Septi collapsed into her bed, as exhausted emotionally as she was physically. She’d been working on keeping up in her schoolwork earlier that evening, after a vigerous training session with Gin, Kin, and Kane in addition to a personal workout.
Two weeks had passed since the Saha family had joined the VI4C, and most of Septi’s time outside of school had been devoted to helping them mesh with the other members. It had been a very long and rough two weeks, but at least it wore her out enough that she didn’t have time to think about Nito, nor did she dream. Septi welcomed this thoughtlessness, knowing that if it hadn’t come she’d be too busy crying to think straight.
As for the Saha family, they seemed happy enough, but the oldest brother was getting oon Septi’s nerves. She wasn’t sure what it was about him, but he set her teeth on edge. He turned out to have good reflexes, but a very low endurance level, which meant that they couldn’t practice his fighting styles as long as Septi wanted to.
‘I’m sure he thinks I’m inhumane,’ Septi reflected, pulling the blankets up to her chin. ‘But I just don’t know why he doesn’t understand that you have to push yourself to get better.’ Tiredly she relaxed on her bed, waiting for sleep to claim her. However, it didn’t, so she rolled over and tried to sleep that way. Still sleep escaped her.
Slipping out of bed and feeling irritable she made her way down to the living room, where she sat down on the couch and turned on the TV. Septi sat there in silence, flipping through the channels, feeling lonely and restless. She had just settled for the news channel when someone turned the lights on.
“I thought I heard someone down here,” the oldest Saha’s voice came over to her, and she turned around to look at him, reluctantly. “Couldn’t sleep either?”
“No,” she said, returning her gaze to the screen. He came around and sat down on the other side of the couch.
“Why couldn’t you?” he asked conversationally. Septi shot him a startled glance before switching back into defensive mode. “I don’t know,” she said, looking away from him. “I just couldn’t.”
“I see,” Gin said, studying her curiously. Septi realized that he was expecting her to continue the conversation.
“You?” she asked grudgingly.
“Thinking about home,” Gin said, not looking at her. The newscaster made a comment about CAMM, and his jaw muscles tensed. “They deserve to die.” Septi said nothing, letting him rant it out. “All of those murderers. They don’t give a d*** about us, don’t want to learn about us. We’re not people to them, so it’s okay if they kill us, ’cause no one will mourn us.”
“That’s not true,” Septi whispered, but Gin didn’t seem to hear her.
“They’re butchers, and they’ll keep killing innocents until they kill all of us,” he continued, his eyes wet but tears never sliding down his cheeks. Septi felt a pang of sympathy, and moved to sit beside him. “That’s why we exist,” Septi said, keepig her voice low. “We give people like us the tools and resources to survive.”
“I’m going to kill them,” he hissed. Septi gently placed her hand on his arm. A dozen sarcastic and cruel comments were forming in her head, but she didn’t say a word. “I’m going to make them pay for what they did to my family- blood for blood.”
“The VI4C can help you,” Septi said, knowing that he was grieving for his parents. He looked up at her, his face a mixture of emotions- sorrow, rage, and a silent strength.
“I’ve got no doubt that you will,” he said, a small but terrifying smile on his face. Septi smiled at him sarcastically. “I just have to be like you.”
“What do you mean by that?” she asked, mildly offended.
“You’re always pushing everyone to be better,” he explained. “You seem heartless at times, but you have a goal and you know how to get to that goal.” Septi snorted and tucked her legs up against her chest, wrapping her arms around them.
“I have a goal, sure,” she said, thinking about herself. “I guess I do seem heartless, but it’s because I try to. I try to look strong, try to act like I know what I’m doing. I don’t always know, though, and I know I’m not as tough as I’d like to be.” Her thoughts strayed to Nito, and she felt sick to her stomach all over again. Silence fell and they both stared at the TV screen, lost in their own thoughts. Then Gin began to chuckle.
“After that first day here, I thought you hated me,” he said. Septi fought the giggles that threatened to either choke her or turn into sobs.
