Disclaimer: I do not own X-Men. So between Legion and an X-Men TV series that's supposed to be coming out, there's going to be more than just the movies as content now. That's nice. Now these things just need to be good, and I'll be a happy man.

Chapter 11: Greater Than What We Suffer


There's no such thing as going back to normal after big things happen. Things like your superhero school's training room coming alive and killing two students. There was no running that back and acting like it never happened. We all saw the bodies.

Callie Betto and Dallas Gibson. They were gone and they weren't coming back. Not because they dropped out, but because they were dead. That was a hard fact to swallow.

Kids... weren't supposed to die. That was the modern day mindset, at least. There was a time when 16 was a perfectly acceptable age to get caught out on some godforsaken battlefield in the ass end of nowhere with an arrow in your eye or a spear through your chest. But it was the 21st century now, for what that was worth. People my age were supposed to be kept safe, and guided in ways that would make sure they would stay safe in the future. I'm sure there's a more articulate way to put that, but I can't be bothered to think of one. You know what I mean.

There was a black cloud hanging over most of the student body that had been placed into squads. All of them had seen what had happened in the Danger Room. In my case, or in the case of the other top five ranked teams, we had all been there in-person. For others, they had been watching the whole thing from another location in the Institute, and even they hadn't been safe.

Saberwolf told me later that the Danger Room had taken control of dozens of training drones and the mansion's security system. He and the other students had to fight them off before he was called to help us. None of them had been killed, or even really hurt. That was good.

I didn't tell my parents. There was no way they would have let me stay if they heard that kids had been killed here, and I had been right there when it had happened. It would have marked the second time that I had almost died since coming there. I didn't want to go home.

This wasn't supposed to easy, or safe. I guess it helped that I really didn't know Callie or Dallas. It also helped that their bodies were sent to their parents, instead of them having to be buried on campus. Apparently, they did that.

They did still hold a service though. I don't think I had ever felt so awkward.

All of those tears. So many awful feelings. I didn't want to be there, but it was only right. I felt like I had to be.

And that was how I wound up standing around in a suit, surrounded by mourning students. To make things even more uncomfortable, Megan had decided I was the perfect person to latch onto and cry.

It was weird. I didn't know what to do. Even when it came to putting my arms around her to hug her back as a pathetic show of sympathy, I felt awkward. It was like if I did it wrong it could be seen as me trying to hook up with her.

I wasn't that bad, that I would try to hit on a girl at what was essentially a wake. That was a scumbag move.

"I-I'm sorry, Bel," Megan apologized between sessions of bawling, "It's just... we'll never see them again! I...I was supposed to go to Salem Center with Callie on Friday, and now she's gone!"

It was all she could get out before breaking into another fit.

What do you do in a situation like that? I didn't have anything soft and cuddly to say that would make her feel better. All I could do was stand there and let her cry it out.

And why me, anyway? She had teammates. Hope had been crying too. So had Nicky and her other teammate Jessica. Hell, Nicky had fur! He'd have to have been a lot more comfortable to hug. Ben would have been warmer. He was like Human Torch Jr.

They were no help, and neither was my team, actually. The bunch of facilitators. They should have known better than to leave something so sensitive to me. I was not the one.

And yet, she came to me, the most ill-equipped man within arm's reach for the job, looking up at me with those big pink eyes. What was I to do, turn her away? "Can you tell me that things are going to go back to the way they were? Please?"

"I..." The only thing I really knew how to do was be direct at times like this. Even so, I could have some heart about it, "I wish I could say everything's going to be okay, but I don't know. I've never dealt with something like this before."

No, that wasn't good enough, because at that point I realized it wasn't just Megan paying attention to me. It wasn't just my team and hers either. Some of the students standing nearby were listening in too.

Because I was the guy who called it. I was the one who knew the Danger Room was on the fritz, and the last guy out after everything went to crap. Word spread fast after the Field Day finale.

Kids were scared. Trust in the staff wasn't really at an all-time high. No one knew what to do, or how we were supposed to move ahead from where we were.

So I said something, and I made sure everyone could hear me. Not because I wanted to be some kind of leader. But because someone had to. Someone had to try and take the reins. Even if I fell flat on my face, I still had to give it my best shot.

"But that's what we do all of this for, isn't it? To figure it all out," I was speaking directly to Megan, but the message was meant for more than just her, "Yeah, we weren't ready this time. But next time, I'll do my best to make damn sure something like this never happens again."

I meant every word. I was fairly detached. Callie and Dallas weren't friends of mine. But it could have just as easily been Eddie, Hisako, or Ruth.

I was competitive and hated losing. Losing anything. That included losing anyone I might have been fond of. A loss was a loss, some more important than others.

The thought made my blood boil, "That's all any of us can do," I might have been a little more intense than I originally wanted to be, because people took a step back when I eyed them, even when my gaze stopped on the Paladins, "I don't want to see this happen again. Not a chance it happens to any of you on my watch."

Over my dead body. I would be better. I had to be.

I eventually snapped out of my mood and looked around to see a lot of people had stopped to look our way; students and faculty.

David seemed to be nodding in agreement. I didn't expect a guy like him to have such a hard look in his eyes. Even Julian over with the Hellions seemed to paying me a bit of mind.

When I felt Megan's grip on me lessen, I stopped looking around at the others, and turned my attention back to her. Her eyes were still full of tears, but she wasn't necessarily weeping anymore. Good. At least the crap flying out of my mouth seemed to help a little bit. I didn't make her cry harder, if nothing else.

She moved her mouth to try and talk. I heard her start to make some noise, but she still wasn't good enough to speak without starting to cry all over again. Poor thing. Instead of saying anything, she just reached up and gave me a tight hug around my neck. This time, I did return it – all the way. She was just showing some gratitude for me trying to help. I didn't feel anything awkward about it.

Where the teachers and older X-Men were commiserating, I could see Miss Pryde look my way. If there was ever a look that radiated the feeling of justification, it would have been the one on her face at that moment… all for getting me to lead the Paladins.

