Blurb: They were kids. They were entitled to do stupid stuff. But maybe, just this once, stupidity would pay off.


Sunset Rider


It clearly was hormones.

And angst.

But mostly hormones.

Laura Kinney had the most captivating eyes he had ever seen. They were wide as if in perpetual wonder—until her face contorted into a feral snarl, in which case X-23's was the prettiest face one could ever fear. Hers were eyes that seemed to bore into you. When those orbs locked into you, it was as if there were only you and her in the world—and you had her undivided attention.

Judging by its subtle shade of ruby, Scott Summers imagined that their color was just like Jean's. He noticed this, of course. The young man would be lying if he said that Laura's eyes never reminded him of his ex.

A month.

It had been a month since Scott and his team were able to cement their place in this segment of time. It had also been in that month when Jean revealed that she was now going out with Hank—though not in the most verbal way ever.

When Jean threw herself between Hank's arms in relief and his friend had planted a deep one against her lips, only one startling thought made it through his hollow mind before the daggers finally sank: he never did get to finish that conversation with Jean.

Since he arrived in this time, his life had only spiraled further into cold, icy and unforgiving depths, and he really hadn't a clue why. One moment he was just trying to be the good leader and keep both his team and Xavier's dream intact, and in the next moment everything was gone.

It was getting progressively harder to bottle in all his frustrations.

And yet, painful as the reminder of his happy days snatched was, he couldn't look away whenever he met Laura's glassy gaze.

Because, amidst the pain he felt, he could see Laura's own.

It may have been why they gravitated towards each other.

That, and hormones.

Damn hormones.

-0-0-0-

Young Scott Summers smells like failure.

Of course, failure does not have an actual smell, but Laura had long-since correlated this particular blend of odorants with failure.

There is a high probability that young Scott Summers was depressed. Therefore, it was likely that he was not thinking properly.

Then again, neither was she.

From what she had gathered, Dr. Henry McCoy brought the first five X-Men to the future in an attempt to tell the present Scott Summers that he was wrong. The premise of Dr. Henry McCoy's plan was, frankly put, insane, but Laura had already stopped looking for logic in Dr. Henry McCoy's actions when the X-Men were based in Greymalkin.

It had become apparent to her that, for all his genius intellect, Dr. Henry McCoy was driven more by emotion and personal ego than any form of rational thought. Dr. Henry McCoy was someone that ate his cake and expected to have it, too.

Given the world she had grown up in, Laura found such an inclination fictitious and harmful to those that surrounded the furry mutant. Life, no matter how seemingly beautiful, was never that kind.

If she were allowed to draw an analogy, the concept of life was an angler fish. It dangled the light of happiness before one's eyes before suddenly baring its sharp teeth and swallows one whole.

Whatever was the case, the younger counter parts of Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Robert Drake, Warren Worthington the Third, and Henry McCoy had been through a lot of dangerous situations over the course of their stay, including repelling an attack from the future Brotherhood of Mutants, and Laura, having just been retrieved from the hell that was Murderworld and discharged from the hospital, was tasked with seeing to the continued safety of these time-displaced X-Men.

Mind moving without thought after the ordeal she had just went through—after losing as many friends as she had—Laura accepted the job. It was supposed to be a simple mission, too.

Unfortunately for her, Scott Summers had other plans.

It seemed to her that he was making it a point to take Logan's motorcycle and disappear into the city. Naturally, Laura was forced to chase after Scott Summers. She had not thought much of it at first—Laura herself wanted to get away from the institute that held so many bitter memories—but the frequency of Scott Summers' trips had begun to become irritating.

Particularly when she was forced to chase after him on foot. Megan Gwyn would, on occasion, offer her a lift, but Laura did not want to rely on the well-meaning Pixie's charity. For reasons currently unexplainable, an unsettling feeling always crept across her skin whenever she met her former classmates.

Whatever the case, she had her hands full keeping track of the flighty mutant. At the very least, it gave her something to focus on beyond the torment of the sins she had committed in Murderworld.

It was fortunate that the scent of failure was easy to track.

She just had to locate the stench that was as potent as her own.

-0-0-0-

A firm grip clasped around his wrist.

"What the?" Scott Summers turned around and was met with those glimmering doll-like eyes.

"It is time to return, Scott." Laura informed him curtly before tugging his arm as she made her way to Logan's stolen bike.

"No." The time-displaced mutant firmly replied.

Laura's eyes hardened. "We will return to the school. You are not authorized to venture this far unsupervised."

"They hired you to look after us, right?" Scott reminded. "Well, you're now here to supervise me."

A small frown marred the raven's lips, but that slight sign somehow carried much more weight that it should.