“You have no idea,” Septi muttered as she got the giggles under control. “I didn’t like anything much that day.”
“Why?” Gin asked, oblivious to how quickly her mood was darkening.
“It’s a personal situation,” Septi said after a moment, refusing to look at him.
“I see,” he said, looking over at the clock on the wall. “We should probably go to bed.”
“Oh?” Septi said, following his gaze. IT was nearly three. “Yeah, we probably should.” She reached for the remote to shut the TV off.
“I’m glad we got to talk,” Gin said. Septi rolled her eyes. “No, seriously.”
“Well, that makes one of us,” Septi said, making her way to the door. He caught her by the upper arm, stopping her.
“Look, I don’t want to fight,” he said as she jerked out of his grip. “Peace?”
“The only way I’ll settle for peace is if you understand that I’m in control here,” she said.
“I can handle that,” he said, offering her a hand.
“Alright then,” she said, taking it and shaking hands.
Little did Septi know that this understanding would help the Saha family mesh with the rest of the VI4C better than anything else she could have done. Over the next month Gin went through the required paperwork to officially join the VI4C, just as well as intense training. His times and scores became amazingly high, almost equal to Septi’s.
As for Kin and Kane, they adapted well. When Septi announced that the sleeping arrangement was going to be changed- girls on one floor and boys on the other, they were among the most willing to go with it. Everything was going well until CAMM did the unthinkable- they decided that, because they viewed mutants as less than human and because they had gotten the governments government’s endorsement on their new program, which was designed to take mutants captive and torture them to the death, until they gave up their fellow mutants’ information, they were making numerous arrests.
Septi and Ferinequell instantly began tracking down those mutants who know anything about the VI4C- even the Loners that had attacked them- and either convincing them to join them, killing the threats or offering the highest levels of protection to their friends. Gin, Kin and Kane, on the other hand, became extremely withdrawn, sulky and almost terrifying to be around. Scared that Gin might do something stupid, Septi put a watch on him 24/7.
The next several months carried on in this frenzied attempt to stay out of CAMM’s sights. The members of the VI4C became strained, tense and unsure of what the future might hold as reports of kidnappings by the CAMMies doubled, then tripled. Septi began losing sleep because of her worries, and then began losing the wieght she had gained back since she had become the commander.
She continued through her day to day life, exhausted, worried and afraid. Jade noticed how drawn Septi looked, and called her on it.
“Look, I know that things are tense right now,” she’d said as Septi gave her a ride home from school one day. “But you can’t get sick over it. You’ll be able to help no one if you burn out.”
“I know,” Septi said, her eyes darting around as jumpy as a rabbit. “But I have to protect the… my work. We’ve barely recovered from the loners attack. If CAMM were to attack we wouldn’t be able to stop them.”
“‘Nee, you have to stop worrying,” Jade argued. “If you can’t promise me that, then at least promise me that you’ll take care of yourself. You’re thinner than ever, and it’s not healthy.”
“No one said that I had to be healthy,” Septi grumbled as she pulled into Jade’s driveway. “Well I’m saying it now,” Jade said gathering her things and getting ready to face the chilly March weather. “You need to stay healthy. Gain that Freshman 15 or something.”
“Alright,” Septi said. Jade gave her a look.
“I promise,” Septi said, watching as Jade got out of the car. Over the remainder of the most extreme persecution she tried her best to keep her promise to Jade.
When reports started coming in that the young mutants were causing a bit of a ruckus, Septi, Ferinequell, Ryan and Val had a meeting. Should they have these teens join the VI4C, or should they leave them to CAMM? The vote was unanimous. On the second day of April, Septi found herself driving out to LA, to try to recruit these two girls.
‘How will I present this? Will I manage to persuade them?’ she wondered, switching away ffrom the radio to CD. ‘What will I do if they refuse?’ A knot settled in her stomach, and she glanced at the duffel bag with her uniform.
