Down By The Lake

October 06, 2018:

Drake and Sage makes the rounds at the refugee camp. Neon pops in, and then when she leaves, Drake and Sage talk about serious things. (tm)

Breakstone Lake - Xavier's Grounds - New York City

This Lake is where the Dutch founders and builders of Xavier's current day estate excavated the stones and built the Mansion.

Fed from Spuyer Devil Cove just to the north, this lake is a place upon the Grounds of Xavier's Institute property that is prized for its solace in the surrounding forestry, as well as for swimming in the heats, and Ice Hockey in the winters.

If you exit the Japanese styled gardens and maze on the southwestern path, the way towards the lake is straight-forward and straddled by a planted path of Katsura and Ginko trees. A low-beaten path will guide you through and into the denser native forestry of Birch, Maple, Dogwood, Sassafras, and Sweetgum. Smokebush is outer laying to the lining of forestry as well as along the outskirts of the shores of Breakstone, itself. Mixed with vining that grows dense through the summer it all fades to make the forest look 'on fire' in the fall, and 'haunting' in the winter - when layers of white coat over shadowed skeletal branches.

This is a place of peace, serenity, and echoes of laughter since the 1800's, even until current day. Off the East bank is the best place to watch the sun set behind the hills of the landscape beyond.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Charles Xavier, Scott Summers, the Girlfriend

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Late afternoon. The Xavier Institute has gotten crowded these days. Numerous destitute people fleeing the carnage of the New York proper has set up camp through the grounds. The backyard area is littered with tents, some to accommodate individuals, some with relief supplies. Not everyone is happy about being here. Not everyone is happy about outsiders being here, either. But it's for the greater good, and for the most part, there's been no shortage of volunteers.

-

Drake hasn't been one of them. Since a few adjustments have been made, he's been focused almost completely on the cityscape, either culling the swarms or bringing in victims. But as the sun sets on the horizon, the teen is making his way between the tents, taking digital stock of the people present and making sure needs are met. He's keeping record via a tablet from a /mysterious benefactor/. A benefactor who is probably not that mysterious, really.

-

Sage did not look over, as she walked beside Drake. She had, for the most part, been fairly silent, since they started on their assigned round of the camp. She had allowed Drake to do most of the talking. He might not be terribly happy about having to be the spokesperson for the X-men, in this particular instance, but when the alternative was Sage, well…the point was to make the people at least tolerate staying at the Institute, not run for the hills. But she had not been idle. She had paid great attention to each person as they walked, accessing, you might say, each individual they encountered. The ones which were new received more intense scrutiny than the ones who had been here for some time. If anyone thought to comment on the fact that Sage's eyes appeared to be flickering with some off bluish white light, well, she was a mutant, was probably the thought. As they all were. And as she didn't appear to pose any threat, most seemed to let it go.

-

Drake Riley actually doesn't seem to mind taking care of things or being the spokesperson. Talking comes naturally to him; he's a chatty one. And his affable nature helps keep things light and moving along. But this next tent might be a while in documenting. Apparently one of two of the 'residents' aren't appropriate for public just yet. It's likely no bigger a matter than simple vanity, but Drake is fine with dawdling a little. He wanted to talk to the woman beside him, anyway.

"Y'know, it was either this or going to check on ya again," he asides to Sage. His head lifts from the tablet to look at her. "Figured I'd knock this out, then do that. But here ya are. Convenient." Beat. "How're things holding up for you?"

-

Sage slowed her steps, as Drake did, squaring up to face him, the light fading from behind her eyes and making it possible to see them again through the rose-coloured lenses. Hands settled back into her pockets, which was as close to 'at ease' as Sage ever seemed to get, if she wasn't sitting down at her workstation. "You wouldn't have found me at the warehouse. I have been spending most of my free time in Mutant Town, helping with the situation there. The longer this anomaly persists, the stranger and more dangerous the demons are becoming." Something he says does get a shake of her head, "I would have been here eventually. I still have not completed a full inventory and analysis of the mutants here, and I need to do that to cross-reference with the data I've been collecting in Mutant Town." The actual asking after her health seems to get an answer that is almost an afterthought, "I'm alive."

-

"So's a cactus, but it ain't much for chattin' or huggin'," quips Drake. "But if alive's all we can get, I'm good with it. Alive's a solid place to be lately."

He glances to the tent again.

"Is that what we're doing? Cross-referencing to figure out if anyone's missing or unaccounted-for? I haven't been around Mutant Town much. Been more.. wide-spread." Mutant Town has had a lot of intervention from the residents of the Institute, which is good. But it may be leaving the rest of New York a little vulnerable. That's where he's spent his time.

-

"I am also not much for 'chattin' and huggin', so, I would venture to say that I have a great deal in common with a cactus." At Drake's posed question. "Yes, and no. You are making sure everyone has what they need and that supplies are getting distributed fairly and that those who have special needs and requirements are tended to." There was that slight dip of her head, which, for Sage might as well have been a laugh, "And generally trying to prevent anyone from rioting, because we can't provide all of the conveniences that they've grown accustomed to." She lifted a hand, touching the index and second finger of her left hand to her temple, "I am analyzing and storing the DNA of each of the mutants that we meet, so that we can correctly reunite the children and families with those that are still in Mutant Town or who have not come to the Institute, and in the event that we have to handle the dead, to be able to properly identify to whom the deceased belongs without needing to parade everyone past the body."

-

"Psh. I've never heard of a person connected to technology /want/ to be called a vegetable before," teases Drake. She must be careful, lest she wind up with a nickname like Saguaro. Her name is already Sage!

"I wonder if you'll wind up uniting people who never knew they were related." Drake turns his head to look at her again.