I gave her a look back in return as if to say, 'Yeah, yeah, whatever. No need to be so smug, woman.'

XxX

I wasn't good with grief, or emoting. I was the type to bottle things up. I didn't share how things made me feel. It was probably why Miss Frost had so much trouble with me during our counseling sessions.

We had to miss a session. Class was off for a few days, not just because of the dead kids, but because of the X-Men themselves. I was lucky. Miss Pryde didn't die, even though she'd been run through. That gold kid, Josh, he had some freaky healing powers. He'd grown back everything missing from Jay's wing, which was one thing, but healing the damage done by a big metal sliver in a woman's stomach was something else.

So I didn't lose the only adult that had my back from day one in the Institute to a piece of rogue machinery.

Which was another thing. Apparently the Danger Room got a body while it was trying to kill us. Wasn't that fun? This was the second reason classes had been off for a little while. They had gone looking for it. It stole a Blackbird and went off... somewhere.

Good riddance. Let it be someone else's problem for a bit. Enough bad shit had happened here for the time being. But of course, that wasn't going to happen. In classes, we were already hearing about substitutes preparing to come in to replace some of our teachers who would be going out to try and take the Danger Room thing down.

I didn't want it. Maybe the whole seeing my instructor with a fist-sized hole in her belly and back brought out the bitch in me, but I didn't like the idea of chasing the thing that did it.

"You look like you have a lot on your mind, Mister Marcher."

Oh, yeah. This was still a thing as well. Therapy sessions with Miss Frost. Oh joy. Only now, instead of the topic being my insanity, it was a grief thing.

They were speaking to every student that had been in the Danger Room for the final Field Day event, but I was already having sessions to begin with. This just meant there were real questions to ask me now to see how I was doing.

Who cared how I was doing? I didn't die. I wasn't hurt that badly. Yeah, I was a bit rattled, but I just tried not to think about it much.

I wasn't any more willing to play ball than I had been before all of the unpleasantness happened. But fine. I would lay on her comfy-ass couch and waste a full hour of her time every few days if she wanted. I liked sitting still and resting, even if napping was almost impossible for me.

"I said everything I wanted to already," I told Miss Frost. I didn't even look at her. I was too bust counting dimples in the ceiling.

"And that's all you want to say now?" I don't know what she was aiming for. I wasn't going to emote, if that was what she wanted.

"Yep," If nothing else, I wasn't going to make this process easy, "Saying anything else wouldn't do anything. It wouldn't help anything. Won't bring anyone back. Won't make me feel any better."

Dwelling on the deaths and everything else that happened wouldn't solve a thing. I guess I could understand wanting take sure we were all okay, but I was a 'move along' kind of guy. Things like this just made me crabby.

"You're suppressing," Miss Frost said. She didn't need telepathy for that. I was being obtuse about this session, "That's not healthy, Mister Marcher."

She was so patient though, no matter how contentious I was being. Why wasn't she reacting to all of this? If you were from outside of the Institute, hell, even if you went there, you would have thought she was the biggest ice queen around.

But she didn't flinch. Her or Mister Summers. I mean he didn't because he was a hardass, but if you really looked for it, you could tell he was stricken. Miss Frost, I didn't know why she had to put on the uncaring facade.

I mean come on. Show that you care. I'm not saying she had to cry. I didn't want to see that. But to treat it as business as usual? Don't try to brush it off.

"Do you want me to yell at you? Do you want me to get up and scream in your face how this is your fault and all that crap?" I asked, starting to get my dander up, "I don't care about being right. I care that this didn't have to happen like this! It didn't! And yelling at you would just make you mad, so you could yell back, or give me one of your smartass replies, and you'd feel better, even just a little bit, but I don't want that!"

"What do you want?

That was a good question. I wanted a lot of things. I wanted all of this to have never happened in the first place. I wanted my word to mean something, so that I could believe that when I made a call someone would believe me.

But I couldn't have that, unless someone had a time machine they were willing to let me use. So I had to be a bit more realistic with what I wanted.

"I want you to sit there and think about it. I want you to think about the whole thing. I want you to sit there and have to block out trying to read every student you talk to's mind, so you don't have to see what they saw and feel how they felt the moment we saw Specter and Dryad dead on the floor," I don't know where it came from, but something told me to twist the knife in just a little deeper, "...D'ya talk to the Cuckoos yet?"

It was a low blow. Saying what I said, the way I said it, was the cheapest way to get a reaction that I could ever think of, and there wasn't any good excuse for it. I wanted to see tears. I wanted to see that this affected her just as much as it did the rest of the kids on Mister Summers' squad.

I don't know what Miss Frost was thinking afterwards, whether she thought about mind-fucking me into the next millennium, whether she thought about doing that thing where she turned into diamond to try and beat the shit out of me, or something else. Instead of any of that, she gave me the coldest stare I'd ever gotten from another person.

The silence was eventually broken with one sentence, "We're done here, Mister Marcher."

...I'm a complete asshole.

XxX

That session stuck with me for days. Being grumpy was one thing. I could be pretty surly at a given moment on good days. But what I had said to Miss Frost had been a bridge too far. It didn't make me feel good, and it didn't do anything for anyone else either. If anything, it made things worse for at least two of us.

Nothing had come of it. I didn't get any detention or some other disciplinarian action taken against me. It was a therapy session. I couldn't get punished for speaking my mind in there. That didn't excuse it though. While it may have been the time and the place, it was done with the sole purpose of hurting someone else. I didn't want to ever be that sort of guy.

I hadn't seen Miss Frost since then, and I didn't look forward to any future run-ins, this time because of me. In the meantime though, classes started up again, and we all wound up settling back in on a normal schedule, even if things were still tense in certain aspects of campus life.

I was on autopilot, just copying verbatim everything our teacher was saying. Taking notes wasn't such a big chore. It was just tedious. If you were like me, you would let your mind wander, but pay just enough attention to get accurate information. It was a good thing our teacher was good at what he did. It made it easy to pay half attention.

