Disclaimer: I do not own X-Men. It's a good thing Cinco de Mayo was right after May 4th, aka Star Wars day. If I had to hear one more stupid forced Star Wars joke, I was going to punch a hole in the wall.

Chapter 13: Never Good Enough


Some days, nothing happens. People bitch about those days all the time. Let me tell you something right now. Cherish those days. Those are the good days. The good old, boring days.

Boring is safe. Boring doesn't scare you to death. Boring doesn't have you walking into the common area of the dorms on a given afternoon, staring at a big screen TV turned up high with some Indian scientist lady announcing to the world that she had come up with the 'cure' to the 'mutant condition'.

"The mutant strain can be eliminated, safely and irreversibly. There is such a thing as a second chance."

Those were the words that came out of her mouth. Those were the words that went across the world at the exact same time, on stations where everyone could see it. Words that would be replayed for days as soundbites on CNN, BBC, and other major news sources, right down to the local news station in every hometown imaginable. It was a good quote.

I knew this, because it scared almost everyone in the room shitless when they heard it.

"That's so messed up," Eddie stared at the news with an interest I had never seen him have before, "Bel, that's not-. It can't be serious, right?"

I didn't know how to respond to him. Clearly it was a big deal to him. Hell, it was a big deal in general, but no one was holding me down and injecting that crap into my veins yet, so it seemed too far away to be something that affected me, "It's on the air right now, so this is either a really elaborate prank that CBS News is running with, or this is the real-deal."

"I'm being serious, man," Eddie said, not appreciating my detached demeanor to the situation. He was terrified, "They can't actually... make that, can they? Doesn't that kind of thing have to be approved by the FDA or something?

"Yeah right," Julian scoffed, turning his attention away from the news conference on the TV. We had heard all we needed to from the doctor lady on the screen, "You seriously think they're not going to try and use it on us the first chance they get?"

"Who's they, Hellion?" I asked, not really caring about the answer. Whoever came to get some would come when we didn't expect it, no matter who or what they were, so it didn't matter.

Julian looked at me like I was an idiot. He hadn't done that in a while, "You can't be serious," He said. My expression asked for him to enlighten me, "The humans. The government. Either-or, probably both. It's just a matter of time. They're calling this thing the cure, and it gets rid of the X-Gene, so what does that make us, the disease?"

I could tell when someone was about to jump on their soapbox, and that was the last thing I wanted to spend my afternoon listening to and dealing with for the rest of the day. Plus, there were a bunch of others in the room who all looked just as spooked as Eddie. Not good.

"Hold that thought," I said, cutting Julian off at the pass, "Okay, I can see you're pissed. So I want you to take that anger, bottle it up, wait until people are storming the gates, and then you can cuss me out and say 'I told you so.' And it'll either be the best feeling in the world, or you'll get some ulcers from keeping it inside for that long."

Julian crossed his arms over his chest and looked at me testily, "And when that happens are you actually gonna do anything? Or are you just gonna be a pussy and let the flatscans walk all over you?"

I gave the telekinetic a dry look in return. It wasn't worth getting riled up over, "I'm gonna shoot 'em all in the fucking face like I did the first time, and the second time," I said, ticking off glowing fingers with each number. It was at that moment that I finally stopped and took note of how much I seemed to get in life-or-death situations with ornery humans, "Oh sweet Jesus, I've actually done this twice already."

He seemed pacified by the realization that I had indeed kicked the shit out of people for trying to victimize poor little mutant Bellamy. Maybe he had a point about the humans coming to get us thing? History did not look upon them favorably in that regard. But to be fair though, those were public hate groups and paramilitary outfits that I had the experiences with... which meant even worse things for when it actually happened again. Shit.

Goddamn it, I just wanted to relax after squad practice and binge some 'It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia' on Netflix with my homeboy. Was that too much to ask? Now who was going watch it with me? Eddie wasn't game anymore. Who would want to laugh after being scared to death?

XxX

Late nights were always a bother, because I couldn't ever sleep. It was easier to deal with though, now that I had a roommate. Wolf didn't need to sleep regular hours to recharge, so long as he did every so often. That meant he was up to humor me whenever I decided to stay in my room during one of my insomnia kicks.

Mostly because humoring me meant beating the breaks off of me in video games.

"You suck, Wolf," I snapped as an insult. I wanted to get him mad so he'd screw up. Not so easy.

Wolf didn't even flinch, "Judging by the player vs. player record between the two of us, I would say otherwise," He knew that losing was worse for me than anything I could say or do to him at that moment.

"You play like a pussy," I said, trying again. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough salt in my verbiage to make him care.

"You are overaggressive in your offense," Wolf declared, caring nothing for my insults. He knew that my losing was worse to me than anything I would actually be willing to say to him, "If you pressured your opponents less, and learned how to wait for mistakes to be made, you would likely fare better in multiplayer."

"But forcing people to panic is so satisfying," I said, before I felt something click after the words I said, "Wow... I think that might be how I actually fight in real life too. Explains a lot, actually."

"And how does that work for you?" Wolf said, adding on to his own point, "Against an enemy you cannot frighten into making rash mistakes, you leave yourself too open by constantly moving forward. A savvy warrior will capitalize."

Wolf was good at analysis. Really good. In fact, I took cues from improving on the way I did things in fights from him. More than I did from teachers, really. A lot of the time they would tell me what I did wrong, but he would offer suggestions on the spot. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't. But constantly trying to fix what I did wrong kept others off of my ass.

As we went through the character select screen again to prepare for our latest match-up, I felt the need to mess with him a bit more, "You know, if you didn't care, you wouldn't correct me when I screw up."