-

Sage seemed to take the time to consider the question, which really meant that she paused for a split second, before she replied, "Unlikely. While I can cross-match DNA types to identify familial connections, I can also scan their minds to see what they do and do not know about the people that they might be related to. I have no doubt that there are likely quite a number of people who would prefer that such secrets not be revealed, and I will use what I can gather from that as well as from speaking to them to determine if it is in everyone's best interests for those sorts of secrets not to come out. Not everyone wants to be found." She looked away for a brief moment, taking in the camp at large, or at least their segment of it, "How many more do we have before we're finished?"

-

"Oh, you're just.. casually picking through brains, huh? Wait, have you done that with mine? I'm a guy, you shouldn't do that. It's not safe for work," Drake jokes. Granted, there is a slight bit of concern lacing his voice. Sage isn't a bad-looking lady; it's not like he hadn't noticed. But those pass quickly with thoughts of his own girlfriend. He's loyal! He just isn't.. well, blind.

"Anyway, after this group, just a couple more. Then our section's done, unless we wanna re-up. Aaand I don't."

-

Sage shook her head, "No. While I am a telepath, I am not one of those in the camp of either reading the minds of others out of curiosity or as some form of titillation, or using the excuse of, 'well, I just can't help it'. If you just 'can't help it' you clearly have not fully mastered your mutation. So no, I have not been rifling through your mind. My ability to analyze DNA is not related to my telepathy, as I can use it even when I have shut down that ability. It is a bit like…the way you can look at someone and make an inventory of how tall they are, or what colour their skin is, or their eyes or how long their nose it. I look at a human or a mutant and I can see them. Everything they are and everything they could potentially be, even if they have not yet mastered the full suite of capabilities for their mutation." She nodded as Drake relayed how much work they had left to do. "Was there a reason we stopped here? Something I should know going in about the last few refugees?"

-

As she talks, Drake very slowly lifts a hand to cup his nose and hide it away. "I do not have a big nose," he objects. No, she didn't say he did. Yes, he's still being silly. It's just his way.

The hand drops, and Drake glances again to the tent. "They're just getting ready. Making themselves presentable. I dunno what all that means, but-"

The tent flap opens, and two females crawl out. They look quite disheveled and grungy, but that's to be expected, given the circumstances. Drake, however, doesn't see the point in making them wait. How monstrous must they have looked before?

"H'okay, so we got two here, the…," he references the tablet, "..Cypriot sisters. Injuries, needs, stuff like that?"

They shake their heads, evidently a mousy duo.

"Groovy." Drake looks questioningly to Sage, if she needs to addendum anything to the census.

-

Ne -had- been out in the city for a few days. Helping people certainly, but as much as anything she had been hiding and fighting plenty until she'd had little more to give. Thankfully, timely intervention had helped her recover enough to make the push back to the mansion. Now? The short mutant girl with the rather striking hair and eyes had wandered her way down from the mansion towards the impromptu camp, her hands currently gripping a thermos of hot chocolate. Of course, if she was trying to warm up, the fact that she was wearing a skirt seemed a little counter intuitive, but it seemed to bother her little even while it offered a glimpse of the bandage wrapped around her left leg.

-

Sage looked back away from Drake as the tent flap opened, allowing the two women to step out. They were now at the far edge of the encampment, not far from the lake itself, and the air was cooler and slightly sweeter here than in some of the more congested areas. The X-men were doing what they could, of course, but this was still not an idea situation. She studied the two women, as they came out, and when she spoke her voice was softer, more modulated than she would normally have used, "If you find that you are not happy where you are, if you need to be moved to somewhere more accommodating, let us know. We will do everything that we can to make you as comfortable as possible."

-

The sisters nod and quietly pile back into their tent. That's been a typical response. Most people don't want to talk, certainly not to a teenager. Others are more irritable and demanding of answers he didn't have. Butt some are pleasant and making things nice.

"Well worth the wait," jokes Drake once the flap is zipped again. He turns to Sage with a wry smile. "Nothing out of the ordinary coming up. Just the last couple. No records of incidents or anything from'em. We're just about done!"

He begins walking again, only to spot the icecream-Mutant. "Nia!," he calls. She may not like that nickname, but he thinks it's pretty. Plus, he feels silly calling her 'knee'. A tablet-toting hand lifts to wave at her.

-

Neon was called, it was enough to turn her head and settle her two-tone gaze at the source. Drake she knew, well enough to earn a raise of her hand in greeting, but the other woman was a new face. Those slightly glowing irises sweep over the woman and seem to stare in a way that was probably only made to seem a little stranger by the fact she made no vocalizations as she drew nearer.

-

"They are both quite interesting mutations," Sage offered, as they turned away, to make their way through the last few tents. "But being in such close quarters very likely produces it's own set of problems. Check the inventory and see if we have earplugs or anything else that might provide some noise-canceling." They'd almost reached the next one, when Drake raised a hand to flag down the approaching figure. Sage turned her head, studying the woman in an answering silence, seeming not in the least put out by the assessment or the lack of vocalization. She seemed content to allow Drake to do the talking.

-

Drake Riley does the talking with his fists! Or hands. That is to say, when Neon gets close enough, he moves a hand to her shoulder for a quick squeeze. "Been keeping safe? I notice you got a little, uh.." He tilts his head to look at her leg. "..little something going on there. What's that about?" He can't be sure if that's the wrapping he'd made out in the field for her, or if it's new. He hopes it isn't new.

"Sage, this is Neopolitan. Ne. Neo. I call'er Nia." He shoots the girl a playfully pleasant smile. "And this," he bobs the tablet towards the older woman, "is Sage."

"As for the earplugs…" Drake looks at the tablet and purses his lips. "I don't see it listed on this, but I've gotta assume we have some on hand. It's an Institute, and we live in dorms. Snoring's gonna be an issue."

-

Well Neon simply tilts her head to the side, blinking a little at the greeting. Fortunately, Sage hardly seems to be offput by eeriness in the slightest. Eventually however, she does raise a hand to give a sort of lazy wave of pleasenty before turning back to look at Drake and nod her head. His comment at her leg has her looking down before nodding her head with a little shrug. Helpful explanations a-plenty, clearly!