I stopped jotting down the lesson in my notebook to take a moment to breathe. My eyes momentarily drifted up to the dark-haired man in the suit teaching at the head of the class.

The teacher of the business courses, Mister Jean-Paul Beaubier; Northstar. He spoke English with a Quebecois accent, but it wasn't hard to understand him. It just added some flair to his lectures. He was also interesting because his powers were kind of like mine. The closest I'd seen so far, even though there were some serious differences.

For instance: He could fly, while I couldn't. He was way faster than me, but I still barely knew what I was doing with my powers. Also, I could do more stuff with my light energy. I just had to figure out that I could first.

If he didn't have a full squad of students already, and if Ruth hadn't more or less convinced Miss Pryde to take me onto the Paladins, I wouldn't have minded having him as an advisor.

I let out a yawn that was louder than I would have liked and got a few looks for it, including from Mister Beaubier. He stopped the lesson gave me a stern look that was more in jest than anything else. All I could do was shrug and lower my head. He let it go though. I got good grades in his class. Hell, there wasn't necessarily any class I struggled with and I stayed out of trouble with teachers, so they cut me some slack.

Before anything else could happen, Mister Logan walked over dressed in flannel and a cowboy hat. He looked around for a moment before spotting me. Without missing a beat, he walked over and plucked me up to drag me out of class. He didn't say anything to me, sparing little more than a word to Mister Beaubier before we got to the door, "Hey, I'm borrowing Glowstick here for a bit. Got it cleared with the top brass... and Kitty."

It all happened so quickly and smoothly, even Mister Beaubier was surprised for a moment, "Alright then," He said, just before we made it outside, "Bellamy, make sure you read chapter 13 and finish the quiz at the end. Also, I need your topic ideas for the project at the end of the semester."

I heard him just fine, but my attention was more set on the burly, hairy guy with claws that had gotten me pulled out of class for... why did he pull me out of class? I could only think of one thing I'd done lately to be in trouble for, so I decided to try and run damage control quickly.

"Look, if this is what I said about Miss Frost, my bad. I was pissed, and I wanted to make her mad too," I said.

Logan turned his head my way, wondering what I was even talking about, "What?" He said before shaking his head. It didn't matter what I was talking about. It wasn't why he had come to get me, "...Yeah, I don't care about that. S'not why I'm here."

"Oh," That was a relief, if nothing else. At least I wasn't in trouble. It still didn't answer my question as to why we were doing whatever we were doing, "...Well, what is it then?"

He rubbed the back of his neck with a sigh. Whatever this was must have hit close to home somehow, "There's someone I want you to meet. Or, more like somebody I want you to help me find. You're from San Francisco, ain't 'cha?"

"Yeah, sure," He knew this already, seeing as how he was one of the people who came to get me from there in the first place, "Why me though? I would figure you wouldn't need anyone's help to find someone," Or that he would get someone better equipped for the job, like an actual member of the X-Men.

"I don't need you for the search. It's... complicated," He seemed hesitant to tell me anything, and I had a problem with that if he wanted me to do this with him.

I stopped dead in my tracks. Mister Logan turned and looked back at me as if he expected a wound up look to get me to keep going. As scary as he was, some things had changed, "If this is going to be another one of those things where you don't tell me what's happening because I'm a student, I'm going back to class."

He was shorter than me by a few inches, but he marched right up to me like a giant and stared right up in my face. I could smell beer and tobacco on him, as clear as day, "Ya wanna call your own shot now, is that it?" The sound of metal claws sliding between the joints of his adamantium knuckles drew my attention, but I didn't look down, "You made it through one near-death experience, and we're sorry for that. But you ain't the man around here. Not yet."

My wanting an explanation was not a challenge to his dominance, or whatever his intimidation trip was supposed to be. I needed him to understand that, with eye contact and confidence, "I don't want to fight. I actually want to help. All I want is to know what I'm here for. Is that too much to ask?"

I didn't come to the Institute to be a soldier, quietly taking orders and going where I was told. I wanted to be a hero. I wanted to help people and make my own informed decisions on what I was going to do. If I never knew enough about what I was getting into before I was stuck neck-deep in it, I would never be able to do that.

It didn't mean I was never going to listen. But having some background on what I was potentially putting myself on the line for, and why it mattered to me or anyone else was kind of important. On the plus side, I heard his claws retract.

Fake it 'til you make it, baby.

Mister Logan wasn't pleased, but he must have seen enough of my point to let it go. That was good. He still beat my ass on a regular basis during late night training. There was no need to make that even worse, "It's a personal thing," He told me as we started walking again, "I'll tell you more on the jet. You know how to fly it without Nightcrawler holding your hand, don't 'cha?"

"Ooh, you're gonna let me fly?" This excited me. I only got to fly in controlled situations, and never very far or for very long. This was a cross-country flight too. Plenty of time to cut loose in the air.

"As long as you don't kill us."

Some time away from the school would probably do me some good anyway. What better place to get away for a while than my neck of the woods? Maybe more things would make sense if I spent a few hours or a day in my old stomping grounds.

XxX

Mister Logan's a scarier guy than you would figure if you weren't listening to this.

When you first see him, you take a look and you think that this is a guy that's probably seen some serious crap in his life. He must be one bad mofo. But then you trick yourself into thinking that he couldn't possibly be as tough as he looks. Most people do that when they see a person like that. We've seen too many pieces of media where the scary-looking guy is a real teddy bear, instead of the dangerous dude they seem to be.

This is not the case with Mister Logan. There is no question that this is a dangerous man, and not just because of the claws, and the adamantium skeleton, and the healing factor.

He only had to tell me one story to get the point across about how much trouble likely came with him. The story behind the reason we went to San Francisco to begin with. It all started with a little secret program called Weapon X, a program to force superpowers. And it only got weirder and more uncomfortable from there.

