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The Speed of Scorned

Posted on Thu Jul 11th, 2024 @ 11:10 by Cameron Johnston & Mhairi McIntyre
Edited on on Thu Jul 11th, 2024 @ 11:24

Chapter: Besieged
Location: Mechanical Workshop, Avalon Institute
Timeline: 19:30 hours, Monday, 25th of January, 1993
3011 words - 6 OF Standard Post Measure

The final notes of a Queen song softly echoed in the near abandoned mechanical workshop of Avalon Institute. The fading piano notes were violently interrupted by the sound of metal hitting metal as an airborne wrench connected with the metal strut of the car lift currently elevating a green '73 Chevrolet Camaro Z28. The clang reverberated through the large open space.

"Oi! Johnston!" Mhairi stood at the point of origin of the wrench that had arched across the workshop, waiting for Avalon's resident mechanic to emerge from underneath the classic American.

For a moment, it seemed almost as if the Fastest Man in Scotland wasn't going to move at all. It was no accident that the private project had been set up in a corner of the shop that kept it out of sight from the main entrance; for security reasons alone, it was best not to broadcast the Camaro's existence, particularly after recent events had already left one staff member without reliable transport for the foreseeable future. (Though, there was an argument to be made for there being no reliability to begin with in Sarah's case.) Whilst protecting Claire's investment was a justifiable reason that made perfect sense, it also coincidentally provided the perfect safe haven from prying eyes if a person knew how to be quiet enough and made every effort to only leave the bottom half of their legs visible to the inquisitive trespasser. If they played their cards right, someone poking their nose in might just come to the conclusion that the garage was empty and take their lines of inquiry elsewhere.

Of course, this assumed such a person didn't have the tracking ability of a bloodhound on steroids.

The roll of the creeper was first punctuated by the squeak of an unoiled wheel, which was very much part of the device's overall charm. From beneath the car, a dishevelled figure emerged, hair that was definitely on the verge of needing a trim partially obscuring his eyes as Cameron squinted up at the vision of quivering outrage glaring at him and, rather bravely all things considered, pointed at a sign on the wall that read, Seriously, Do Not Set Yourself on Fire. Most of the signs around the garage were meant to be humorous, having become the most common novelty students tended to gift him at the end of each year. That particular sign, which featured a stick figure fully engulfed in flames, was rather apt for a garage in a school full of mutants but probably wasn't the smartest reference to an already annoyed-girlfriend. "You're meant to shout before you've deafened me, not after it."

When Cameron had emerged another metallic object made the same journey crossing the short distance, this time however the clang was joined by the sound of breaking plastic, which scattered all over the concrete floor seconds after impact. "No wonder you dinnae return my messages, your answering machine's broke." Mhairi crossed her arms and clenched her jaw looking at the man, awaiting a valid explanation for him ignoring her four voicemail messages, that she had just permanently erased.

"Jesus, Mhairi."

Much though his tone sounded more defeated than annoyed, it took only an unusual swing towards actual recrimination to expose Cameron's state of mind. Resigned to the conversation with at least enough awareness that it wasn't going anywhere even if he tried to ignore it, he nevertheless hauled himself to his feet wearing a frown that was already a lot less interested in placating than was his typical peace-keeping tendency. "A little less aggravated assault, there's shit in here doesn't belong to me."

"First you ignore me, and now you question my aim?" Mhairi strut closer to Cameron and gave him a gentle poke with a finger, "When your lass calls you because the government is losing their collective minds in a way that directly affect you, you either pick up the phone or call her back."

"Yeah well, when the government is losing their collective shit, you worry about those in direct line-of-fire first."

It had been a hell of a few days, the kind of situation that Cameron didn't actually know how to handle particularly well because his brand of incessant optimism was drastically inappropriate and would have been unwelcome by most even if he had been able to muster it. He didn't rank himself as smart enough to be doing all the talking that needed to be done, and that had left him with only his natural default of trying to keep his hands busy so that his ridiculously-paced thoughts didn't burn a hole right through his cerebellum. He didn't know what day it was, not that he'd have admitted that easily, and had kept up with classes only because the timing had coincided with most of the senior projects that tended to run themselves until there was a problem in need of his input. The rest of the time had been spent on ramped up preparation with the Knights, mostly exclusively working with the jet, and his own physical training that had sent him well into the highlands without proper consideration for direction or even intent. Running felt like momentum, at the very least the activation of his powers gave him the tools to think and problem-solve at the speed his mind naturally wanted to operate. It hadn't helped but it was better than doing nothing.

