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[personal profile] wonder_city
You Would Have Been Born Into Winter

Nereid was certain she was prepared for this. Simon had warned her about the protesters. Simon had offered to come with her; so had Megan. She had asked X to come with her, though, because she was worried that both Simon and Megan would stop to argue. She knew that X would keep her moving along, steadily, calmly, possibly letting out a withering bolt of sarcasm at need.

The blast of noise as they turned the corner nearly rocked her on her heels. She clutched X's arm.

"You okay?" X asked.

"Yeah," she said, not okay at all.

There was a guy on a stepstool, bellowing Bible verses through a megaphone. There were people lining the sidewalk for the entire block before the clinic door, most of them holding signs or posters with gruesome photos as tall as the protesters purporting to be fetuses. Some of them had rosaries and were praying loudly. There were other people roaming around with pamphlets and dolls and giant crosses in their hands, and some of them noticed her and started toward her.

Nereid wondered if hyenas ever got that sort of urgent faux-worried look, or if they were more honest as they closed in.

A couple of people -- a big guy at least as tall as Megan, and a smallish Indian woman -- hurried up. They wore bright orange vests labeled "Clinic Escorts."

"Do you have an appointment at the Para Women's Clinic?" the man said.

When Nereid and X both nodded, the woman said, clearly enunciating over the chaos, "Everyone in the orange vests are escorts for the clinic." She pointed at the words on her chest. "Everyone else is a protester. Would you like us to walk with you?"

Nereid felt, rather than saw, X nod, and nodded as well. "Please," she added.

The man and woman took up positions on either side of them as the savage-eyed protesters closed in. Nereid took hold of the woman's arm as well as X's.

"Don't kill your baby!" A pamphlet waved under X's nose has a picture of a bloody lump of meat on the cover. "God forbids the murder of children!"
"Don't go in there and let them cut your baby to pieces!" "They may try to hand you things," the woman warned. "Or shove things in your face." "Murderer!"
"Tramp! Whore!" "I'll adopt your baby!" "You spread your legs for a strange man to get it, now you'll spread your legs for a strange man to get rid of it!"
"They'll take your baby and turn it into HAIRSPRAY!" "There's the turn-in, just there," the man said, "we just have to get there and we're fine." "God judges those who murder little babies!"
"They just want your money! Come to our clinic!" "Devil's tools! Devil's tools!" "Harlot! Jezebel!"
"Keep your baby!" "Stand back, Tom, I don't want to step on your foot again accidentally," the man rumbled at a man in a suit who was darting forward and back, waving pamphlets. Someone shoved a plastic fetus doll into her face, shrieking,"Mommy, don't kill me!"

"You're doing great," the woman said.

"Just a little farther," X said.

Nereid tried to loosen her grip on X's arm, tried to concentrate more on the feel of the slick grey wool jacket under her fingers, as they approached the clinic door. She kept her eyes down on the sidewalk, watching her sneakers moving alongside X's black loafers. Unbidden, the thought, I could kill them all, passed through her mind. Right now. They wouldn't know anything. They'd just be dead.

A man in a white spandex uniform with a red cross on the chest hovered in front of her. "I'm Captain Life!" he declared. "And I'm here to talk you out of killing your baby."

Nereid stopped short and stared up at him, trembling in sheer rage and horror.

X stepped to the right, pulling Nereid with zir. The para started to move with them, to stay between them and the door. The two escorts moved between him and Nereid. "You're in the clinic's airspace, Cap," the man roared over the tumult there at the doors.

"I've heard about you!" Captain Life said, trying to hover in her field of vision. "You're one of the few real powers who can bear children. And you're white! It's your responsibility to have that baby!"

Nereid felt dizzy with fury. She could see the escorts remonstrating with him. The Indian woman gestured at a decorative tree behind him that suddenly grew thicker and much taller, knocking him up and forward, presumably out of the clinic airspace. The big escort moved after Captain Life, massive fists balled and jaw set.

"Para women need to have more children!" Captain Life shouted after her. "We'll always be a minority if you don't! A para baby is a gift from God!"

Her hand clenched on X's arm as she tried not to imagine what he'd look like bereft of all the moisture in his body. X sped up, just a bit, and they were at the door of the clinic. A different escort sprang forward to pull the door open for them and they shot through. When the door shut behind them, it blocked out most of what Captain Life had to shout next.

Nereid shook, burying her face in X's shoulder, and X put strong arms around her. "I didn't," she murmured into X's coat.

"I know," X said, just as softly.

"Some of them are just as evil as Sator was," Nereid said. "But I didn't."

"That's because you're a better person," X said.

"Why is being better so hard?" Nereid said.

"Because it sucks," X said. "The nurse is waiting for us. All right?"

Nereid nodded. "All right." She turned away from X's protective jacketfront and walked to the nurse. She could hear X right behind her.