"So you have a chick clone?" I asked under my breath as we sat on a cable car in town. One would have figured that this would be more common knowledge than it was. However, that all depended on him telling much of anyone at all. I could see how someone would want that kept close to the vest. It took a long time for him to actually explain it to me, "Those crazy fuckers cloned you? How'd that work out?"

"Well enough, apparently," Logan grumbled, making sure no one was overhearing us, "Look, when you meet her, she might be a little... off. The place that made her did a real number on her."

At least I got a warning long before we ever even got close to her, "By 'off', do you mean she'll try to murder me?"

"No. Maybe," He wasn't sure about the answer, which didn't do a lot to inspire confidence, "I'd keep from making any sudden moves depending on how close to her you are. Kid spooks like a deer."

Right. A deer. A deer, presumably, with claws.

I had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that this was going to suck. But I quickly shut it down. Nothing was written in stone. If I didn't give Wolverine's clone a reason to try and take my head off, she wouldn't do it. Simple as that... hopefully.

Mister Logan wasn't much for talking on a good day, which made for a boring ride until I started pressing him with more questions that came to mind, "Why are we coming to get her?" I asked, getting a growl out of him. More questions was not the ideal way to spend his day, apparently, "If you know where she is and all that, why don't you just ask her to come?"

"She was there until a little while ago, and she was never particularly hot on the idea," Logan said, jostling in place in his seat, looking all kinds of irritable, "Dumb kid thinks she's got a better chance of goin' it alone, or something. Either that, or she doesn't want anybody else involved, which is just as stupid to me. Nobody fights people like the ones after her all alone."

But... he was the one that let her go, wasn't he? "So she left and you just... let her?" Maybe it was just giving her time to find herself, or something. I didn't know.

"I ain't her dad."

Well, there went that theory. But it sounded like he had just as much of an idea of what he was supposed to do with his clone as I did, which was nothing.

Still though, my mouth was faster than my brain, so before I had finished my latest thought, the end results of the last had already come out of my mouth, "You're out here on the other side of the country looking for her. So that means you're her 'something'," Luckily, by the time Mister Logan turned a nasty look my way, I had reentered the present time frame, "I'll just stop talking now."

"Good."

Maybe it wasn't that I was specifically bad with first impressions? Maybe it was the content of my words that made others dislike me? Maybe people would like me more if I just talked significantly less? It was worth a thought.

XxX

There had been a tracker in the girl's phone that led us to the pier area, but that was as much as it had helped us, unless she was thirty yards out in the bay somewhere. Fortunately, we had something almost as good as GPS to help us out.

Logan took several noticeable sniffs of the air before turning to stare off in a certain direction, "Girl didn't go far," He said, leaning against the railing by the water. It was more of a chance to figure things out than a rest. Suggesting something like that would have been insulting to him, and it was a bright, sunny day, so I was getting a good charge just from being outside, bucket hat on my head or not.

"You can smell her?" I asked. A stupid question, seeing as how I had been around him when he had done things like that before. I dealt with people who had powers on a daily basis, "Right, nevermind. Not important. So is she still around here somewhere? Can you see her?" He didn't answer me at first, letting off a deep scowl instead, "Mister Logan?"

I hadn't pissed him off again, had I?

Fortunately, that hadn't been the case. It was more to do with our current 'mission', as it was, "Yeah, I can. But she can smell me too. She's avoiding me," Ouch. And as long as that was a thing, she could just stay away from us all day. If she was anything like Mister Logan when it came to tenacity, she wouldn't just roll over and give up, "You've gotta find her on your own instead."

I turned toward him so fast my neck cracked, "What? You want me to go alone."

It wasn't that I was necessarily afraid. It was just, well, I kept thinking about the whole 'clone of Wolverine' thing. Randomly approaching Mister Logan on a good day was a questionable decision. Going after him when you knew he was trying to stay away from you was a different level of stupid. I kept thinking that she was an exact copy of him, only a female.

"She won't stay put if she knows I'm on the way," Logan said gruffly. He didn't like putting something like this in my hands, "Just... talk to her and convince her to wait to hear from me."

The word 'convince' was far from convincing language, "And she won't do anything crazy when I bring you up?"

"No. Why?"

Self-preservation, for one thing. Because he was probably the only thing I could talk about that may have gotten her to so much as stop and listen to me, "Just making sure I don't end up in a fight. I've had enough of that lately."

Logan snickered and gave me a shove. It almost sent me stumbling out into the street, "Toughen up, buttercup," He said, "But for the sake of this, ya shouldn't wind up getting into any shit. Laura's a good girl at heart. Kid just hasn't had a whole lot of guidance."

Misguidance was just as dangerous as ill intent, sometimes.

After we went a ways down the street, Logan stopped and took several steps back, as though he were keeping out of a certain range. Once he was satisfied, he nodded to himself, "This is as far as I'm going. She'll move again if she thinks I'm getting' close to her."

So it was my turn to do my thing, "Cool, I'll just-," I stopped before I could head across the next intersection. I had forgotten something very important to the objective of finding a girl, "I have no idea what I'm looking for. What does she look like?"

"She's short; got long black hair and green eyes. If she's around a good number of people, you'll be able to pick her out of a crowd. Just look for the most uncomfortable girl in eyeshot."

That was all he had? It really wasn't much. He didn't have a picture or something? "Are you serious? That's all you've got?" Having three features to try and make out who I was after was better than nothing at least, "You know what? Fine. I'll make do. If you... smell her leave the area, I don't know, just call me or something."

Even though I did live in San Francisco, I wasn't some expert on the city, but we were in a big tourist area. If she were hiding nearby, there were a few public places to pick out before others where anyone savvy wouldn't have forced a confrontation. It was just a matter of whittling them down until I found the right one.

Logan made it easy by basically taking me to the cross-section of the street I needed, pointing me in the right direction, and saying "Two miles, that way."

As I went 'that way', it certainly narrowed down where I was going by a lot. Google Maps was useful like that. When he said two miles, I was pretty sure he meant a hard two miles. And there were only so many things that were exactly two miles away that someone would bother going that might have been able to hide them inconspicuously.