“I thought this unpleasantness would be over and done with when Steppe was rid of,” she whispered, her stomach slightly upset. “I guess I was wrong. Am I just as bad as he, for doing this?” These worries kept her company until she got to the place where one of the girls was staying. Parking her car, she let herself look around.
The neighborhood was a nice one, seemingly middle class, judging by the number of minivans parked outside of the decently sized houses. Judging by the time, school buses would be dropping kids off soon, and the quiet neighborhood wouldn’t be quite so quiet. Resigned to her wait, Septi reached over and pulled a book out of her bag and leaned back in her seat to read.
About ten minutes later school kids began coming home, either in still more minivans, their siblings beat up junkers or off the bus. Septi ran her hand over the steering wheel of her car, glad that it blended in, and watching for her target- Tamwyn Grey.
Finally a girl that looked to be about Tamwyn’s age approached the Eastman’s house (as the mailbox prooudly proclaimed) and Septi set her book aside. ‘This’ll be difficult with Tamwyn in that house when both Ben and his mother know about the VI4C,’ Septi thought, sizing up the house. Mrs. Eastman had opened the door to let the girl in, and Septi debated about whether she should approach the house now, or wait a while longer.
Her decision was made when Ben, who had come home as well, came running out the door and jumped into his car and took off. As soon as he was at the end of the street, Septi slipped out of her car and approached the door. She knocked hesitantly, then smoothed her clothes.
Mrs. Eastman, a pleasant looking woman in either her late thirties or early to mid fourties, answered the door. She took Septi in curiously with her eyes, then spoke.
“Can I help you with something?”
“Would I be able to speak to Miss Grey?” Septi asked, smiling sweetly and trying to make her accent less obvious. Shock, suspicion and fear flashed across Mrs. Eastman’s bemused face, before a mask like blank expression settled on her face.
“I’m sorry, you must have the wrong address,” Mrs. Eastman said, moving to shut the door.
“I know I don’t,” Septi said, forgetting all attempts to hide her accent. “Please, I’m not a CAMM agent, nor will I report that you have two mutants living here.” Septi had allowed her voice to lower to a whisper. Mrs. Eastman paled, gripping the door for support.
“You’re crazy,” she hissed. Septi smiled slightly.
“Mrs. Eastman, please,” Septi’s voice returned to it’s normal volume. “We both know that these are dangerous times. I can offer both Tamwyn and your son protection.”
“Come in,” Mrs. Eastman said, relenting. “This isn’t something we ought to discuss out here.”
“It most certainly isn’t,” Septi agreed, stepping into the house. The smell of something delicious wafted through the house, and Mrs. Eastman led Septi into the kitchen.
“You’re one of those people, aren’t you?” she asked, moving to stir a pot on the stove. “The ones that had the school?”
“AS I’m a graduate of that school,” Septi said, smiling slightly and hiding her nervousness. “But yes, I’m a member of the VI4C.” Mrs. Eastman shook a spoon in Septi’s direction.
“My son will have nothing to do with you people, understand?” she said firmly. “But how on earth did oyu find Tammy?”
“We have our ways,” Septi said, standing in the doorway awkwardly. “I came to talk to Tamwyn. Could I, please?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Eastman said, setting the spoon down and covering the pot with a lid. Then she turned and left the room. Septi heard voices coming from upstairs, then footsteps. The girl she had seen earlier entered the room behind Mrs. Eastman, who resumed her spot in front of the stove. Tamwyn eyed Septi defiantly with her purple eyes. Septi was pretty sure that she didn’t do this with everyone she met, and she wondered what had been said to this girl.
“Hi, Tamwyn,” Septi said, her throat dry. “I’m Septi, and I work with-”
“Mrs. Eastman’s already told me,” Tam said, crossing her arms. “She also said that you could try to protect me.” Septi staredat this girl shrewdly, who she knew had been homeless or in fostercare when she wasn’t running away. This visit was not going the way she had hoped.