They sat in a little office with three chairs, an ancient desk, and an even more ancient computer. The nurse slid a clipboard across to Nereid. "You've already done the rest of the paperwork, medical proxies, that sort of thing, and we've talked to your doctor about your case."

"She told you I'm Class 9, right?" Nereid said, glancing down at the paper and finding herself unable to parse the words. She looked back up at the nurse.

The woman nodded. "One of our anesthetists can dampen powers. She can't shut down anything like your power, but she might be able to buy us some time."

"I wish Wonder City General would have done it," Nereid said, grimacing. "I'm so angry that a Catholic hospital bought them out."

The nurse sighed and gave her a "don't I know it" smile. "We'll use general anesthesia. That's safest in terms of your power. That sheet there is your consent for anesthesia. The next form is for you to elect your option for the disposal of the biological materials after the procedure. You may witness the destruction..."

"Incineration?" X said, and Nereid realized X had been reading the forms over her shoulder.

"Yes, we find it most effective," the nurse said. "You can also waive witnessing the destruction of the biological materials."

"Can she designate a proxy witness?" X said.

"Yes, the proxy blank is halfway down the page," the nurse said, leaning over and pointing to the appropriate box on the form.

Nereid looked up at X, who nodded emphatically, then took the pen and clipboard and filled in the proxy box with, presumably, X's real name. Nereid didn't even look at it when she got the clipboard back, just signed at the bottom and shoved the clipboard back across the desk. "Thanks," she said, though she wasn't sure if she was thanking X, the nurse, or both. "Oh!" she said, and reached into her pocket. She handed an iron horseshoe to the nurse. "Please put that in the tray with the, um, biological material. And keep it there until it's incinerated."

The nurse raised an eyebrow, looked over the horseshoe, then shrugged. "Of course." She added a handwritten note to the form. "Please initial there to confirm that this is something you want us to do."

Nereid scribbled her initials appropriately.

The world seemed like it was a long way away as Nereid went through all the motions that ended with her on the table, one hand clutching X's, the other extended for the IV. She was trying hard to not think and was hoping she wouldn't be able to count down from ten.

X told her later that she stopped at six.

She woke in a darkened room on an uncomfortable bed with X still holding her hand.

There was a lot of achiness, like a very bad period, and her thighs and knees hurt. She was woozy from the anesthesia -- she suspected they'd used a lot, if that's how anesthesia even worked.

"I called a taxi," X said. "They'll meet us at the back door so we don't have to go back through those... those..."

"Thank you," Nereid said, carefully enunciating each word. She was going to thank everyone. They had all been so kind to her. She needed to thank Simon and Megan too. Everyone. Except the people who thought they could judge her, make her decisions for her. Her stomach heaved at the thought of them, and she was grateful that X was so fast in getting her the little plastic bucket thing next to the bed.

It would not have been grateful to throw up on X.

"It's gone?" Nereid asked after having a tiny sip of water to rinse her mouth.

"Yes," X said. "I watched them incinerate everything. They left the horseshoe in for the burning too, even though you didn't ask for it. I thought it best."

"Yeah," Nereid said.

"I have it -- the horseshoe, I mean," X said. "I thought you might, you know, want to keep it. They don't make iron horseshoes very much any more."

"Don't they?" Nereid said vaguely.

"No, they're usually aluminum, I think," X said.

"Oh," Nereid said. "The Equestrian gave it to me."

"Well, I expect she can get iron horsehoes," X said.

"Can we go home soon?" Nereid said.

"Yes," X said. "The doctor wants to have a look at you and such before you're released."

"Oh," Nereid said, and completely randomly burst into tears. She worried immediately that she'd get X wet, so stopped herself as best she could. "Sorry," she said. "I just feel kind of awful."

"I know," X said, squeezing her hand gently. "It's the anesthesia."

The doctor came in not long after and made her final examination. "I've written a prescription for pain," she said. "Your friend has it. Just in case Tylenol doesn't do it all for you."

"Thank you," Nereid said, probably for the tenth time since the doctor came in.

The doctor smiled. "The procedure went just fine. But you should call if you have problems in the next few days, and if there's any sudden increase in bleeding, you should get to an emergency room."

"Thank you," Nereid repeated, trying very hard to concentrate.

"Thank you, Doctor," X said.

"It's what I'm here for," she said, and slid quietly out of the recovery area.

Nereid never did remember very much about getting dressed, or getting out to the taxi (except a vague impression of some James Bond-like shenanigans to escape the notice of the protesters out front), or the taxi ride back to the Cosmics base, or, in fact, getting up the stairs to her flat.

Once at the flat, she very nearly tripped over the couch, and was saved from an ungraceful faceplant by X catching her around the waist. "Sorry," she mumbled, navigating carefully around to sit on the couch. "Simon helped me rearrange the whole place when T... when what's-his-name left."

