Ah came back to the mansion, not feeling like myself. After the entire "mission" with Shiro? After touching him, absorbing his powers, his memories, his personality? Yeah. You could say Ah wasn't feeling like myself.
Thank God it was only temporary, though.
Everyone was asking me about Shiro, though, and Ah didn't have any answers to give to them. What could Ah say? "Sorry, Sugah, but he up and left somehow after Ah'd gone and absorbed everything from him even though his legs were chopped clean off?" Sure. Like they'd believe me. Well, hell, they probably would, but where could we start looking for him? Cerebra was busted according to Emma. And now there was only a handful of us left in the world.
Ah was figuring that we needed to care for the ones here, the ones that we knew of, rather than bust our asses searching for one mutant who might or might not be alive.
Which, naturally, just made me feel like shit. Remy either didn't notice or didn't say, but either way, it was better. Better that we don't talk about what's eating us up inside so we can keep on fighting, especially now that we had more that we had to fight.
It didn't make me feel better, though. In fact, a few rounds in the Danger Room didn't cure me of anything, even after Ah lost all of Sunfire's powers. My strength was there, sure, like normal. But Ah could hear his voice in my head, and it brought back all the tears and pain Ah'd tried so hard to hide from everyone.
Ah'm sorry, Shiro. Ah'm so sorry.
Probably should be helping out with something. Kids leaving, kids staying – more leaving than staying. School was in chaos, the grounds turned into a damn refugee camp fer the few remaining mutants. In one fell swoop, Wanda’d done more damage to us than any registration act, Sentinel army or miracle cure.
She’d decimated mutant society and turned us into a damned endangered species.
I was coping with it the best way I knew how: sitting in the kitchen, drinking an obscene amount of beer.
I sat and drink and stared out the window at the tents, with dozens of mutants milling around. I could see part of one of them Sentinels up there, hovering above us, making things even more tense. Bastards. Seemed like everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop and I had a feelin’ it wouldn’t take long before it did.
I took another drink from my brewski and turned my thoughts to something much more personal.
James Howlett. Wasn't the first time I'd said that name in my mind, repeating it over and over again. James Howlett. That was my name. My name, my life... I remembered it all now.
It was such a simple number. A small number. Something that was so inconsequential that one never really gave it much thought.
One hundred ninety-eight.
That was all that was left of the mutants in the world. Wanda in her madness had destroyed us, and Pietro... well, the less said about him, the better. I hadn't had a chance to speak with Scott about it since I'd been trying desperately to keep the students calm.
But what students, truly? Without their powers, they could simply go home and have a "normal" life. Truly, I was only assisting the ones who were leaving, trying to help them pack. It wasn't much to do, but it kept me from thinking about Cerebra.
I'd used it as soon as we'd returned home, but it shattered in my attempts to locate mutants and more importantly, to find where the hell Xavier had gone off to this time. It was getting as tedious as Jean returning from the grave in my opinion.
Hopefully, Kitty would be able to repair Cerebra, but Piotr was one of the few of us who did not remember the events surrounding Wanda, Magnus, and Pietro. I was almost certain that she would be spending time with him, trying to help him adjust as well... then again, I've been wrong about Kitty so very many times before.
A car pulled away, and another student was gone. I waved good-bye, but she -- Deena was her name -- did not return the gesture. Typical human. Stay with the group of mutants while you can, but as soon as you realize that you can once more blend in with homo sapiens, then run. Run and be free while the mutants are left to struggle and survive.
"Bitch," I hissed under my breath, even though the girl had been a mere ten years of age.
Numbers. One hundred ninety-eight. Could we find them all?
The worst part of it was that I could almost understand. I've known what it feels like to lose loved ones, lose children. It hurts so badly that it's crippling. The disbelief and the confusion make it difficult to understand anything, let alone why fate would take its demands out on the ones we promised to protect with our own lives. I could almost understand Wanda, and maybe even just a bit, Pietro.
But it doesn't excuse what they did.
The computer sat open on my desk, one window displaying the database to which Valerie Cooper had "granted" us access, listing the names, powers and current whereabouts of the 198 confirmed remaining mutants. I knew without having to be told that I wasn't seeing all the information, though. No doubt on Val's computer, each of those profiles would include some sort of threat assessment, and probably even some kind of solution in case of open rebellion. It's what I would have done.
I wasn't looking at the computer, though. I was looking out of the office window, down to the tent city that had erupted onto the once carefully-manicured lawns of the estate. Erg, one of the handful of remaining Morlocks, had put up the flag, the one proudly-- or defiantly-- reading "THE 198". While I didn't approve of the message it might have sent to the outside world, I couldn't ignore the potential it might have to keep the peace and encourage some solidarity. If it became a problem, well, I guessed that I'd deal with it later.
Val Cooper's Office of National Emergency hadn't yet come up with a good euphemism for the internment camp they'd turned the Institute into, but that was the least of our worries. No, the biggest worries were the ones floating a hundred feet off the ground, just a few yards outside of their imposed perimeter-- the new Sentinels. And having met the soldiers now at the controls, not a small part of me was nostalgic for the old hearless robots. You weren't dealing with predjudice and ignorance with them, just programming. And you didn't need to worry about throwing Wolverine or Colossus at one.
Since the "House of M" incident, I'd found myself wondering often what the Professor would have made-- no, is making of all this. The Xavier Institute was only barely a school anymore, what with maybe a dozen or so students with powers, another ten or fifteen with nowhere else to go, all out of almost two hundred before. We needed to find him. We needed to fix Cerebra. We needed to do a lot of things. But first and foremost, we needed to survive.
"No more mutants" she'd said. If only it had been that simple.