"I was not hired."

She was not hired, Laura reassured herself. She was not an expendable tool.

In fact, Kitty Pryde and her students had retrieved her from that Purifiers' assault! That meant she was not expendable!

She was asked a favor from people that should have looked for her when-!

A warm grip enveloped her hand.

"Sorry." Scott said, suddenly sounding more apologetic than confrontational. He smelled truly remorseful, and Laura realized that her grip had depleted his hand of nearly all blood supply. Still, Scott persisted as if not feeling it, "I just need to be away. Just for a bit. I need to think."

He needed to think.

Alone.

Scott hoped that she would understand. He couldn't think when he was at the school.

Next to him, Laura could see the older Cyclops—the leader that she knew. In her mind's eye, she saw him sitting there behind his desk, chin resting on his hands in deep thought. She could see all the people he knew walking away from him—running away from their own responsibilities and leaving Cyclops to carry their burdens. She could hear them whispering about inevitabilities and straying from the path but, to her ears, it sounded as if they were trying to justify their inaction.

Laura did not like what she saw.

"That is not acceptable." Laura countered Scott in a soft tone that nevertheless left no room for compromise. "If you insist on remaining here, then I will accompany you."

Maybe, if Cyclops was not left alone in that corner, things would have been different.

Inevitability? Her mind could not comprehend a concept so abstract.

However, if one were to throw everything they had at a task, then no matter how insurmountable an obstacle was, it would budge. If one were to get up until they could not no longer stand, and then stand again and again, then something had to happen.

Her mother had taught her that.

"…suit yourself." Scott finally answered. This girl was a stubborn one; there was no way he could rebuff her. Still, a small part of him was grateful for the company.

No one truly wanted to be alone, after all.

-0-0-0-

Scott blinked curiously behind his ruby frames.

"What is it?" Laura, with eyes reflecting her curiosity, asked him when she sensed his stupor.

"I expected you to eat more." Scott admitted before suddenly feeling sheepish about his statement. "Never mind." He quickly tried to brush it off.

"This amount is sufficient to support my needs based on my height, energy consumption, and ideal muscle and fat composition." Laura explained.

Scott blinked once more behind his shades. He had heard that women were particular about their size and, indeed, Jean was, but he never thought they took the matter this seriously.

"Is that so…" Scott nodded his head. Glancing at the sandwich on his plate, he couldn't help but wonder, "Do you think I'm eating enough?"

Call him thrifty, but it had only been a few weeks, contextually speaking of course, since the Professor found him during that heist with… Jack. His time both at the orphanage and under Jack's roof had been very unpleasant, to put it mildly, and Scott had learned to ration all his resources, and had already learned to ignore the incessant growling of even the worst of hunger pains.

However, after becoming an X-Man, Scott had suddenly been introduce to a more normal life than the one he had lived so far. At the very least, he actually had food.

Still, old habits die hard, and Scott didn't want to remain a twig forever. Granted, he had met his future self, and the man definitely fit the description of tall and intimidating and—

and all these thoughts made his head hurt.

Laura was not oblivious to her companion's inner turmoil. While she may not have known exactly what it was he had been contemplating, Laura had read the micro-expressions on the inexperienced Scott's features, and she was smart enough to draw logical conclusions and an action plan.

And the action she had chosen, naturally, was of redirection.

"You do not consume enough calories." Laura pointed out. "Current analysis of your ability postulates that, while you can modulate the magnitude and intensity of your optic blasts, your eyes are merely gateways to the dimension from which your blasts originate, and your body consumes tremendous quantities of energy to keep the aforementioned gates open."

Laura knew she was the last person one should talk to regarding their feelings, especially because she, herself, was currently in a quandary regarding her own.

Scott was stunned by the very detailed response he garnered from his innocent question. He wondered if this woman—Laura Kinney—was always so thorough.

"I never knew my powers worked like that." Scott confessed and gave Laura as grateful a smile as his face could contort. "Thanks. Has there really been a lot of research into my powers?"

Laura was inwardly glad that Scott no longer appeared troubled but, instead, was focused on what she knew. "Yes. There are many who have studied the mechanisms by which mutant powers manifest."

The implication of Laura's neutrally-spoken words brought a frown to Scott's face. "Let me guess: anti-mutant government agencies?"

"Partially." Laura answered. "Majority comes from mutants themselves, and many of them you know, or will know in the future. Professor Charles Xavier and his human accomplice, Dr. Moira MacTaggert," Scott nodded his head at the familiar name, "Dr. Henry McCoy, Dr. James Bradley and even Dr. Kavita Rao. Even Max Eisenhardt has studied mutant physiology to an extent."