"Your continued survival is beneficial to me, Bellamy Marcher. It is only a rule of nature that I would seek to keep you well when you have shown a desire to work for my benefit," He said, trying to make things as logical as possible, "Also, I do not dislike you."

"Can you not be a douche and just admit that we're friends already?"

"No."

I flicked him on the side of my head. It hurt, but I got a decent 'tink' sound off of him, so it was worth it to me, "You see? That's why you're not a Paladin. You can't even pretend that you like me," I said, trying to be funny, "I mean, yeah, Laura doesn't like me either, but she's new. If I give her some time, maybe I can win her over. At least she has a reason. I got you out of that bunker and you don't like me. I probably just made a bad impression on her, so that's why she doesn't like me."

Speak of the devil, and she shall appear. From behind the two of us, out of nowhere, Laura spoke, "I also do not dislike you, Bellamy."

She had not been invited. She had not been present. Neither of us even knew she was there until she said something. Both of us jumped up and turned around, "Holy shit! Wolf, chill!" I said before he could extend the claws on his feet or grab his chainsaw from the open compartment on his back. He calmed down and let me focus back on Laura, "How long have you been in here? Actually, how did you get in here?"

I could have sworn I'd told her not to scare me anymore. Earlier that evening, in fact. That meant announcing your presence in some kind of way. Then again, I also said she could come to my room anytime.

Laura eyed Saberwolf warily until she realized that I had some kind of influence over him and that he wouldn't attack her. Good. I didn't need them destroying my room, "I have not been here for long. Maybe two minutes."

I noticed that she didn't answer my second question. Whatever. I would figure it out on my own later. "How did you not even know she was in the room?"

"I must actively be seeking mutants to locate them," Wolf explained, sitting down on his mechanical haunches once everything had calmed down, "It is not an ability that I use in passing. I must activate it myself."

"Oh. Neat," I said. I tossed the controller in my hand over onto my bed and walked up to Laura. I was a full foot taller than her, but I didn't feel like it. Not only had she crept up on me in my own room, without even trying, if it came to straight-up physicality, she would probably have manhandled me in a heartbeat, "So what can your oh-so-humble team leader do for you? Need a nightlight or something?" I asked, making a show to glow for a moment as I did.

Communication was not Laura's strong-suit – it was clear that she was struggling – but I had to give her efforts for trying. "You said if I wanted to talk, or if I had a question, that I could come to you," She said, "I wanted to ask, what is the composition of the Paladins?"

There was a real curiosity in the tone of her question, as though it were a subject that had been bothering her, and I had a satisfying answer. I didn't, "What are you talking about?"

Her brow furrowed, a touch of frustration seeping into her expression, "Why is our team set up in the way that it is?"

From the little that I'd picked up on Laura since meeting her, she knew her shit. I mean as far as fighting and strategy, at least the concepts. It was intimidating to think that this person was my age. She didn't leave anything for granted. If there was something she didn't know and it involved her in one way or another, she wanted to be caught up to speed.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the answers she seemed to be after, "I don't know. They just put us together. I think Ruth told Miss Pryde to add me onto the team, but other than that, we just got stuck with each other."

"Exactly," Laura replied, sounding frustrated. She had come to the same conclusion, but it didn't seem logical to her, "The team makeups do not make sense. It is difficult for me to see a tactical reasoning for how they are divided up, with the exception of one or two student pairings on every team. This one is no different. Our abilities as a unit do not mix."

"Well, yeah, that would be nice. But I don't think that's such a big deal," I could admit that she had a point. It was a pain in the butt trying to figure out how to work together with what all of us could do. But we were getting along somehow. I liked my team, "How we got together doesn't matter. All that matters is that we are now."

She stared me down before shaking her head, "That is foolish."

It was like she tried to understand my point of view, but just couldn't. That gave me a measure of hope, "Hopefully you'll understand, eventually," I was starting to feel better about finding ways to get her integrated with the team. I just had to convince her to spend more time with us. Break her of her loner streak, "Until then, since you're here, do you want to play something?"

She followed my finger as I pointed to the TV and then moved back over to my bed to grab my controller, "It is late. We have classes in the morning," She reasoned with me, "It would be a better idea to rest."

I waved her off while Saberwolf retook his position at the side of my chair. He shook himself out before sitting down, clearly ready to continue playing, "I can't sleep unless I'm hurt or I really burn myself out during the day. Part of my powers. That makes nighttime boring. But, at least it gives me a lot of time to practice on things."

"And yet, he is still subpar at many games," Wolf chimed in.

"You practice when I'm not here," I replied to the chippy A.I., before trying to hand off the controller to Laura, "Seriously though, do you want to take a crack at him? I'm tired of losing tonight," I offered, mostly to get out of taking constant beatdowns from Wolf. We only ever played what he wanted to play. If it was something I was better at, he never wanted to touch it.

She tentatively took the controller from me and sat down in the chair, "I do not know how to play."

I plopped down face-first on my bed in the direction of the TV and got myself settled in to watch, "Trust me, Wolf will be happy to whoop your ass until you figure it out. We've got all night."

I wasn't going to be able to fix much of anything in one night, but with enough time, I could try putting some dents in the formidable fortress that was Laura's personality.

XxX

Friday was a short day, or at least it felt that way. Classes were the conventional Friday slog of most of my teachers trying to get us through to the weekend. More than usual actually, as we didn't even have any evening practice. Miss Pryde had to go with the X-Men to investigate something, so training was canceled.

