It was quiet in the med bay without Shandra.
Even though (in those last few days before the procedure) she had lacked the energy to speak very often, Hank McCoy still missed the sound of her voice. Her intuitive, bright-for-her-age questions. The particular timbre of her voice calling him "Doctor Grover" (charming girl).
He missed the sight of the battered plush lion – "Kitty" – hanging from the light above the bed. He wondered at the level of childlike faith that could imbue such a simple object with the power to banish – for a few moments, anyway – inhuman levels of agony and terror.
When he came into the med wing every morning, Hank still stood for a moment in the door of the empty white room – out of instinct, perhaps – before moving further down the hallway, to the lab with its screens and tubes and centrifuges. There he spent his busy research hours bent over the fragments the girl had left behind her – the bone marrow and blood samples, the minuscule baroque patterns of her DNA. Trying to understand what happened. Trying to be ready for the next one.
Beast he may have been; but underneath the fur, the fangs, and (scariest of all) the lab coat, he was still what Shandra had gleefully called "a good monster". And he missed his patient – his friend.
Hank? The Professor's telepathic call drifted through the mansion's halls and into his mind, Hank, we could use your assistance in the courtyard. The fountain.
The note of worry in the telepathic call was faint, but there – unmistakably there. Hank pushed back quickly from his microscope and dashed out of the lab, out of the med wing – pausing only to grab his emergency kit. Kids will be kids, and he was the School's primary physician – a broken bone or a sprained ankle or (heaven forbid) a powers-related injury was just as much his responsibility as his research.
Hank bolted out of the school doors and took the steps to the courtyard four at a time – advanced agility had its definite uses. He arrived, somewhat breathless, in the fountain courtyard to discover Professor Xavier, a small knot of students – and one petite, familiar figure perched, soaking wet, atop the fountain.
The five-year-old peered down from her perch, giggled gleefully, and waved one gloved hand. "Hi, Doctor Grover!"
Hank sighed and buried his face briefly in one palm. And you miss having her in your med bay? "Shandra, sweetheart, we discussed your flying without supervision, didn't we?"
The girl's eyes went wide. "Sure, Doctor Grover, but I wasn't without stupervision." She pointed one small finger. "Mister Logan was watchin' me!"
Hank glanced reprovingly at 'Mister Logan', who was standing impassively to one side, arms crossed. "Well?"
A brief smile flashed over Logan's stoic face, and he shrugged one shoulder. "Kid did four barrel rolls and a perfect landin' in the fountain." He remarked dryly.
"Yeah!" Shandra chirped. "Only, now, see, I kindasorta can't climb down, and the flyin' doesn't all the way work, even though I reallyreally been practicin', and I thought, maybe," she looked sheepish, "That you could sorta come get me?"
Hank chuckled deep in his barrel chest and handed his medkit off to one of the students. "Certainly, dear lady. Your rescue is at hand!"
Two brief leaps and a quick scramble brought him to the top of the fountain, and Shandra threw her thin arms around his neck in a fierce embrace. "Oh, thank you, Doctor Grover!"
"You're welcome," Hank replied, gingerly descending the still-running fountain, "Only promise me you'll land strictly on the ground from now on."
"Okey-doke." Having reached the ground level of the fountain, Shandra hopped nimbly off of his back and splashed her way to the edge, then scampered to Logan's side. "I still did reallyreally good, though, right?"
The Canadian nodded and said, with gruff tenderness, "Yeah, kid, you did good. Now go get some dry clothes on before Storm takes it outta both our hides."
"Kay." She beamed and raced off toward the mansion, leaving a trail of wet footprints.
Hank, for his part, had retreated a short distance from the crowd; he shook himself vigorously, shedding the worst of the water from his fur, and then retrieved his medkit.
"Just think," Professor Xavier said with dry amusement, "Next year you'll have her in your elementary science course."
"Hmm. Something to look forward to." Hank nodded. "I'll be heading back to my lab, now – call me if you've any more damsels in distress."
