiet voice over the comms, "Watcher. 100 yards ahead, on your 2. Move up."
After several tense minutes of commando crawling up to their "guest", Johnson could nearly see traces of the man. If he were to guess, the unknown was most likely to be one of the Three Letter Agencies' watchers– too early in the day for a recruiter. See the officer he was supposed to back up? Of course not. Not until...
"Mis-ter Andersen... you disappoint me."
In retrospect, Johnson decided that seeing 'Agent Smith' step out of the gloom would have been less frightening than seeing a grinning 14-year-old step out of complete darkness aiming an assault rifle at the agent's head. He also decided that the howling coming from the forest was what passed for laughter among werewolves. He hoped it was laughter, because there were more than one and they sounded far too close for his own comfort.
On second thought, watching the platoon nutcase scare the hell out of the intruder with a movie quote was pretty damned funny.
Huddling under a warm blanket, after being dropped off like a mouse dragged in by the owner's tomcat, Agent Mikkel Andersen miserably pondered how he was going to report back to headquarters that he'd not only been caught by an American high school's security team, but that his captor had been one of the very high school students he was supposed to have been keeping track of. At this rate, he'd be lucky to be assigned to whale-counting along the Greenland coast.
Later that morning:
Security Chief Franklin Delarose looked up from the morning pile of reports, to the other "observers" who'd managed to get themselves rounded up overnight.
"Gentlemen, Miss, what's it going to be worth to you, for me to forget to tell your supervisors that you were caught by Commander Chipmunk's platoon?"
Chapter 2: Family Matters
14 years ago,
Her husband turned to her as she made her way over to where he was standing and trying to coax their youngest daughter back to sleep. He said, "You must know that I'm beginning to question the wisdom of making this trip. You're tired, I'm tired, the children are tired ..." In the attempt to avoid waking their other daughter, his lowered voice carried with it a vibrant growl that felt comforting to the baby and not a little sexy to his wife.
A soft laugh, "I think she's too hungry to be tired. Here, let me hold her for a while so you can get some sleep. Besides, exhaustion is part of the job description."
"I thought you were sure of this before we wed?"
"It's called being a parent. You. Sleep. Mother's orders."
"Yes, ma'am" A kiss, a lingering touch, and she was alone again with her child and the darkness. She worried at times that her children would grow up healthy and happy, and worried again about so there being so many others growing up to be bullied, or worse, for being different.
14 years ago
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
She woke up first, thankfully, hoping her daughter hadn't been awake for long. Their firstborn was surprisingly quiet for her age – it was almost as if the child were born knowing how many long hours her father put in, how hard her mother struggled to keep their small family together. She gave up a silent prayer that their children would grow to see that their parents were doing this to give them the freedom to be ... just children, without having to balance their happiness against this year's corn harvest or whether the mills will have enough orders to cover salaries and shop upkeep.
Stepping out of their small apartment into the pre-dawn air, she could imagine she heard the 101st out for a morning run (probably after a night of too much drinking, boys and girls alike!) Not a profession she'd choose for Hannah, but she hoped the military life wouldn't alienate her from her father and family as she got older. She knew from talking with the other Army wives, that the frequent moves and parental absences could be hard on the children.
For now, she'd almost settle for a certain Lieutenant learning to stop falling asleep in his greens. At least not at the table! She leaned back into the warmth and strong arms that had snuck up behind her, "Thank you, Missus Declan. For better or for worse, for everything."
Three years ago
The logical half of her brain, which had served her so well getting her into and through med school, protested that there was no need to follow up her hospital shift with midnight rounds in a ward consisting of one 'tanked and tranqued' patient. The staff and equipment were more than adequate to their current tasks, or they'd have been replaced already. The emotional half of her brain teamed up with her heart, telling her that pulling a child out of one hell isn't always enough to see either of them through the days and nights that have to follow after. Since when had it become two, anyway? From a far-off distance, she heard Makwa chuckle at human foolishness. It always has been, from the moment the little lost cub crossed your path! Rest, daughter. No harm will come to the cub. Let peace cover your heart tonight.
"No, no. The girls are all fine. Clara's on a date, yes, our Clara. Frida's here with me, would you like to talk to her? Frida, would you like to -oof- you're getting so big! Here you go."
"Mama? Love you too! Guess what I learned at school today? Nooooo. Not that. Not that, either. Clara's got a girlfriend! They spend all the time at the library and that's got to be why she gets good grades! I should get one too! Oh. Okay. Yeah. Boys are kind of weird. I bet Emilie's going to be a weird boy when she grows up too! Okay, here's Papa!"
"When you got home? It could just be a phase, so don't get your hopes up either way. No, I don't think so, and Emilie's getting teased a lot at school. She won't say a word about it, but ... You're right. I'm just concerned about all my girls - especially that hot dish in London! I was aiming for bribery, love. Friday night? We'll meet you at the airport!"
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
"Jay, would you please just get in the car? We're going to end up late, and you both know that the schools here notify the families' Commanding Officers about discipline problems with the kids."
"But Hannah got to ride home up front yesterday, and that's way longer! It's not fair! Make her go first this time."
"Hannah, do you have your lunch money?" A nod. "Your homework?" Another nod. If only the girl wouldn't keep everything inside! "Okay, then, get in so we can go. I'll be so glad when your father gets home." Maybe then we can go back to being a family, for however long it lasts?
After closing the car door, the girl finally spoke, "Any word on when the deployment ends?"
"No, dear. It's. It's just one of those things we have to get used to."
To Jay's ears, it was '... when Hannah's father gets home ...' and '... things Hannah and Mom have to get used to ...' Nothing about the son of the family, just about her and what she wants. It just wasn't fair that being born last meant he came last, always.
Two years ago
"... On behalf of the State of Michigan, this Court hereby awards guardianship of Mads Christian Gunnison, age 14, and Lars Beckwith Gunnison, age 10, to Doctor Evelyn Beaulieu of Detroit. The Court also grants a restraining order against Andreas Frederick Gunnison and Mary Elizabeth Gunnison nee Courtland, both of Detroit, Michigan. Court is adjourned."
For this moment, the Doctor of Medicine, the Bear Shaman, and the semi-retired Operator took a back seat to the choked-up Mother. At first, their 'parents' (She wanted to snarl like Bear at that sick joke) had, at first, fought the adoption by having the venue moved to a government court – either some kind of legal end-run or a means to play on racial sympathies – but today they hadn't bothered to even show up. That was just fine by her: she wanted them out of her boys' lives.
Lars had been pulled out of school and brought back to Detroit for the hearing. The poor boy had been so shell-shocked at all it could mean for him and his brother that he'd worn the Corps of Cadets' uniform of the day. If the child felt he needed that, to act as armor for his identity against the coming changes or repercussions, so be it. His brother, the bastard, decided to play the enabler by ditching his new suit in favor of his own dress blacks (If he thought he was going to be getting away without a damned good explanation for a couple of those ribbons he was wearing, and that shoulder tab, that boy had another thing coming!)
The Court building may have been owned by the State, but the City and quite a bit more were owned by the Lieutenant's corporate sponsors. Lars' eyes had bugged out when even the bailiff had locked up at attention on reading the insignia his brother was sporting.
At the reading of the Court's decision, Mads quietly but firmly set his cover down, and whooped "YES!!!" as he swept his little brother in a one-armed bear hug, and then his new mother in the other arm as if he'd no intention of ever letting go. As Evelyn returned the, no, her boys' hugs, she realized that she didn't have any intention of letting go of her cubs either.
Later on, Lars just had to wait until it was time to head back to school before venturing the question of how his big brother (Who, in his little brother's eyes seemed he could pull off just about anything, anything as long as he was away from those people.) had managed to score an authentic Firewatch officer's uniform for the hearing. By the way, what did those ribbons stand for? Mama Evelyn tried not to flinch at the explosion she knew was coming later...
"Goddammit Mads, what do you MEAN you KIND OF got shot at?? HOW MANY TIMES?"
"Lars, dear, this is why someone standing close to you is getting ALL of his other shot records updated, from fresh batches, before he travels anywhere again. By the way, where did you get this jacket?"
"Mads gave it to me."
"Hand it over." After a few minutes' examination, "Mads, dear, laminated ceramet plates?"
Her oldest shrugged and smiled, completely without any remorse, "They come in handy for skateboarding!"
"You already sent that barely-hovering safety and traffic violation ahead to the school, didn't you?"
"Lars, keep the jacket with you. You're going to need it as much as your brother."
October 26, 2007
Holms hotel Room, Boston, Massachusetts
She leaned against the sliding glass door that opened out to the hotel balcony, cool metal reminding her of that night they'd spent in the capital, years ago. Emilie had been just a baby, newborn to the world. Odd how the hotels, like home, always stayed the same while the world around them kept changing.
"What's the old phrase, 'a penny for your thoughts'? Must be a Euro by now."
"Or an American greenback, at least?" she joked. "I'm just thinking about how everything keeps changing. Sometimes it's only when I know the children are with us that I can relax. Don't start, Arvid! But with Emi- no, Kristian at school here in the U.S., with H1 taking over from the nationalist right and the MCO given free reign all around ... it frightens me! I did some more checking into the school's recent past, and we may have been right to enroll Kristian as a heterosexual boy."
"I doubt the PET was unaware of the risks when they suggested that after recruiting him. But you know he'd have jumped at the chance to look out for that other child, at a risk to himself or not. We both know his mother would do the same, if the positions were reversed. He did seem happier in becoming a boy, so that part I have few worries about."
"Just so long as he has time for our family tomorrow! Frida will be crushed if he doesn't."
"Somehow, it will all work out. I'd put a wager on that family flying in from Norway – the three in the customs line ahead of us that the American MCO chose to harass – being that boy's family."
"What gave you that idea?"
"I'm paid to listen to people's problems and then tell them what they already know. IF they don't already know it, I find out for them. This time, between the phrase 'diplomatic incident' and the mention of Denmark, it's an easy conclusion."
"Diplomatic? Oh, dear."
"Exactly. Let's go to bed."
