|Christmas Mission 001|
|What: After they take advantage of Red Hood's Bank Job, Weapon X-23 and Weapon XIV leave the Weapon Programs a little further behind when they take a run at having Christmas.|
In a dingy corner of Gotham, there stands a small apartment building. It's completely unremarkable even in its disrepair and it only boasts five stories, twenty units. On the fifth story, at the back, above an alley, is a tired little apartment and inside that apartment--summer weather not withstanding--it's Christmas.
Somehow, somewhere, the Cuckoos have found an artificial tree, all the decorations, wrapping supplies, and even everything they need to make a Christmas dinner. Now that they have everything under control, they contact Laura to invite her over. After all, they did say they were going to properly distribute the loot they took during Red Hood's bank assault.
When Laura arrives, it is surprisingly *not* via the window, but via stairwell and door. She'd dressed positively normal(ish) today, with a pair of black jeans, white tanktop, a pair of black fingerless armwarmers/gloves that go most of the way to her elbows, with a lightweight, plain grey hoodie over it. This morning, she'd woken up feeling a little underfed, so she had approached the less-than-charming man running her excessively seedy motel to find out 'where she could find the closest canteen' was due because she required 'feeding'. That put her, after some strange looks, in a corner convenience store, where she'd asked where they kept 'the most calorically-dense food' and earned more strange looks. Clarifying her answer and forking over some bills sent her on her way to meet the Cuckoos.
The hot dog hadn't been nearly as good as the ones in New York-- it smelled at least a day old-- and she'd found the bag of weird cheese curls too salty and chemical to be fit for consumption. She's still working on the massive can of Jolt Cola, though, when she arrives. It was the best of the choices, being barely-flavored sugar water and therefore just about perfect. She lets herself in, on account of it's the girls and they know she's here anyway, and she hasn't entirely worked out the usual bizarre societal customs about entry yet. Noone'd ever knocked before barging in on her in the lab, that's for sure. The decorations do give her pause, if only because... there's so much of it. And colors everywhere. And it's just a little strange. "Ah... hi. Was this what you wanted to show me?"
The girls bounce up in unison. |"Laura!"| |"It's Christmas."| |"That's when people give presents."| This is not a conventional Christmas, weather notwithstanding, not that Laura would know. The 'presents' waiting to be wrapped are four large canvas sacks stuffed with cash, stacks of bonds, and a heap of jewels and gold.
"We're going to give money away." "We have to wrap it first." "We got rid of all the things they put in it to ruin things." They gesture for Laura to come in. The apartment is a little warm but it smells like FOOD. Really good food.
"Christmas?" Laura echoes, pausing mid-sip to sniff and salivate. Okay, there's REAL food here somewhere. She's stayng and they can talk her into whatever the rest of this is. "Isn't that in winter sometime?" She doesn't know that much about it, except it was always cold outside when people started talking about it, the facility would be a lot quieter for a couple of weeks, Dr. Kinney once got yelled at really loudly outside her cell for some reason related to it, and she once strangled a pair of guards with a string of the lights currently strewn about. Also, she knows she likes the idea of giving money away, though she couldn't explain why. "Okay. I thought it was wrapped when we took it, though." Well, with the little money bands, sure.
One of the girls offers Laura a plate of sugar cookies. |"It still is wrapped."| |"But we're wrapping it again with coloured paper."| |"So it's a surprise."|
"Come on in." She's nudged in and toward a big couch. "We decided there's no reason we can't have Christmas now," the girls explain. "Since we don't care why people have Christmas." "Except for the giving things away." |"We're going to deliver presents tonight."| |"It'll be fun."| |"Like stealing but backward."|
Laura honestly can't come up with any reasons to think it's a bad idea. So instead she takes a cookie, sniffs it, perks a little, and eats it, settling onto the couch as directed. "Okay," she agrees. "That makes sense. Is the rest of this all Christmas stuff, too?" she asks curiously, waving at the tree and such. "I've seen them before, but it..." she frowns. "Wasn't important."
"We looked it up." "On the internet." "It's all Christmas." The girls bring over a tray with glasses full of creamy, rum-laced eggnog and ice. If Laura wanted high-calorie, she's got it.
|"We thought we'd give some of this away."| |"Put some of it in a special place so all of us can get at it."| |"Take the rest and use it to take more money from bad people."| The girls dump out one of the sacks and they sit down in the middle of the money to get to work. |"We don't want to give too much in one place."| |"Just enough to help."| |"We'll make big presents for the places that help people."| They all have identical Very Serious expressions on.