I stood out front of a downtown movie theater. It wasn't the one I usually went to, mostly because there was a better one nearby, and I lived closer to another one away from that part of the city, but it did get good business. More importantly, it was the most notable place that was almost smack dab two miles from where Logan shooed me away.

In other words, not a bad place to start. Dropping $12 for a movie I wasn't going to see just to get inside sucked, but what else could I do? Sneaking into places wasn't really my forte. Once I was in though, I could go where I wanted. They really only had ushers around during busy times, so there weren't people watching the doors to every theater. You just had to be careful to not make it obvious you were going from place-to-place. I snuck between a lot of movies for the price of one ticket like that when I was younger.

"If I were trying to hide from someone like me or Mister Logan, which movie would I go see?" As though it really mattered. There were nine theaters.

And that was how I began searching. It wasn't so bad. Eventually, I stumbled into a random money grab action flick. Why not? Everyone loved a good, mindless, ass-kicking movie.

In theaters where the movie had started already, it was dark enough where no one would notice a guy like me slipping in and going up and down the stairs – other than a little disturbance when I went past them, and with the light from the screen, I could see enough to make out features on people, only seeing as how the features Logan gave me to use could have belonged to any random girl walking down the street, it didn't do me a lot of good.

What did do me a lot of good was picking up on the fact that while I was scanning the moviegoers, one of them was staring right at me, not bothering to so much as blink. Not in a, 'Sit down, asshole. You're interrupting the movie,' kind of way. More like an, 'Oh gosh, I really hope you're not here looking for me,' kind of way.

Well, I was there already. After all, with the effort she had gone through to hide in plain sight, she wouldn't just up and stab me, right?

...Right?

I got to her aisle and started moving her way through the seats. The closer I got, the more she seemed to tense up. I just had to remember to stay calm. She was freaked out and she had Wolverine's powers, so she could probably smell fear or something, and that would just make her more scared, and by the time I got within arms' reach she would come out swinging and I would lose an eye or an arm.

I held my hands in plain sight, palms forward as if to show her that I wasn't there to do any harm. As dumb as it might have been, I sat down next to her, as though it was where I was supposed to be. I was wide open. She could have taken me out in a heartbeat if she'd wanted to.

It was my way of extending an olive branch.

"Is your name Laura?" I asked, whispering as softly as I could. The girl hesitated at first, but nodded one time, sharply, "Hi. Nice to meet you. I'm Bellamy, from the Xavier Institute," I stopped short of offering my hand to shake. There was still a chance I would lose it.

Laura continued to eye me warily, sizing me up. People did that a lot. I must not have cut a very impressive figure, in addition to often making shitty first impressions, "I do not remember seeing you," She eventually said. She was willing to speak to me, which was a good start, "I spent a bit of time there, not too long ago."

I shrugged where I sat in my chair, starting to get comfortable. Laura didn't seem to be the aggressive sort at all, which was weird, given the expectations I had built up for her in my mind, "I don't remember seeing you either, unless you've been gone for the last few months, because that's when I started there."

She seemed to shrink down in the jacket she wore. It wasn't just that she lacked the outward aggression of Wolverine. It was like she lacked confidence.

This did not compute. Then again, it let me understand the spooked deer comparison Mister Logan gave me when he was telling me about her.

If I had to use a word to describe her best from just meeting her the first time, it would have been 'timid'.

"Why did you look so freaked out when you saw me?" I asked her. There were much better places to have a conversation than a movie theater where you were supposed to be quiet.

"You smelled faintly of Logan," She said, a slight wrinkle to her nose, "I could tell he was nearby, but I was more concerned with finding an overwhelming scent from a distance that the minuscule scent on you went unnoticed over the... powerful odors of the theater. A tactical error, perhaps."

I was slightly put out at being identified because the person I had come to see had a bloodhound's sense of smell, "He grabbed me once like five hours ago. It was the only time he touched me. How strong is your nose to-?" Nope. Focus. No getting sidetracked with how everyone's weird-ass powers worked. I had enough trouble figuring out my own, "Ugh, not important. Anyway, sorry to spook ya, but he asked me to come get you because he figured you were trying to avoid him."

Laura stared at me to the point where it got unnerving. If ever a girl could deadpan without being sarcastic about it... "I told him directly over the phone that I did not wish to see him at this time," And then she apparently threw the phone into the water, which should have sent as clear a message as possible.

It was more than likely that she had a point, but in my very limited experience, you wanted someone watching your back when you could get it, "You're probably better off than I would be in your shoes, but the guy is worried about you."

At that, she sank farther back into the cushy chair behind her, "He has no need to be. He is not responsible for me," She mumbled, mostly to herself.

I just shrugged, whether or not she could see it, "Look, I know about... you. Kind of," She noticeably stiffened once I said that, and it only got worse when I went into the little details I had, "You're a black ops badass that's been doing nasty stuff since before I could probably tie my shoes."

*SNIKT!*

I heard a wet popping, slicing noise and looked down to see the tips of her claws poking out of the skin between her knuckles. The light from the screen glinted off of the metal, "You should not know about any of that," She said gravely.

Oh God. After all I had been through, I was going to die on the down-low like this? I was going to get stabbed and bleed out in a dark theater, all alone. And my blood still probably wouldn't have been the grossest thing to get on any of the seats in there.

I tried to keep my cool. After all, fake it 'til you make it. And she was supposed to be level-headed, according to Wolverine, "I don't know much, just the cliffnotes," I said, coolly, "If you don't want to talk about it, it's not any of my business. But it should be someone's besides yours. Logan wants to make it his," How rough must her life really have been if she could go from zero to one-hundred like that? "I don't know what's eating you, but it's got to suck trying to go all lone wolf."

She let out a sigh and turned away from me, giving me more of her shoulder and back than her face, "Have you ever felt as though you were a danger to the people around you, Bellamy?" She asked me, "It is too dangerous at the school. Not for me, but for you, and others. Because of me."