October 26, 2007
Declan hotel room, Boston, Massachusetts
Even after both her boys – the two of them traveling with her – had fallen asleep, Mrs. Declan found it hard to surrender to sleep. It wasn't just a matter of being in another new city so very different from her old home town, nor was it leftover stress from the train ride up from Washington. Or maybe those things were a small part of it? She never, ever, had envisioned a life for Hannah that could require her to run for her life from an Army unit that should have fought to protect her, or fight for her life against powered super-villains, or be left fearing for her life and her friends' lives after two students from her dorm were murdered. How could all that have swept past her, with her still mourning the loss of her baby daughter while the same sweet child quietly soldiered on until there was almost nothing left of him?
Would she lose Jay too? Would she someday wake up to a new daughter she hardly recognized, or to a knock on the door from a grim-faced soldier? Considering how easily he'd turned on his sibling in a fit of jealousy, would it be the police asking about Jay instead? Lily's mother was a working hero. Maybe it was past time for a mother-to-mother talk, the kind she'd never been able to have with her own mother. Surely the other kids dealing with mutations weren't as, well, straight and sober as Lily. Lord knows not all the military brats were like Hank! And maybe this trip would help get her over the mounting anxiety that many of her child's problems had started from the first day at the school, while here they were, two months into the first term. What new problems had cropped up?
While his mother stared into the cool Boston night, Jay was sweating out another of his recent nightmares. He never knew how or when that bit from the British author of "The Chrysalids" got stuck in his mind, "There will be no remorse, no leniency, no deviation from the course of right!" but it had become joined in his head with its musical rebuttal, "Soon you'll attain the stability you strive for; In the only way that it's granted: In a place among the fossils of our time!"
Lost in a dream, crying, exhausted from running from unseen tormentors, the boy slumped against a tree. Far off, yet near as any dream, he heard a voice sing to him:
"Life is change
How it differs from the rocks
I've seen their ways too often for my liking
New worlds to gain
My life is to survive and be alive for you"
—Paul Kantner, "Crown of Creation"
Comforted by cool moss growing on the tree, slowly the human child's wounded psyche turned finally towards sleep.
October 26, 2007
Beaulieu hotel room, Boston, Massachusetts
Mother and son were both having trouble getting to sleep after what seemed like a whirlwind tour of exotic places meant, on the one hand, to throw any searchers off their track, and on the other, to meet an oddly extended family. From what little information Evelyn had been given so far, her oldest had had a rough year of it in the past three months. Her youngest was still too young to get all the implications, but she could tell that he was worried about what they weren't yet being told.
It hadn't all been a fraught flight to asylum. Evelyn allowed herself a satisfied smile remembering Elizabeth Carson's uncensored exclamation, "My God. There's TWO of them! How in blue blazes do you manage?", on meeting Lars. The boys could have that affect on a person— sometimes deliberately so, the little brats. It took far too long for either boy to move past a wariness that they'd needed too much of just to survive growing up. But once they did... either one alone could be a handful, even by trog standards. Together, they were a pack of two, three if one included Thomas.
Meeting the Old Nordic side of the Gunnison family tree drove the 'pack' analogy home. While she thanked Gichi Manidoo that the Wolf Clan matron believed in the 'let them live and learn from their mistakes' philosophy that Mads desperately needed, it still hurt to watch Lars interact with Fenrir like he should have with Mads.
Some Time Earlier:
"Don't fret so, Evie. Let me guess," Angrboða softly spoke, "With your two, Mads is always watching out for Lars, who's always on edge because he knows his brother would give away his own life for him. Not so different with mine. It's one of those old, old hurts that never quite heals."
"They missed out on too much of their childhood. I don't think I can ever forgive those responsible," the healer admitted.
"Then don't. I wouldn't. There's another thing you might not have noticed."
"That they have to smell, touch, and hear the voice of the other to make sure that they aren't being lied to too much about the others' health?"
"Ayup. That's wolves for you."
"Good!", the older woman said, "Then you won't be too surprised when a certain mutt insists on tagging along."
While his mother reflected on their recent (and still unfinished) trip, Lars was wondering what on earth, or any other plane of existence, had big brother gotten into this time? It was one thing when some of your classmates were normal people like elves, orks, and trolls, but mutants? How does that even work without being fatal? What if the grown-ups are really just trying to break the worst news 'gently'?
At first, being taken out of school with a cover story about 'reassignment' had felt like the start of some storybook adventure. That, or one of the briefings on why a higher security stance just happened to be needed at school and home while his brother was suspiciously 'unavailable' — those tended to be watered down to the point of becoming speculative fiction. There was even that long-legged, nova-hot blonde involved, supposedly in charge of a school! More proof that something wasn't right, given his brother's preferences... mostly for fire, gunfire, and explosions.
"Lars, please stop fidgeting and try to get some rest. We both have a long day tomorrow."
A long day, and hopefully it would include a good explanation for why people kept telling him that his brother was 'mostly okay', and 'getting better'. Maybe.
October 27, 2007
Hotel Lobby/Breakfast, Boston, Massachusetts
Breakfast at the hotel was interesting. According to some carefully-prepared paperwork, tickets, and itineraries, the various families were all there to see the historical sights of New England and its fine autumn weather. If the weather holds. According to forecasts for central New Hampshire, the weather could only be considered 'fine' if overcast skies and periodic rain brought you joy.
The projected 'ten mile visibility and light to gentle breezes off the water' meant that Solveig Holm had her hands full convincing her husband that no, they couldn't have Kristian kip off from school for some boating. And no, Clara – Hold on. Frida, come back here! – that would NOT be the perfect excuse to go shopping in America while the family sailors tried to get themselves drowned.
Another couple waiting in the lobby were clearly American military (at least the father had that starched and polished look). Considering how hard they tried not to stare at Lars' mother, they were not entirely used to paranormals. It wasn't Evelyn's fault that her eight-foot-nothing height was a little on the short side! Their son was likewise a little too obviously trying to appear like he wasn't glued to his parents' side. Maybe he was just coming down with something?
Lars planned to pump the Army brat for dirt on this Whateley Academy, so when it came time to get on the bus, he dawdled just enough to bounce into the seat next to the kid. Not much harder than timing a chow line to minimize the 'meh' items - a critical skill for school.
He held out his hand, "Lars Møller-Jensen"
"Jay Declan. Wait. Didn't I see you at breakfast with the, um, her?" A finger pointed in the direction of a distinctive woman seated up front.
"Mama Evelyn? Yep! She's a surgeon, by the way."
"Like a doctor?"
"I sure hope so. Her patients might be a little upset otherwise."
"No. I mean. She's"
"Omae, the word you're looking for is 'troll'." Maybe 'Jötunn', given the knowing looks we got when we arrived in Norway.
"Oh. She's your mother?" One had to admit that Jay did look a lot more like his parents than Lars did his. It was particularly striking how much he was coming to resemble his mother, but Lars had been trained better than to comment on that.
"Technically our foster mother, but she's our mother in all the ways that count."
"You said 'our'. You're getting dragged up for a brother or sister too?"
"My brother, Mads. He and his ball-and-chain are supposed to be attending Whateley Academy. Since I haven't seen him in months, I reserve judgment on how well that's been going." There, hook baited.
"My brother Hank, really my sister Hannah, goes there too."
Jay's mother turned around, "Jay Declan! What did we say to tell people?"
"But Mom, Lars already knows the students there are mutants, or he wouldn't be on this trip!"
"That doesn't matter. Hank is a boy now, and you're going to get used to it!"
Lars had to ask Jay, "Isn't high school a bit young for transition?" After all, some families support early transitioning, some don't.
"No. It's part of his mutation. Along with flight, strength, and other cool stuff. Always something to show off how much better he thinks he is," Jay sighed at the unfairness, "What about your brother?"
What could Lars say that wasn't classified, bothersome, or embarrassing? "I know he's developed some health problems, even though Thomas was supposed to keep stuff like that from happening."
"The ball-and-chain." Technically not a lie, considering the pact, but 'vruk' doesn't translate. "No, they aren't picking out china patterns, but they're the only two people on the planet who can't see it. Let's see. Something called Gee Ess Dee? Oh, and some magic, but he's been doing that, like, forever. He's also back in JROTC."
Jay answered the question, "We went over GSD in school already. Gross Structural Dystrophy. Basically, it's when a mutant develops stuff like horns, fangs, extra limbs, and things. It doesn't have to be gross-looking— because, like, cat-girls— but it's a noticeable change from standard from humans."
"Oh, so it includes all the usual transhuman body mods. I think my brother's always wanted horns if he could get away with that... Hold on, are you sweating?"
"No! A little maybe. I think they've got the heat turned up too much in the coach."
[LilBear @MamaBear: The kid I'm sitting next to might be coming down with something. Advice? ] [MamaBear @LilBear: Could be seasonal. We'll want to keep him away from any little ones on the bus. Let me know if his condition worsens.]
"So, Jay, what else do you know about the place? I heard it's expensive ..."
October 27, 2007, Parents' Day
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"So, Mr. Holm. We meet your family at last!"
"If I knew you were going to drag out your worst Bond villain impressions, I'd have arranged a play-date with Tink for you instead." Mads 'Metro' Møller-Jensen ducked before looking around for the diminutive gymnast, but relaxed when he realized she was nowhere in sight. Kristian 'Rorsmand' Holm took a moment to enjoy his friend's discomfort, then reminded him, "By the way, it's code-names only today. No telling who's in the crowd."
Metro snarked, "I can think of four who aren't in the crowd, as of when I got off my shift."
"You didn't! No, of course you did. Andersen wasn't one of them, was he? "
"Oh, yeah. Subtle as a baby elephant on the grounds, he was."
"You're going to get the poor guy fired, when he's just doing his job!" Rosmand complained, "Val, isn't there something you can do with him?"
"Not in public."
Metro winked, "Not even a little electricity on a green-flag day, huh?"
"Not even going there. Besides, then everyone would be wanting antlers on their little own personal Rudolph."
"Horns don't get shed." That august proclamation lost most of its impact as Valravn followed it up by sticking out his tongue at the other.