-

"Let's check on that when we get back. I think they'd appreciate it." Sage tipped her head, in the introduction, as she was introduced, mirroring Ne's own response, though there was no mimicry there. She simply wasn't given to small talk, "Why don't I go and finish up the last few tents, and you can catch up?" Sage looked back at Drake, her shoulders squaring, as she changed. Not physically, really. There was no different hair colour, or shift in skin tone, but she suddenly simply was different, less stiff, more..human. It was an odd Sage version of putting her game face on. "I shouldn't be long." She waved away the tablet if it was offered, "I can upload the information."

-

Drake Riley is surprised at first, and indeed offers the tablet, but it's refused. "Ah- okay. If you're sure. And if anyone says or does anything, just say my name, and I'm there like," snap!, "that." He feels a little bad letting Sage carry on by herself, but to be frank, he was hoping for a break. The finish line was looking more and more alluring.

His attention turns to Nia, and he gives her another grin. "Are you just getting back to the mansion?" Not that he's much different. He's been pretty absent of late, himself!

-

Blank faced as she might have been, Ne's expression does give a little blink and a curious tilt of her head at Sage's change in…feeling. As someone who didn't use words, the non-verbal cues of body language and expression itself ment all the more. Of course, she doesn't comment on it, but she certainly took note. Still Drake's question brings her attention back and she shakes her head before raising both her hands, pressing them together and laying her head on them. After days in the mess of the city? She'd slept a whole day to recover!

-

Sage left the pair to their catching up, heading off towards the last of the tents on their inventory. Ever now and then, Drake would feel the tablet vibrate a notification as she updated the information there, though Sage never once looked in his direction. She simply walked from tent to tent, speaking quietly, making note of this topic or that, answering what questions she could, about the state of the city, of Mutant Town, of the residents who were either still there or unaccounted for. It was quiet and, for the most part, personable. They had not, as it turned out, drawn the short straw of the day. It wasn't long, before Sage turned back, to make her way back. That persona of human, and friendly, sloughing off and returning her back to her usual demeanour. She did not, however, rush back, leaving the pair time to converse without her eavesdropping.

-

The little vibrations from the tablet earn a peek each and every time, though Drake is paying attention to the short gal in front of him. The gesturing for sleep is certainly not lost on him, even with his growing experience with Neon. "Well, I hope you're in for a bit. Don't want you out there, overdoing it, getting into trouble. You're kind'a important around here, y'know," he mentions. A fist raises to gently nudge at the girl's chin. "'Sides, if you vanish on us, who'm I gonna badger all the time?"

Sage is on her way back, it seems! Drake nods to her on approach, then looks back to Neon. "What're ya doing out here, anyway? Mingling with the refugees? Or did they give you a task?"

-

Clunk. Thud. The thermos hits the dirt! Seems Ne had forgotten she was carrying that when she made that gesture. It might have even hit her on the toe! Still, she keeps a straight face and gives a little nod at his little nudge before she looks back at the direction of Sage. At first the question of what she was doing out here doesn't get a response…then she looks back towards the man, tilts her head and slow-blinks. Because -that- counts as a response, right?

-

"Nothing to report on the backend, Drake. I think you should be fine to head back to the mansion, or continue your other duties." Her eyes darted down, catching the thermos hitting the ground, but she had no ability to assist in that, and so she simply settled for stopping a fair distance from both Neon and Drake. "Just visiting the Mansion, or are you a new student?" She hadn't seen the multi-coloured woman on the roster, but that was an endlessly mutating (no pun intended) thing.

-

It's a sort of response. But it's one Drake is confident he understands. It's a growing skill, but the teen is convinced he's becoming fluent in Neopolitan. "I was asked to do a little census of this group," he explains at the 'question'. "Were you looking for me?" His own head tilts back at her, eyes matching hers.

But the older woman steals his attention!

"I'm not in any rush," he replies with an easy smile. "I always liked the lake, anyway." Even if the view of it from here is obscured by a number of steepled tents. If they had to settle up on someone's backyard, they may as well have taken the prime real-estate, right?

-

Sage's question does have Ne turning back towards the other woman and she nods lightly before giving a little smile. She was certainly a newer student, before that she'd been more of a…sheltered stray. She hadn't even known of the existence of the team or all that existed below the basement, but it was getting a bit easier to catch on with all that had happened. She had some questions of her own!

She does however gesture to herself for a moment before gesturing to her eyes and then making a dismissive wave of her hand. Sometimes she was a little hard to notice when she wanted to be, a little odd given the bright colors of her appearance, but she had a trick or two up her sleeve.

-

"One of the few places on the grounds where you can almost forget where you actually are." Sage, however, did not glance back out across the water, nor take in the beauty that still existed, even with the sea of humanity that had washed up on their shores making the place darker and louder than it would normally be. Neon's gesture brought another nod, "It's a useful trick, to be able to learn how to blend in, to be in a place, but not necessarily of the place. As for myself, I am only visiting, offering what assistance I can. I will be heading back to the city before too long."

-

"Plus, swimming. And there won't be too many more days of that left this year." Drake crinkles his nose. As Neon is likely very aware at this point, Drake's addicted to the water. But Neon seems to've skipped his question! So Drake falls quiet, stuffing his free hand into the pocket of his track pants while tucking the tablet close at his side.

-

Too cold for most…and even Neon couldn't swim in solid ice! Taking a little knee for herself, the girl reaches to retrieve her thermos and gives a nod about blending in before she gives a little silent approximation of a giggle. Standing up once more, there's a chill to the air and by the time she was standing at her full height? Sage would be looking at a double of herself for a moment. There was blending in, then there was outright cheating!

Still, the illusion only lasts a moment before it flickers out of existence and the mutant looks like herself once more.

