Time of Day: Nearly midnight, April 9th
Place in Timeline: 4 days after Rosie is returned home, 2 weeks after The State of the School Address
[Some violence and language ahead, kids]
It was amazing what a good space and a broken heart could do for an artist. Ari’s creative juices had been flowing, and her work was larger and more intricate than she’d ever tried before. She had the room for it now, after all, as well as the muse. Working helped her to deal with her feelings, so that she wasn’t feeling miserable every second of the day. At first, it had felt weird to go to the studio because of all of the history it carried with it. But Ari was doing her best to move past it.
Five hours had passed since she’d started working on the large painting in front of her, but Ari had hardly noticed. When she was enthralled in her pieces, she couldn’t leave until it was either finished or mostly completed. It was how she worked, and a lot of other artists would’ve understood without question. When you were in it, you were in it.
It was nearly twelve though, and even though Ari had no problems with that hour of the night, she had to drive back to X-Factor HQ. Since her relationship had ended, she’d taken to crashing in one of the upstairs rooms. It wasn’t a permanent setup, but she appreciated it anyway. She’d needed time away from the mansion to deal with her sadness. She’d had some time to herself, and she’d planned on returning to the mansion full-time this evening. Rosie’s return had helped infinitely. Having the toddler back in her life was helping to fill the void that Warren had left in her heart. Lovers or not, she just missed the closeness she’d had with him. Did losing someone as a boyfriend mean you had to lose him as a friend too? Ari didn’t know truthfully, and her pride was still too battered to inquire at this point.
Normally, she would have had a long drive ahead of her back to the mansion. But she didn’t really mind the hour and a half drive to and from the studio, feeling that the separation from the Institute helped her transform more fully into an artist. When she was there, she was an X-Man second, and an artist first. At the very least X-Factor HQ was only a little more than half hour away.
Warren had picked a prime location, right in the center of the art world of New York City. Even the other tenants in the building were artists, and Ari had come to know a lot of them by name already. It was extremely satisfying to gain those types of contacts, to be invited into their spaces to see their work. The brunette knew this was what she wanted to do with her life. It was what she enjoyed, and it just felt satisfying in a way that other things didn’t.
Sighing slightly, she lowered her paintbrush as she rubbed at an ache in her shoulder. No more work would be getting done tonight, that much was for sure. Getting to her feet, Ari began covering her paints, not wanting them to dry up before she could return the next day. Stepping away, she eyed her work critically, giving a yawn. She was more tired than she’d thought. She’d have to move her things back to the mansion tomorrow morning.
Moving around the room, she cleaned up her brushes and finally went to click off the radio that had been blasting classical music. Who would’ve thought the alternative rock music lover would’ve enjoyed painting to classical music? It was soothing though, and powerful, and best of all, had no lyrics to distract her mind.
Gathering up her purse, she fished out her keys and grabbed a smaller painting she’d done earlier in the day that she wanted to give to X-Factor. It was brightly colored, for Wanda’s enjoyment, with shapes and visual depictions of the unique powers of each member of X-Factor. She hadn’t painted each person in detail, but had worked in silhouettes so that they would at least know who was who. It wasn’t much, but they had shown kindness to her when she needed it most, and it was her small way of saying thanks.
Exiting the building, Ari cast a watchful eye around the parking lot. She was alone though and quickly made her way towards her car.
Or at least that was what she thought.
Not far away from the young woman stood three burly thugs, carefully hidden in the darkness of the night and the adjoining building. They were Friends of Humanity members, and they were extremely hateful and prejudice in their thoughts and beliefs. And tonight they had a job to do. They’d been trailing Ari for the past few days, learning her self-imposed schedule and keeping tabs on her whereabouts. She wasn’t alone often, usually seen walking with a friend or neighbors. The thugs had specific instructions. Harm the girl, and only the girl. Send a message, a clear warning. These mutants had messed with the wrong people and they were going to realize it the hard way. They could have chosen to attack at any time really, but having her alone would be easiest. If she was in the company of others, particularly other mutants, things could get messy very quickly. And there really was no need for that.
The strongest looking man gave a clear nod towards the other two. He was their ringleader, and he was extremely excited and eager for their little surprise. In his mind, these mutants deserved what they got. And Ari, well, she was about to get it good.
Ari adjusted the purse on her shoulder as she neared her car, the small painting in her grasp slipping slightly. The running footsteps behind her caused her pause, but she wasn’t given even a chance to turn and look when a large fist collided with the side of her head. Letting out a grunt, she flew sideways, dropping the painting with a clatter as she landed on her hands and knees. Honestly, Ari had no idea what had just happened, but it was clear that she was under attack. If only her brain could focus, her brown eyes blinking several times as she attempted to gain a clear assessment of the situation.
Warren had not mentioned Frank Johannson’s threats on her, and so aside from the normal amount of care she took to be cautious, she hadn’t been expecting an attack.