I felt relieved all day. That meant there was less of a chance that I would show up to my planned outing later that day without being all beaten up. And speaking of my planned outing, I kind of had to let my team know where I was going to be.

"You're doing 'what'?" Eddie seemed out of sorts at the news, seemingly unable to accept it, "Bel, you've got a date? How? When? Where was I for this?" This seemed to be important to him for some reason. At least enough to raise a fuss over, which in all reality didn't take much. My boy was the bombastic sort.

I guided him back down into his lunchroom seat with one hand to get him out of my face. He was far too close, "Not working out, like you always are. Hit the gym and maybe you'll be around for more of my better moments," I did tend to make more of an ass of myself around others than when I was alone.

"Pixie asked him out, apparently," Hisako said, gesturing my way with her fork as she finished chewing her bite of food, "She was asking about what you like earlier today. I told her that I didn't know. I said you hate most things."

Wow. Way to make me look less than great. Probably for the laughs. Truth be told, I probably would have done something similar, "Thanks. Really. I'll remember that when some guy comes asking around about you," I told her.

Hisako grinned and leered at me from across the table, "What's wrong? Afraid you'll scare her off?"

She was picking on me, but was closer to the mark than she figured she was, "Yes," I said bluntly.

My stark admission caught her off-guard. Her and everyone else at the table, "Wait, really? Why? You're not that much of an asshole," It was as close to a compliment as I could normally expect from Hisako.

As confusing as it was for them, it was hard for me to put it into words. School, fighting, and missions were easy. There was something straightforward that you needed to do, and you did it. That was it. Give me an objective and an obvious goal and I was all over it. Anything that took more subtlety, and I'd overthink it and have more trouble. All the variables of dealing with people was way more complicated for me, and that was without ever getting into the whole dating thing.

Eventually, I just decided to go with that as an explanation. It was a sound enough reason by itself, "It's hard to say. I don't know how to explain it. I just feel like I'd be a crappy boyfriend," I said, stopping when I saw the look on Hisako's face. It was one shared by Eddie as well, "Hey, what's with those faces? I'm being serious."

Eddie and Hisako looked at each other before she gestured to him to speak up for the both of them, "No, I know. It's just you actually admitted that you might be bad at something. You never do that," He said.

Did I really come off as arrogant enough to imply that I didn't make mistakes? I didn't mean to. That was damnably inaccurate if that were the case, "I know I'm bad at stuff. I just never talk about the things I'm bad at. Accentuate the positives, hide the negatives."

Eddie waved his hands in a calming gesture, "Dude, it's fine. Just... don't be you."

I felt my eyebrow raise, wondering what exactly that meant, "Don't be me?" As opposed to being someone else?

Eddie nodded, fully willing to double down on what he'd just said to me, "Not all at first. Too much asshole-Bel right off the bat is overwhelming. Tell him, Hisako."

Hisako scoffed, "What do you mean 'right off the bat'? I still want to kill him sometimes."

Ruth giggled and gave me a pat on the arm, "Yes, Bellamy is an acquired taste," Even she got into picking on me too. It was the thing to do. I got no respect from my team whatsoever, I tell you.

Eddie flicked a napkin Ruth's way in response, "Right. A taste it took you all of ten seconds to acquire. He's always nice to you," He pointed out.

I shot the napkin out of the air with a finger laser. It burned to nothing before it could touch back down onto anything. I hoped it looked as cool to other people as it did to me, "I'm always nice to her because she's the only one of you who actually respects me," I said, leaning back in my chair to get an unobstructed view of Ruth, "You respect me, right?" She gave me a big smile and a nod, "Damn straight."

Eddie slapped his hand down on the table hard. He almost scared me into falling onto the floor, "You see? That right there. That's almost fine. Almost where you need it to be. Tone it down a bit, and you should be okay," He said enthusiastically.

Hisako nodded and followed up, "Girls eat it up when you're a little earnest. If you walk around with an ego the size of a zeppelin, it's not really a turn-on when they're around you longer than five minutes," She actually had real advice to give, and she seemed to mean completely well for once, "There's a time and a place for everything. Just think before you say something and you'll be fine."

Wow. That was really nice. It was probably ranked top five in the list of nice things she had ever said to me up to that point. Granted, off the top of my head, it's really hard to think of the other four. It meant a lot though. The squad had my back, and if that was the case, how could I ever consider failing? Not literally in this case, because none of them were going. But they had my back in spirit, and that was almost as good.

...Not really. Moral support wasn't good enough for this. I was not about to face down the whole Paragons squad for what amounted to a supervised date all by my lonesome. It would have to do though. It wasn't like I could just bring someone else on the Paladins at the last moment.

I would have asked Eddie, but he had detention for calling Miss Pryde a retard sometime earlier that day. I have no idea what the context was. I didn't want to know when I found out about it.

Besides, even if I could convince one of them to go with me, that would have been a wuss thing to do. And I was no wuss.

XxX

It was weird walking into something I was nervous about alone. Ever since I'd come to Xavier's, I'd had the Paladins with me. That had either inspired me to nut up and be brave, or fake it as much as possible to keep their spirits up.

This was not the same thing. I tried to keep in mind that a date was just hanging out, only with a girl who might be interested in letting you play with her boobs if she thought well enough of you.

...

No, that just made things worse. The pressure of getting laid or looking like a dork would be far more intense if that were my mindset.

As I made my way to the shuttle that would take us into Salem Center proper, I decided to just let things end us as they would. My friends had a point, I tended to make bad first impressions, but I'd been around the Paragons team plenty, and I didn't annoy them to death yet. I'd give it time though.