-

"And with the pool still out of commission, at least so far as I have heard, I don't imagine you'll get many chances that way either." Sage took a moment, looking between Neon and Drake, before she slipped her hands back into her pockets. "If you aren't in a rush to return to the Mansion, then I think you should take advantage of the time you have now. I have a report to make, before I head back out down to the city." She glanced st Drake, "Always good to work with you again. Let me know when you're ready for me to review your work." Demons, and refugees and the world going to hell, and yes, Sage was still thinking of Drake's unofficial tutoring, "And I was glad to have met you, Neon. I imagine I will see you again in the future."

-

"Indoor or nothing," sighs Drake. The indoor pool will soon be all there is! And it isn't cold out in New York yet! Well, maybe a little cooler here than the Californian is used to around this time of year, but still not ice cold! One learns to tough it out when they're totally into beachrat culture.

Okay, he's not /totally/ into it. He's just a big fan of beaches and water.

When "Nia" shows off, Drake smirks. He doesn't comment on it, though. This gets to be Sage's quirky experience with her, for all its weird and slightly unsettling glory. But when Sage addresses him, he nods.

"Yeah, there won't be any swimming while.. all of /this/ is going on. And I'll have something for you later tonight." Drake's not been slacking there. His days usually consist of classes, demon wrangling, homework, and 'extra-curriculars'. It's with the latter that he usually winds up fallen asleep, complete with a tablet on his bed.

-

Thermos retrieved and her little trick having given no real reaction close to what she'd probably been hoping for. Someone who could match or best her for blank and deadpan? Sage was something else! Nodding her head in farewell to the other woman, 'Nia' gives Drake a lazy pat on the shoulder and turns away, heading now in the direction of the mansion.

She'd be back later, but for now? It seems she was to continue her wandering.

-

"Even at the end of all things, I think most would say that finding time to do the things that you still love to do is the best way to remember who and what you are, to retain what is important in the world, Drake." Sage offered neon a nod, as she went back to her wandering, "It was a good illusion, but the cold that it generated would be a problem. Even if you couldn't see her, unless she found a way to mask that, it would still put someone on alert." Sage glanced to Drake, as she stood, still, half facing him, half the mansion, "I did not think she would appreciate the criticism from a stranger." Beat, "Was there something you needed to talk to me about, Drake?"

-

"Iiii… think you're right." Drake rocks gently on his heels once. "About finding time. I don't know if I can do that while these things are attacking the city, though. There are things I can do that other people can't. And if I don't do those things, and someone gets hurt because of it, isn't that on me?"

These are some of the things the X-Men don't really focus on. The tenor he'd gotten of late was to not make a move without the team, or without clearance. He may be breaking rules with what he's been doing. But he's prepared to apologize for it, rather than ask permission. Not that losing his momentum with the group is anything remotely that he wants.

"Aaanyway..," he murmurs a little more quietly. "No, I guess not. I just wanted to make sure you're doing okay. Not in danger or getting overrun or anything. Had no idea you were making stops at the mansion."

-

"Someone always gets hurt, Drake. That's not on you. That's the reality of life. Whatever else they teach you here, outside of these walls? People always get hurt. The best that you can do, is make sure that you're not one of them. And that means more than just making sure you don't end up in the hospital with a broken bone, or a missing limb. Being a mutant, it's not just about being able to use your powers. It's also about learning your boundaries. Learning when you can use the gifts that you have, and when you need to ease back and focus on making sure that you have the physical and the psychological strength to not only use your powers, but to use them safely, and judiciously, so that you don't end up being the thing that is out there hurting people. Even the greatest mutants need to recuperate."

"And you're not out there alone. None of us are. And that goes far beyond the X-men. SHIELD is out there, the Justice League is out there, the Brotherhood is out there. There are countless people out there, those who align themselves to groups and those who work independently. You're not the only one out there trying to save lives and trying to find some solution to the problem that we're facing. Sometimes, the best solution is to find the strength to let someone else carry the burden for you." Sage turned, so that she was fully facing the younger man. "Go for that swim, go find your girlfriend, take some time for yourself. Because it's not enough to fight. You need to remember that what you're fighting for."

-

X-Men? Who said anything about X-Men? What X-Men? Drake doesn't know nothin' about no X-Men!

A furtive look is shot one way, then the other, then back to Sage with a blink. He has no idea how much these refugees know, or could know, or are just guessing at. He's been erring on discretion. Sage's advice is basically sound and reasonable, but a little dizzying and hard to follow. It's about powers, it's about letting go, it's about not being alone, it's- his head hurts. "Only if you promise to inhale for me," he finally says. A modest smile finds his face in the advent of the cheeky little joke. He isn't sure how feasible it is to spend time with his girlfriend at the moment, but she does always have a way of making things easier and more manageable. At least mentally and emotionally. "Are you staying here?"

-

"There's no one within the distance of our voices who can hear our conversation, Drake." Sage's voice was calm as ever, not responding with any sort of alarm to Drake's pantomimed actions. She was not a woman given to making mistakes, "Come, walk with me." She turned, to head back towards the Mansion, and away from where the refugees were encamped. "Body control has its benefits." In answer to the joke. "You should check sometime to see if my heart is actually beating." She kept the pace slow. She was not actually intending to run him back to the Mansion, only to get them to a quieter location, "No. I have no place here. And there are enough staff and residents here to see to the needs of the refugees and the students. I have other safe havens that are available to me."

-

Drake Riley smirks at her confidence, but takes her at her word. At her challenge to check her heartbeat, he strolls along after her. "Really? Girls usually don't like guys getting that close to.. their..," he trails off, and after a beat, aborts the joke. Sage is already a tough crowd! There's a fair chance she'd have a completely pragmatic response ready for him.

"I think you would, if you wanted. But I get it," he follows, tone taking a more natural and sincere level. "I know of the one hidey-hole so far. Any others I should keep an eye out for? And if you ever need, like, someone to help do a supply run in the middle of this, you can message me any time.."

