She's on the front porch, sweeping, when the car pulls up alongside the house. It's a non-descript sedan, older than she is and probably better maintained, with a Garfield toy suction-capped to the rear window and two people sitting in the back seat. The driver she recognises instantly, his passengers not so much, and she watches as the two slide out of the car and line up in front of her, hollow-eyed and cautious.
Behind them, he opens the trunk and slings out a duffel bag, a puff of dirt floating up where it lands. The car engine is still running and it sounds loud in the stillness.
"Well," she says, briskly, propping the broom against the wall and pulling open the screen door, "c'mon then. Inside now."
The taller of the two, the girl, looks over her shoulder for reassurance and receives a nod in response. Taking the boy's hand, she walks up the two low steps and into the house silently, the boy in tow.
Once they're across the threshold, she lets go of the door and lets it bang shut behind them. She looks at him, leaning against the trunk of his car and cigar in hand, and waits for him to say something.
Stepping down, she grabs the duffel, testing its weight in her hand, and then puts her back to him. She's at the door when he says, low and gruff, "thanks."
The door slams behind her.
The girl is nine years old and an empath. The boy, five and polyglot. She doesn't ask for anything more, and they've obviously learnt enough not to offer.
She fixes them a sandwich each, and pours two glasses of orange juice, anticipating hunger and thirst. Neither looks hurt, but she'll judge that for herself later. So far as she cares, their names are Jane and John.
In her bedroom, she has them strip off their shoes and clothes and show her their arms and legs, feet and hands, toes and fingers. She checks the backs of their necks and knees and the inner curves of their elbows. They're a little dirty, maybe, but it's kid-dirty and there are no markings or tracers. When she's satisfied, she sends them off to bathe.
The duffel contains a mix of boys and girls clothing, most of it in need of washing. She puts everything aside for laundry and sets out clothes from her own stockpile. Jeans and t-shirts and Walmart socks. The sneakers they were wearing are scuffed, but brand-less. She leaves them.
When the kids are dressed again, she leads them into the living room and lets them choose a DVD to watch. They pick Shrek and she's not surprised.
She goes back out onto the porch.
The car's gone, but he isn't. He sits on her front steps and ashes his cigar into the dirt.
"Kids okay?" he asks, not looking around at her.
She steps down so that she can sit beside him. "Yes," she says. She doesn't ask where the car's gone to and he doesn't tell her, and it's better that way. Blissful.
She takes the cigar from him, fingers deft around his, no contact, and draws in deep. The smoke clouds in her lungs, heavy and thick. In front of them, the sun sinks towards the horizon. She stares at the orange-yellow glare until her eyes water.
"They're the last," he says eventually. He takes the cigar back carelessly, his hand almost brushing hers.
"I know," she says. He wouldn't be here if they weren't.
She gets up and heads inside again.
Jane's dozing on the sofa when she heads back inside, but John's still sitting in front of the TV. He's started the movie over for a second time.
She throws together a meal, and sets the table for two. While the stew cooks, she leans against her kitchen bench and listens to the movie -- you didn't slay the dragon? it's on my to-do list -- and thinks about the pie she'll bake tomorrow.
When the food's ready, she watches the kids eat, and then brush their teeth, before directing them into her bed. They go to take off their shoes and she shakes her head, telling them to keep them on. Her sheets'll wash.
John sucks his thumb as he falls asleep. Jane says a prayer before she closes her eyes.
She turns out the bedroom light and leaves the door open.
He's beside the door when she steps out onto the porch again, and he grabs her arm and pulls her to him. A quick turn has her against the wall and him leaning into her. His hands press on the weatherboards on either side of her head.
She looks up at him. "I won't go," she says.
His face darkens. "You have to."
Maybe. Maybe not. She's lived here three years now, in wide open sight, a dozen acres of dirt moating her from her nearest neighbours. Her name is Jane, too, her hair dyed blonde and only as long as her shoulders. Her cotton skirts and shirts brush her ankles and wrists with shades of white. Her hands and feet are bare. She makes bad pottery and sells it out of her barn, clay slicking her fingers with a protective coat and a faded arrow sign on the side of the highway that borders her to the west showing passerby's the way to her door. She doesn't wear scarves.
"Please," he says, quietly. She can hear his desperation.
Widening her stance, she places her hands on her hips and pulls him in close, fitting his body to hers. "If I run again now, it'll be like I never stopped."
"If you don't --"
She licks her lips and kisses him, the thin coating of saliva just enough to keep her skin from pulling at his. He growls and presses against her, tilting his head to kiss her deeper, wetter, messier. They haven't done this in so long...