The drink gets a sniff, of course, and a cautious sip. She's not sure about the rum. But the rest of the sweet, sweet calories are amazing, so she's quite happy to drink the stuff, turning the mingling tastes in her mouth. There's egg in there somewhere, and plenty of sugar. This might be better than the soda, actually.
She watches the girls for a minute, then grabs another cookie and slides silently off the couch to join them. Laura may be standoffish and prickly in general, but she does crave social contact anyway, and the Cuckoos are one of the few places she feels comfortable getting it. So she settles there with them, eats her cookie, sips her nog, watches what they're doing, and then picks a stack of bills and some paper for herself. "Do you think they're looking for this stuff?" she asks after a bit of time thinking about the whole situation.
"Probably." "At least some of it." "But from what we can tell it's mostly crime money." Sophie passes over a stack of bills. They're not new and they're non-sequential, probably just freshly stacked and wrapped after being taken in from the night deposits. "We put all the new stuff in another bag." |"We'll spend it in other cities."| |"Or other countries."|
The girls are busy wrapping bundles of around $2000 each. |"This is far too much money."| |"We're going to have to have more than one Christmas."|
Laura gets... some of that. She's still a little vague on the 'crime' thing, though she does have this understanding that the police are to be avoided. Uniforms in general, really. "So... the money belongs to bad people, so other people aren't really going to care?" she asks, trying to work this out. It seems complicated, where she was sort of expecting 'take things away from people and they'll chase you and try to get them back'.
The girls try to explain. "Well, they got it illegally." "So they can't really complain to the authorities." "And some of them aren't very smart." They pause while measuring out ribbon. |"Bad is such a loose term."| |"Needless to say no matter what side of the law these people are on."| |"Their activities hurt others around us."|
Laura rubs her temple briefly while she tries to puzzle it out, then takes a stack of bills to wrap. "Everything was much simpler before," she grouses. But it's just irritation having its way-- she doesn't actually want to go back or anything. "Criminals... money in banks... do they really not get why 'everything's so messed up'?" direct quote from some TV watching or other. She took their advice, of course-- though she's still slowly making sense of things.
"We have the feeling that humans don't really think things through," the girls say. "They certainly don't live strategically." Speaking of strategies...
"We met someone the other day." "Several someones." "One was blue and fuzzy." |"But that's not the interesting part."| Sophie gets up and finds the poster. |"These people."| |"Have to stop."| |"Don't you think?""| The poster is an anti-mutant poster, crumpled and torn but still clearly awful. Laura takes the poster, spreading it out and peering at the poster, tilting her head back and forth with a vague look of distaste. At least she actually knows what a mutant is-- and that she is one, or at least she's cloned from one, which is close enough. "Seems kind of stupid," she notes. Understatement is definitely among her talents.
"It is, but they're actually hurting people." "Planning to hurt a good many people." "We're working on the details." The girls offer Laura a smile.
"We were going to ruin their plans." "You don't have to help but we thought we'd ask." "In case you wanted to come, too." |"It might be fun."| The way the girls say 'fun' suggests that they don't mean fun the way normal people do.
Probably closer to laura's vague idea of what fun is, though. She nods slowly, and after some thought, tosses the poster aside. "I don't have to kill, right?" Lately she's been concerned about that whole aspect of things. She hasn't gotten shy about it, exactly, but a new idea's started to take root with her-- if she can make a choice to do things without always resorting to lethality, she wins her little fight against her creators. Something like that. She's still working on it.
"We wouldn't ask you to." The closest girl, Phoebe, leans her head on Laura's shoulder. "We just want to stop them from hurting anyone." |"Especially ones like us."|
"The more reign their kind are allowed." "The less anyone will care." "That creatures like us--" The girls mean all four of them. "--are used the way we were used."
If Laura's bothered by the head on her shoulder, she sure doesn't show it. Truth to tell, she finds it vaguely comforting. It helps that the girls distract her with exactly the right leverage to convince her, even if it isn't calculated as such. She stops wrapping money to eye her hands, scowling while she flexes and unflexes them. "Yeah," she replies. "Won't have that."
"We're working on getting information." "We met someone who is also trying to stop these people." "We can let her and her people do any killing." One of the girls gets up to refill their glasses.
"We didn't tell her anything," they reassure Laura. "We just said we'd help. She has an agenda but she seems decent." "She looks after children--mutants--who have no one else." |"There's a bigger picture behind her,"| they add. |"Someone with money. We're curious about that, too."|
Laura absorbs this, absently raising her hand to mess with Phoebe's hair. It seems like a thing to do. "People with money are trouble," she notes. But they know that at least as well as she does. "We'll just be careful about it."