-

Sage turned, as Drake approached, simply watching him, "Really." She seemed content to wait to see what he would do. "Check the jugular vein, if you're feeling squeamish." She glanced back down at the camp, before she returned her attention to Drake. "It has never been about what I wanted, Drake. It has always been about what is. Despite the fact that I spend a vast amount of my time in the virtual space, I have always been grounded in reality. There is a good reason that Scott did not invite me here, or offer me safe harbor." Which he could have done, as the leader of the team, and the figure head, in Xavier's absence. "One or two others, but none that would be safe for you to visit. Supplies would be helpful. Those remaining in Mutant Town have a number of needs which are not being adequately met."

"Ahhh, that's okay," says Drake, feeling rather odd about putting his hands on her. But she didn't disappoint; it was exactly the sort of abrupt pragmatism he expected. But what she says after has him giving her a wry smirk. "Weren't you just telling me how important it is to take you-time? For psychological reasons'n everything?" He leans forward a little, shoulders hunched. "And I meant supplies for /you/."

-

Sage only nodded, turning back to continue her walk, not at all put out by the refusal. Her eyes though, were on the mansion ahead and not on the young man walking beside her. What expression there was on her face was reflexive, as though she were not seeing the mansion as it was, but perhaps as it used to be. "I take the time that I need. I require very little in the way of downtime to refresh myself. Ah." The clarification, "You remember the warehouse? The cargo containers? Two of them are filled with MREs and another with water. I am not lacking for supplies. And I don't need computer equipment. What clothes I need I already have. I will survive, Drake, I always do. But I appreciate the concern."

-

Drake Riley lifts his left hand, "Surviving," and he teeters to his right hand, "Living…" The hands bob alternatively, as if weighing. "Nooot really the same thing." The hand not carrying his tablet lifts to whisk through his hair. "You just let me know if you ever wanna stop Solid Snaking it and have Cheetos instead."

-

"Not to me." It was as true a thing as Sage had ever said. "I understand that it must seem strange, or wrong to you. It does to most people, Drake. But I can't be anything other than what I am. And I will not say that my mutation made me this way. If anything, it has only evolved things about myself that I already thought or felt, experienced, and believed. Certainly, there have been events and people who have molded me, experiences that have led me down this path or the other, but…I can't be human, not in the way you are, most people are. I suppose you would say that it is simply not in my programming."

-

"Oh, come on," scoffs Drake. He tilts to the side to lightly bump his shoulder towards hers. "You're you. That's fine. It's cool. All I'm doing is giving you options in case you ever wanna take a walk on the… dangerously cheesy side." After a moment, he squints at her. "You get that, right? Cuz Cheetos?" And at times, Drake himself can be dangerously cheesy. Perhaps like now.

-

"I think I am a bit too old to appreciate Cheetos. I do enjoy the occasional bit of junk food when I do not have any other option. Though I prefer Andy's Hot Fries." Sage dipped to the side, as Drake's shoulder hit hers. "They do, however, appear to be a dying breed." She looks back over to Drake, "And I appreciate that effort. I simply…" Sage shook her head. "I wish that I could properly explain it to you." She took a moment, considering, "Did you ever see a movie called Dark City?"

-

"Nope. Sounds emo. But, Sage, really. I'm fine with you the way you are. You're you. Everyone, especially around /here/," Drake twiddles a hand to indicate the literal hereabouts, "has /something/ going on that makes'em different. And I'm not just talking about powers. Just sayin', if sometime you wanna indulge in something off the beaten path, I've got the hook-up."

His youthful face scrunches a little.

"God, that sounded like dealer-talk. But you know what I mean!"

-

Sage continued walking, her expression still somewhat introspective. "It is, rather. But I think you would enjoy it. There is a scene, where one of the characters is talking about manipulating memories. In the movie, people have had their memories removed, deleted, and he says, 'They allowed me to keep my skills as a scientist, because they needed them. But they made me delete everything else.' That is, in essence what I am, Drake. My mind, the cost of keeping it functioning, performing as it does. I have had to make sacrifices. Some of those sacrifices have been emotions, desires, needs. I can understand logically, what you are offering, but the desire to indulge…it isn't there. I can mimic, perfectly, I can emulate emotions, but they're like oil sitting on top of water. There because I need them to be there when I need them to be there. But inside..it's like I'm watching myself going through the motions. It's not…real."

-

"Spoken like someone who's not tasted a Cheeto in forever," Drake chimes. His head tilts to cast a smile her way, then looks ahead again. "I think there might be a little something in there still. Tucked away." He quickly adds, "I know, I know, I got it all wrong. But I'm gonna find it. Dollars to donuts, I'll find it." His gaze shifts sidelong to her, affectedly conspiratorial.

-

"Hope, was ever the realm of the X-Men." There was nothing disingenuous in Sage's words, nor was it said in a dismissive tone. "Perhaps you will. I do not know. And perhaps there is a part of me that is curious about what that would be like…to feel human again. All my memories of those times are…old, ancient, long before I came into my full gifts. When my 'only' gift seemed to be my telepathy. Before I found Charles in that cave."

-

Her lack of dismissal and apparent confessed curiosity gets a softer smile from the teen; an encouraging look. Drake's sure her humanity is still in there. It'll be so satisfying to find it - to reconnect her with something she thought she'd lost. That feels like the more unsung part of being a hero. And friend.

"Oh, come on. You are /not/ that old. You can't talk that way," chides Drake. "Charles wasn't a caveman. Come on, Sage. Come on."