X glanced around. "It looks nice," X said, then, "would you like me to help you to bed?"

"Noooo," Nereid said, the sound accidentally drawing out as she tried to think. "I... the couch is nice..."

She woke up later, stretched on the sofa with a blanket tucked over her. It took her a few minutes of staring at the ceiling to figure out that the reason she was awake was because of an ache in her lower abdomen.

"Want some acetaminophen or something?" X inquired from nearby.

"I usually take ibuprofen," Nereid mumbled, unsticking her tongue from the roof of her mouth.

"They said not to give you ibuprofen because of bleeding risk."

"Oh. Crap."

"I know." X brought her two acetaminophen tablets and a plastic cup of water.

Nereid sat up carefully and flushed the bitter pills down her throat.

"How do you feel otherwise?" X said. X had taken off the suit jacket and stood there in the grey wool trousers, black suspenders stark against white dress shirt, sleeves rolled up. The view was very distracting, even though Nereid was feeling about as sexy as a slab of cold hamburger.

Nereid sipped her water. "Kinda sick to my stomach, but hungry, I guess."

"I could heat up some soup or something," X said.

"That would be nice. Thank you." Nereid watched X move into the kitchenette. "You don't have to do that, though."

"I offered to come take care of you," X said, locating a small saucepan and a can of soup. "I meant it."

Nereid sat quietly, watching X open the soup and heat it on one of the two burners. Finally, she looked around the rest of her apartment, taking in, again, the rearranged furniture: the little dresser Simon pulled out of the bedroom to cover the stain on the wall where Tam... Aloysius... had thrown and smashed a bottle of juice; the desk that was still empty because she hadn't gone out to buy a new computer and hadn't really wanted to deal with asking Mercury or Wire for a new one; and the pile of pillows and blankets over near the bathroom where she'd been sleeping because she couldn't stand the idea of sleeping in her own bed or even on the couch.

X pulled the sole surviving endtable over in front of Nereid, then brought her a big glass of water, a bowl of her favorite cream of mushroom soup (how had X known it was her favorite?), and a little stack of saltine crackers. "You should hydrate," X said, sitting down in a nearby armchair with a cup of tea in hand. "Helps flush the anesthesia out."

"Really?" Nereid said, cautiously tasting the soup.

"Well, that's what I've heard anyway," X said, sipping the tea.

They sat and consumed their various consumables in companionable silence for a while as the late afternoon turned to twilight. Nereid found her appetite returning as she ate, and started to feel less groggy and much less like something had expired in her mouth.

X rose gracefully and switched on the table lamp Flo had given Nereid for Christmas. X paused to examine the hole in the silk shade, but let it pass without comment, much to Nereid's relief. Resuming the chair, X said, "What would you like to do this evening?"

Nereid blinked at X, then glanced around again. The television and game console were gone, and so were most of her movies and games. X followed her gaze, then shrugged. "I could go borrow something from Sophie."

"No!" Nereid said, surprising herself with her vehemence.

X was startled too and hurriedly said, "Okay, okay, no worries."

"Sorry," Nereid mumbled, covering her face with her hands. "I just... I'm so... ashamed. And embarrassed. I just don't want anyone to know. I mean, I know you and Simon won't judge me. You know I'm just... stupid. It's just another stupid Nereid trick..."

X sat gingerly on the sofa next to her and put an arm around her. "Shh, no, no, I don't think you're stupid."

Nereid laughed and choked on a sob. "I think I am."

"I think you got caught in a net by a very charismatic and nasty person," X said. "And it's not fair that you're still dealing with the consequences of that."

Nereid hiccoughed and pressed her forehead to her knees. X left the arm around her shoulders.

After a few moments, Nereid said, "My grandmother had one, you know."

X said, "An abortion?"

Nereid nodded. "Before it was legal." She paused. "My mom was born in '65. So I guess it was before that."

"Yeah," X said.

Nereid sat up, but couldn't look at X, so she stared at the place where the flatscreen television had been. "Mom told me the story a few years ago," she said. "I think to... to keep me from doing anything stupid. Like this."

"Why did she have the abortion, do you think?" X said.

"Mom said it was because Grandma had a very firm idea of what she wanted to do with her life," Nereid said, "and she knew if she got married right then, she'd never get to go to college or law school."

"That's... kind of awesome," X said.

"I always thought the stupid part of the story was that her boyfriend refused to use a condom," Nereid said. "I mean, what did he expect to happen?" She was silent for a moment. "Even what's-his-name knew about condoms. He just... You know, I finally read the Tam Lin story."

"Yeah?" X said.

Nereid put her face in her hands again. "Ivy sent me a link to a site online all about Tam Lin. And... he said he wanted to use the story. So... so he intended all along to get me pregnant. That was his goal, so he could escape. He kept calling me 'his Janet.'"