It was bright out, and getting warmer to boot. The sun beat down on my back, though my hat kept most of the light out of my face... as though that mattered. Spring Break was right around the corner, and it couldn't have come soon enough. After what had happened on campus recently, a lot of kids that could go home probably needed to, to let their parents know that they were okay. To unwind a bit. It all sounded good to me.

Speaking of unwinding, I saw the Paragons coming my way to the shuttle stop. A group with a werewolf kid, a guy with a flaming head, and a girl with bright butterfly wings was pretty easy to spot from far off. I gave a wave and Megan left her feet to fly over to me, "Bel! Hi! We didn't keep you waiting, did we?"

If the brightness of a smile equaled actual light, there had been enough in hers to charge me straight to overload, "Nah. I'm just chilling. Soaking in the sun. People-watching. You know, all that good stuff."

"People-watching?" Hope said disbelievingly as the others approached, "Around here?"

I scoffed at her skepticism, "You tell me one better place in the world to people-watch than Xavier's," I challenged jokingly.

It was a rhetorical question, but Hope rose to the challenge regardless, "Mutant Town," She said, looking very pleased with her quick answer.

That was actually a good response. It was like my answer, just on steroids, "Fuck. I've got to go back to New York soon then. That actually sounds awesome."

"It does?" Nicky asked, "I'd have figured you weren't much for dealing with people."

So it was obvious enough that even people on another squad could see it. That was sort of embarrassing. Hopefully I didn't come off as socially awkward or anything, "I'm not a people-person," I tried to defend, "That doesn't mean I don't like people. It just means they don't like me."

"Well, I like you," Megan said all of a sudden before realizing what she had blurted out. Her face turned beet red, "I mean, I'm so glad you could actually come with us today! This is gonna be great!"

As someone who said the wrong thing all the time, I respected her quick attempt to run damage control. Because of that and the advice I'd gotten from my friends to be less like myself at first to try and make a good impression, I let it slide, "Of course I made it. I told you I would. There was absolutely no reason not to. I told you last night, it sounded like a good time."

Hope nearly jumped on Megan's back, wrapping an arm around her shoulder to pinch her cheek, "You should have seen her, Bel. She was so excited all night and all day today after you said yes. I thought she was going to tire herself out before classes even let out."

Megan tried so hard to wiggle her way out, but Hope's grip was tight, "Hope, shut up!" She yelled at her friend. When she turned to me, her eyes seemed to be pleading not to take it seriously, "Don't listen to her, Bellamy. She's just picking on me."

"But you make it so easy," Hope said before finally letting her go, but not without a parting shot, "Don't worry. I'm sure Bel will be super-nice to you if you ask him."

I looked over at Nicky and Ben. Nicky just grinned at me with his super-sharp teeth, while Ben just rolled his eyes. Well that settled that. I wasn't going to be getting much help from either of them for different reasons. Nicky seemed to be enjoying the whole thing, while Ben just seemed like he had better things to do than to humor the situation at-hand.

"Can we get going?" Ben said, pointing at his wrist where he was wearing a watch, "If the shuttle leaves and we have to wait on the next one, that'd put a real damper on the start of the weekend."

True enough, the bus sat waiting. It had pulled up while we were all saying hello. Well, it was time to get the show on the road.

XxX

For a small place, Salem Center had a pretty nice town square area. All the good stuff there was to offer was located in that area, so it was the only spot in Salem Center anyone went to... which kind of fit the name, to be honest.

I was used to San Francisco, where I could find and do anything I wanted if I knew where to look. By comparison, Salem Center was… quaint. Quaint is a nice word isn't it? Let's go with quaint.

Even so, I paid attention to every storefront we stopped in front of that got the girls' attention. I kept every store that they went into in the back of my mind. Every place to eat that got a comment as we walked past and got a whiff of the cooking inside, I catalogued.

The reason she had asked me to go with everybody else hadn't just been to create a gigantic buffer between the two us being alone. We didn't really know the first thing about what the other liked. If there was going to be an actual date, as in just the two of us, anytime in the future, it would have been best to be armed with some kind of personal knowledge going in.

That was way more foresight than I'd ever given the idea of a date. Fortunately, I was good at retaining information. If this had been Megan's doing, I had to give her more credit in finding a work-around to her nerves than I did. If it had been Hope's handiwork, I had to question what kind of evil mastermind rested within the Paragons squad.

She was getting annoyed though. I could see that, and she wasn't even the reason I was there. No matter what we went to go do or see, Megan kept one body between herself and me. She must really have thought there was something scary about me.

Nicky and Ben had stuck around for a little while, but wound up fucking off to the arcade after we had eventually passed it. I had no interest. Any game in there wouldn't have been better than what I could get for my consoles and PC at home. I played games enough on my own time. There was no appeal to doing it while I was out. Besides, I was much more in the mood to try my luck hanging out with girls.

As I walked down the street, I felt my hat get lifted off of my head. I growled and glared over at the person responsible, one Hope Abbott, "Do you mind? I could tell you where I get mine if you want your own so bad."

"Oh calm down, it's fine," She said, waving the hat in front of me before moving it out of my grasp, "Tell the truth. You're trying to turn the whole bucket hat look into a thing, aren't you?" She needled, just before it was snatched from her, "Hey."

Megan took my hat into her hands and looked down at it for a moment before she handed it back to me, "Well I think it works for him."

I properly adjusted my hat back onto my head and smoothed the brim back out, "The reason I wear hats is so I don't absorb every drop of light that's beamed my way," I said, making sure to give a thankful wink to Megan as I kept speaking, "The fact that I make these look good is an added bonus."

