Okay, so *technically* it's past midnight where I am, but I'm still
awake, so it's still Christmas Eve. ;> Merry Christmas, y'all.
CHILDREN of the MIDDLE WATERS 9
Notes: See the end. Putting the note here would spoil my fun.
Grace awoke in her own bed at the mansion. Snow-bright noon sun
glared in through drapes that had been drawn open, and somewhere in
the distance, she could hear children squealing. So many weeks had
passed since she'd slept here that she needed a moment before she
could recognize the old-fashioned high ceiling and teak furniture, or
remember why she felt as if she'd been trampled by a herd of buffalo.
She practically catapulted out of bed, which didn't do much for her
pounding skull, and was into the hallway before she thought to look
down and see if she was even wearing clothes. She was. Still
dressed in ugly blue hospital scrubs, in fact -� clean scrubs, at
least. Someone must have changed her following the operation, or
maybe she'd done it herself; she couldn't quite remember. The last
thing she could recall clearly was the steady flow of power sliding
out of her, knitting torn and abused tissue, directed by Jean and
supported by Victor. So now, she went hunting for someone to give
her news, including how long she'd been out. But she moved more
slowly, and a hand along the wall helped for balance, too. There
were no students in the halls, and she wondered about that. Usually,
at least someone was about.
She found Ororo down in the kitchen. Ro was ransacking one of the
refrigerators, a stalk of celery in her mouth. Startled by Grace's
appearance, she looked up. "Edging for rabbithood?" Grace asked her,
followed by, "How's Scott? How's Dani? And where is everyone?"
Ro swallowed her bite, took out the rest of the stalk and grinned.
"Scott is doing quite well. They upgraded him just this morning from
critical to stable, and removed the endotrachial tube. That means
they will also quit trying to keep him unconscious. He might wake by
evening. Dani is now under the advisement of Jubilee -� "
"Poor thing," Grace interrupted, grinning.
" -� and under the protection of, of all people, Sam Guthrie."
"*Sam?* The cannonball from Kentucky?"
"Indeed. I believe they bonded over hunting rifles." Her grin was
faint. "As for the others -� today is Saturday. They are outside
playing in the snow."
"Saturday? Damn. How soon can I get back to the hospital? And who
brought me here anyway?"
Ororo took out a Tupperware container of what looked like cold
dressing, popped the lid and frowned in consideration of the
contents. "I would be happy to drive you back to the hospital this
afternoon, but you should eat first, and a shower might be in order."
She closed the lid and returned the container to the refrigerator,
fetching out another whose contents must have pleased her more, as
she got down a plate and dumped out something that resembled grits
but wasn't mushy enough to qualify.
Grace came over to stare at the plate. "What is that?"
"Couscous. Would you like to try some?"
"No thanks. I'd rather have the dressing, or whatever was in the
first Tupperware." Then she went over to sit at the table and await
the food. Her stomach was reminding her that it hadn't been fed in a
while. "So I was out for two days?"
"Yes." Ororo brought over the stuffing when it was heated, along
with fruit salad and a glass of milk, and set all it in front of
Grace with a grin. "If you want real food instead of left-overs, you
will have to cook it for yourself, I fear. I know how to make a
turkey, but Logan swears that I gave him food poisoning the last time
I made chili."
"I didn't think he could get sick?"
"Exactly. I believe that was part of his point."
That made Grace laugh. "Who brought me back here? To the mansion?"
"Hank, your brother and Logan. None of them were inclined to put you
in proper night clothes."
Grace's smile widened.
"They could not let you sleep forever in the resident's on-call
room," Ororo continued, "or someone would have become suspicious. So
when Victor awoke, he and Hank snuck you out on a gurney, and then
Logan and Victor drove you back to the mansion."
Grace nodded and raised her glass to take a drink of the milk, but
wound up finishing half of it in one shot. She was as thirsty as she
was hungry. "And Scott's okay?"
Ororo's amusement radiated in shades of sun yellow as she seated
herself across from Grace, carrying her celery and her couscous.
"Scott is doing remarkably well. Thanks to you."
Before Grace could reply, Victor appeared in the doorway. She felt
him, like she always did, and twisted her head around to look. His
hair was down and wild, and he wore only his vest, jeans, and a
bone-bead choker. "Heyla, *mitiblo ki. Asonpi?*" she asked, raising
her milk glass.