-

Sage shook her head, as she looked back over to Drake, studying the young man, before she focused her eyes back on the Mansion, still looming ahead of them, "No, he is not a caveman. I found him in a cave. We were in Afghanistan. I was…very young. Alone, in the middle of a warzone. Not the one I had been born in, but they…all look the same after a while. My abilities had only begun to manifest. My memory, my logic. My telepathy. But I didn't know what I was, what these gifts meant. He had fought a creature named Lucifer, and he defeated him, but at great cost. Lucifer collapsed the cave on him, trapping him, crushing his legs. When I approached the cave, deep in the mountains. I heard something calling me, and I went to look. It was not a place people went. There were stories, of the place being haunted, filled with demons. But I went. And I found him. I worked…for hours, digging him out of the rubble. But I didn't have anything I could use to help him. So I searched, I found wood, for splints, old clothes for rope. I splinted his legs, and I dragged him out, Tried to get him to a hospital." She paused, eyes, for a time, no longer seeing the mansion.

-

Drake Riley watches her the entire time she explains, and steadily, his brow knits in confusion. He doesn't interrupt her, but there's clearly something on his mind here. When she pauses, he takes the chance. "Are you talking about Xavier? Is /that/ what happened to'em?"

Sage nodded, as her silence allowed Drake to get his question in. "Yes, Charles. He wasn't born as he is now, crippled. He was as healthy, I would imagine, as any man would be, and already in control of his gifts, though, if they were as strong then as they are now, I couldn't say. At the least, they were strong enough to win that battle, though he suffered Lucifer's revenge. I sometimes think that if I had had a different mutation, I might have been able to heal him, spare him that disability. But another part of me wonders if he didn't become what he is now because of it. I don't know. I only know that I came when he called."

-

"That's.. crazy," sighs Drake. "And how old were you? A kid? Like, little?" The humor has left his voice at this point, replaced wholly with sympathy.

-

"I thought he was, to venture into that place of demons." Sage finally looked back away from the Mansion, now not so far off, "Young enough that I had not yet had my first menstrual cycle. But I felt…ancient. I had known nothing but war, and cold, and hunger. Not a childhood I would recommend to anyone."

-

"Oh," says Drake. "Blunt." Who would've thought over-sharing would be a thing with Sage? Drake clears his throat quietly and refocuses. "Where are you from, anyway?"

-

Sage, however, did not seem concerned with the oversharing, treating it as she did most things. Data to be stored or relayed as needed in the moment. But that last question caused her to shake her head, "I don't talk about that. It doesn't matter. I became who I was going to be in the Balkans, and in Afghanistan. I stayed behind, when Charles was airlifted to a hospital in Tibet. I did not see him again for years."

-

"Why'd you stay behind?," asks Drake. "You must've thought he was alright people to help'em, and if where you were was pretty bad, what made you stick around?"

-

"They were there to save Charles, not me. So that was what they did." Sage lifted her shoulders, a slight movement, but visible enough to Drake, standing not far from her, "I was a useful tool, and he had gotten the use out of me that he needed, I suppose. Or at least the people who took him away had. But I never heard from or saw him again, until years had passed and I was already in the States, brought out by the UN."

-

"I've gotta think he didn't see you that way," Drake says. He's not paying a bit of attention to the mansion up ahead. Sage is the focal point for him. "Were you in hiding or anything? I hear they track mutants down who need'em. It's not perfect, 'cuz they didn't get /me/, but.. I dunno." He shakes his head. "I'm glad you're here now. Whatever else, it's a good thing."

-

"I would argue differently, but I think that that is not a conversation that will do anyone any good. The Charles I knew and the one you all know here…are not at all the same man." Sage didn't elaborate, stepping away from the path and towards the last lone bench that marked the break between the lake and the mansion ahead, "In hiding? Yes and no, I suppose you could say. I worked as a mercenary, sometimes for the rebels, sometimes not. Whatever paid." She glanced back up at Drake, "They who? The X-Men? There were no X-Men then. Charles had not even gathered the first five."

-

Drake Riley sees her looking to the bench, and through those subtle body cues, adjusts his trajectory in its direction. "He.. wouldn't? Huh." He hasn't had a lot of experience with Charles, in truth. Barely any at all. But the impression he got was very different. "It's hard for me to wrap my head around," he sighs. "And you're right, I wasn't thinking."

-

Sage settled onto the bench, but rather than sitting back, she leaned forward, hands slipping out of her pockets so that she could rest her forearms on her knees, jack draping around herself. "There is a certain mystique, that Charles has for the X-Men, for many of the mutants who believe in his vision. And that mystique creates blinders, for use of a better word. An unwillingness to acknowledge that he has flaws, that he has made bad choices in his lifetime, that I was one of those bad choices, that I continue to be. And they pass that blindness on to those they bring to their doors." She shook her head, a sharp, minimal movement, "Hard to wrap your head around, but…I think it isn't really something you need to worry about. The X-Men are in good hands. Xavier could not have made a better choice than Scott, even though so many of the younger X-Men chafe under his leadership." She looked down, considering her bare hands, "Too many of them are arrogant, drunk on their powers, I think. Homo Sapien Superior, the call us, 'higher humans'. And too many mutants today believe that."

-

"I dunno.." It's becoming Drake's go-to response in this conversation. And though she sits, he seems too anxious to indulge. He moves around so that he isn't standing directly in front of her, at least. "I've heard some less-than-hero worship around the estate. Nothing extreme or dangerous or anything, but…"

Eyebrows raise, and Drake smiles at her. "Hey, my power's pretty cool. Especially now that I've got the costume." He's joking, mostly; playing into her concerns on power-drunkenness. "Superior, though? Eh, I wouldn't be out trying to save people if I thought'em inferior, right?" His head tips back. "Actually, I'd go out to save animals, too. And I'm way better than a cow." His head tilts again to level his gaze on Sage, lips pouted. "And just like that, you turned me into a supremacist. Way to go, Sage."

Surely she won't take him seriously.

-

"I have a feeling that sort of talk will only increase the longer Charles chooses to stay away. People begin to doubt, when they lose sight of their heroes. It is as true for mutants as it is the the non-mutant. It is nothing more or less than human nature. I think he spent too long establishing himself as the guiding force. The captain of the ship. And now, as capable as Scott is, as Jean is, as Storm is, they've been left with no captain and only sailors, some more experienced than others."