Megan slid herself back onto the other side of Hope, away from me. Damn it. Still?

"Okay, I'm starving. Do you want to get something to eat?" She asked the two of us. We both nodded seperately. Hope looked around to get her bearings and find the arcade from where we all were, "Okay, just wait here for a bit. I'll go grab the guys before we go."

Seeing that we were all going to separate, Megan perked up and almost jumped off of the bench, "Wait, Hope-!"

"No. No," Hope said sternly, holding up a hand and stopping Megan mid-sentence. Slowly, a very sly smile grew on her face, "Stay here, both of you. I'll be right back."

"No, don't you-," Megan was about to dispute, before Hope put her hands on her shoulders and leaned in close to tell her something. Whatever it was, it took the fight out of her, and replaced it with another, "…You're right. You're right. I should. I will."

This seemed to brighten Hope's day, "Good!" She said giving Megan a nudge, "It'll be fine. Be right back!"

And with that, she took off, leaving me alone with someone who didn't seem to want to be. I looked down at where Megan was sitting. She looked away. Whatever Hope had said to fire her up hadn't lasted long.

She was not comfortable being alone with me, and her being uncomfortable made me feel uncomfortable. I wasn't well-trained enough in my mannerisms to keep it from showing, which just made things worse.

It made me grumpy to think about that things weren't going well, and I had been so excited. She seemed like she had been too, though granted, it had been Hope who had done more of the talking when I'd gotten the invite, but that wasn't the point. Whatever this was, it was my fault too.

Just what was my problem? I figured Megan's deal was that I was an asshole, which was not the best trait for a person to have if you were going to be left alone with them. I didn't have that excuse. Megan was a sweetheart.

'Fuck this,' I thought to myself. There wasn't anything about her that should have made me wary, and nothing was going to get more casual if one of us didn't at least try to take the first step.

I had to try and loosen her up somehow, and there was only one way I could think of to do it – run my mouth. It usually seemed to do the job, so why not here? Just as long as I didn't do anything weird like throw an arm around her.

I plopped down on the bench next to her, making nothing of it, even when her head seemed to dart my way for a moment. I gave her a look as though I were asking what the problem was, and quickly cut it out. No, Bellamy. Don't be a jerk, and don't scare the poor girl. Just talk to her. Get to know her a bit more. We got along well enough in most cases. Things were just... she seemed to like me, then she seemed to want to be anywhere else but near me.

"So, it seems like you guys are a few people short of a full squad," I said, trying to get some kind of talk started. Something easy, "Are they back at school, or did they have something better to do?"

Megan smiled a bit in return, "Mark went off on trip to go get some album," She said, "He's been chatting about it for weeks, but I don't know who it's by. I just remember I'd never heard of them before."

"Are they any good?" Megan just shrugged. Well, there went that avenue of conversation, "Right. Well, what about your other teammate? I don't think I've met her at all."

I knew Megan had another teammate, Jessica Vale. I had seen her before. I just never came across her.

Megan let out a sigh, "Jessie never really seems that into what we're doing," She told me. Yes. Tell Bellamy your problems. Let me soothe your soul, "Because she can see stuff, whenever she sees something, she just doesn't try. If she sees us win, she says we won without her. If we lose, she says she saw us all lose anyway, so it's not worth it."

That seemed the exact opposite of how I was trying to get Ruth to look at her powers, "Isn't the point of precog the fact that you can change things after you know what's supposed to happen?" Woe be if I had actually let her fall into the trap of looking at her precognition so negatively. I convinced her that if something bad happened, "Maybe she sees all of the failing because she knows she's not going to try when she sees it."

Seeing the future automatically changed it, or at least that was the theory most people lent themselves to. It probably helped in desperate situations.

Megan's fretful expression turned a 180, "That's what I said!" She said with a little flutter of her wings. She seemed happy that someone agreed with her, "We tried, but Ben told us to just leave it alone at this point. Maybe she'll come around eventually? I don't know."

I wanted to help, but I didn't know how the Paragon worked as a unit. Any advice I could give might have messed up their dynamic, "If talking didn't work, that's probably the next best bet. Maybe your advisor can do something?"

"Maybe," She seemed to be considering it as an option, "Ben's been trying to figure this out. I don't think he wants someone else involved, even Miss Sinclair, and she's supposed to be teaching us."

I raised an eyebrow under my hat, "Are you sure you should have told me about it then?" I asked. Because I damn sure wasn't a Paragon.

Megan nodded, an adorably serious look on her face, "You won't go around telling people or using it against us in Field Day events. I think you're a good guy, Bel."

"I'm a guy. I couldn't tell you for sure if I was good or bad," I took my hat off and brushed my hair down with my hand as I leaned back on the bench, "But if you say so, I guess I'll have to live up to it," I didn't get an answer at first and turned to look over at her.

Megan had leaned over my way, very close to my face. Dangerously close. Before I could ask what was up, she leaned back, having gotten what she'd apparently wanted, "Hey, your eyes are blue," She pointed out, "I thought they were green. They were last night, I think."

I chuckled, a bit out of relief. And here I'd been thinking that she wanted a kiss or something. That would have been awkward if I'd have acted on my assumption. See? Not good with people, "My eyes change color depending on how much light I'm charged up with. Blue means I'm as charged as I'm gonna get, I think," Safely, at least, "I've never gone past it. Then there's green, yellow, and red means I'm low."

She seemed to accept my explanation, but that didn't mean her curiosity was satisfied, "What happens if you run out?"

That certainly wasn't the kind of conversation we needed to have during a happy outing, "Don't worry about it. We shouldn't be talking about depressing things."