"*He chu sni yo.* It will make you sick."
"You're the one with the lactose intolerance. Not me. I *like*
"You're weird," Victor said, seating himself beside her. "I felt you
wake, figured you came down for food." He grinned and elbowed her.
"My little pig."
"Oink, oink." But Grace was more interested in Ororo, who had
dropped her eyes to the table -� almost shy, almost flirtatious �-
and there was a bright bubble of excitement rising in the other
woman's gut. Grace wanted to laugh. How delicious. Her new friend
had a crush on her big brother. Victor, of course, seemed oblivious.
But he always was when it came to women's interest in him. Grace
would have to remedy that. "Ro's going to take me back to the
hospital soon. You want to come?"
"Somebody needs to keep you in line."
Since Scott's injury, according to Ororo, at least one of the doctors
from the school had been at the hospital at all times. Mostly it had
been Jean, as Hank's presence required the professor's; but Jean did
need to sleep occasionally and when Ororo arrived with Grace, it was
Hank who sat in the ICU waiting room -� taking up a whole loveseat
himself -� chatting with Xavier and an attractive, strong-featured
black man whom Ororo whispered was EJ.
If Scott was all cool browns and blues and greens, this man was
brilliant gold and rich violet. Different, but complementary. "Ah,
Grace," the professor said, "it is good to see you back on your feet.
May I present EJ Haight, Scott's friend and, it would appear, the
school's new dietician. Henry McCoy, you already met."
EJ had stood to look her up and down, if not in a hostile way.
Curiosity about her fairly radiated off of him. If there was anyone
who knew Scott well, it was this man, but just now, her interest was
on hold about anyone or anything besides Scott. "I want to see him,"
she said without preamble. The 'him' was self-evident.
"Scott is not yet awake," Hank warned.
"I still want to see him."
He made a gesture of acquiescence, almost grudging, and Grace was all
too aware of his conflicted feelings towards her. They'd been
present from the outset when she'd first met him in the operating
room, but at the time, he'd been focused on keeping Scott alive and
interested in her as much for what she could do as for who she was.
Now, his obvious protectiveness and affection for Jean was at war
with his innate good nature and curiosity about people. Henry McCoy,
she thought, had difficulty with the grays of human relationships,
and it was a new experience for Grace, to be "the other woman."
Nonetheless, and despite his suspicion of her and his book-educated
background, she found that she couldn't dislike him. He was a good
man. Perhaps, eventually, he'd learn to allow Scott to be human,
instead of the embodiment of an ideal.
"I'll walk you down," EJ was saying. He glanced over her shoulder at
Victor. "Usually, they allow in only two at a time."
"I won't need him just now," Grace explained. "I can't do too much
at once or someone will get suspicious."
"I'll just hang out here, then," Vic said.
"Keep Ro company," Grace said, and enjoyed the look of mixed
embarrassment and pleasure on Ororo's face, then Grace and EJ were
out the door and headed for the ICU.
"Playing matchmaker?" EJ asked with a perception that startled her.
"Maybe. Despite his gift, my brother's a bit dense sometimes. How'd
EJ grinned. "I got eyes. I don't need powers."
Which made her laugh. "Sometimes eyes are more reliable."
They'd reached the main entrance. A sign beside it read: TWO
VISITORS, FIFTEEN MINUTES; IMMEDIATE FAMILY ONLY, PLEASE. But no one
stopped EJ as he pushed through the double doors, and Grace hurried
in his wake. "He's at the end," EJ said, motioning down the hall,
"last room." Then he turned to look down at her. "Would you like me
to come in, or would you rather have a few minutes alone?"
No, he didn't need powers -� just common sense and a natural
sensitivity. "I'd like to see him alone."
He nodded and started to head back out, but she stopped him with a
hand on his arm. "So, you're staying at the mansion?"
"Looks like it. I'll go back home for a little while, to wrap up
business. But then, yeah, I guess I'm coming out to the frigid
northeast. Slimboy had better buy me a trunk of sweaters."
She studied his face, and despite his attempt at humor, she could
sense in him an ambivalence not too different from the one that she'd
felt ever since leaving Pine Ridge. "You feel guilty. You feel as
if you are abandoning them, ain't it?"