X made a sympathetic noise and idly rubbed Nereid's back.

"He didn't even think to ask," Nereid said, pressing her fingertips against her eyes, willing herself not to cry. "If he'd just asked, I could've talked to the Equestrian. We could've gotten him out. But I wasn't a person to him. Just a tool."

X was silent, but slid an arm around Nereid's shoulders and squeezed.

After a few moments, Nereid said, "I'm thinking about quitting. Getting out of spandex."

"Why?"

Nereid shrugged violently. "No one here likes me, except Pay. I've ruined things with Sophie, she's never going to want to come near me again now she and Wire are on good terms again."

X said, thoughtfully, "I think you may be selling Sophie short."

Nereid just shook her head and put her head down on her knees.

"I've got an idea," X said suddenly. "I've got my new StarLeaf tablet that my grandmother got me. I haven't figured it all out yet, but I suspect we could figure out how to watch something totally without redeeming social value on it for the evening."

Nereid raised her head, the ghost of a smile wandering onto her face. "Like cat videos?"

"I was thinking more," said X, producing the device from the backpack that had been hidden by the end of the sofa, "of finding old Muppet Show episodes."

"How did you know I love Animal and Beaker?" Nereid said.

"That's one of my superpowers," X said, grinning. "Detecting adorable secrets."


---

Note from the Author:

On January 22, 1973, the Roe v. Wade decision was handing down, giving women the power of choice, the power of decision over what to do with their own bodies, a superpower beyond any of the superpowers depicted in Wonder City Stories.

After 39 years, this power is still constantly in jeopardy.

Please keep this in mind when you go to the voting booth this year.

This is my (slightly early) contribution to Blog For Choice Day 2012. I encourage you to also blog for choice!



Please keep voting for WCS!


Date: 2012-01-20 04:15 pm (UTC)
akycha: (Default)
From: [personal profile] akycha
Thank you for this.

Thank for writing a story in which the good ending is an abortion. Because an abortion is a good ending (or at least the most tolerable/livable ending) for so many women.

And women should be allowed to make their own choices.

Date: 2012-01-20 06:53 pm (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
Thank for writing a story in which the good ending is an abortion

YES. Where it wasn't glossed over, but wasn't some Life-Ending Trauma either. So well-done.

Date: 2012-01-22 10:21 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
I'm so tired of seeing stories fail to include this as an option. And so much of Wonder City is a response to what I'm tired of seeing.

Date: 2012-01-29 02:22 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Thank you thank you thank you.

That's all. Just thank you. I am so sick of all the Junos and the Knocked Ups and the everything everything everything. Thank you.

Date: 2012-01-20 05:23 pm (UTC)
the_rck: figure perched in a tree with barren branches (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_rck
Choice is really important. I dread it not being available for my little girl.

Thanks for writing!

Date: 2012-01-22 10:22 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
I hope it will continue to be available for everyone, including your little girl.

Thank you for reading!

Date: 2012-01-20 06:01 pm (UTC)
akycha: (Default)
From: [personal profile] akycha
I wish your rendition of anti-choice activists wasn't so... accurate. I mean, I wish you were exaggerating.

Date: 2012-01-20 06:53 pm (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
This was fantastic. Thank you.

Date: 2012-01-22 10:22 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Thank you. :}

Date: 2012-01-20 11:56 pm (UTC)
yyzeff: (Default)
From: [personal profile] yyzeff
Thank you, this was real awesome. I especially liked the show of support, and honestly X is now the most incredible person ever.

Date: 2012-01-22 10:22 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
I love X. Zie has just become a fabulous, fabulous character. Thanks.

Date: 2012-01-29 02:23 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
X is just fantastic. I hope to be even half the person X is in my life.

Out of curiosity, how old is zie? Just so I know if I should want to be X when I grow up or be X now. :P

Date: 2013-10-02 08:10 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
I didn't see this comment till now! X is (in volume 2) around about 21 or 22. Fairly young. Which makes zir ~25 in vol 3.

Date: 2012-01-21 04:23 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Thank you for this.

Every woman who comes to clinic when I'm there has a story -- some dramatic, some mundane, some I get to hear, some I don't. Being actively tricked for some reason or other is definitely one of them I hear sometimes.

Every woman deserves to have abortion in the list of solutions to an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy.

Date: 2012-01-22 10:23 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Thank you. Every woman deserves a choice.

Date: 2012-05-10 07:42 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
–ěh, I didn't mention this on the first read-through, but this is important: I love what you do with formatting as they're walking through the crowd of protesters. It is so very very powerful.

Date: 2013-10-02 08:10 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Thank you! It was a pain in the ass to format -- I went through 3-4 iterations -- but I'm pleased with the final outcome and the reactions from readers.

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