"Exactly." "We don't want to be used." "We only want to help." Sophie brings over the eggnog. "We met someone else," she says. "Different. Kind. Very smart."
Laura is quite happy to have another round of the eggnog. She's also tolerably happy about this whole visit, though she hasn't really managed to notice yet. "Really?" she'd been starting to think it was just the four of them amid a sea of jerks. But this is somehow more comforting. "I saw that girl again-- the one that chased me that first day? We talked. It... wasn't awful." Though Anya confused her.
"He had his secrets." "He was like us." "Different." Esme is writing MERRY CHRISTMAS in a beautiful, loopy script on each tagged package. It's not her handwriting--the girls don't traditionally have good writing--so she must have stolen it from someone's head. |"Very smart."| |"He could speak any language."| Phoebe smiles at Laura. |"He can tell us apart already."|
It's a little hard to avoid smiling back, even if you're Laura. Especially if you're a tolerably happy Laura, which is a rare thing. "Huh. I'd ask why that's so hard... only it is a little," she admits. She... thinks she can almost do it. Maybe not reliably. Bothersome, if not unexpected.
"They made us wear numbers," the girls say. "They tried tattoos." "It didn't work." "We could force them out by shifting enough." |"It was amusing."| |"To make them find new ways."| |"To put our numbers on us."| They giggle in unison. "They had it wrong by the second time."
Let's face it... it's kind of funny. Laura very nearly laughs. "They never had to with me. I'm the only one that worked." Well, the first one. But she made sure she was the only one, and that's the end of that. With any luck. "I pretended I didn't like the raw meat. It's probably the only reason they ever fed it to me," she admits. "That was nice. Reminded me they weren't as smart as they thought."
"You're a lot smarter than they are." "We cooked the turkey." Sophie dares to pet Laura's hair as she sits down. "But you'll like it." |"We like you best,"| they tell her. |"Even when we meet other people."|
There's no argument about the bit of petting. In truth, the physical contact is one of those things normal people take for granted that Laura wasn't aware she was missing. At the same time, it never even occured to her there was anything to be jealous about, either. She grins a little. "I like it cooked, too. Raw meat's just better than food paste," she assures them. "So, we finish wrapping... we eat? ...we go out nd give presents, and then?"
"We could sing songs." "But really we were planning on eating some more." "And then sleeping." One of the girls half-dumps another bag to wrap more money. This time, they're using gift bags. |"Big presents for the helping places."| "You can stay over if you want."
Except for the money part, this is possibly the most normal Laura's ever been. "Sure," she decides. It sounds nice enough, and it's no more dangerous for them to all be in one place than it is separate. "The room I took is.. what did he call it? Pay as you go? Something like that." And everything of hers she isn't wearing is in the bag she set by the couch.
Something pings and one of the girls--Phoebe--hops up. "Dinner time! Come on!" The girls haul Laura up and over to the little table in the kitchen area. It's already set for four. |"The sweet potatoes are done, we can eat!"| The girls quickly load the table down with a platter of turkey, bowls of stuffing and green beans and mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, a big pitcher of gravy, a bottle of wine. It's a huge spread, but leftovers are the best part.
The excitement is somewhat infectous... and Laura does like eating. It takes a lot to keep a body like hers going... especially with the way her healing factor's always on because of the claws. She settles down in her spot, and takes a turn loading her plate with enough food for someone twice her size. "We should do this all the time," she opines, though she knows as well as anyone it's not actually that practical.
|"It's a human tradition to do it every week,"| the girls say. |"On the Sunday. It's a family thing."| |"Family dinner. We could do that."| They're as close to family, the four of them, as they're going to get. One of the girls pours the wine and Laura feels what amounts to a warm, emotional |"*cuddle*"| .
Laura Kinney sways a little in place of the emotional outpouring and inclusiveness, and wipes at her eye a little, nodding in a jerky motion. She's not really sure what just happened, but it was definitely significant. "We could," she agrees, then falls a bit quiet while she starts in on eating, so she can spend a little time processing the whole thing. It's a bit like some of the things Dr. Kinney used to do with her. Except... well, for one thing, there's no secrecy or arguments involved.