He shifted, suddenly uncomfortable, and she went on, "Sometimes I
worry about that, too. I'm a medicine woman of the Oglala, but here
I am, in New York. I worry that I have abandoned my people."
"At least you're a mutant," he said softly, lest anyone overhear.
"I'm an Indian first," she replied. "I was born red. I didn't
realize that I was a mutant until much later. Scott said that the
professor wanted you to stay because you are *not* a mutant, and that
was important. But I hope you will stay because you are a black man,
and that is important, too, Elijah Jerome. We have children here who
are all colors of the medicine wheel."
His expression transmuted from faint shame to a wry humor. "Touch�,"
was all he said, and then he walked away. There was more spring in
Alone, finally, amid the beeps and hisses and the voices of the ICU
nurses, Grace took a breath, and took stock of herself. She had
walled out all the suffering around her as best she could, but it
still battered at her like a low-grade headache, and frankly, she was
afraid -� afraid to enter that far room and see Scott lying there,
afraid to feel the pain he didn't feel. In the O.R., she'd been
riding on adrenaline and desperation. She'd done what she had to do
-� fixed a body that was ripped apart. She'd had a goal, a focus,
something to distract her from the horror of it all. And then she'd
fallen unconscious from the drain.
And now? She was wide awake and it was her man in there, out of
danger for the moment but still physically torn up. And she couldn't
do much for him without arousing suspicion. Her man wounded, and she
was a healer, but her hands were tied. She took another breath and
approached the door, then just leaned into the jamb and waited for
her knees to quit shaking before she was strong enough to walk to the
chair drawn up beside the bed, sink bonelessly into the seat.
He was so pale, and so still. There was a scrape on his cheek where
his face had connected with sidewalk concrete, and the nasal tube was
still in, though the trach was gone. He breathed on his own, and his
mouth was open a little. Someone had put lip balm on his mouth to
keep his lips from cracking; she could see the gleam of it, like
gloss. His eyes were forever hidden, bandaged tight. Ororo had
explained, in the car on the way, that they'd done it to keep Scott
from possibly opening his eyes by accident and taking out the stories
There were other tubes and lines into his body, and after joining
with Jean's mind in the operating room, she knew what most of them
were: an IV drip, drain tubes, a heart monitor. He was a mess,
physically. The cut from the incision peeked above the edge of the
bandage, red and ugly and bruised. Reaching out, she started to run
a finger over it, then drew back her hand. She didn't dare touch him
until she was ready, or she'd be drowned in his pain. It was an
effort just to sit in the same room with him, worse than the pull
from anyone else in the ICU. She had a connection to him. It
vibrated in the air between them, and even with him unconscious and
her sitting three feet away in a chair, she thought he might be
subconsciously aware of her. His head had turned a bit in her
direction -� a faint gesture, but she didn't miss it. "Heyla, white
man," she whispered. "You still owe me a phone call. You'd better
wake up soon." He didn't respond of course, but there was . . .
something. Nothing so coherent as a thought, but if she shut her
eyes and reached . . . he was there. Solid rock strength, blue-brown
*inyan* strength on the edge of waking, floating in a limbo land that
was fuzzy and vague. He dreamed. Maybe he dreamed from the
Grandfathers; they spoke sometimes to those in the stark badlands
between life and death, the comatose silences when the soul wandered
free of the body. The spirits had bequeathed her the power to call
him back to life, and she wondered if he'd return with a vision, a
medicine of his own, like Crazy Horse. *Tashunkewitko.* Crazy Horse
had been a pale-skinned man, too, his hair light from the sun. The
Strange One, the One Apart -� called, marked, taciturn and intense,
but the bullets of the white man hadn't had the power to touch him.
Bullets had touched Scott. They'd ripped into his body and she'd put
him back together. Did that make her his power stone? His talisman?
His medicine shield?
Time would tell, and whether they'd last as a 'they' remained yet to
be seen, but no one had ever moved Grace like Scott Summers did -�
not even Seth. Seth had been her brother's best friend and her
childhood sweetheart. Their marriage had seemed inevitable,
pregnancy or no, but after the death of the baby, everything had
fallen apart. And despite their common background, she'd never
connected to Seth like she did to Scott. She and Scott shared a
commonality of outlook rather than of life experience. Some things,
the Creator meant to be, and the peculiar set of circumstances that
had led her to New York was not mere chance. The Lakota didn't
believe in chance like that.