Ororo smiled and turned away from the library window, having observed the entire scene – including Shandra's vicarious (if somewhat unstable) flight. It was hard to believe how quickly the girl had recovered. One day she had been near death – and in fact Ororo had been certain, in those tense hours as Hank had performed the bone-marrow transplant, that the girl would die. She'd buried her face in Kurt's shoulder, fighting back painful memories and fresh fear; Kurt had stroked her hair, and murmured comforting half-words and what she thought were prayers in German. It had been a terrible, endless time.
And now, seemingly overnight, Shandra was laughing and bolting around the School, flaunting her newly-acquired power of flight and tagging along relentlessly behind Logan (when she could find him) or Marie (when the Wolverine managed to evade her). She'd even taken to wearing a tiny pair of white gloves, and proclaiming her desire to be "just like pretty Marie". Shandra was thriving.
Ororo hadn't seen Kurt since.
Oh, they'd met in the halls, crossed paths in the kitchen; but Ororo had hardly encountered him otherwise. It was almost like he'd left the school.
As if on cue, there was a muffled bamf!, and the library filled with coils of dark-purple, brimstone-smelling smoke. Kurt stood in the midst of the smoke, balancing a stack of books and smiling at her somewhat apologetically.
"Sorry, Ororo. I didn't know anyone would be in here."
"It's fine." She waved her hand and a light breeze wafted the smoke away. "You've been keeping out of sight," she remarked, as Kurt moved to put the stack of books on a nearby shelf. "Here, let me . . . ."
Kurt nodded in gratitude as Ororo relieved him of some of the textbooks. "Ja, I have been busy." He shook his head and used his tail to reshelve a book with heavy gothic lettering on the spine. "I cannot get Angela to conjugate her dative verbs correctly. And Colossus," He chuckled, "His accent is terrible. He speaks German like a Russian."
"He's from Siberia, Kurt," Ororo replied, amused.
"Ja, I know. That does not make it any easier." The blue-furred mutant shrugged good-naturedly. "It is God teaching me patience. Again."
Ororo made a noncommittal noise and slid a few more books into place. "It's good to see you."
"And you." Kurt smiled at her. "Do you know that Shandra decided that my nickname should be 'Kitty'?"
Ororo bit back on a laugh. "What did you tell her?"
"That we already have one kätzchen at this School, and she is much better suited to the name." He made a dismayed face. "I am not sure that will stop Shandra."
This time Ororo did laugh. "She's settling in well. She fits in here – and the way she runs around, you'd never know she was so sick . . ."
"Ja. I am grateful that God has healed her." Kurt murmured distractedly, stretching to replace a book on the top shelf.
Ororo shook her head slightly. "Logan and Marie healed her," She said, in what she thought of as her voice-of-reason-voice, "And Hank. You were there, Kurt."
"Ach, Ororo." Her friend chuckled gently and shook his head. "How is it we looked at the same thing, and yet we saw so differently? I saw God's hands moving to help that child."
He tilted his head and studied her, eyes glittering with gentle amusement. "None of us are gods, liebling. But is it so very hard for you to believe that some of us might be His instruments?"
Ororo took a long moment and slipped the last of her books back onto the shelf before she replied softly, "No. Not . . . not when you say it."
"And perhaps," Kurt grinned, "Perhaps that is the way in which I am His instrument." He set the final book on the shelf and turned for the door.
"Maybe." Ororo smiled back. "Where are you headed?"
"The kitchen." Kurt chuckled. "Word has spread – the whole Beginning German class wants me to make pancakes." He took a few more steps, then turned and held out his hand. "Will you walk with me?"
"Of course." She let him hold the library door open for her; it closed behind them with a solid, muffled sound.
Nobody was left in the library; if they had been, however, only moments would have passed before they heard Ororo's muffled voice exclaiming from beyond the door.
"Shandra – no flying in the halls!"