"Max Eisenhardt?" Scott parroted questioningly.

"The name Erik Lehnsherr was born with."

"Ah."

"Magneto."

"I know who he is." Scott remarked with a sigh. It wasn't like Scott would forget who Magneto was any time soon. "Who else, Laura?"

"Nathaniel Essex." Laura blurted without thinking. It was at this point when Laura paused as her companion suddenly shivered. Narrowing her eyes at the reaction, the young mutant could not help but wonder if she had stepped on a landmine. "Do you know who he is?"

"No." Scott shook his head. "It's just—I don't know, there was something about the name."

"Just to make sure," Laura's stare remained intense and analyzing, "You have not met Nathaniel Essex before?"

"I—I don't think so."

"Your heart rate is erratic." Laura pointed out. "This is important, Scott, and I will appreciate your honesty. Have you or have you not met Nathaniel Essex?"

"I'm not lying!" Scott hissed, and Laura could see betrayal coat his features. "I've never met the man before!"

"I believe you." Laura told him as convincingly, inwardly arriving to the conclusion that pursuing the matter will only aggravate the time-displaced mutant more. Though it was difficult to tell if Scott truly was telling the truth—his reaction told her he was lying, but her instinct told her the matter was more complex than that—Laura decided that she would need to keep Scott away from Nathaniel Essex at all cost.

"Who is he." Scott demanded when he finally calmed down.

"He, like the many I have named, has studied mutation and the abilities it manifests on a genetic level."

"Who is he, Laura."

"I have already answered-"

"Laura." Two strong hands grabbed her arms. "You know what I mean. Who is Nathaniel Essex, and what is my relation to him?"

Laura briefly considered tossing Scott onto the floor and storming out until he cooled down. It would be easy—but it would only hurt him, literally and figuratively. Laura had known ever since she took her first step in the Jean Grey School after she was retrieved by Kitty Pryde's squad of time-displaced X-Men, that Scott was alone in that institute.

There was no one the young Scott could turn to for help. No one would support him or even give him information. Scott had to keep his ears to the ground and decipher all the rumors and slander against him in an attempt to make sense of what was happening to him.

Laura had gone through that, as well. It was a maddening experience, which was why Laura truly could not blame Scott for running away. The school staff were doing nobody any favors by taking out all their grudges on the present-day Cyclops on his younger counterpart.

"Laura, please," Scott pleaded, releasing his grip on her. "I need to know who this man is and why I feel ill just hearing his name."

"…Know that my answer might have more adverse effects on you than you anticipate." Laura warned. "Do you still wish to know despite this?"

"Yes, Laura."

"Nathaniel Essex… or Mr. Sinister, as the X-Men have come to know him, is a narcissistic but nonetheless intellectually brilliant telepath. Among all those that I have mentioned, Mr. Sinister is the one that has studied mutations the most extensively."

"So he knows the most about our powerset." Scott realized. "That is indeed troublesome."

Laura could not stop the smile from forming on her lips. Trust Scott Summers, no matter what age, to immediately identify tactical applications to the information he was given, rather than contemplate at a more personal level.

"Mr. Sinister is the one that ran your orphanage, Scott."

"Wh-what?" Scott spluttered.

"He is obsessed with you. Although he has studied many mutants, his main focus was always on you. From the reports I have read, it seems he conducted numerous experiments on you."

Scott wanted to call her a liar. Surely, he'd know if he was being tampered with, right? It was such a knee-jerk reaction, but Scott realized that Laura had no reason to lie.

This, the words coming out of her mouth, was the truth.

It was the truth that he wanted to know, bitter as it may be.

"Scott, are you alright?" Laura asked him with worry shimmering in her eyes.

"I'm… processing." Scott managed to grit out. Though he had never met the man, and though he could not remember what was done to him, his body knew. It felt like bile was going to spill from his mouth at any moment, and it took all his willpower to fight it back down into his gut. "For how long, Laura? And what did he do to me? Why me?"

"I am lead to assume your entire life in the orphanage." Laura answered him, sequentially. "I do not know the specifics, but it might be wise to conclude that every event that has caused you pain was orchestrated by Mr. Sinister. As for his obsession with you, I have no answer for that."

"Great." Scott would had laughed hollowly if he had been the laughing sort. Instead, his jaw squared as he wrestled for control over his emotions.

Laura was right.

This was a bomb.

"Scott, it is imperative that you do not come into contact with Mr. Sinister at all costs." Laura warned.

"I'm sure."

"Do not take the threat he poses lightly, Scott."

"I'm not."

"Then stop strategizing in your head regarding the actions you will take should a confrontation occur."