She twisted her fingers together in her lap, and jiggled her foot up
and down. Nerves. She supposed she should try another round of
healing. She'd never before had to heal a person a little at a time.
She'd always struggled to push herself further, not reign in and
control her power the way she'd had to in the operating room. She'd
finally collapsed as much from the strain of directing it, as from
the drain on her body. She couldn't afford that here.
Rising up from the chair, she went to the window to see the sun and
get a sense of the directions, then she took her cigarettes out of
her pocket and removed one from the pack, slit it open with her
thumbnail. Moving over to one corner, she prayed in Lakota, "Towards
the West, may my friends the buffalo people look upon me and grant
their strength." She dropped a little of the tobacco, and then moved
to the next point. "Towards the North, the elk people, look upon me
and grant patience." And to the next. "Towards the East, the black
tail deer people, look upon me and help me. Towards the South, may
the owl people look upon me and pity me, and not take my man."
Moving back towards the bed, she continued, "Grandmother Earth who
gave birth to us all and Grandfather Creator who made the whole
world, look upon your daughter and bless me now. Look upon your son
with the lightning in his eyes and add another day to his life."
Saying that, she slipped her bare hands inside the loose neck of his
hospital gown and touched the warm skin around the surgery bandage.
"*Wakantanka, anpetu ki le, micante ki me ci yu ska ye. Hoka hey!*"
And the power rose up, even as the pain washed over her. No good
came without a price. Healing cost. She'd been called to pay, and
for him, she did it gladly. Her power was the needle that pierced
and he was the buckskin. She sewed him around the edges, stitched
him in the deep places of his wounding, and she could feel him
respond, feel him push towards her through the fading mists of a
It was spoken so faintly, it almost wasn't a sound. She opened her
eyes and looked down. Of course she couldn't see his own eyes,
bandaged as they were, but there was animation again in his features.
"Welcome back," she whispered, and slid down into the seat, too weak
to stand, and too relieved. One of her hands wormed into his own and
squeezed his fingers.
"Christ, I'm thirsty," he whispered. "And I can't . . . see
"Your eyes are bandaged shut, but they are fine." She glanced around
the room. "Your glasses aren't here, but there is a pitcher of water
on the night-stand. Wait a minute and I will get some for you."
He let her fingers go so she could stand up. She felt as weak as he
must, but made it to the night-stand to pour some water into a glass,
though her hand shook. Turning back, she studied the bed controls a
moment. "Let me raise you up, so you can drink."
But the button she pushed just raised his feet, and she heard him
laugh a little, then breathe out, "Ow!"
"Don't laugh, dummy. It pulls your staples. And you are the
mechanical one, not me." The other button raised the head and she
got it high enough that she could give him water without spilling it
down his chin. Greedy, he drank it all. "Better?" she asked.
He nodded faintly and licked his lips, but didn't say anything for a
minute, just breathed. "You're in pain," she said. She could feel
it pulsing red in him.
"Getting shot . . . kinda hurts," he replied with that dry humor she
loved so. But his voice was mouse weak and breathless.
Sitting back down, she leaned in to brush hair off his forehead.
"You remember what happened?"
"Oh, yeah. Wish I didn't." More silence. Her fingers threaded
through his bangs while he gathered strength. "I died, didn't I? I
remember. I died."
She shuddered. "Jean told me that your heart stopped twice. You
were bleeding too fast. But you are alive now."
He nodded. "And you?"
"Ro flew the Blackbird out to get me."
"You saved me. I felt you pull me back."
"Yes. But I couldn't do it all at once, not here."
"Yes. I'm sorry."
"Don't be. Hold my hand."
She did as he asked, watched his bandaged face, watched his chest
rise and fall, and thanked the Grandfathers. But the pain was still
there in him and he was restless. Some, she could take away, but,
"Let me go get a nurse, Scott. You should rest, but you can't if you
hurt like this. You need pain medication." He nodded and let her
go, and the fact that he had agreed without protest said a good deal
about how badly he needed medicine. She bent to kiss his scratchy
cheek �- "I love you, Thunderbird Eyes" -� then went out to find a
nurse, and his glasses.
Continued DIRECTLY in part 9b/12....
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