“We try to protect young mutants, but now that CAMM’s twice as active the need for security is greater,” Septi said, grasping for words. Silently she cursed, wishing that she could’ve talked to Tam when she was alone.
“The Eastmans have done just fine protecting me, thanks,” Tam said, turning and walking away. Septi stayed where she was and cringed when she heard a door slam.
“That went well,” Septi said mildly, her stomach turning into a pit of dread.
“I suppose that’s all you need?” Mrs. Eastman said lightly. Septi nodded and left silently.
‘I’ll check with the other girl, then call HQ,’ she thought as she got into her car and left the neighborhood. From there she devoted her attention to finiding this other girl’s- Marie’s- location.
It was easier than she’d expected, but the neighborhood, also middleclass, was only accessable through back roads. Finding Marie, too, was easier than she’d expected as Marie and another girl were sitting together on the porch, sharing a book and acting portions of it out, laughing. Septi parked her car on the other side of the road and got out, listening to the girls talking.
“‘How dare you come here alone?'” the one girl said, standing up and holding the book. The other girl giggled.
“You don’t do her well,” she said, taking the book. “You’re too nice.”
“Like you’re much better, Amy,” the first girl said. Septi crossed the street, watching them.
“Excuse me, do you know where I could find a Marie Gregorovitch?” Septi said, raising a hand to smooth her hair bock into her ponytail. It had grown back enough that she could pull it back, but not do much else with it.
“I’m Marie,” the first girl said, watching Septi as she approached.
“I’d like to talk to you,” Septi said, stopping just before the porch. “Do you have a minute?”
“Sure,” Marie said. Her friend, Amy, moved a bit closer to Marie.
“What about?” Amy asked, obviously not trusting Septi. ‘Why must there always be one person who doesn’t trust me from the start?’ Septi thought, slightly put out. ‘This is seriously getting on my nerves.’
“It’s a sensitive matter,”Septi said aloud, smiling sweetly to hide her desire to slap Amy. “Can I talk to you in private, Marie?”
“I- Sure,” she said, hesitating a moment. Amy glared at her and then reluctantly went into the house. Septi stepped up onto the porch while watching Marie, who was wearing gloves, remove the gloves.
“I know what you are,” Septi said quietly to Marie, who froze halfway through tugging the other glove off.
“You can’t,” she said, her voice even, though she was obviously startled and maybe a little scared.
“You can kill me if you touch my skin long enough,” Septi said, watching Marie, who’d paled. “Who are you?” Marie asked, sitting down on the glider in the corner of the porch hard. “And why do oyu know so much about me?”
“It doesn’t matter how I know so much about you,” Septi said, feeling like she wasn’t going to manage to convince Marie to join the VI4C either. ‘Don’t think that,’ she thought. ‘You’ll jinx yourself.’ “I’m Septi, and I’m like you.”
“No, you’re not,” Marie said bluntly. “You don’t look like you could be.”
“You don’t either,” Septi countered, raising a hand. “But some of us have hidden talents.” She smiled at Marie, who was gaping at the talons that had taken place of her fingers. With a sigh she let her hand return to normal.
“So why do you want me?” Marie asked, crossing her arms. “You do want me for something, don’t you?”
“Well, you’re on your own, protection wise, aren’t you?” Septi said, surprised by her straight forward manner. Marie eyed her, unimpressed. “I can offer you protection.”
“I’ve survived this long without your help, thanks,” Marie said. “I think I can stay alive.”
“The offer to join the VI4Cmeans that you’d be able to learn how to fight, as well as go to school and be among others like us,” Septi said, talking rapidly, desperate to get her to join. Her stomach was beginning to feel queesy, knowing what had happened, and she wondered why CAMM had placed them in this desperate possition.
“Look, thanks for the offer,” Marie said, unimpressed. “But no thanks.”
“Alright,” Septi said, standing up. “If you change your mind, here’s my number-” she handed Marie a scrap of paper with her cell number “-and I hope to hear from you soon.” Septi’s stomach twisted up in knots as she knew that she would never hear from Marie.