He was having difficulty making eye contact, however, which was clear enough indication that some of the accusation of avoidance was justified. The stubborn belief that it wasn't her fight hadn't dissipated so much as simply receding to the background lest it get shouted at again, and now that the threat just continued to increase, Cameron had found something far scarier than Mhairi's wrath to motivate him, even if being faced with it still wasn't exactly pleasant. It didn't help that she read right through him, but there was something unapologetic about him now, the way he picked up a cloth and wiped his hands without looking at her properly.

"We had to go into crisis mode," he continued, explaining his previous point. "Make sure the kids are okay, figure out how we juggle all this alongside their families' decisions. It's a big ol' fucking mess." It was, quite remarkably, one of the few times she'd ever heard him swear.

There was a pause at the language used. Not that she was taken aback by it for the 'profanity', lord knew she and her dad were a lot worse on that topic than Cameron could ever hope to achieve. "But it's a big fucking mess I could help with." Her tone had shifted from angry to empathy. "I want to help with." She added for emphasis. "And you're not letting me help. It feels like you're keeping me at arm's length."

A moment of incredulity was not only brave but rare, and yet it at least finally brought Cameron about to make proper eye contact. "Arms length?" In the split second that followed, even his phenomenally quick mind could not move fast enough to preserve his usual aversion to candour. Instead, he flung his arms wide in desperation to exclaim, "There aren't arms long enough for how far I want to keep people that matter to me away right now. I've had a loaded gun pointed at me before, I've had the trigger pulled on me, I know I can outrun being used for target practise but I don't know the first thing about keeping the sniper's laser away from the people I love. It's not safe around me, Mhairi." Here, the speedster's voice cracked. "And I don't know how to fix that."

"Why is it always up to you to fix everything? You're a mechanic, not God." Mhairi carefully stepped closer, looking at the floor more than seeking eye contact. "Besides, I thought we'd been over this, already. It's not up to you to decide whether or not I put myself in harm's way."

A frustrated scoff made every acknowledgement that the point had been brought up numerous times before, whilst also managing to point out pretty succinctly that Cameron himself hadn't specifically agreed to it. Silence had been easier at the time and now there was every temptation to kick himself for being complacent. He'd broken his own rules, and for that reason he couldn't really be angry with Mhairi, but months of allowing himself to get swept away by the temptation of a normal life had brought him to exactly the point he'd always wanted to avoid. "How long," he tried in a tone that dressed weariness up as a conciliatory effort, "before they trash the garage just because I set foot in it? They took out Gabby's windows last time, you think there's no chance they won't shift the focus from property to people? You can't just....shout at this and throw things at it and expect it to go away, they have the law practically handing them justifiable cause." Now that he wasn't hiding his expression from her, the raw turmoil driven by genuine fear was at least reassurance that his feelings hadn't changed. If anything, it might have helped to care a little less. "There's so much at stake here that I don't even know where to start, I can't..." He pushed his hand down as if physically trying to hold back an emotional tide. "I need to know you're safe, and you're so damn hellbent on making sure that doesn't happen that I can't think in a straight line."

"Oh dear lad, you're in Schotland now." Mhairi stepped closer still, putting a hand against his chest hoping that the physical connection would allow for her to make a mental connection as well. "Sometimes the law of the land is wrong, but that dinnae mean anything to us." Her eyes narrowed and her jaw set, "Let them come. And when they do. Let them bleed." She didn't want to speak so violently, especially in a place like this. She didn't know what would happen if an impressional young mind, with the ability to set off an explosion by merely thinking about it, were to overhear. But right now the man in front of her needed to hear it more than she needed to protect some hypothetical bomber. "Your Head Mistress loves her quotes, so I looked one up myself. 'We, and all others who believe as deeply as we do, would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.'"

"Nobody's dying." Though her hand had grounded him enough to keep him still, Cameron still sounded like a man who was done being argued with. "Not on my watch." From beneath a furrowed brow, he studied her face in silence for a moment, caught between admiration and despair at the familiar stubborn set of her jaw. As much as he was equally as concerned for his family, Cam could at least be reasonably assured they wouldn't actively seek out anti-mutant zealots with the intent on removing every tooth in their head with a well-aimed fist. Trying to convince Mhairi to see the value in laying low was more effort than his dumb brain could muster.

"It's not just the anti-mutant movement," he pointed out with a sigh. "There are some mutants out there with scary ass powers and nothing much left to lose. They might as well have declared war for all there's much difference in the overall outcome."

"I'll leave those to you." She leaned in and planted a kiss on his lips. "Whatever it is, wherever it comes from, we'll face the threats of this world." She looked him right in the eye to emphasise; "together."