"… are you sure you are not a telepath? Never mind." Scott shook his head before smiling reassuringly when his companion scowled. "Listen, Laura, if this man is as obsessed with me as you've made him out to be, then my confrontation with him is inevitable—doubly so now that we've spoken about him. It's—it's like the principle of Chekhov's gun."

"That principle only applies to dramatic literature."

"Yeah, well, my life feels straight out of dramatic literature." Scott bitterly remarked.

When Laura remained unhappy, Scott sighed and formulated a compromise, "Look, it's not like I'm actively looking for a way to find him, alright? I mean, what he did to me—it angers me, but I'm not giving in. I've got more pressing problems at the moment."

"Very well."

"I'm—thanks, Laura."

Laura nodded her head. Glancing at the setting sun, Laura stood up. "It is late now, Scott. We must return to the school."

Scott wanted to tell her to go on ahead. Really, he didn't want to go back to the school and its frigid atmosphere despite looking so much like the home he had been tricked into leaving—the home he had finally found for himself.

That place wasn't home—not when he finally had a taste of what a home truly was. Home wasn't a place where the head of the house wanted to kill him while everyone else simply watched.

Still…

Scott glanced up at Laura who, for once, was not manhandling him. Instead, she remained standing before him and waited there patiently.

Steeling himself, Scott decided. "Alright. Let's go back."

Maybe this was it? Maybe… maybe he had finally found a friend…

Maybe the school wasn't so bad, if Laura chose to return there.

"Good." Laura smiled. "Now, give me the keys."

"Huh?" Scott's brow rose over his shades. What did she mean?

"Give me the keys to the motorcycle." Laura clarified. "I will take us home."

"Laura, if you're worried about me running away again, trust me; I won't."

"I know. However, I am clearly the better rider between the two of us, therefore I will get us back to the school faster."

"Is—is this some kind of thing in this time?" Scott asked. He knew gender equality was still an issue, but he never thought it would bother Laura.

"No. It is simply the truth."

And then, Laura smiled.

Scott was stunned for the nth time that afternoon.

It must have been hormones, really, because there was just no way that his heart could flutter this much from a simple smile from a girl he had barely known. It wasn't even a bright or wide smile, either; just a simple curling of her lips, and happiness in her gaze.

He wasn't sure if Laura herself noticed it.

Gone was the haunted loneliness in her eyes and, Scott resolved, if giving her the keys to the bike and, in doing so, not acting chivalrous at all was all it took to keep Laura that way, then he'd give her the keys forever.

"Fine." Awkwardly, Scott handed her the keys as they made their way to where he had stashed Wolverine's motorcycle. "I owe you, anyway." He added, lamely.

"Good."

Laura mounted the vehicle first, and then motioned to Scott to sit behind her. Resisting temptation, Scott made sure his hands settled on his seat.

"I advise you to wrap your arms around my waist."

"W-What?" Scott squeaked as his face erupted with color. He was glad Laura could not see him because that truly would be embarrassing. The shame might even turn him into a supervillain. "Is this proper?"

"Yes. If you do not hold onto me, you will fall." Laura stated with absolute certainty.

Scott decided to heed Laura's warning and, although his heart continued to thunder in his chest, wrapped his arms securely around her.

Scott had a feeling that Laura was as socially awkward as he was, so she really couldn't know what it was she was saying, and the effect it had on him when a pretty young woman like her said it.

Really, what a crazy day this had been for Scott. It started with him wishing for some peace and quiet so he could contemplate the situation that he found himself in, and ended with him finding a friend in an unusual girl.

That was just life, he supposed.

"Are you ready?"

"Yes."

"You may tighten your grip."

"Huh?"

"You might fall."

"I think I'm fine like this." His grip was plenty tight enough. Any tighter, and he'd be molding his front against her back.

"…if you say so."

She gunned the engine and took off full throttle.

Scott didn't know why, but it felt like Laura was intentionally over-speeding and cutting corners on their return trip to the school.

But that was just the hormones talking, right?


A/N: I know the transition between the first and second part is weird. The first part was written ages ago—before last December, even—when I was trying to figure out how Tyke-23 could work while, y'know, actually keeping them—and especially Laura—in character. I then promptly put its writing on hiatus because life.

(Relatively) Recently, warfolomei, Ihklan, and I brainstormed a proper Tyke-23 story over at my FFNet forum, Just In Space, specifically at the Shuffle or Boogie Discussion section. Rather than discard the old writing, I decided to use it as an intro.

I'm just throwing out this teaser now hoping someone would pick up the idea.

So, are you interested in writing a Tyke-23 story and have the time to finish it? Contact me now and/or join the discussion if you want more ideas!