"And in other news, (I'll get you for that, later) it looks like the flyers have sighted the next bus. This the one your family's on?"
Rorsmand double-checked the company name on the side of the arriving bus against the message he'd gotten, "Should be."
Elsewhere amidst the small crowd of expectant students:
A dark-haired sophomore tried to calm down her boyfriend, "Hank, I doubt they're going to bail on you at the last minute."
"Dad's an Army officer. If it's a choice between 'needs of the service' and 'family', he's expected to choose the Army first. Things do come up at the last minute," Hank 'Lancer' Declan concluded. Lily thought she could still hear some lingering resentment in his words. The Army was one thing Hank never had a bad word to say about, even when he'd told her of the fallout from his mutant manifestation on-base at Fort Bragg.
"None of that's news. Spill." Lily 'Wallflower' Turner asked, "What's really going on behind those gray eyes?"
Hank managed a half-smile for the concern before looking out toward the arriving buses as if he could see through them to the future, "Jay. I don't think seeing Whateley's going to make things easier between us. Also, seeing that he's almost the age I was... I think Mom is more worried than she's letting on."
"So? Let him get a little jealous. If he acts too much like a brat, we can always sic Jade on him."
This time the smile was more open, "Lily?"
"You're the third person to suggest that today. It's getting a little scary."
"I've always said that great minds think alike!"
"I'll have to tell Chaka and Chou you said that."
"You do that," Lily replied, "But make sure Nikki's there to overhear. I think I see your father getting off the bus now. Homer Gallery first?"
"Good idea! Ease everyone into things..."
"Plus, your mother won't have to wait long to freshen up AND it's too public for Jay to make a scene." By 'freshen up', Lily meant 'compare notes', but if her lovable lunk of a boyfriend had forgotten that detail it wasn't her place to remind him. For now, hugs, handshakes, and reintroductions.
As the various family groups debarked to reunite with one student or another, some bringing friends along with, Rorsmand could feel how much Metro had been missing his own family. When it was Kristian feeling lonely and homesick, Mads and Thomas had often gone out of their way to cheer him up. If things worked out right, the minor 'moral support for meeting the family' ruse would repay that in part.
The pain just got sharper as he introduced his parents and two sisters to two of the few freshmen he could trust not to be ogling his sisters. They might not be exemplars, but they were still his sisters. Mads' indignant response to Frida admiring his antlers was priceless. Ulterior motives were okay as long as the overall intention was good, right?
Seeing no one else left unaccounted for, Rorsmand began to worry that the rest of the plan had fallen apart. How was he to salvage that and still find time for his own family?
Then he saw a certain wolfishly scruffy, dark-haired man that he was in no hurry to be reacquainted with, scouting out ahead of a small, blond-haired, guided missile.
"BROR!!!" was the first thing he heard before:
*Woomphf* as the full-speed tacklehug completed.
Kristian wisely took no notice of any stray raindrops falling on the two sibs. Looking elsewhere left him in perfect position to see the other shoe drop. Valravn had not been lying when he said that it was hard to miss Metro's mother. Maybe she'd been the last off the bus?
"No. Really. Take a look."
One might think that a five-foot-four guy would be challenged to adequately hug an eight-foot tall woman. In the case of Metro and his mother, they'd be entirely wrong.
Valravn leaned in to say, "Happy belated birthday," only to get grabbed into the group hug.
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
It wasn't long before Rorsmand had guided his family into the school's administrative building, a passing shower providing a helpful hint to any lingering around outside. Catching the edges of Lancer's little brother's bad mood, he took a moment to point out a couple of the Hall's features other than the Homer Gallery. The prospect of introducing the two JROTC-connected families didn't strike him as a good idea just then. He got a feeling that they would meet some time, but later.
The downside of stalling tactics was that they were obvious to the practicing psychologist, international lawyer, and their other two children. Frida took note of it, perhaps decided she was bored now, and walked over to one of the occupied Admin desks. The blonde-haired woman at the computer had opted for a severely 'professional' look at work, though one could picture her passing more easily as a top model in her early twenties had she opted for something other than the 'spinster librarian' look.
"Excuse me! I'm Frida Holm. Could you answer a question or two for me?"
"That was one question already," the blonde said evenly. As if I'm not obviously busy. Let's get this over with. "What was the other?"
Rorsmand broke a sweat at hearing Hard-Ass' voice but, discretion being the better part of valor, let his mother move to intercept the oncoming storm.
"What does 'DFA' mean on an ID card?"
"Miss Holm, in the United States, that means that deadly force is authorized against the owner of that mutant ID card. It is supposed to be reserved for dangerous criminals, so you and your family should have nothing to worry about. Is that all?"
"Yes, Ms Hartford, that will be. Frida, why did you interrupt this lady's work, when you could have asked one of us? Where did you see that, anyway?"
"I heard people talking about it being on Count Mads' and Count Lars' ID cards when they get them. Kris looked very sad about it."
Hartford looked the now-worried mother in the eye, "Mrs. Holm, the interviews for issuing MIDs won't be held until late November. Your daughter may have overheard a joke made in very bad taste. Now, if you will excuse me?"
"That could well be so." Mrs. Holm pulled a card from her purse, "Nonetheless, here is my card. As a member of the Bar in both England and Denmark, I would be honored to represent students from either country should it be deemed necessary. Frida, let's go. Someone needs to keep an eye on the boys."
Precognition being what it was, the Assistant Headmistress left notes on appropriate files. With more luck than she expected to see, that would be the last interruption of her work until the next.
Poe Cottage, Whateley Academy
The Homer Gallery exhibits had been interesting in their own way. All jealousy aside, knowing that that Ms. Guzman could afford to donate a ton of gold just to make a point and yet Jamie had still been murdered, that left Jay feeling that much the worse. The girl framed for that crime lived right across the hall from Hank. That girls' brother was now Hank's roommate! Seeing the renovated Poe Cottage didn't make up for all that, somehow.
He'd screwed up royally — nearly getting his sister, brother, whatever killed and their father's military career sidetracked — only to follow that up with being tricked into contributing to Hank ending up in the hospital. As much as he resented his older sib always being in the spotlight, he didn't want him dead. Fancy new buildings, and DeeCee-worthy amenities, and what had they gotten anyone? Many of the heroes memorialized in that gallery had died, sometimes horribly, younger than Colonel Declan. Wrap it up, tie it in a bow, and he still was left with nothing for a peace offering or a family cease-fire.
Their mother's thoughts on the matter weren't much different, but she also had to deal with an increasingly frustrated Hank, and a quietly surly Jay who was acting increasingly disinterested in being there. He passed on an opportunity to be a jerk toward Hank's roommate, Danny. Even meeting the drop-dead gorgeous girls in Team Kimba didn't seem to get a rise out of the red-blooded All-American boy. A strikingly pale red-blooded All-American boy.
"Jay. Hold still. I need to check something."
"What? Wa- Mom. I'm not a little kid anymore," the boy immediately whined in protest.
That was one of those protests that was Not Going To Be Accepted, no matter how old the child was.
"Stop it. YOU are running a fever."
Looking to Lily and Hank, Mrs. Declan asked, "The school has an infirmary, right?"
"Lily, could you show me and Jay the way there, while Hank shows his father more of the campus. Maybe the JROTC unit? We don't need everyone coming down with a cold, or whatever it is."
"I can do that, Mrs. Declan. I'll just need to call to let my Mom know where I'll be."
"Thank you. Danny? It was good to meet you. I hope you and Hank will have a good year together."
Hawthorne Cottage, Whateley Academy
One of the first obstacles in the the planned 'meet and greet' circuit arose as Metro was trying to describe Hawthorne Cottage while downplaying the reasons for him being there and not in one of the other cottages/dorms, specifically Poe. It wasn't going very well.
"Why is it so distant from the main campus? Well, there are benefits to being a little more isolated - it's quieter and the walkway's a bit darker than most ... Forget I said that. Rather, it's, um, closer to the clinic - we've even got a dedicated tunnel in fact. Oh boy."
The visitors were surprised when a gentleman appeared, wearing a tweed jacket suited to a civilian prep school instructor. "What Mads is trying not to say, is that Hawthorne is home to Whateley Academy's version of 'special needs' students. Some just don't yet have enough control over their abilities to be safe in one of the other dorms. Others require environmental accommodations, like myself and your son."
"Could you be more specific as to the accommodations needed, Mister ... ?"
"Pardon me. Louis Geintz, also known as Fubar" indicating himself, "I'm head of the Psychic Arts Department, as well as being one of the resident Inmates. For example, what you see as 'me' is a psychic projection; I actually live in a tank in the basement since I've lost the ability to breathe air. In Metro's case, he still has trouble with breathing reflexes when asleep, so for now he needs a tank of well-oxygenated water in place of a standard bed."
Evelyn observed, "That's much better than sleeping on the bottom of Lake Erie."
"Mads, I thought you were kidding about that."
"I never kid about fresh fish, Lars."
"But it's Lake Erie!"
"Still got fish," was Metro's lame reply.
Louis let the by-play die down, "Once that is resolved, along with a couple of other things that make it difficult to place him with a roommate, he might be able to move to one of the other cottages. That is our goal."
Evelyn summed up, "So, given there's a direct tunnel to the clinic, Hawthorne also serves as an out-patient treatment facility." Lars paled at the idea of his brother back in a hospital again.
"It's not that dire," Metro tried to reassure his family, "I've only been rushed over to Doyle once, and that was just for a knee injury."
"Doctor Beaulieu, if you wish to hear a more complete and accurate account, I'd recommend consulting with Dr. Ophelia Tenent." This time Metro paled, lilac instead of 'white', but it was still clear that he'd try to arrange everything in his power to avoid his advisor and his mother spending a significant amount of time in discussion. It was only too bad that his foster mother and the school administration had arranged to see him fail at that.
"I think I will. Thank you for the recommendation."
Fubar continued, "I do believe it's currently safe to enter. Roulette's cookies are excellent for bribing some of our younger residents toward more civilized behavior."
Indeed, as they entered the common area, four youngsters were leaving a kitchen with hot chocolate chip trophies.