Looking up at the perpetrators, three of them, to be exact, Ari stumbled to her feet, her skull throbbing dully. Getting hit in the head was not good for thinking clearly, and her common sense was muddled. She threw her hands up towards the attackers, glass spraying from her hands, her enhanced eyesight shifting in and out of focus. She couldn’t aim properly because of it, and the pieces fell short from the men. Strong hands gripped her shirt from behind, pulling her up roughly and slamming her against the nearest brick wall. The man threw his fist back and it collided painfully with her jaw, her full bottom lip splitting upon impact.
“Stupid little mutant bitch—“ he growled, pinning her in place. “You deserve death. Murdering whore—“ he spat, his fist slamming into her stomach. She had killed one of their own. Johnny Lewis, one of the pair that had been sent to kidnap Rosie, hadn’t returned that night. And his body? Well it had never been found. It seemed that when things were lost down the river, they were lost for good. Now Johnny’s seven year old son would grow up without a father. And it was all thanks to the dark-haired bitch in front of him. Did it matter that she was young? Or that she was a woman? Not in the slightest. Mutants had to pay, the young ones, the old ones, men, women; all of them.
“Where’s your rich boy toy now? Huh? You motherfuckin’ spic! Think he’s gonna come save you?” he asked cruelly, a sneer on his skinny lips. He pulled forth a knife, the blade glittering ominously in the light of the nearby street lamp, and without a second’s hesitation he thrust it into her shoulder. “That’s what you get when you mess with the Friends of Humanity. We warned you to keep your distance from the kid, but you just had to keep messing around, thinking you were superior to humans. You’ll never be anything but a goddamn freak! Keep messing with us and you’ll all get it this good--“
The other two men stood nearby, maniacal grins on their faces. When you messed with the FOH, you were asking for trouble. One of them, whose job was to keep an eye on the surrounding area to make sure they didn’t get caught, let out a laugh as Ari screamed out in pain, her leg attempting a kick to their leader. Yeah, right. She wasn’t going anywhere. Not until they were done with her.
Frankly, Ari was terrified for her life. She’d never felt so helpless before, so weak. She should’ve been able to fight back, to save herself with her powers. But everything was coming so slowly, and all she could focus on were the throbbing aches in her face and body. She could taste the metallic tang of the blood on her lip. Or maybe it was in her mouth… She had a mild concussion and she badly wanted to close her eyes and sleep, and wake up someplace safe. She wished she could mentally call for Jean, or for Scott, or Warren, or her mom and dad…
The blade thrust in her shoulder caused her to scream out in agony, her brown eyes wide as she looked towards her blood soaked shirt. She’d never felt physical pain like this, and already she could feel her body growing weak as she lost blood, her arm dangling uselessly at her side, her muscles refusing to acknowledge her wishes. All those DR sessions and she hadn’t been able to do a thing to save herself.
Ari felt a scream die in her throat as the man’s hands suddenly slipped around her neck, squeezing the life from her. He was strong, even more so than he looked and he lifted her body easily against the wall, her sneakers barely scraping against the ground. She knew she was crying, tears slipping down her cheeks despite the fact that she didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.
The senior x-man’s good hand closed around his, scratching at his skin, her legs kicking out repeatedly. His hands were constricting her air flow, and she desperately needed him to let go. A shard of glass formed out of her palm and she gripped it, not caring that it was simultaneously cutting into her skin as she thrust it into the back of his hand with as much force as she could muster. She probably should’ve aimed for his face, but she couldn’t concentrate properly enough to plan. Right now she was just desperate for him to let her go.
The man screamed out a string of obscenities, promptly dropping her to the ground as he clutched his hand, yanking the shard out with a nasty squelch. “Stupid bitch!” he screamed, his leg flying back as his booted foot collided with her stomach, a crunch echoing loudly in the brunette’s ears.
Ari grunted as she tried to get her breath back, but the broken ribs in her chest made breathing difficult. Ari knew that she was going to die there, that she would never make it to X-Factor to give them her painting. She was going to die young, just another statistic. Ari couldn’t help the flare of guilt she felt amidst all the other feelings swirling through her. She was going to let down her family and her friends, and the X-Men. She hadn’t been cut out for this like she’d previously thought.
“Oh shit, we’ve got company—“ said the lookout, his beady gaze turning on the other two. “We gotta get the fuck out of here—“
“Hey! What do you punks think you’re doing!?” It was her savior, in the form of the doorman from across the way. He was a black man in his early sixties, with a graying beard and a twinkle in his eyes. “I called the cops already and they’re on their way—“ he screamed out, rushing across the street as he realized what had been happening. The glass on the floor around the young woman meant nothing to him. To him, she was just a girl that had been viciously attacked.
The trio of FOH members didn’t need to be told more than once. Already they were running off to safety. Getting caught by the police was never on the list of things to do. The ringleader knew he’d gone a bit beyond the call of duty. But once he’d had her in his arms, he hadn’t been able to stop wanting to inflict pain on her. She was lucky he hadn’t stabbed her in the chest and talked his way out with the higher-ups later on. She was just a mutant. She wouldn’t be missed.
Breathing unevenly, Ari stared up at the dark sky, the sounds around her coming in muffled. She couldn’t focus on anything, not even the man as he bent beside her, his voice soothing as he tried to tell her it would be okay, that help was coming. No words came from her throat, her eyes still struggling to stay focused on the sky above until finally, sleep took her.