Because of me.

The frown that came to my lips felt heavy. I had been frowning a lot lately, I noticed. Even so, she had asked me a question, and I didn't have a problem answering, "No, I haven't felt that way. And I don't know why you think the way you do. But I have felt like I can't protect the people around me," I revealed to her, "All my best laid plans. Every half-baked little drabble I could come up with, and I still couldn't do what I needed. And people died. Others got hurt. And everybody's scared," My eyes drifted away from her back to the movie, "…This was all a week ago, by the way."

She turned a bit back towards me. Perhaps a little interest, maybe? "But I thought you said that you were a student at the Xavier Institute?"

I let out a laugh. There was no heart or soul to it, "All of this happened at the Xavier Institute," Under the watch of people better than us. Smarter than us. More experienced than us. I shook it off. I didn't want to think about that, "But my sob story is a total drop in the bucket compared to yours from the little bit I got, so I'll just leave it at that," Thankfully, she seemed to let it go pretty quickly, "All I'm saying is, just because you don't think you're good enough for something, doesn't mean you can't have it. Do you want to try and be a student?"

Logan was a pretty demanding guy, but I don't think he would have dragged her to the school against her will, even if they did have the connection that they shared. I don't think anyone was forced to attend the Institute... as far as I knew, anyway.

"I do not know what I want," Laura said, not so much as wincing or reacting to any of the action happening on the screen, "I only know that I do not want to be hunted. I do not want to kill anyone that I shouldn't."

I was wary of this girl, but if she didn't have any bad intentions, there wasn't any reason not to reach out, "Look, you are probably not the most dangerous thing any of us are going to deal with in that place. You probably won't be the most dangerous thing we have to deal with there this week," As much as I was joking, it wasn't really a joke. I was starting to think gathering all of the most impressionable young mutants around in one big old place had both huge positives and negatives.

Laura's sense of humor was lacking though. Either that, or I just wasn't funny, "You do not understand," She said, and for a moment I thought I had blown it, "...But Logan may. I will talk to him."

I nodded, satisfied. That was a huge weight off of my shoulders. I didn't have any other way to get her to go other than trying to convince her, and I didn't really want to return empty-handed, "So... do you actually want to watch this or...?"

Great. Way to make everything awkward again, Bel. Laura didn't answer, instead looking at me like I was some kind of idiot. She might not have been too far off of the mark.

"You know what? Let's just finish the movie," I proposed, "Then we can deal with Mister Logan."

Great. She agreed to that much.

XxX

In life, you found ways to take satisfaction in the little things. Little things like leaving Mister Logan waiting for an extra two hours so you could finish watching the crappy movie that you didn't even like - just to see the look on his face when you finally made it back.

It was afternoon when we made it back, and indeed, he was pissed, but he also couldn't say anything, because I got Laura to come back with me. He did glare at the bag of popcorn I was eating when we finally walked up to him back near the pier.

And yes, I did buy expensive $5-plus snacks from the concession stand on our way out for the express purpose of letting him know exactly what we had been wasting his time doing. Why? Because I deserved a day out, and because I'm an asshole.

"Have fun?" Logan growled out, his fists clenched. I could see his claws flexing behind the muscle and tendons in his hands.

I already had someone pull their claws on me once that day, so the second time didn't bother me nearly as much, "Not really. That movie was garbage, and Laura doesn't really talk much," Laura punctuated this with an empty sucking noise from the slushie in her hand, "See?"

Logan moved me out of the way and stood face-to-face with the girl he had come across the country to find. Laura to her credit didn't flinch. She just kept drinking her treat and staring him back down.

After a half-minute of ineffective mean-mugging, Logan gave up and sighed. It had been a long day, "What the hell are you doing all the way out here, kid?"

Laura used her slushie to stall and try to find the right words, "Remembering good times," She eventually said, "I was not planning to stay at the Xavier Institute, Logan. I... needed time to think of my next course of action."

Logan folded his arms over his chest and stood back, "And? What'd you come up with?" He asked. That was was good. He was willing to hear her out. That was the key to good communication; a willingness to listen.

I had no business sticking my nose in any longer, so I just stood back and let Laura speak her mind, "They will not leave me alone. You know this," She declared, "They would have heard of what I had done in New York. They would have found me. They would have known I was at school with the other children, and they would not have cared who was put in danger in order to get to me."

Logan nodded as though he understood where she was coming from, "So... nothing then. You've got nothing."

Well, there went the whole 'listening' thing.

Laura's face had the first actual reaction I had ever seen it have, and even that was minute. A widening of her eyes in shock, "W-What?"

Logan didn't let up, "You said you came out here to think about your next move. You've been gone for months," In other words, more than enough time to think up a decent plan for oneself, "Jeez, the one thing you would be a normal teenager about. Not thinking things through."

"I have thought about this. I am not normal," She looked down at her free hand and popped her claws. I could see them better now, and noticed she had two instead of three like Logan, "I am dangerous."

Mister Logan grabbed my shirt and yanked me over between the two of them, "If he doesn't dump enough power on a regular basis, he'll blow up," I glowed for a moment to help illustrate his point. A visual aid, if you will.

"You know what I meant," Laura replied.

"No, I don't," Mister Logan snarled, "Because if you're not talking about yourself, and you're talking about the assholes that made you, big deal. You ain't the only one with people after your head," God, was that an understatement, "Everyone on the staff's got a little vendetta with somebody. Hell, a good number of the students do too."

I took the moment to interject, "Some guy tried to cut me up so I could power his cyborgs. Then the Danger Room came to life and tried to kill all of us," Logan did not appreciate the side commentary. I liked talking too much, even when I shouldn't have, "What? I was helping you."

"The point is-," Logan said, shooting a quick pointed look my way before focusing back on his clone, "-You ain't bringing nothing to the table that we don't already got in spades. Don't let the past drag you down. Give the place a try. A real try this time. You might just find something you're looking for, and if you don't? Well you gave it a shot. S'nothing wrong with wanting something better, darlin'."