Lars asked the obvious, "I thought this was supposed to be a high school?"
"Well, Fubar did say that we also have folks who need to be learning control, right?" Miranda giggled as if she just knew where this was leading. Mads ignored that, "So, as far as mutant powers are concerned, picture me running around with a grenade launcher or assault rifle back in fifth or sixth grade!"
Personally, Mads thought that would have been awesome.
Fen' pictured grenades landing on Old One-Eye's head. Repeatedly. Joyously, even.
Evelyn reminded herself to give certain people a lecture on not giving impressionable young brothers ideas.
Thomas practiced biting his tongue while face-palming.
Lars remembered how 'adult' and 'responsible' his brother had been at that age, especially around a certain Cadet Williamson. "I would rather not."
Considering further that his brother was a fully-qualified combat mage, "After all, who, in their right mind, would give you an assault rifle? Let alone one with an under-slung gre-"
And finally, considering how much effort the range hands and upperclassmen had put into keeping 'the other Gunnison' separated from certain munitions, Lars groaned, "Oh god. Someone did."
"Two years ago, come end of next term, bror." Because a fully-selectable AK-98 with hand-loaded splash grenades was indeed awesome. "But the weapons draw for my Security shifts are good enough that I can leave it secured." Sensing a Wrong Thing Just Said, Metro slowly turned toward his mother.
"Mads, dear, who do I need to contact regarding what I'm assuming was supposed to be a work-study position?"
That was a good cue to resume introductions around the common room. Maybe a beeline to Kane Hall would be just what the doctor ordered, to keep the doctors in his life from comparing notes? At least the Thornie now under increased scrutiny could make a good college try of it – for all the good that would do him.
Chapter 3: Studies and Recollections
"I wanna know everything about you then
And I wanna go down every road you've been
Where your hopes and dreams and wishes live
Where you keep the rest of your life hid
I wanna know the girl behind that pretty stare
Take me there"
—Kenny Chesney, Neil Thrasher, Wendell Mobley, "Take Me There"
Emerson Cottage, Whateley Academy
After a suitable inspection of Kristian's dorm room, sparsely decorated on his side with a couple of landscape printouts and on his roommate's side with a conventional collection of NASCAR and silicone implants, the Holm family soon departed Emerson Cottage. His father made note of his son's obvious homesickness and resolved to make sure that Kristian could come home for Christmas.
Clara broke the impending silence, "There's nothing quite like the locker room scent of testosterone, cheap cologne, and desperation, is there?"
Kristian took the bait, "Some of the guys do have girlfriends! Real people and not just their imagination. Usually."
"We get it. You still can't get a date. It's called being a freshman."
Mrs. Holm stepped in, "Clara, I'm sure Kris has enough on his plate, going to a school in a far-off country. Still," she mused, "I was surprised that all the boys seemed almost unremarkable."
"Emerson, Dickinson, and Melville are reserved for the students without visible, er, differences from baseline. Or, at least those differences can be easily covered up enough to not draw notice on a red flag day." That prompted a discussion of flag colors, official and unofficial restrictions for kids with 'too much' GSD, and the further segregation of students into Hawthorne and Poe Cottages.That in turn changed the tour agenda entirely, as far as Solveig Holm was concerned. Too much like apartheid, even if the two dorms were getting the first round of renovations. "Which cottage did you say the Jensen boys are in?"
"Valravn's last name is pronounced 'Jensen'. Yes, that was entirely deliberate. He's in Poe while Metro's in Hawthorne."
"I thought you said that Poe was for the kids with mental illness?" Trust Arvid Holm to pick up on that, given his line of work.
"... Yes. But Hawthorne has single rooms only, limited to those who need to be there for medical or safety reasons, and Metro still needs those facilities. Poe was the next closest place for Valravn in case of problems." Mrs. Holm made up her mind, "I still think I would like to see how well the segregated students are treated. Is there any reason we cannot visit the public areas of those buildings?"
"Let me check." Now that Rorsmand thought about it, that made a good excuse to check up on the two. He pulled out his cell phone to call Valravn.
"Val! What's going on?
The abbreviated list, please.
Oh. That's good, then.
That was good.
Yes, I do.
Actually, my parents wanted to get a look at Poe and Hawthorne.
No, no they don't.
Hej! I resemble that remark!
Riiight. Got it.
Call Fubar? Does he even use a telephone?
Right. Thanks." Kristian put the phone away,
"The good news is that Mads went to the clinic under his own power and Thomas is headed over for moral support. So, most of the students I know in Poe are away. If Mr. Geintz and Mrs. Cantrel are open to it, we could visit Hawthorne, but we'd have to be careful to respect the residents' privacy."
A middle-aged man– obviously a teacher– stepped up to the Holm family. "I believe the word that your son was thinking was 'inmates', not 'residents'." Before the two shocked parents could respond to that, he smiled and continued with an introduction, "Mr. and Mrs. Holm, young ladies, I'm Louis Geintz, head of the Psychic Arts department and one of the Hawthorne Cottage residents. 'Inmates' is one of our own in-jokes about our status."
"I see. I think," Mrs. Holm spared a warning glare at her son, "We'd still like to see what facilities are being offered. There's enough similarity to bad ideas that belong buried in the past that I am worried, and I don't want my son to be any part of that."
Mr. Holm added, "Neither of us do."
"By all means, let us try to resolve some of your concerns. As Thomas was just telling Kristian, we've had an eventful day, but we could allow a limited tour." With that, the teacher vanished.
"What just happened?"
"That was a psychic projection. Some telepaths can do that. At least we have an invitation to visit."
"I wonder if we could see Metro's room, or would that be too intrusive?"
"Mads would be mildly impressed if we got past his security, and p-, upset that we tried. That may sound paranoid, but it isn't. At the next tunnel, we take a right. The cottage is the last door on that tunnel."
The Tunnels near Poe Cottage
Any other visit, and Mrs. Declan would have been impressed by how much more of the school's facilities lay hidden from plain site burrowed into the New Hampshire granite. Instead, the tunnels were a mere convenience towards getting Jay from Poe Cottage to the Infirmary without exposing the boy to unneeded chill and damp. It didn't take an empath to see that he was suffering from more than just a cold.
Lily Turner quietly led the two down to the Poe spur to Hawthorne's main tunnel, quietly debating with herself whether to divert to Hawthorne Cottage to take advantage of their staff and Clinic access tunnel or continue north past Melville and hope the campus bullies behave themselves. A look back at Jay huddled into himself decided it for her: through Hawthorne, and hope that Fubar and Mrs Cantrel can lend the cottage's on-call nurse. On second thought, she hoped like hell that Roulette wasn't having one of her burnouts at the same time.
'Come on ahead, Lily.' Fubar's voice spoke in he mind, 'We're not going to begrudge anyone medical assistance, and Miranda's already picked up on Jay's distress.'
"Mrs. Declan, we're going to be making a detour to one of the other cottages, one that has, well, too much experience with medical urgent care."
"Whatever works best. You know the layout better than I do. Jay, are you up to a little extra walking?"
"'m not a baby. Yeah."
The two women shared a look. At Jay's age, that had translated almost to 'not really'.
Mrs. Cantrel steered her hover-chair over to where Metro and his family were wrapping up introductions before the wayward magician could steer them as far away from his advisors as possible. "Mads, something's come up. Could you and Doctor Beaulieu come over to the nurse's station?"
Metro turned to Valravn, "Umm. Could you show Lars and Fen around the Poe Folks Hotel? We can catch up shortly."
Lars objected, "I want to stay with Mads!"
"We'll see," his mother replied, "But if this is about someone sick or hurt, you have to stay out of the way, and we may have to send you with Thom and Fen anyway."
"They could stay here. I'm sure no one would mind."
"That's settled then, lead on, Ma'am."
Mrs. Cantrel chuckled, "Boy, you've been to the nurse's station enough times to find it yourself by now."
"Oh, really? Mads, I'm thinking we need a discussion or two with your doctors, the Security Chief, and your advisors."
The room wasn't as crowded as Lily would have expected, thanks to the renovations being designed with the Inmates' tendency to fall outside norms in mind. She let Metro help the nurse get Jay onto the examining table so she could keep Mrs. Declan from panicking at the sight of an eight-foot tall woman with long black hair, a pair of well-shined horns, tusks, and an outfit that combined elements of Native American and modern industrial fashion. The other one, Lars, seemed well-behaved. Her own first impressions of the trio had been a combination of 'She's really big!' followed by 'Oh my god. There's two of them!'
Once the tense introductions were complete, both Lily and Mrs. Declan were relieved to know that there was not only a nurse available, but a doctor (a very, very tall one, but a doctor nonetheless), and an EMT-in-training as well. Now if only said trainee wasn't one of the more insane Thornies...
Looking more carefully at the two Møller-Jensen brothers, once she'd accounted for Metro's GSD and age, Lily came to the uncomfortable conclusion that by all rights, the two should have been identical twins. She was spared the task of asking a very uncomfortable question or two by bad news.
After several minutes of examination the staff nurse walked over, "Mrs. Declan, it seems that your son is not sick with a cold or the flu. Instead, his symptoms of high fever, boosted metabolism and energy use, among others is consistent with a mutant manifestation or even burnout. With your permission, I would like to transfer him from here to Doyle Medical Center. We have a direct tunnel to the other building to take him, we just need a way to keep him cool en route and during intake."
Metro added, "Nurse? I can handle maintaining a cool zone. We just need someone who won't be frostbitten from handling the gurney."
"What about Fen? His home's all snow and ice," said Lars.
"Call him over."
Mrs. Declan said, "Whatever it takes. I'm not losing either of my children! I'll follow them to the clinic." 'Not Hannah then. Not Jay now.'
Within a few minutes, Lily had contacted Hank and his father to break the news and the group was following a frost-covered gurney being run towards Doyle. Somewhat later, Metro would remember that he didn't want to go to Doyle. Being greeted by one of the nurse's aids, surprised to see one of their 'frequent flyer' patients on the right side of a stretcher, just might have had a bearing on that.