It took Megan a moment to put two-and-two together without being explicitly told, "Oh," She realized that she was about to get me to talk about something that would kill me, "Well, why don't you just try to stay at blue all of the time? That means you're full right? So nothing bad will happen if you keep that much power all of the time."

"Well, Dr. McCoy told me that's bad too," I said. If we were going to talk about it no matter what, I just had to get through it, "If I get too much, I'll get overcharged and burn out... and then, well, you know."

Megan was kicking herself, I could tell, "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

While it wasn't my favorite thing in the world to talk about, it was just a part of my life. It didn't put me off that much. It was a part of me, the same as if I had asthma or anemia or something, "It's not a big deal. I just don't talk about it. It's not an issue, and it's not anybody else's problem, Megan," I assured her, putting a hand on her arm, "It's fine. All I have to do is use up as much of it as I can everyday. It's not as hard as it sounds," Especially since I almost never slept, "I'm just glad you think there's something interesting about me, even if it's just my powers. Most people look at me and only think about the cool parts of what I can do. Not the inconvenient stuff."

Megan shook her head, "No, It's not just your powers. I want to know about you," This time, she tried to work through whatever embarrassment she was feeling, "Ugh, that probably sounds so weird. Ohmigod! Why can't I do this right? Hope told me not to talk so much. I do that a lot, and she said some people think it's annoying. Well, a lot of people think it's annoying."

I wasn't going to let her stop now. Once or twice before, sure. But she had been holding herself back so long, and it was clear that she had, "Go on ahead. I'm listening. Trust me, you're doing better than I probably would be. I suck at talking to people. I always seem to make them mad or think I'm weird."

If talking helped her feel comfortable, so be it. Besides, I didn't mind all of the talking. The more other people said, the less of a chance there was of me saying something dumb

Megan wasn't completely sure, but being reassured did something for her confidence. She drew her tongue across her lips in thought as she measured her words, "When I first met you, I just thought you were cool. You have a robot wolf who lives with you. You joined the Paladins and helped your team get to the final event in Field Day. You've fought a supervillain before! You've fought Mister Logan!" She actually lifted off from her seat in the bench with her wings.

As good as all of that was for my ego, I couldn't help but think that this was a rose-tinted sort of view. I also had a rap sheet of incidents. I had a list of failures. I'd let people down. I'd let myself down. I'd gotten people in danger for one reason or another. I believed in myself, sure. But my kind of self-confidence – the kind that you developed when you didn't expect anyone else to believe in you – was always rattled when someone else seemed to believe in you just as much or more than you did.

All I could do was sit, my ears wide open, just like my mouth, as she flew around and continued, "But it's more than that. The New Mutants like you. You even got the Hellions to like you, mostly. You come off all grumpy and stuff, but when I actually talked to you, you didn't blow me off. You actually talked to me. You seemed happy to. You seem happy to talk to anybody. You just don't try to hang out with anyone."

I recovered long enough to respond with some kind of retort, "I'm used to keeping to myself. I think deeply and bask in the glow of my own inner reflection," That line of b.s. didn't hold up for even five seconds, "That was a complete load, by the way. I get anxious meeting new people, so I just don't do it."

There. I said it. I admitted it. I was no social butterfly. More of a social spider, just sitting in my web waiting for potential acquaintances to trap themselves in my web of interaction so I could drain the friendship from them. And that was an awful and startlingly graphic metaphor. I might have problems.

Megan laughed, but it was a warm, comfortable one. It seemed that if I could get her talking, she was in her element, "You're... nicer than you act, even if you don't seem like it at first. But it's not just that either. You're never afraid of anything, no matter how scary it seems," Her smile fell a bit and she let out a sigh as she landed in front of me, "It's encouraging. I wish I could be like that. I can't even fly during practices without a helmet. Even though I've been training all year, I'm so scared of crashing."

It was nice to hear that she thought that way about me. But she had made one grave miscalculation in her outlook of Bellamy Marcher. One I could not allow to go unchecked, "Megan, I'm scared of everything," I said bluntly, "Everything I've done since I've gotten here has scared me shitless. Everything."

It was like she didn't want to believe it, even though it was coming straight out of my mouth, "What? But all of that stuff, you actually did it. You went through with it. You pulled it off. All of it!"

I did. Those things happened, and I didn't die. That was a plus. Even so-, "And every day, it's never good enough. I'm not, I mean. My team made me the leader, I didn't think I was good enough. I still don't. When I had to get away from the Reavers, the whole time, I was scared I was gonna die, and Ruth was gonna die, and it would've been my fault. And don't even get me started on the Danger Room."

She seemed to visibly deflate. Her wings even drooped, "I don't understand."

I didn't mean to burst her bubble. I just wanted to be honest, so I kept going, "I fuck up a lot. I get slapped around a lot. And when the bottom falls out in any given situation we end up in, I'm just as lost as all of you are. I swear, I'm no magic man with the mystical key. I just don't want to fail."

"But in the Danger Room, you got us all out. You did that. It wasn't a fuc-... err, screw up," She replied with some fire, censoring herself from dropping a swear.

Maybe she was right, but not being able to keep it from happening in the first place was a screw up. Nothing would change my mind on that, "I bought us time," I said coolly.

Megan wouldn't hear anything of my attempts to downplay what happened, "That was still more than what a lot of other people did! If you think you're a screw up or you're not good enough, why'd you even try to take the lead?"

I shook my head at a loss for how to explain it all eloquently. I gave that up, "Someone had to," I eventually said, "It's the same with everything else. I do things like that because if I look around and I see no one's coming up with the answers, I think to myself, 'Why not me? Why can't I do it myself?'" I told her, eventually figuring out how to put what I wanted to say, "...Hey, you know what my favorite part of hand-to-hand training is?"