Laura looked away from Logan and up at the sky, as though deep in thought, using the blue sky and the sunlight to help make her decision, "…I will try again," She said, "Because you asked me to, Logan."

Aww, well wasn't that sweet. I considered it a resounding mission accomplished. And not a drop of blood was spilled. I felt that a reward was in order.

"Hey," I tapped Logan on the shoulder to get his attention, "Do I get an extra credit grade for this, or something?"

"Shut up, Glowstick."

XxX

Flying in the Blackbird was great, compared to commercial air. We went faster, and better yet, no check-in and check-out process. You just hop off and go about your business.

Besides, the sooner I got away from Logan and Laura, the better. I was pretty sure they wanted to fillet me for interrupting their father/daughter, brother/sister, originator/clone bonding time. Plus, Wolf was going to be pissy because I vanished without telling him where I had gone. He acted like he didn't care, but I knew better. The big, metal softy.

Before I went back to my room though, I swung by the offices of all of my teachers whose classes I'd missed that day. Getting called off to do X-Men stuff had to net you an excuse for your attendance or any of your assignments.

Some were there, some weren't. To my surprise, Miss Pryde was actually there. Lockheed saw me come in and shot a jet of fire my way. Damn mini-dragon. Miss Pryde looked up from her computer and smiled when she saw me, "Lockheed, be nice. Bellamy's had a long day."

"Oh yeah," I yawned as I walked over to her desk, "Thanks for letting me go with Logan to San Francisco today. I didn't get to see my family, but it was still nice to get out of here for a bit."

"I figured as much," She said, gesturing to the chair next to her desk for me to sit down, "You think too much. I figured if you stayed around here for too long, it would eat away at you. It wasn't hard to convince Logan that he could use someone your age to put Laura more at ease."

I eased back, putting my feet up on an open spot near the edge of the desk. Lockheed tried to burn my feet though. Almost knocked me out of the chair, "It was fun, except for the times when I thought Logan would kill me," I paused, "...And the times I thought Laura would kill me."

"He likes you," Miss Pryde tried to assure me, "He wouldn't bother wasting time beating you up every other night if he didn't."

Ah, so she knew about that. I hadn't really gotten around to telling her about my extra practices with our hand-to-hand instructor, "Really?"

"Yep," Miss Pryde said, reaching over to poke me in the sternum, "If he really didn't like you, you'd have three holes in you, right about here," I tended to notice that a lot of jokes about Wolverine wound up having an uncomfortable amount of realism to them. She switched gears and looked at me consolingly, "How you doing, tough guy?"

It was nice that she was concerned, but I had gotten off from the Danger Room crap as well as I possibly could have. She hadn't, "I should be asking you that. You're the one that got rebar shoved through your guts."

She leaned forward and gave me a big grin, "Having a mutant healer does wonders," Indeed. I had to make sure to thank Josh later for saving my favorite teacher's life, "You never answered my question, by the way."

I raised and dropped my shoulders as an indicator of how I was, "I'm okay, I guess. At least things are trying to get settled back down, but it's still so weird around here. I don't know how long this whole funk is going to hang around in the air."

"I just want you to know, if I didn't get to tell you yet, that you did great," Miss Pryde said. Her tone was laced with pride. It felt nice to have someone else be proud of something that I did. Normally, I had to gas myself up when it came to anything that I achieved, "You did just as well as I knew you would, and let me tell you, my expectations were already huge."

I went silent for a second before sending a raised eyebrow her way, "I don't think you're talking about Field Day."

Miss Pryde took off her glasses and set them aside to talk to me seriously, "I'm not. Bel, I've heard about what you did in there," I twitched. I felt it. She saw it, and it showed, "When everything went belly-up, you kept your head. I think I know you by now. When you think about how it all went, you're going to see it as a failure. But it wasn't. Not for you, at least. We failed. We failed you. You didn't do anything wrong, I promise."

With God as my witness, that was the closest I had come to crying since the end of the Field Day finale mayhem. I could feel the pressure swelling up behind my eyes. With all she had said, one sentence more than anything else had almost broken the emotional dam I'd built up to stop anything like that from happening.

I had been waiting for days to hear someone, anyone, say that I didn't fuck up. That they knew I had done my best to keep anyone from getting hurt. I didn't know how much I had needed that until right then, even if it was just said to make me feel better.

"Get some rest," Miss Pryde told me, shooing me away. I think she could tell that I was feeling some kind of way now, "I've still got work to do tonight. We've got squad exercises tomorrow, and now I've got to find something for us to do that doesn't involve the Danger Room that's now free and on the loose."

"I... will," I would try to, at least. The reminder of the effing Danger Room being out in the open world with the vendetta against the people who trained in it that it had was serious nightmare fuel, "I've just got one more place to go before I head back to the dorms."

XxX

I dreaded this more than anything else I'd had to do all day long, and I had only been thinking about doing it for the hour that I had been off of the plane.

Standing in front of the office of one Emma Frost, I hesitated to knock on the door. The last time we had been in one another's presence hadn't ended particularly well. I had been a little shit, and this lady used to be a badass supervillain. She absolutely wouldn't have forgotten what I'd said.

Oh well. At that point, I couldn't just turn around and leave. It would have taken more effort to do that than to raise my hand.

*KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!*

"Come in."

Whether she knew it was me before I had entered, I didn't know. I couldn't tell by looking at her if she was surprised. She was definitely still angry though. The look she gave me could have frozen a burning flame solid.

There was a decided amount of sharpness in the first words out of her mouth, as passive as they were, "I didn't expect to see you here without being told to be."

Fair enough. It was a last second plan, so even I didn't expect to be there that night, "I'll be honest, when I came over here I was expecting you to be gone until tomorrow," I took my hat off and ran my fingers through my curly hair, "I kind of wish you were, so I could say I tried without, you know, actually having to do this awkward crap."