"Mads, dear. Could you explain why the check-in desk has a pool going on regarding your next visit?"
"It's... a long story?"
"I'm sure it is. Luckily, I have a long attention span."
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
While she waited for the rest of her family to arrive and the paperwork to flow, Mrs. Declan asked, "Dr. Beaulieu, aren't you going in with them?"
"No, I don't think so. I'm not licensed to practice in New Hampshire. Also, my specialties are in trauma care and surgery. I fear I'd only be getting in the way, unless they need me as a medicine woman."
"Why were you at the nurse's station, then?"
"We, that is Lars, Fen, and I, were at Hawthorne Cottage visiting my son Mads."
"Are all three yours?"
"Heavens, no! Fenrir is, hm, an extended half-brother to Mads and Lars. Even then, those two have been mine only for the past couple of years."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to intrude like that. I just assumed, or maybe I presumed the other way?"
"Don't worry about it. I love those two boys as if I had given them birth. The other's growing on me, I suppose, along with Mads' boyfriend. Now that was a meeting I'd rather not have repeated!"
"I suppose not. You're okay with that? I ask because, well, our oldest son used to be our daughter. Before he manifested. The only ones who've handled that well have been Hank and his closest friends. Throw in the sibling rivalry, and, I just don't know."
"You take care of them as best you can. Love them as much as you can. Let them explore their world and make their own mistakes, and try to be there for them when life hasn't been kind. Am I okay with Mads' relationship with Thomas? Not the way it started, and Manitou knows they both need counseling, but they're both more invested than they think."
Lily laughed, "At freshman orientation for Poe Cottage, Metro dropped in to announce that Valravn was, and I quote 'Off-limits, so hands-off. All of you.' So I announced that the same conditions applied to Lancer."
"That sounds like my son."
Mrs. Declan asked, "How does that affect Lars, if you don't mind my asking?"
"I know he's experimented with other boys, but he's far more interested in having a girl his own age interested in him. Other than that, he's still at the age that sometimes it's a struggle to keep him from emulating his brother. Other times, it's a struggle to keep him from parenting his brother."
"What about his mutation? How have you handled that? For Hank and Lily, it isn't as obvious to others as it would be for you and, Metro, was it?"
"Mrs. Declan, Metro often attends classes under an illusion to hide his horns. I've heard it helps somewhat with the rest," Lily said.
Evelyn looked out into the distance, "I wasn't here for him this past August, so I'm still in the middle of processing the changes, myself. I can't imagine what it must have been like for him to be hospitalized here, away from almost everyone he knew and trusted..." She pulled a kerchief from her purse to dry her eyes.
"I'm so sorry! I shouldn't have asked."
"No. You couldn't have known. I shouldn't blame myself for all that's happened, but it still feels like I failed him."
"I wish I had an answer to that myself."
"Mrs. Declan, Doctor Beaulieu, if you figure that out, please share it with my mom. She worried about me and my friends last year, and yeah, there were some rough times, but still!"
"I hate to borrow trouble for you, but I imagine that you'll find yourself someday worrying about your own children."
An awkard silence and admission paperwork to fill out put an end to further discussion. The women were soon joined by Colonel Declan and Lancer, both visibly worried about Jay. Some time later, a doctor came over to where the group was waiting. She in turn was flanked by Metro, who— judging by the amused looks his brothers shared behind them— was not looking forward to this meeting.
"Mr. and Mrs. Declan?"
"That would be us. This is our oldest son Hank, and his girlfriend Lily."
"Of course. I'm Doctor Ophelia Tenent. Your son is indeed in the process of manifesting. It could be hours, or even days, before we know how that will turn out. The school has guest quarters that we can arrange for you if you're able to stay here with your son. Our facilities are likely the best on the Eastern Seaboard for treating the associated problems, which makes your son a very lucky... person. For now, he is unconscious but stable. The attending physician for his case is Doctor Raul Tenant, er, no relation, who will be meeting with you shortly."
The doctor turned to the woman keeping the family company, "Doctor Beaulieu, thank you and your family for accompanying the Declans. I'd rather not dwell on how high Jay's fever could have risen if Metro hadn't gotten his core temperature down before transport. If you all will come with me, I want to obtain some baseline data from you and your youngest son, perhaps even from Mister Lockeson as well.
"I suspect you have questions for me as I've been Metro's primary care, his academic advisor, and the instructor for his and Valravn's sixth-period Magical Theory class. This year, it has already proven to be an eventful class for our department."
"Mrs. Carson had warned me that most of his teachers would like a word or two in conference."
"I've also asked a student consultant to stop by. Having three of the known brothers to cross-check against may help us deal with any further changes in Metro's condition." The doctor spared the non-compliant miscreant in question an if I don't kill him first glare, softened immediately as she took in Lars' hurt look. 'Goddess, what we done to rate TWO of them?' "Now, if you'll follow me to my clinic office? I would like to be available for the Declan case if there are any unexpected changes."
"Does that happen in many manifestations?" Dr. Beaulieu asked. They'd gone a distance down the corridor before Dr. Tenent answered; to the two aura readers and the werewolf, it was obvious that she was stalling to gather her thoughts. "For mutants with power sets that don't require major organic restructuring to reach a stable endpoint, no. At least we think not. For others, the epigenetic changes that result from the meta-gene complex being triggered can be fatal. As a wizard yourself..."
"A shaman, actually," Evelyn corrected her colleague.
Just in case anyone had forgotten, Lars added, "A bear shaman! Mama Evelyn's an important healer back home."
His brother reached out to ruffle Lars' hair,
"As I was saying, Doctor, you must be familiar with the dangers that attend magic use. After manifestation, a mutant may not be entirely out of the woods yet." At the door to her office, Dr. Tenent paused to ask Metro, "I'm sorry to say this, but I think we'll need one of the 'brick' chairs for your mother."
"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose... " the student muttered as he went in search of a chair suited for a troll. Whether or not Evelyn was still put off by the mundane problems of being a troll in a human- and elf- centric world, they still grated on her sons.
"French. Now that is a surprise."
Tenent asked, "How so? It's my understanding that the school's Euro-Promotional League favors the language to the extent they can get away with it."
"Back home, the Québec government is actively hostile to changelings like Mads. They're one of the governments that does not even recognize him as a sentient."
"I see. He's hasn't mentioned that."
"Mentioned what?" asked Mads as he came in with an over-engineered folding chair. "Sorry. This was the best I could find."
"Mads, it's better than sitting on the floor and trying to look over a desk."
"I tend to agree. Doctor Beaulieu, I'd like to start off with your son's academic progress."
"Please, call me 'Evelyn' when we're not on the floor."
"Then I'd like you to call me 'Ophelia'. I only go by 'Caduceus' in situations calling for a code-name."
"Of course. That reminds me: could someone please explain why my son is going by 'Metro'? I already know it's better than some of the things he's been called."
Lars stifled a laugh. Some of the things his older brother had been called back at the Academy were quite colorful, and sometimes quite accurate.
In self-righteous teen indignation, Mads spoke up, "I had wanted 'Paso Doble'. But no, on the UV tote board that got shortened to 'P.D'. Next thing I know someone's tagged it with 'Metro', as if I were an undercover policeman or something!"
Nearly everyone in the room turned to stare at the young man who'd seated himself with a clear line-of-fire to the door. He'd also subconsciously already adjusted his gig line and smoothed his regulation haircut back into order from earlier events, and was back to sitting ramrod-straight in his chair. All-in-all, his body language shouted 'Internal Affairs, plainclothesman'.
"Bus-ted!" Lars crowed.
ICU Room 2, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
Stillness. That was the first thing that impressed itself on Jay's mother when she was allowed to back and see him. So still. Too still, and so unlike her youngest. It had always been Hannah, then Hank, who had been quiet and still. The monitors with their traces and numbers didn't mean much to her, nor should they have. What mattered was that one of her children was sick beyond her ability to make things better for him. All they could do, it seemed was to sit and wait. Mrs. Declan lingered as long as she could, praying for Jay and wiping away tears that she didn't think she'd be able to stop once they got started.
The only news they'd gotten from the doctor on the case was that they suspected that Jay might be an 'avatar' of some sort, or of some thing. The student who'd helped get Jay to the hospital had said he could detect some trace of a 'spirit link'. The doctors had decided not to trace it, nor to interfere otherwise, in case doing so would endanger their patient more.
Said spirit was, at the moment, more than busy enough for two spirits. The thrice-damned sprite that had plagued the host's family the previous summer had compounded existing emotional wounds her vessel hadn't found a way to heal– not that it was mature enough to heal itself yet. Now the poor child's body was betraying him by trying to build out the capabilities hinted at in its genes without the careful guidance its resident soul should have been able to bring to bear. At least the healers brought in to help had kept the body's core temp from spiking to the point of causing (more) brain damage. Compromises would need to be made to the vessel if it was to survive joining with the spirit. The spirit would also need to give in on some things if it was to mesh properly with the vessel and its resident mind.
In his dreams, Jay sensed that events in his life were turning to a new and unfamiliar course. He would need to navigate that course himself, by himself, without help from parents and friends or even his brother. That was daunting: as his parents had long tried to treat their children the same, he'd come to rely on Hannah/Hank as the yardstick for what he should want, do, or get.
What do you want from life, child?
I don't know! Why can't I get something first? Something that's just ME? Wait a minute. Who ARE you?
The entity seemed uncertain how to explain itself.
I'm... that which... or what one would call a spirit here, though you are a spirit inhabiting a shell yourself.
The entity puzzled over how to make its experience more understandable to a young human before going on.
Part of me has always been part of you. Yet we remain independent people. I partake of the northern forests, though they are themselves as well.
Do you have a name?
It is ----------------. You mustn't repeat that to others lest they gain control of both of us.
I couldn't even pronounce that. Northern forests. Is that like Canada?
Or Sibir', yes.
Can I call you Anya? That's a russky name, I think.
Anya. That could work as well as any other. So. With that settled, now. You wish to grow into a person more of your own devising?
Yes. Maybe. I don't want to turn myself into a monster, or a freak that can't show its face in public.