"No?" She seemed confused about what I was getting at.

"Grappling. Because it's about control," I said, feeling more comfortable with where I was trying to get to with the conversation, "If you're not stronger than the other guy, use technique and get leverage. If the other guy has better technique than you, create a situation where leverage is useless. That's how I dumb it down, at least," Yeah, I felt better. More like I was making my point, "What I'm trying to say is, I like when I have control over my own fate. I like it when there's a plan, even if the plan has no chance. Just the idea that there's a way out if you look hard enough, try hard enough, think hard enough. I mean, we're the fucking X-Men, or we're gonna be. Just look at what the other ones have pulled off. We can do anything."

Megan suddenly snapped her fingers and pointed into my face,"That! That right there! What you just said, or what you meant," She said brightly, "Screw ups don't think like that. They don't handle things like that. I think you were made the leader for a reason. And I think it was a good choice."

How could you argue with someone who believed in you. If you spent all of your time doing your best, it was actually nice to have people recognize it and compliment you in their own way, "Thank you," I was finally able to say, "It's nice to know that someone else might think I'm awesome. Driving my own bandwagon is kind of lonely."

"How about a ticket off then?"

A massive shadow settled over the two of us in the sunset. We turned around to find a guy that stood well over a foot taller than me right there. His skin was greyish-green and haggard. He wore some kind of sleek armor that covered his body, arms, and leg, and a red hood that also served as a cape. Across his face, covering his nose, stretched a piece of metal.

"Who are you?"

"You can call me a messenger," He said. Awfully big messenger then. Scary-looking too, "But that can wait. I'm not here for you, child. Where are the X-Men?" He smiled, promising nothing good, likely no matter what my answer was, and I had no clue to begin with. They weren't at the school, and he probably knew that.

"Uh… the school is at the edge of town," Megan said warily, pointing in the proper direction, "The X-Men aren't there though. I think they're on a mission."

I looked her way and slowly shook my head. Oh, honey. No. Don't give the big scary guy intel.

He seemed exasperated by this information, pinching the bridge of his nose in irritation, "And you have no idea where they went?"

"They really don't tell us anything," I said before realizing I probably should have been trying to persuade him to leave us alone, "…But they should be back soon. Tonight even," So go away before they come back.

The odd -looking man let out a sigh of patient acceptance, "I see. This is very frustrating. But thank you. You have both been very helpful, mutant children," I saw his body tense. Here we go, "Now about that message…"

I was left with an opening though. He made eye contact with me, "Sure. Go ahead and leave it after the flash."

"GRAAAAAH!" The man roared when the force of a flash grenade went off right in his retinas. He put his hands up, as though touching and rubbing at his eyes would do anything to help him. It did help, me that is. Because I saw something sharp attached to his gauntlets on the back of his right hand. No one with gauntlets on had any good intentions planned. So I shot the most dangerous target available. It just so happened to also work out that it was right in front of his face.

I preemptively knocked him down with an explosive blast, but he moved to get up the moment he hit the ground. I basically shot him in the head, and he didn't stay down. That did not bode well for my chances.

"Megan, we should probably run. Now!" He confronted us in the middle of Salem Center. Clearly he had no issues with starting something in broad daylight, so being in public wasn't going to help us.

"Y-Yeah!" She didn't need to be told twice to run away. That was good. Some people were too proud to try and get away. I should know, I worked with one of them – Hisako, "But wait, weren't you winning?"

Before I could answer, or she could take off, we were interrupted, courtesy of a body check to the back that wouldn't have been out of place in the NHL. Both Megan and I fell to the ground, "He was opportunistic," I turned to my back and went to fire a shot, only for him to step on my arm away before I could take aim, "I can respect that, but it won't happen again."

I let out a yell and tried to move him off, but he just ground his heel into my forearm. Megan lunged at him to try to get him off of me, but he swatted her away. It pissed me off, but more importantly it gave me an opening. When he returned his attention to me and lifted his other leg to stomp my head, I pressed my fist to the bottom of his boot and fired. He flew off of me like a rocket. I got up and took off after him.

I jumped into the air the instant he hit the ground, intending to pounce on his head like a tiger and pulverize his head with light. He rolled out of the way and back onto his feet, but when I landed, I used the intended blast to fly his way before he could reset. He sidestepped me and just let me fly past him.

Damn. Of course he knew what he was doing. That was just great.

I felt hands wrap around my ankles and feared the worst. I knew I was about to get ragdolled. Only, I didn't. I was lifted off of the ground with an upside-down view of our enemy as he charged after me. He seemed surprised to see my face. Even more surprised to get shot in his face.

Megan had gotten a hold of me, and had given me just enough of a pull to where I could flip to my feet safely. Atta girl. I couldn't have asked for a better assist in the moment even if Eddie had been there. Didn't even lose my hat, "Nice."

That feeling didn't last long. Our enemy didn't go down. He took my closed fist blast like a punch to the face, "The X-Men didn't disappoint when I met them, and it seems their young don't either," He unhooked a weird circular weapon with barbed blades from his armor, "But I am Ord of the Breakworld. I have been fighting for decades longer than you have been alive. You are a warmup for me."

I clenched my teeth and fired a shot with both hands. He deflected them with the armor on his wrists and ran at me. My eyes stayed locked on his weapon as he began to swing it at me. I couldn't back him off of me. He was strong. So strong, even when I started channeling juice to my body to make myself faster and stronger, he still had the advantage. Even when I tried to push him off of me when he got too close, all I got for my trouble was an elbow to the face.