Sage shook her head at Drake's joke. "You are only one mutant, and you are in a community of mutants to believe that their destiny is to help and to shepherd humans. You are also young, and you have not yet come into the fullness of your power. There are many mutants who believe that mutants are the natural evolution of humanity, and much like the Neanderthals or hominid species that preceded homo sapiens, that humans should be allowed to die off, or helped along the way. Why save a genetic dead end?"

-
"Heck, maybe we /are/ the next step," Drake posits. "But who cares? I'm dating a human. She's amazing. She doesn't need powers for me to think she's the cat's particulars." He offers a lopsided smile. "People are just people, and everyone deserves the life they get. If I can make it better, cool. Happy to do that. If I can protect it from being ended early or harmed by something evil, even better!"

He moves a foot forward to lightly bump at her shoe. "You're not the only one who can be all pragmatic." There once was a time when he didn't know that word. Hooray for college.

-

"The Brotherhood cares, Drake. Which is a large part of why they seek always to assert their superiority and actively look for ways to diminish humans. Why they hope, even if some of their members would claim that they are not about that at all, to rule humanity, to subjugate it. Trask cares, which is why he developed the sentinels, why he is developing and using the collars, in an effort to render us powerless. The governments of the earth who view is as dangerous animals to be brought to heel care, which is why Trask and people like him have so much support. Ordinary humans care, when they either vilify us and try to hurt and ostracize us, or alternately, when they look at us with wonder and expect us to be their salvation, instead of doing what they have always done, which is to save themselves. The mutants who believe as you do, and the humans who believe as your girlfriend does are in my minority, not the majority."

-

"I wasn't literally asking, Sage," sighs Drake as his free hand moves to his face. The bridge of his nose is pinched between thumb and forefinger. "I /know/ all these things. I was speaking for myself, and generally for the people /here/."

The hand drops to his side, expression no longer positive, but more a flat deadpan.

-

"I know, Drake. And I am sorry." Sage paused, "No, I'm not, not really. I worry that this place is not properly preparing you for what is outside of these walls. There is an idealism here…that has benefits, that is good, I won't deny that. But more and more, that idealism does not exist in the world outside. And I have no desire to see you fall victim to…to losing the hope that this place instills in you. And the best way that I can do that, is to pull back the curtain and show you everything that is ugly, so that you know precisely what you will be fighting against. So that you can plan, and adjust, and prepare yourself not only to hope to make the world better, but to actually make it better."

-

Drake Riley, mood thoroughly soured, turns to sit beside her on the bench. Unlike her, he leans back, draping one arm over the backrest of the bench. "I'm here /because/ I've dealt with that prosecution. And you're not giving us enough credit. We know how bad it is. And me, personally? I picked New York to come to because it's awful. Because so much weird crap happens here. I picked New York because I could take what made me different, what ruined my life back home, might be able to make things /better/ here. I don't know if it's ever gonna be enough for the average Joe to not chuck a rock at me when they find out I'm different. It doesn't have to be."

-

"Ah, but you had the benefit, if you want to call it that, of having come here when you were nearly an adult, when you had had an opportunity to see just how ugly the world has been and can be to our kind. There are many more students here, many of whom will never be X-Men, who were brought here when their powers first manifested, who have known little else beyond the idealism that lives within these walls. They have been isolated, kept away from humans, raised only with their own kind, in an environment that welcomes them, rather than seeks to ostracize them. All of the bad things that happened to you, to other mutants who cannot come to the Mansion are all terrible things that are happening to 'someone else'." Sage looked over at Drake when he finally took a seat, "And this is why you'll notice that most people try to avoid me at all costs, even Jean, when we have occasion to run into each other. I am not…a person that makes a good friend, Drake. The more people talk to me, the worse I am revealed to be."

-

The look he's giving her is one half-lidded, a single eyebrow lowered. But Drake doesn't interrupt her. "They teach here, Sage. You don't have to have firsthand experience to know a situation. Not saying it doesn't help, but really. You're not giving the people here enough credit."

And then, he's reaching out at her to lightly nudge at her shoulder.

"You've gotta stop that. Stop trying to convince me you're bad. You're not. Not unless you want to be. You're you, and I'm cool with that. 'Sides, how am I ever gonna help you feel human again if I give up that easy?"

-

"I know they teach here, Drake. I was taught here, years ago, at the same time that Charles was teaching his first X-Men, though he made sure we never studied together, never even met each other. But I don't agree. Learning a bout a thing and actually doing a thing are not the same. When you learned to swim, how did you learn? In the water, yes? Imagine how much more difficult it would have been, if all you had before they threw you in the ocean to feel the waves, was a lecture that taught you how to move your arms, but you never had a single moment in the water until you were in the thick of it. A human can learn anything, but they can't know a thing until they are actually in the middle of it and seeing things are they are, not isolated and out of context. Hearing that someone might spit in your face is vastly different from feeling the spittle on your cheek."

"I am not trying to convince you of anything, Drake. I am simply stating facts. A few nights ago, we were fighting demons in Mutant Town and when I offered Rogue access to weapons, she told me that she tries to avoid hurting people, and using lethal force if at all possible." Sage tilted her head, looking towards the young man beside her, "Well, I do kill people Drake. I have killed more than I would care to recall to you, since I was a child. I have killed for money, for profit, for vengeance. I have hurt those who have had case to love me and betrayed those that placed their trust in me. And I will do that and worse in the years ahead. I am everything that the X-Men are not. I am the opposite of the dream that Xavier founded this Institute on. And you need to not just know that, but accept it. Whatever you decide to do from them on, is your choice. If you truly do wish to be my friend, the least that I can do is make you aware of what your friendship is buying you."

-

Drake Riley doesn't comment on anything else. He's just frowning at her. "Are you going to betray me?," he asks bluntly. Nothing else. Just focused on her and that question.