Your brother isn't a monster. Shall we model you after him?
NO! That's worse. Wait. Who's this 'we'?
You and me. We both must reach agreement soon, because your body is going through its changes without a pattern, a blueprint?, to work from. All the regenerative energy the body has connected to has no place to go, no task to perform. If we do not act soon, you may die from what the healers are calling 'burnout'.
I still don't want to be just like Hank in everything. That's for sure.
A pity. His pattern would have been one of the easiest to copy while being strong enough to support both of us.
Isn't there anyone else that you could copy from?
A few. I shall show you.
Images from Anya's perspective flashed across Jay's mind.
Building a custom template from a combination of our old patterns could work, but there's a price. Some changes to your body will require compensatory changes. You may end up female.
If Hannah could cope with turning into a guy, I can take turning into a girl. But, she'd have to be pretty!
Of course. Let us start with that, without forgetting aesthetics or structural soundness, and see where we can proceed from there.
Okaaay... I'm going to regret this, aren't I?
Perhaps. But as some say: it beats the alternative. Life is growth. Growth requires change.
Nothing to lose?
Try never think that. There is always something to lose, even if there's little left to gain.
Examination Room 5, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
Valravn was the first of the invitees to arrive. Technically speaking, he wasn't invited at all to be there, but keeping him away would have required too much essence, preparation, and too many wards to be worth the bother. He took in the familial concern, the sibling delight at being handed high-grade blackmail fodder, the sibling concern at how that fodder was generated, and one badly rattled magician sitting next to an empty chair, and decided he was needed.
Entering the room, Wyatt 'Kodiak' Cody was struck by a few oddities, aside from the nearly-identical twins. Normally, even adults were intimidated by the 6'6" senior's size and obvious strength. Instead, when she stood up, the woman with the horns and tusks nearly stared him down. Literally down. Wyatt found himself face to face with the doctor's ample decolletage, not at all unpleasantly. He almost didn't catch the part about her being the twins' mother. Something about the other adult guest had The Kodiak growling in the young man's head.
"Doctor Tenent, may I ask what it is that you are looking for from the Kodiak?"
"We're interested in knowing the genetic relationships among Mr. Lockeson and Mr. Møller-Jensen here and the two samples we inquired about earlier. For a number of reasons, we'd like to keep the findings off the record."
"Why not Metro as well, Doctor, if you don't mind me asking?"
"One of the two samples we asked the Kodiak to analyze was Metro's" "I trust that it wasn't the one that had required decontamination?"
"It wasn't. Or we wouldn't be having this conversation."
Wyatt gestured over his left vambrace, causing his right fingertip to glow. "Gentlemen, this is a probe spell, along with the essence to power it, a stabilizer, and a mild sedative. Who's first?"
The scruffy "wolf" guy raised his hand, "What do you need me to do?" the spirit snarked in the avatar's head, but Wyatt went with "Swallow this." Lars followed suit. Mads watched both like a hawk for any signs of problems. Some patients have trust issues, but...
After about a minute for the spellwork to take effect, Wyatt called up a number of diagnostic displays for both patients. With a few more gestures, he called up their gene scans to compare against a new display showing Metro's scan.
Metro asked, with something approaching innocence, "Isn't this the spell that people have been talking about, now that Greasy's doing better? I emailed someone, twice, to ask the cost of teaching it, but both messages seem to have been bit-bucketed. "
Valravn remarked, "If you have two messages that you simply can't decrypt, that's what they're about. Someone forgets who he's writing to."
Much to the Kodiak's disappointment, Fenrir was healthy as an ox. At least the younger Jensen was also quite healthy. As to the mutual heredity, the old spirit felt a bit ill after paging through the data. Through his host, the Kodiak growled out, "The Jötunn here shares a direct paternal ancestor with the three boys, or rather, with their progenitor. How far back the persons or entities responsible were, that is difficult to estimate. Heredity and rebirth interact peculiarly at the best of times." Continuing on, "Also, none of the four carry the human meta-gene complex."
Dr. Tenent asked, "Does that mean that Metro's GSD was a result of the Class-X exposure this summer?"
"Yes, and no."
The spirit paused to talk to his host and double-check the gene scans before explaining further. "In Lockeson here, this section of the 23rd chromosome pair is a signature of Northern Court meddling with the human genome to create the Jötnar. My understanding at the time was that the Dragon Kings liked to play with their food and desired more of a challenge. When activated, the epigenetic interactions are sufficiently random that this one could have easily been born a snail that shifts into a different kind of snail.
"Offset somewhat in the others, we see another unique set of genes which one normally sees in fae races now virtually extinct, except for the few isolated planes that could support them after the Sundering. It's every bit as random in expression, depending on a gestalt of genes encoding normal proteins, as that for the Jötnar. It also lies completely dormant unless there's more than sufficient sustained Essence to support whatever the offspring would become. It's possible that the incident you're referring to may have provided enough impetus to manifest a set of traits which, by accident, managed to be compatible with life.
"What that should mean for young Lars is that when using a shape-changing spell, he may find that some forms are more comfortable, but in most cases that's about all."
Lars protested mildly at that, "But I don't know any magic!"
Wyatt chuckled, "That's what I would have said a year ago. Now I'm taking classes in it. Anything else, Doc?"
"No, Mr. Cody, you're free to go. And again, thank you both for helping out."
After Wyatt had left, Ophelia picked the conversation, regarding Evelyn's younger son, back up. "Evelyn, it looks like there's an MID in Lars' future after all. Unlike the MCO, the DPA's mandate includes non-mutant paranormals."
"I already have one! When we entered Norway, they said it was a matter of 'national security'," Lars replied.
Ophelia continued, "That's one hurdle overcome. If he does study the mystical arts, I suppose it's too much to hope that Lars will have fewer, issues and surprises, with Western-tradition hermetic magic than his brother."
"I'm sure there will be differences. Mads has always been rather subtle with his spellwork."
While the subject of that exchange managed a violet-tinged blush, his teacher nearly choked on her cold coffee at that news. "Subtle? *cough* There are scorch marks on the lab ceiling from him practicing lighting a candle!"
Fenrir chimed in with, "Mother had him practice out in a fire pit after he burned all the creosote out of the kitchen chimney. 'Cubs and fire: not a safe combination,' she said. Then she started in about grandchildren again."
"Scarpered away from that, didn't you?"
"Just you wait, runt. Your day is coming."
Hawthorne Cottage, Whateley Academy
"... so you see, while we may not enjoy quite the level of amenities that Poe Cottage has, and the others will be receiving, we're not being stinted either."
"It still seems so isolated from the rest of the campus," Mrs. Holm objected.
"Sad to say, the school still has to remain largely hidden from the public. So when local officials or inspectors have a need to see more of the grounds than just the main campus, being further out means that there's less interest in intruding on the residents to find out what they've no need to know about."
"Placing the burden of maintaining the school's cover on the least-advantaged students." 'What if Kristian's mutation had been more visible, less controllable?' Would her child have had any friends at all? The distance barrier and social stigma had to add up.
"We're also the most at-risk. There's no easy way to balance the books," Fubar admitted.
"The children do try to look out for each other. Some of the others help out when they can," said Mrs. Cantrel, "I reckon you all will want to start heading up to Crystal Hall for supper. It can get crowded on a Parents' Day."
"Yes. Thank you all for taking the time to alleviate some of our concerns."
"By the way, Kristian still hasn't properly introduced us to Mads' family."
"It wasn't a good time, Mom; he hadn't seen them in a year!"
"We aren't questioning that."
Louis concentrated a moment, then said, "At the moment, he's trying to explain to Totem and his mother how it's 'cultural appropriation' for him to join The Nations - that's a club for our First Nations students and students interested in learning about indigenous cultures - when the only real parent he's ever had is full-blooded Anishinaabe."
Rorsmand rolled his eyes and asked, "How far does he have his foot in his mouth so far?"
"Past the ankle, at least," Fubar chuckled.
Security, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
"... If it weren't for today's elevated posture, it would be just squads from first and third platoon out and about today. The Wild Pack might be on call, as they're upperclassmen. Not that they won't jump in if there's a problem, but might as well get paid for the work, yeah?" Metro was in prime de-escalation mode as he led his family to his work-study workplace. Couldn't the Chief not be interested in meeting parents and family?
"Look who we have here! Excuse me, sir. I do understand your concerns regarding our 'Ultra-Violent' students' whereabouts, but I have other duties as well. Jensen, what brings you here without someone in custody?"
"I'm not that bad, Officer Green. Just checking on the duty roster, and while I was told the Chief would like to meet with Mama, it sounds like he's maybe too busy. Problems with the uvie check-ins? So... if everyone's busy, I guess..."
While Jensen was trying to make excuses for a quick exit, Security Chief Franklin Delarose stepped out from his office, "Doctor! Good to finally meet you! If you'll follow me I am certain we have a number of matters to discuss."
Thanks, Chief, ever so much.
"Would that include how and why my son is on your 'Ultra-Violent' list?" Evelyn asked
"Yes. There's been quite some concern today over that particular group of students and student employees."
"Jensen, you are sooooo doomed."
"Chip truth, that."
"Looks like you're staying on evening office hours, lucky you. Any chance you can cover for someone while they grab a bite later?"
"If Valravn can escort Fen to the departing bus later, yeah. I'm sure we can work it out. Let me check to see if I've still got a spare in my locker."
"Go right ahead."
"Excuse me. If you two are finished 'shooting shit', I still want an explanation for why ultra-violent students, freaks, and villains are allowed to freely mix into and endanger the good students and their families!"
"Sir. I will need the students' names before I can begin to file whatever charges you are asking us to bring against them."
"I have no need of charges; it is obvious who and what they are!"
"No, sir. I don't believe that it is."
"How can that be? Anyone with eyes can tell which ones have been tainted by their families' or their own evil intent!"
"Sir. What am I supposed to be looking for: cloven hooves, horns, and a tail?"
"Such a creature is obviously evil, so yes."
"You've just described our new art teacher. Demented, perhaps. Evil, not so much."
"Art. What good is teaching art to students who should concentrate on their powers?"