He never let me get too far, even when it would have been easy to.

Ord was smart. He didn't know what Megan could do, other than fly, but instead of coming in to help fight, she was staying away from us even though she could see I was getting my ass handed to me. That made things easier for him. Either she was standing by for whatever reason until I was defeated and then he could move on to her, or she had some kind of power that she couldn't use while I was close to him.

My arm got cut. I grabbed my wound and headbutted him as a reflex. That was a mistake. He had a head like a cinder block, both in size and how hard it was. None of this was working. Ord grabbed me by the collar and headbutted me right back.

I was mad. How long was this going to be a thing? As much as I kept getting better, I still wasn't good enough. It was never enough. No amount of team training. No amount of late nights getting my ass handed to me by Mister Logan. And here I was, getting smacked around by this seven-foot freak who looked like a space Assassin's Creed reject.

He swung his blade thing at me, and in a fit of rage I swung at him. It was here this day that I discovered something else when I channeled a blast in a particular way.

Closed fist = concussive. Open palm = explosive. Single finger = piercing.

Knife hand = slicing. Awesome.

I swung a vertical chop at him, and a wave of light the length of my forearm to my fingertips flew out. Had I been aiming down the middle instead of just at his weapon to stop it from killing me, I'd have killed him instead. Granted, I would have died too, but it would have been mutually assured destruction. As it stood though, I stopped him from hurting me and took a chunk out of his shoulder at the same time. A literal chunk.

I had hurt him, significantly. Finally. And with that, it was time to go. I wasn't any kind of full-fledged superhero. I was a trainee. We didn't fight bad guys for real. We weren't supposed to anyway, for good reason. With that in mind, I turned and did my best impression of a track star and ran for it. My left arm was slick with my own blood.

Megan flew up beside me, and took my hands so she could try taking off with me again. She could fly faster without me, but the idea was that Ord couldn't fly, so he couldn't reach us before we got somewhere safe.

"Bellamy, are you alright?" Megan asked when she noticed the blood running down my chest, side, and back from the cut on my shoulder.

It was pretty deep, but I couldn't even feel it. Adrenaline was a hell of a thing, "It could have been way worse. I'll be fine. We've just got to get the hell out of here."

She wasn't strong enough to hold me up and fly fast enough to get away from this guy at the same time. He was big, fast, strong, and he could fly. That was totally unfair, and yet… we had to deal with him. More specifically, I had to fight him, or at least try to.

I swung my legs forward and let go of Megan's hands, throwing myself right at the guy in front of us. He went to swat me out of the air, so I shot at him. He put his hands up to fend off the concussive blast I sent his way, basically wading his way through it.

I couldn't budge him back as he tore through my blast, and eventually I got within his reach. Thus was the curse of forward momentum.

All I can say is, I thought I had gotten used to being hit. All I remembered was seeing him swing at me, feeling a lot of pain, then waking up when I hit the top of a tree and fell through the branches to the ground. I saw red, I was completely breathless, and the side of my face throbbed every time my heart beat.

That was with my powers making my body tougher. Maybe I should have invested in a helmet instead of Megan? And perhaps some body armor as well. While I was on the ground, laying on my side, I touched down at my belly where I felt a lot of pain and felt something squishy and wet. There was a lot of blood around me as well.

"Ssssshit..." I muttered, basically trying to hold my guts in with my bare hands. He cut me. Of course he cut me. Why wouldn't he? Because I came at him like a screaming howler monkey in some banzai attack? Well, this was what I got for it. I wasn't going to scare someone like him into not reacting, so he did. Boy did he ever, "Oh... that's not good. That's really not good."

I rolled over to my back. With my view of the sky I could see Megan landing, but I could also hear heavy steps on the ground. I turned my head and saw Ord standing a few feet away.

"Ohmigod, Bel! Oh, no-no-no, there's so much blood!" Megan was fretting over me, words coming out of her mouth a mile a minute, but I couldn't hear any of it, "You're gonna be okay! I'll get you somewhere, just... don't die! Please!" I just knew that while she was freaking out, that guy was going to kill her too.

"Pixie, I'm already dead!" I snapped, breaking her from trying to comfort me, "Run already! Get away from him!" I wanted to shoot him, to give her a chance to flee on her own without me weighing her down. But I couldn't even see well enough to rattle off a shot that could even convince him to stay back. Yelling hadn't helped.

Ord grinned at me. I hated it. I wanted to carve his face off with a laser. Unfortunately, I was more concerned with other things than a tit-for-tat get-back. Thankfully, he seemed to be done. He put away his circular blade. My blood and pieces of my flesh were still on it.

"Send the X-Men my message, girl. I don't think this one will be able to any longer," He just had to taunt the dying boy. Asshole, "The mutant abomination will never be a threat to the Breakworld," And with that, he left. Not a moment too soon.

Everything started to go dark. I normally stayed pretty warm, but things started feeling cold. The glow of the sunset felt so good. It just made me want to go to sleep, and I never felt like that. It had just been such a long day, and I was so tired.

"Bel, no! You're scaring me! I'm not being funny, please don't go to sleep!" Megan yelled, but even though she kept talking, her voice grew quieter and quieter to me, "Come on! We're getting you help! Gotta get you back to the Institute! God, you're heavy!"

As I went out, the last thing that went through my mind and came out of my mouth was one thing.

"...Never good enough."


And that's the chapter, guys.

I've not got a lot to say this time, so I'll just say I hope you enjoyed and bid you adieu for now.

Kenchi out.