Her fingers tighten around his hip bones when he grinds into her. She parts her legs as far as she can and shifts restlessly, relentlessly. She can feel him, hard and heavy and wanting, rubbing against where she's slick and warm, the layers of denim and cotton between them doing little to dull the pleasure.
His forearms hit the weatherboard as he pushes even closer.
She comes hard, pinned between him and the wall, and when she frees one hand and drags her forefinger along the side of his wrist, stealing his control, so does he.
She's in the hallway outside her bedroom when Kurt appears. She watches him draw back the covers and pick up Jane, shadows whispering as he teleports her out of here. When he returns, when he picks up John and cradles him close, she turns and walks away.
She can't hear him in her head, she didn't take enough for that, but her mind has the sense of his emotions, sugar dry and whiskey sweet. She would love him for his taste alone, she thinks.
He's smoking again, leaning against one of the posts holding up the awning over her porch. She stands opposite him and props the other one.
"It's not your job to wait for 'em anymore, darlin'," he says. "War's over. We lost."
"You're still assumin' I was fightin'," she says. This was never a battle for her, never a job, and she certainly never came here to wait. "I came here to live."
Her mutation on the return and her freedom not ready to be sacrificed, no matter what the others in the mansion thought best.
"You came to hide."
She shrugs. "And y'all took advantage, turnin' me into your weigh station 'fore the border once you realised my alias was better 'n any you could whip together. Don't be pretendin' my hearth hasn't been exactly what you've needed these past two years."
All those kids, mutant and afraid and needing a way out of the country before the authorities could tag 'em up and ship 'em off to one of those fancy containment facilities up north. A pit stop to get cleaned and fed and checked for tracers, Shrek-flavoured dreams of acceptance spinning through their minds while they waited for Kurt to whisper them across the Rio Grande to safety.
He meets her gaze directly. "You've always been needed."
Needed, yes. Maybe even wanted and loved. She raises a hand and flexes her fingers. "You and I are the only ones ever to have accepted what is, is, sugar, and we both know I won't ever wear gloves again. You gonna lie to me now and tell me those few that are left won't have conniptions the first time I hold up a hand?" She makes a fist and brings her hand back down to her side. "It's time."
"Not without you."
"You can't stay." Not while there's still those who need protecting, small as that number may be. But she smiles, soft and sad, and imagines just for a moment him, here, full time and permanent, John to her Jane. Hair cut, a close shave, faded levi's and a stetson. He could get a job in the slaughterhouse across town and touch her ten ways from Sunday every evening. "But I love you for thinkin' you want to."
He steps away from the post, steps closer to her. "Marie --"
Kurt whispers between them, stealing him away into the shadows. As they fade, the cigar hits the wooden floorboards, embers sparking. Reaching down, she picks it up and places it between her lips, drawing in the smell and taste of him one more time.
"Goodbye, Logan," she says.
In a little while she'll go inside and strip the bed, wash the dinner dishes, put Shrek back in its case. She'll go to bed and in the morning she'll do a couple loads of laundry, bake a pie, throw a pot or two and have her shingle out on her side of the road by noon. Couple hours later Henson'll pull up alongside her house and ask her if she's seen anyone strange driving 'round these parts of late, and she'll smile, and shade her eyes with a bare hand as she stares at up at him, and she'll say, no, not recent like, Sheriff, not since that last time I had you come out and scares off that Mexicani boy who stole ov'r my back fence and was lookin' all funny at my ol' Dodge, and then she'll offer him a glass of her lemonade, and a slice of her cherry pie, and watch him drive off back to the township, looking for illegals in all the wrong places.
A day'll pass, or a week. Maybe a month. The government will run another series showing how happy all the mutants are, living in their idyllic little resorts that look nothing like the concentration camps they really are. The world'll breathe a little easier and some kid'll kiss their sweetheart under a map of the world, thinking it's their's for the taking. It won't be. They'll grow up too fast and too hard, will have to run, will hear tell of her from whomever's running the Spanish brain these days and show up on her doorstep, looking for hope, same as the others.
Or he'll be right, and those kids today from what was left of Xavier's will have really been the last, and she'll be left to live on just the same, the last sideshow in the States, her porch and her little house, mud between her toes and clay like polish on her fingers, a wide open nowhere just beggin' to be touched. Either way --
She smokes his cigar down and watches the smoke curl like ribbons up to the stars. One future at a time, she thinks.
The night air touches her bare skin and she smiles.