"That sir, I cannot tell you. Is there anything else you wish to bring to Security's attention?"
"What about that thing, the one with the horns?"
"Hm?" said said thing as he returned from the locker room, "Green. I've got a duty uniform ready in the back, so we're good to go. What time?"
"1830. Hang on. Sir, are you by any chance referring to Officer Jensen?"
"What? That's no officer."
"Sir, I think I'm going to have to ask you to leave before you cause any more trouble."
"Your superiors will be hearing about this!"
"I look forward to the occasion, sir."
As the irate 'concerned citizen' departed, Metro asked the desk officer, "What crawled up his slot and died?"
"Just the usual. Every year we get a couple of parents who can't understand that we're not bullshitting about accepting students from all backgrounds."
"Bror, he called you a 'thing'!" Lars complained.
"I've been called much worse, by people who wanted a date. B'sides, all people are things, depending on how you look at it. Keep that in mind regarding magical contracts: technicalities count. Scoot over, sport. The Chief and Mama can't have that much to discuss."
"Jensen, have you been sampling from 'Shine's stills?"
"No! That reminds me, guys, remind me to show you the Workshop."
It turned out that there was quite a bit to discuss, giving Mads time to grill Lars about school, his classes, etc. This only served to cement Third Platoon's impression that Metro was indeed police or paramilitary trained. The very worst thing about the situation was that there were two of them, and they certainly didn't have the nicer one on the duty roster. On the other hand, Interpol and certain other information customers might be interested in any international students with an investigative bent and the proper training...
After the parent-supervisor conference ended, Sam Everheart looked to her boss and remarked, "That went well, all things considered."
Security Chief Franklin Delarose remarked, "Really? I'm still not sure I haven't just been mauled."
"As far as I could tell, we haven't endangered her son any more than his previous employers."
"There is that extremely limited comfort. Nonetheless, I can see why Liz made a point of telling me that the Doctor is no helicopter parent. Suborbital-strike parent is more like it. "
"Given her totem spirit, is it surprising she'd go 'Mama Bear' over certain incidents?"
"No. It isn't. Let's not poke the bear if we don't have to."
Evening, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
She thought that maybe she should have been more surprised when the tall woman she'd been introduced to hours, though it felt like years, ago came by. Yet, so many of Hank's friends had stopped by to lend their support that she was beginning to get used to some of the variety in the student body. The woman was quiet as she walked up and sat down next to her.
"Hello, I'm Evelyn. We didn't get much opportunity for introductions earlier. Do you go by 'Mrs. Declan', or was I misinformed?"
"It started as a shared joke when Roger and I were first married: 'The Lieutenant and Mrs. Declan' The kids still call me Mom, but I hardly notice my own name being called anymore."
"Well then, how are you holding up, Mrs. Declan?"
"I'm not. I keep thinking I'll wake up and this will all have been a dream. Other times, I remember coming back to our home and seeing blood everywhere where Hannah had been trying on a dress and the changes caught up with her. Him, now. Where did it all go so wrong?"
She finally broke down and sobbed in the stranger's arms. Maybe that was it, having someone there to whom she did not have to be the strong military wife; she could just be a worried mother.
"I remember the day we rescued Mads from... where he was. There was blood that day too. Too much of it. I lost some good people that day who'd worked with me for a long time. After that came many nights, sitting alone like you, hoping for the best, knowing that whatever the outcome it wouldn't be easy for the child to live with."
"How did you get through it? This just has me– lost? confused?"
Evelyn looked up and out into memories only she could see, "One night at a time. I had help from my people's spirits and a few close friends. You have a husband and son to lean on. In the end– I don't know– you just go on, I suppose. One day I turned around and he was out of traction, and then out of isolation." Evelyn sighed, "Then one day he was trying a handstand to show off how recovered he was— only to be followed by another ICU vigil over the concussion. It's been a roller-coaster of milestones and setbacks ever since."
"But you wouldn't give it up for the world."
"No. I wouldn't. Neither would you."
"What have they told you about Jay?"
"The doctors say that his body is changing rapidly— enough that they've warned us that he'll need counseling to adjust. Depending on the powers he develops or, or complications, he may even need to stay here. They've got an out-patient dorm here..."
"Hawthorne Cottage, yes. You wouldn't know it to see him— unless you've heard some of the stories that I only recently found out about— but my son lives there. That's why we were close enough to lend a hand."
"I didn't realize that, or think to ask why."
"You were busy with more important things. Why don't I go and get you some decent coffee. You aren't planning on staying here tonight?"
"Thank you, and no, I'm told I can get an escort over to the guest quarters later."
"I'd offer to stay afterward, but my oldest and his friends are keeping my youngest occupied. I hope."
Monday morning, October 29, 2007
Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy
"Well now. Look who's finally awake!"
"Your father had to go back to D.C., but he's trying to get leave to come back for you. Your mother should be eating breakfast, so we have time to check your vitals, get a couple of meds in, and clean you up before you have to face the world."
"Oh. How long?"
"It's Monday, so you've only been out a couple of days."
"This will feel a little cold going in, but we need you relaxed when we disconnect certain things."
The sedative turned out to be very welcome indeed when Jay saw where and how the urinary catheter was placed, despite the medical team's best efforts. If 'Anya' hadn't gone over the details in his dreams, he was certain he'd have taken the news even worse than Hank had his taken his changes. It would be a long time before he, she was comfortable with all of it, but Jay was old enough to know that one can't 'overcome all obstacles' without some obstacles to overcome.
Being an inch taller than Hank now didn't hurt at all. Nor did watching his brother's jaw drop at the shoulder-length green-black hair that contrasted nicely with moderately bronzed skin, small breasts (with a promise of more visits from the Booby Fairy), slender but appropriately curved body, longer legs. Now that she began to notice, her brother was staring just a bit too much longer than a brother should.
Judging by the thwap! against his head, Lily thought so too. Jay giggled at that, and was amazed to see pink blossoms and small white puffs of cotton falling out of thin air.
Hm. I wasn't expecting that. We might have to worry about manifesting pollen at some point. >
Every time I laugh or get embarrassed?
Could be. I'm sure we'll get it under control in time.
I can't wait.
Chapter 4: No Angels
"Spend all your time waiting
For that second chance
For a break that would make it okay
There's always some reason
To feel not good enough
And it's hard, at the end of the day"
—Sarah McLachlan, "Angel"
All Saints Day, Thursday, November 1, 2007
As Mads 'Metro' Møller-Jensen trudged his way back to Hawthorne, he had time to reflect on one of the few downsides of having his brother and mother staying on-campus while their identity paperwork was logic-checked. Not only did Lars look more squared-away in his school's cadet uniform, but he was better at close-order drill than most of the platoon. That did not go over well. Even with air temperatures just below 10C, he'd ended up sweaty from drill. The latter issue could be why everyone was avoiding him, now that he thought about it.
Nothing for it, but to clear out his pockets, remove his insignia, gear, belt, and boots, and hit the showers mostly clothed. Boot liners and socks went straight to the pre-soak bucket. At least that way his 'Spark suit' would have time to dry out overnight for the next day. As long as his doctors didn't get a chance to notice that his body armor was still a little loose-fitting in places, he was good to go for the evening. Unless Thomas ratted him out, and, he would.
Although the campus was still under a "green flag", the evenings were turning cold enough to send many students to the tunnels, so Mads headed outside to get to the dining hall. He detoured to the kitchens to double-check on the following evening's menu. The school couldn't or wouldn't allow a proper Fête Ghede feast and dance for the few students who would be interested, but suggestions for culturally-appropriate minor meal changes were allowed. The chefs had arranged to add roasted peanuts and corn, peppered breads, an oxtail stew rich with island spices and peppers, and marbled chocolate and orange gateaux to the planned offerings. Those students who knew of the holiday would have a small reminder of home... while most of the student body would be avoiding the Caribbean-spiced dishes like a gastronomic plague.
All Souls Day, Friday, November 2, 2007
Hawthorne Cottage, Whateley Academy
The day was set to soon be dawning clear, still, and cold, barely above freezing. Most students would be sticking to the tunnel system, and that suited her fine. What was the good of being dead if you let a small thing like weather bother you? Some graves might be warm and toasty, but that was never something to encourage!
She poured out some hot coffee from her horse's thermos, and added a splash of Irish cheer for good measure. Hm. He'd be needing the suit that was set out for the day, and the fabrics it was made of were ever so responsive... Oh, why not? It worked for Dietrich!
As she headed toward the Cottage's door, a specter appeared before her, an imitation of Alan Cumming in the floor show of a different juke joint:
"Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!
Fremder, étranger, stranger
Glücklich zu sehen,
Je suis enchanté,
Happy to see you"
The woman laughed before replying with:
"Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!
Leave your troubles outside.
So life is disappointing, forget it!
In here life is beautiful."
"Don't worry, Louis, Madsy's still as safe and sound as he ever is."
"That's an appallingly low standard."
She stopped at the doorway to remark, "Ah, but out here, even the orchestra is beautiful!" Then she adjusted her hat and stepped out into the cold.
All Souls Day
Remembrance Garden, between Dickinson Cottage and Holbrook Arena, Whateley Academy
Janine "Deimos" Richter stood at her sister's memorial feeling cold and alone. She could feel her blood-siblings' concern for her, and also respect for her need to be alone. She wasn't entirely sure why she was even here; it was winter and the water lilies had lost their surface leaves. Something one of the freshmen had said about this being a good idea? She must be losing it for real...
"You could try talking to her. Maybe she'll hear, maybe she won't. Sisters are like that."
Standing behind and beside her was a very unfamiliar woman. A halo of red hair escaped from a black top hat to frame a pale, pale white face. She wore a tuxedo with a lavender silk blouse and red tie, sexy in a break-the-rules way, yet she seemed entirely like she belonged here. Half-expecting this to be a sad practical joke being played on the freak, the Outcast reached out with her empathic senses only to feel a maternal concern.
"No. Adrienne always heard me, even the times when I'd rather she didn't."
"Well, then. What would you say to her?"