Sage considered the question, the implications, the desire in Drake to know the answer and the need in her to tell the truth. "I don't know, Drake. I can't know that. I know what I was charged with, when Charles trained me, to watch, the guard and to facilitate the mission of the X-Men. I have not had cause to fail in that charge yet."

-

"If someone offered you a fat load of money to off me, what would you do?," asks Drake. He's done tiptoeing the questions, he's done with the waffling of maybe she's good, maybe she isn't. He knows what he believes, but if he's wrong, he needs to know it now. He may be young and new to the group, but he's worth more than a high-priced bullet. If she disagrees, they need to part ways.

"I would make certain that neither they nor anyone associated with them ever had the ability to endanger you again, by whatever means was necessary, Drake. I don't believe in leaving loose ends that can come back to hurt me, or the people who matter to me. I would make the attempt to dissuade them first, but if eliminating the threat was the only solution, then I would do that." Sage did not look away, though she did sit back up from where she had been resting forearms on her knees.

-

"And that's the truth. No lies, no deception, no manipulating. That's you being straight with me," says Drake more than asks. His head cants to her, eyes not breaking from hers.

-

"Yes. That is the truth. You asked an honest question, you deserve an honest answer. A relationship built on lies is no relationship at all, I think we can agree on that, if on nothing else." Sage studied the young man, her weight now settled back on the back of the bench.

-

Drake Riley studies her in return in silence. Then his head cants to her a bit. "In all that warning about yourself, all that you've told me, most people would hear that you want'em gone. Or that you're saying you'll kill'em as soon as it's profitable. So I asked you this up-front. And this is your answer." He lets that hang in the air for a moment, then leans back from her a little. "You say you're not trying to run me off or whatever. So, okay. Case closed."

"I am not that kind of mercenary anymore. I haven't needed to be in a very long time. And I think, what even when things were at their worst, that I did not simply kill or steal, or infiltrate indiscriminately. Though, if you ever have need of someone who can do the job and won't ask any questions, I can probably point you in a few useful directions." Sage shifted in her seat, sliding her hands back into her pockets, "How much longer before you have to return to the streets?"

-

"Pretty sure I'm not gonna be needing /that/ service any time soon." Drake reaches over to her, however, to set a hand to her shoulder and squeeze. "Thanks for being honest with me. Not a lot of people were around here. For a /long/ time. I get it, but it was frustrating." To her question, however, he takes a turn to shrug. "Whenever I decide to head back out. I don't usually do it at night, though. Gotta fit homework and," the tablet is lifted to wobble, "this, in."

-

"I hope not. But I believe in planning for every contingency. Especially at times like these." She nodded, at Drake's hand, though she did not lift her own to cover his. She was simply not the sort of woman who offered physical affection, but it was appreciated, nonetheless. "I will always do my best to be honest with you. When I cannot be, I hope you will understand that when I explain why I can't tell you what you might want to know." Sage nodded, "You are probably cutting into your work and study time as it is." Sage paused, and considered, "There is something that I would like to show you. If you're not…squeamish.'"

-

"I'll always have time for you," Drake assures. His hand withdraws, and he lifts to his full height again. "'Sides, I can handle one less hour of sleep. No big." After a beat, he crinkles his nose. "We don't have to dissect a frog or something, do we? That's pretty gross. But I've seen a /lot/ of crap since these devils started running wild, so.. what's on your ind?"

-

"Not that I am aware." Sage rose as well, holding out a hand for one of Drake's, stepping close enough that he could touch her without having to stretch. As she moved, she turned her body so that she blocked most of the view of him from the lake as well as from the Mansion, using the tree cover to her advantage. When she placed his hand on her bare skin, it was normal human temperature, so that was at least one thing he knew about her. "Do you feel that bundle of tissue there?" She pushed his finger deeper into her flesh, "Think of it as…a reset button. A pressure-point that, if something should happen to my mind. if I am attacked or incapacitated, will reboot me, so to speak."

-

Drake Riley looks at her curiously as she reaches for his hand. He lets her take it, guide it, and place upon her /person/. How scandalous!

"You mean.. if something got ahold of you? Or if you're unconscious? There's a pretty big line there…," he notes. He's paying close attention, though. He believes he knows what she's saying, but it's important to know when and where it would be appropriate to use such a thing. And naturally, he expects very few people know about this.

-

"Both, actually. Obviously, if I am just sleeping, a touch on my shoulder would suffice, as it would for anyone. This is for times when I am physically or mentally incapacitated and need to be brought back online. You could do it right now, but it wouldn't have much of an effect, save to prolong our conversation a bit longer." Sage released Drake hand as soon as she was sure he knew where it was, before she stepped back, back to a more comfortable conversational distance. "It will remove any mental interference that I might be experiencing. You can't use it to 'shut me down', though, so there is that."

-

"I'll keep it in mind," Drake nods. "Unless someone's trying to mind-read me. Then I won't. It's still fuzzy there, but don't worry." He flashes a small smile, then cants his head. "You expecting things to go bad around us? Some psychic person tampering with your wiring?"

-

"It wouldn't be much use to anyone attempting to hurt me, unless they wanted to know where it was so that they could cut it out of me." Sage tipped her head, considering, "I am always expecting things to go badly, particularly in the circles I am sometimes required to run in. I cannot afford to be anything but vigilant. Especially now, with the anti-mutant sentiment. My ability to analyze DNA to determine latent and existing mutants..is a power that people like Trask would pay dearly for."

-

"Y'know, that's a thing." Drake slips his hand into his pocket. "If the collar was put on you, what would happen to your.. personality?" After all, she said her mutation is what led to her being the way she is now, right?

-

"That I can't say. I don't know what my personality would be like, I would have to actually put a collar on to see. Which might be an interesting experiment, but unless we also learn how to take them off, I'm not willing to risk it, just to feed my curiosity." Sage began to walk again, moving along the slope that lead back towards the mansion. There was no real reason to return to the camp of refugees.

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