The girls allow Laura her privacy to process. Also, they're hungry. Cooking and wrapping are hard work. |"We have a map,"| they say to Laura once her plate is half-empty. |"So we can be efficient when we go."|
It's enough time that Laura's managed to... well, her reaction isn't causing her quite so much trouble. She nods, chasing potatoes and gravy around her plate with turkey. "I like efficient. It makes everything so much easier. I get the feeling this kind of thing doesn't happen. So we're bound to attract attention, especially if we take too long." "Yes, we need to go carefully and quickly." "We identified all the drop-places." "Many windows are open in the summer." One of them shakes out a printed map and props it up against the wine bottle. It's easy to pick up the key they used to mark what floor to enter and how, how much money is needed, and in some cases why. Hungry. Sick. Children. School.
Laura rubs her nose, and her eyes dart over the map, memorizing key points. In fact, she'll probably be able to remember most of it, for at least a couple of days. More side effects of training. She nods thoughtfully. "I could take the windows," she muses. "I'm probably fastest of us climbing." "We can take anything with stairs or doors. We can get people to open them for us, even in their sleep," Sophie says easily. "If we coordinate, we can get our map done in one night." "I do not believe in that Santaperson," Phoebe adds. "I've done the math."
"Santaperson?" Laura starts to ask, and then shakes her head. it's a distraction. She's about done eating and they have a mission planned. Actually feels kind of good to have an objective. It's been difficult living without one since she broke out. "So, hand out the packages, meet back here, don't get caught-- that about it?"
The girls nod in unison. |"We can keep in touch like this,"| they say in Laura's head. |"It works a little like a radio switch, now that we have a connection with you."| |"You can report in or ask for help."| Laura frowns, tilting her head, and tries to work out how to do it 'right'. She can just think, of course... but she gets the feeling that's not quite what they have in mind. It should be... directed, right? She's been able to 'feel' them talking, like it comes from a particular part of her head ever since they formed a formal attachment. So she tries-- for lack of a better description-- thinking 'toward' that corner of her consciousness. It takes some fair concentration. |"Like this?"|
The girls clap their hands excitedly. |"Like that!"| |"You did it!"| |"It works!"| The next sensation is that of a mental greeting, being hugged and welcomed home. In theory, it worked, and they were made to do it in the lab, but this is the first time they've ever done it voluntarily with someone they wanted in the inner circle and they're so excited.
Laura wobbles again, halfway out of her chair-- but it's a little easier to take this after their last round of mental hugging. Somewhat impulsively, she steps sideways to catch the closest of them around the shoulders in a light hug. Hard not to, with them bubbling all over her mind like that. It's brief, though. "It's going to take practice," she adds. "So. Do we want to go get this done, then?"
"As soon as we put away the leftovers." "We can eat pie when we come back." "We baked pies because that's what you do." They're actually pretty good at this baking business already. That's because they mind-scooped a baker--it didn't hurt him. The girls get up and start tidying things away. They are weirdly efficient.
And Laura... well, she just fidgets a bit. She feels a little weird letting them do all the putting-away... but they know where things go. It just feels like one usually helps with these things. Instead, she reviews the map and starts loading herself a bag for the drops she'll be making as a part of this whole strange Christmas in August thing. Not that it's strange to her... well, not for the normal reasons. It's *all* strange to her, really.
Sophie stops and looks around the kitchen with her hands on her hips, smiling. |"I know we got our dates wrong, but I think we're doing pretty good for our first Christmas."|
Finished with her pack, Laura straightens and flexes her hands, a little anxious to get going. It always gets like that when she's got Something To Do. "But you knew the date was off, so... practice run." she nods once. That's what it is. Everything needs a rehearsal.
"We like that." |"We need to change."| The girls are indifferent to Laura's presence and this is just a studio apartment. They whip out of their clothes and wriggle into their sneaky black catsuits. Their thoughts are burbles of excitement and conversation as they get ready to go and check the map in their head against the one in Laura's head to make sure they all have it down right. It's like a mental dry run.
It hadn't really occurred to laura that one might want to wear something different for this sort of thing. Though now that she thinks about it... her old Weapon X outfit is a lot easier to move around in. Next time, maybe. Her current choice of clothing has a hood-- the catsuit doesn't. When the girls start going over it, Laura does the same, plotting out her expected route and reviewing what from her bag gets dropped where. "Ready?" she asks afterward, swinging her bag of presents over her shoulder.
"Ready!" The girls are trying to be all mission-serious but this is too much fun and they have a Laura and it's Christmas-practice-day... "Let's go make people happy." |"There's no better way to say 'screw you' to the Weapon Program,"| they add.
Well, that just makes the whole thing that much better. Doors and stairs are not for girls on missions, so Laura opens a back window onto the fire escape, grabs the drainpipe from the roof, and slides. Time for an adventure.