Being vague was only annoying her, which I didn't have to try had to do given our thus far strenuous relationship, "Tried what?" She asked, "Do you have something else to say to me Mister Marcher? I would have figured you got everything off of your chest that you needed to with your tongue lashing the other day."

I didn't sit down. I stood as tall as I could in front of her. For once, I wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted her to realize that I was more than just some kid, "I know you guys did your best. And I know that there's no way any of you could have ever wanted this to happen, but it did," It wasn't like any of us needed the reminder, but it had to be said, "I don't want any promises that it won't happen again. I've heard the stories. This place has been destroyed at least twice before I ever showed up here."

She couldn't see my point yet. To her, I was beating around the bush, and she didn't like me enough at the moment to go along with that, "So what do you want?"

Fine. To the heart of the matter then, "Would you guys listen?" I asked. She seemed to look even more miffed at me than before, but I had already started going down this particular path. At that point, there was no reason to stop, "I mean, you say all of this stuff, you and Cyclops, about how we're the next generation of X-Men, and how we have to be ready, and accept responsibility. I tried. I really did. I tried as hard as I could. Even to the point where I was ready to get thrown out of here for messing up the Danger Room."

"I don't regret stopping you from doing that," Miss Frost interrupted with a raise of her hand, "My intentions were to make sure the Danger Room stayed operational, true. But in full hindsight, if you had done such a thing, torn the central computer out, you would have given it the chance to gain a body separate from the room itself. We found that out the hard way. As fond of you as I may not be, I would never wish death on you."

Well, as much as I didn't like many things about Miss Frost, I didn't want any friction between us to be because I was acting like a brat, so I kept going, "When I brought the Danger Room stuff to anyone that could help, you guys made me feel like I was five years old, crying to my parents about the monster under my bed."

It was an error in judgment. An oversight. There was no worse thing to accept when it came to a disaster – that it could have been prevented, or at least contained if you looked as closely as you needed to.

"You're teaching us how to be heroes. So don't you think that you might want to hear us out when something's up?" That was all I wanted to say. I didn't hate her, or any of the other staff that overlooked what I had to say, but this crap couldn't happen again.

Miss Frost got up from her desk and stepped forward to me. I was several inches taller than her, but it felt like we were eye-to-eye. Was she reading my mind for something? I couldn't tell. And if she was, what for? "You find yourself in a very awkward time in your development, Mister Marcher," She said to me, "No longer a boy, yet not quite a man. Not quite an X-Man, yet so much more than a civilian."

It was a rotten place to be in. We were supposed to be getting groomed to take up the mantle in the place of the true heroes one day, yet we were looked upon as needing to be protected. They wanted us to be children, but they expected things from us that kids couldn't do.

I felt like a school for superheroes was a bit of an oxymoron. You couldn't dip your toes into that kind of pool. Either you were all in, or you were all out.

Miss Frost walked past me to a shelf where she had some kind of alcohol. She poured herself a small drink and walked over to the window that looked out onto the campus, "In a perfect world, these sorts of things would never be your problem. Not yet. This is a school. A place for young people like you to learn, and to feel safe while you do it. It's not supposed to be some kind of place where you feel like you have to fight for your lives. Even if that is in essence what we are preparing you to do as future X-Men, there will be a time for that. And it wasn't ever meant to be anytime this soon."

No kidding. It was a nice sentiment, but one that had already been ruined for me before any of this ever happened, "It doesn't look like the universe agrees."

She turned her head over her shoulder, a wry smile on her face, "Clearly. Then again, given the track record of previous members' ages, the universe never did care," The original X-Men were only my age when they were stuck saving the world. It was a lot to live up to, "Apparently our enemies, and only they, can decide when you are old enough to fight and die."

Well, they could throw me into whatever tiff they had with the elder X-Men. It wasn't like I had a choice, even if I was unwilling. But if they were expecting me to roll over and be cannon fodder meant to chip away at the morale of the senior staff, they could kneel down and suck it. I would microwave their faces off first. I said it before, but something like the Danger Room snafu was not going to happen again on my watch, and it absolutely wasn't going to happen to any of my people. Not as long as my incandescent ass continued to draw breath on this Earth.

If someone decided to try and take a shot at the junior varsity team because we were 'soft targets', it was up to us to make them see just how bad of a decision that was.

"Anyway, I came here to get that off of my chest, and to apologize," I choked that last word out. I was not a fan of apologies, "I'm not sorry for being mad. I meant what I said, for the most part. But I threw in the unnecessary stuff just to hurt you. I'm better than that. I don't need to take cheap shots to make a point."

I was pretty sure that none of this made anything better. She had pissed me off something fierce the other day with her little mind games. I had said some very heinous shit in return not too long ago, just to be hurtful. It was a start though, which was all I wanted out of it. I was still kind of hot, and I wouldn't be totally over everything for a while.

Miss Frost seemed to accept it though. She didn't tell me off outright, or dismiss me straight away. Maybe she wanted to get past it as well, "I didn't think you would be the type to seek me out to apologize once something was said and done."

She was still my headmistress. If I was going to be in the X-Men, she was probably going to be my boss. I could dislike her personally as much as I wanted. When the shit hit the fan, I needed her to know I was willing to let bygones be bygones; and vice-versa, "Well, I'm trying to be a good guy. Besides, you know what they say? 'We must be greater than what we suffer.'"

Like I said, I would be better. I had to be.

But oh, boy... this was only the beginning.


Well, you know what personal failure tastes like, young man. You've dealt with the danger and the disappointment. Now it's time to see how you come back from it.

This was a come-down chapter after all of the stuff that has been happening. A little something to take it easy for a bit.

Now, onto some other shiz, specifically about the presentation of the story. Bellamy is a teenager. This story is told from his point of view, which means he can't go into much detail in things he wasn't present for, and the information he has on things is either information he learned himself, or was told by others at some point. That means he isn't privy to everything at any given point.

I know it should go without saying. I'm just heading that train of thought off at the pass. I'm intrepid like that.

Alright, that's all I've got for now. Kenchi out.