The conflict in Cameron's posture was palpable, though he didn't refute the sentiment nor seek any sort of retreat from the affection. Instead, he wore the weight of the world as a furrow to his brow and rubbed the heel of his palm against the dull throb of a headache sitting just behind his eye. "You can't throw a fist at this." For all he'd teased her before about her feistiness, there was nothing but fearful seriousness to the mutant's gaze now. "Everything's so delicate, so complicated, it can't be fixed with aggression or we'll just wind up feeding them every excuse they want."

"Is that what it will take for you to answer my calls? To let me close?" Mhairi asked, not making more distance between them, hand still on his chest. She could feel his heartbeat, it was always in overdrive but it was a familiar thrum by now for her. "I promise I won't pick fights."

"I don't know where any of this is going to take me." Unable to hold eye contact any longer, Cameron dropped his gaze and wound up staring at her hand as he tried to pluck out the essence of his jumbled thoughts. "We won't throw the first punch but we can't afford to remain entirely passive once this kicks off. These mutants, the ones that breached the castle last time...there's not a chance in hell they're taking this lying down. They'll get more support too and then this whole circus becomes a bloody self-fulfilling prophesy. People are going to die."

Finally, Cam reached up to smother her hand in his, though he left both settled over his chest as he looked back up to meet her eyes.

"You can't be involved in that kind of fight. What these mutants can do, the powers they have...conventional weapons aren't going to hurt them. I know you don't like accepting defeat." Under better circumstances, that might have counted as an affectionate understatement but there were provisions being laid out and a very definitely line gouged in the sand. For once, the expression in Cameron's eyes contained no capacity whatsoever for compromise. "But you can't be there if things get that dangerous."

Mhairi didn't just have difficulties accepting that, the difficulties started at her processing exactly what he was telling her. In every scenario in her head she'd be here, at Avalon, standing by her new found friends, her new found love, to defend them against whatever the world was going to be throwing at them. "Whether I'm here or back in the garage, if they're coming for you I won't be safe. Wouldn't you rather I be nearby?" Nearby was of course a relative term for someone that could probably break the sound-barrier on bare feet.

"There's always Africa. I hear they're always looking for decent mechanics out there."

Even a slight deviation towards humour was progress, though there was every possibility Cameron wasn't entirely joking. The look in his eyes had barely changed, at least, though an element of raw vulnerability dressed up as frustration at least proved that his motivation wasn't lacking in reciprocated sentiment. Of all the expressions ill-suited for such normally-optimistic features, fear was the least comforting to witness.

"If you're too close when things turn really bad, then I lose my head and start doing stupid things to get you out of harm's way. If you really want this to be an 'us' fight then I need you to know when you have to stay behind. There'll be plenty enough still to do, someone's got to speak some home truths to these kids when the rest of us are out of earshot."

Mhairi wanted to say something about the idea of having to 'stay behind with the kids' but she knew she was already getting a lot more than he was actually comfortable with. The Africa joke held more true sentiment than he'd ever admit to her. "I can do that." It was the only way for her to stand by her man, and the people he held dear. "We're in this together."

It still wasn't a sentiment that sat right with Cameron but he was without the energy to argue. He'd pushed his physical training past his limits enough that the muscle spasms had forced him to retreat to the garage to refocus lest he lose control completely. That, coupled with the dull throb of a headache only exacerbated by an inability to completely replenish the nutrients he'd burned off meant that this conversation would have to rest here for now. A cold rock in the pit of his stomach wouldn't let him believe it was the last time they'd have to broach the wisdom of their relationship but, for now, he was done trying to run away. He needed to replace his jogging shoes anyway.

"Well, first I need to decide if I'm playing ball."

It was the dilemma facing all of the teaching faculty, and none more than Claire herself. It had always been a tenuous situation, being recognised as a legitimate education facility so that the skills and achievements students earned whilst at the Institute actually counted towards something in the future. When self-identification had been voluntary, every individual's choice had been respected and there had been enough non-mutant staff over the years to provide a natural buffer against presumption. An actual legal requirement was different though. Failure to comply rendered them fugitives, and fugitives could not deliver viable curriculum once exposed. The spotlight was on Avalon, the pressure was very real.

Mhairi wrapped her arms around his waist and put her head against his shoulder. "Whatever you decide." She didn't finish the thought but simply stood there for a moment, holding him close. It was all going to change, and not for the better. This world they lived in, the country they called home. It was reacting to the radical changes in society. This time next year they'd be looking at a very different United Kingdom, and more than she'd ever admit it, it scared her. "I could murder a curry right now.."

As was likely the intent, Cam managed a very tired huff of resigned laughter. At least some things were not likely to change any time soon. "I'll get my coat."


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