"That I still miss her. That the hurt hasn't all gone away. That I think I'm getting by with the help of my friends, even if they still drive me nuts now and then. Corny, isn't it?"
"No, love, it's life." The woman laid a cold hand on the girl's shoulder, "Having friends who'll take the time to drive you crazy is a good start towards living a life your sister would be happy to hear about. Or, so I've been told."
Janine started to reply, but the mystery woman put a finger to her lips and winked, "I'll let you two have your talk before you catch your death of cold." That said, she turned and left.
Faculty Lounge, Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
If calling on the (self-)righteous required more decorum than a consolation visit, maybe it was time to opt for less. As she walked south on a near-empty walkway, her hat shortened to a veiled pillbox shape and the jacket followed suit to a bolero length that teased a black bustier, while the trousers now flared out into a black silk skirt and sheer purple petticoat, all accompanied by an antique purple wrap.
Entering the Crystal Hall via the main doorway, she strode first to the coffee urns reserved for the hardcore drinkers: devisors, and the people who put up with them. She surveyed the morning crowd with mixed amusement and sadness, before proceeding toward the faculty's section of the cafeteria with all the confidence and self-possession of a Leeson Street businesswoman. Darren Englund took this as his cue to move to intercept yet another clear and present danger to the school. He reached out to his connection to the Divine, and found... nothing.
Closing the remaining distance, the woman reached out to take his arm in hers - much like an Edwardian dowager might ensnare one of her more wayward brood.
"Darren," she said, "walk with me. I understand the beignets served here are to die for."
The preacher growled back, "Make a move against any of the children here, and you'll rue the day you were created!"
"Oh! That do look good, don't you think so?" More quietly, "Having trouble finding the old fire and brimstone, Reverend? Those gifts are intended for the enemies of Bondye. My own feast day is February the first - do look me up. Oh, and do leave my great-grandchildren in peace. This will be your only warning."
Turning away from the old clergyman, the woman greeted another of her intended appointments, "Doctor, comment ça va? And who is this with you? Lars? What a strong name for such a young man! Come, let's share some of this wonderful breakfast!"
Evening, All Souls Day,
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
'It was the best of times; It was the worst of times.'
In Metro's opinion, backed up by Phase before the latter diplomatically ran out in search of something to put out the fire in his mouth from the jerked beef: the breads and vegetables were excellently prepared, the oxtail stew amazing, and the cakes all one could hope for (aided and abetted by the addition of coffee to the sweet chocolate frosting and hint of cardamom). Unfortunately, someone had gone and called the attention of not one, but two doctors, and a Very Concerned Younger Brother to a (temporary!) amount of weight loss. Thereafter, no humanly-achievable level of puppy-dog eyes would get him out of the prescribed Arctic weather rations.
For now, the mismatched and somewhat misplaced family had grabbed a table off to the side of the usual crowds. Not that any of the boys were the least bit self-conscious at being seen with a troll, but Mads was too exhausted to tone down his glamour and not many people dealt well with having the essence around them imprinted with violent and often deliberate death.
Lars realized that his brother wouldn't be volunteering any useful information, no change there. So he prompted, "Whiskey tango foxtrot, killer?"
"Do you remember, by any chance, meeting a very well-dressed redhead this morning?"
"Yes? What has that got to do with you looking like death warmed over?"
"Well, depending on which stories you believe, she could be considered an aspect of, or later evolution of, a spirit that was involved in creating our ancestral female line."
"Let me guess. That was far enough back that there would now be millions of people who can honestly claim that."
"What's the point of keeping track of it, then?"
"For certain aspects of magic, 'genetics proposes, spirit disposes'. Or, 'Your Mileage Will Vary'."
Evelyn stepped in to help explain, "Lars, when dealing with named entities even the most impersonal contract boils down to an I/Thou relationship with someone or something who may have very different ideas of time, space, and kinship, than you."
"So, basically, my big brother - who should know better - cut a deal with something too big to banish once he summoned it, and is paying for that today?"
"Not exactly," Thomas hedged, "Not that it would be the first time for that either."
"Thank you for that inspiring vote of confidence," the subject of the conversation grumbled.
"Yeah, yeah, you say that now... But he didn't summon her; he went to visit her in the local analogue of her place of power to negotiate. In thus gaining her attention and both recognizing that I/Thou relationship Evelyn was talking about, every mystical Rule or Contract binding them individually, by direct inheritance, by spiritual inheritance, or by gifting, all came into play in order of seniority."
"Wouldn't it have been easier to bar the gates, or just shoot him if he got past those?"
Thomas agreed, "At a certain point, that's the best-case scenario for all concerned. Instead, Mads owes Maman Brigitte service on All Souls Day, or Fête Ghede. That could be as simple as being her "horse", or performing other duties, but he needs to be available for them. Out of respect, he wears her colors."
Mads nodded, "Respect is very important. But it's not unreasonable to think of her as that really cool distant cousin you hardly ever get to see. Not entirely unlike our half-sister. It's just that today, I'm a bit more tired than I expected to be." He put his chin down on his folded arms resting on the table, "And there's oxtail stew calling my name, but I'm stuck on a medical diet because people are being mean to me!"
"You've given your doctors enough aggravation for three patients already, Mads. Pouting about the results doesn't help your case."
Thomas nudged the tired and whiny one, "Finish up what you've got. We still have dance class."
Lars perked up, "Can I come too?"
"Miss Rogers would be delighted to have another boy in class. You too, Mama!"
"If it will help keep you three out of trouble, fine. I'll go."
Evening, November 2, 2007
The Quad, Whateley Academy
"Bror? I was wondering..."
"Except for the teachers and Mama, they're all underage."
"OK... Yes, most of them really are natural, even the guys."
"Not that either! ...really?"
"I was thinking about what you, Mama, and Thomas were saying about Rules and hidden risks."
"... and how that affects you, being my younger identical twin only brother?"
"Like with any negotiation, exercise your due diligence. Research the identifiable costs and constraints are before you even look at a casting circle. Learn only the spells you are fully prepared to cast, only the lore that you are prepared to live with in your head at night, and seek only the power you need for your purposes. Distinguish between need and want."
"But what if that doesn't amount to very much?"
"Then, just like any other support equipment, make sure you don't overpay because of haste, nor overbuy, thinking that quantity is it's own quality. Trust me on this: ammo you don't really, really need gets to be back-breaking after a while."
"How can I even keep up if I end up here too? I'm no superman!"
"That's simple. Don't. As good as it feels to be the lead horse running in the herd, it hurts that much more to be the first one over the cliff."
"The horse in the back still gets eaten by bears."
"Or, he frags the bears up so badly that he has to stop on the way back to, er, home, to puke his guts out ."
"Bror. Don't mix metaphors with your background. Just... don't."
Mads stopped and put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Look. You know what I really want? To see my little brother happy and secure in his life. Whether he's a graffiti artist bagging groceries to earn enough money for paint and bail, some big-company exec, or house-husband to that exec." Ah, screw it. No one gets to keep family forever. He stepped in and pulled the younger boy into a hug. "I need you. Not someone else's fantasy brother."
"So I guess my plans to get augmented and body-sculpted to look just like Kodiak are out then?"
"Kristian's more attainable and I doubt he smells like wet fur on rainy days."
"His sisters would kill me and bury me in a bog somewhere."
"That could be a potential downside to the plan."
"You do know he's crushing on you a bit?"
Mads shrugged. "Transference. It goes with his job. If he's still single after Christmas, I'll just have to put the word out that he really is available, just clueless."
"That's playing dirty."
"Not if it works."
Mads prompted, "How about some ice cream before dropping you off at the guest house?"
"They're 'politically correct' here enough to carry the soy-based."
"That I can handle. But you, on the other hand-"
"Have to get those calories somewhere... What kind do you want? You look like a vanilla sort of guy."
"I think that's illegal in the State of New Hampshire."
Saturday afternoon, November 3, 2007
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"Doctor Beaulieu, please come in," Headmistress Carson greeted the school's recent guest and her current appointment. "Coffee?"
"Between the drive to Boston and the flight out, I think I should forgo the pleasure. But, please, don't let that stop you from having some." Dr. Evelyn Beaulieu replied before she seated herself in a chair that Mrs. Carson indicated before pouring herself a cup of the beverage. Once those preliminaries were complete, the doctor retrieved a file from her messenger bag, and placed it on the desk.
"The remainder of Mads' paperwork, minus the parts that will get him killed. Those things he can work out on his own time."
"I... see. "
"I do hope so."
"Have you decided what you'll be doing from here on out?"
"We'll be looking for a place to live and begin our own studies in Denmark. The boys do need to work on their language skills and to better connect with the culture." The doctor sighed, growing more pensive, "I would love to return to my people and set up a medical practice, yet I'm also aware that if Kigatilik remains active and I return home unprepared, that could draw trouble down onto people who need it the least."
"Those are good point to consider. I ask about your plans because you made a good impression on Ophelia."
"It was kind of her to say so. If you're suggesting a more local residency, I'd prefer to revisit the idea after Mads and Lars have finished high school. They've put so much effort into becoming each their own person - I don't want to undermine that."
"As I understand it, Lars could well end up in one of a few very select, and quite expensive, schools."
"Starting in January, as a matter of fact. Don't worry, the boys can cope fairly well apart, as long as each has some idea where the other is. As for me, I worked my way through Med School once; I can do it again. This time, I won't be the angry young woman that thought she had nothing to lose."
A discrete call light on the Headmistress's desk began flashing, likely because her guest's ride had arrived. A few words on the phone confirmed that.
"Well, Doctor, it appears your ride to the airport is here. It was a pleasure meeting you."
"And I hope you both have a safe trip."
"Thank you," Evelyn smiled, "We'll try to do so."
From the administrative office space, the two could see Møller-Jensen the Older and Møller-Jensen the Younger awkwardly saying their good-byes. Somewhat reluctantly, Evelyn walked out to say her own before she and Lars rode down to Boston to catch a flight back to Denmark. On promised pain of death for failure, Kristian Holm handed the pair a number of brochures extolling the civic virtues of Aalborg.
Younger sisters with long-term plans can be scary!