Disclaimer: I do not own Marvel. I don't know if I'm emotionally ready for another major Marvel film. Infinity War left me with some lingering feelings. Hopefully my palate is cleansed with Ant-Man and the Wasp. I've always liked Paul Rudd.

Chapter 25: Time Is A Flat Circle


It's easy for me to see why people get so addicted to being in relationships. There's a lot to like. For example, the constant company provided by a significant other. It's hard to be lonely when someone has basically designated themselves to spend as much time with you as possible.

And then there's... well, there's what some would call the skinship portion of the whole thing. For a teenager navigating the choppy waters of puberty, experiencing sex on a regular basis for the first time is a shock to the system.

I'm not just talking about me either. Megan was very enthusiastic about hooking up as much as possible, which still wasn't as much as either of us liked. The only obstacle in our way to do it more often than we did was our respective roommates. But when one of us could get one of them out of the way for any reasonable period of time... oh boy.

I had managed to get Wolf to leave my room for a night and stay with Ruth, with the conditions that he got to take my Nintendo Switch with him. That was fine. It wasn't like I didn't have five other consoles in my room at any given time, and it wasn't like I was going to be playing many video games when I had a girl to play with instead.

"You sure your codename isn't 'Rabbit' instead of Pixie? Jesus, girl," I joked, but this was a very welcome thing, "Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I'm just saying," As long as I could afford the condoms needed to prevent any accidental pregnancies, we could do it whenever she wanted. The only reason I hadn't asked more often beforehand was because I didn't want to come off as a sex-obsessed jerk.

Megan pinched my goddamn nipple of all things. It fucking hurt, and I didn't expect it, but I didn't give her the benefit of letting her know, "Oh, shut up. I'm serious, Bel! I missed you during the break," She said, before admitting something more reservedly, "...And I was jealous."

Oh no. We had already had our little talk about that. There was no need to dwell on old stuff. Especially less than pleasant old stuff, "You don't need to say anything else. We already talked about it."

Fortunately, for the sake of us both being unclothed and in close proximity, it didn't devolve into a rehashing of the Laura thing, "No, I'm jealous of your team, actually," Megan said, "It feels like they know more about you than I do. I mean, I get that it's easier to be close to somebody when you deal with what you guys have had to. But it just... I don't know. This sounds dumb."

"No-no, I get it," It made perfect sense to me. Megan and I didn't really start getting close until bad things happened that we'd both had to handle, "Pix, for some reason, people find it easier to bond in misery."

She didn't like that idea. It was understandable. What kind of psycho would be excited about dealing with problems just for something like that, "So we have to suffer together to get super-close? That's awful. That can't be the way normal relationships work."

Since when were any of us normal? I didn't say that though, "I don't know, we seem close enough already, at least physically," I tried to joke for a moment, "If bad shit happening speeds up the process, I'd rather not. I don't exactly like you watching me get my ass kicked," I didn't want her to see me in action at all. She'd probably notice the thing I was going to therapy for, and I doubted that girls found a complete lack of empathy sexy, "And I definitely don't want anything bad happening to you."

"Bad things happen to you a lot," She observed astutely.

That was the understatement of the school year, and we had just started it, "I would rather they didn't, believe me," I tried to reason back, "But I knew what I was getting into when I decided to come here, so complaining too much would be a jabroni move."

Megan nodded a look on her face showing that she was listening to me seriously. It was adorable, "Right. I'll take your word for it, because I don't know what 'jabroni' means."

I didn't know how to respond to that, "It means-," I suddenly felt too tired to go into any kind of detail, "You know what? Fuck it. I'm exhausted. All you need to know it that it's not good," I said with a laugh.

Megan took the opportunity to try and tease me, "I thought you didn't get tired."

I rolled my eyes, "I don't get physically tired. I still get mentally worn down."

She got smug and held my cheeks to shake my head around, "So, I wore you out, huh?"

"You want to see how worn out I am?"

It was a good thing that the walls between dorm rooms were fairly thick. I'd have hated to be the guy that ruined his neighbors' evening enjoying himself too much.

XxX

Because I almost never sleep, it's really convenient for me to go and do things I don't want to do. I always have time for everything, you see. For instance, medical things, like minimally invasive procedures. I don't have to miss class, or interaction times with my friends. I can just set the appointment for some weird time, like two in the morning on a Tuesday.

Did that suck for Dr. McCoy? Probably. But when he told me about what he wanted to do, he gave me the option to pick a time.

Two hours of surgery later, and I had a new accessory – an implant in the back of my right hand, the size of a raisin. At least, that's what I was told. It was covered in so many bandages, I couldn't see it. It was meant to help me monitor my power level. To be fair, having something I could check myself was a lot easier than randomly asking whoever was around what color my eyes were.

Fresh off of waking up from my medically-induced nap, I couldn't stop staring at my right hand. It felt like there was a rock or something in it, "I trust you Dr. McCoy. I mean, you know the science that goes into my b.s. powers better than I do, but isn't this a little much?" I asked, rubbing the soft cast around my hand.

Dr. McCoy moved my hand away to keep me from picking at his work, "Mister Marcher, I know you're aware of the danger of your power's limitations," He gently admonished, "You do an admirable job of keeping to your limitations, but you're growing more powerful."

Yes, because I was the shit, "That's good," I hoped I wasn't puffing my chest out too hard.

"But it's occurring quickly," Dr. McCoy pointed out to try and bring me back down to earth, "Tell me, do you remember the last time you used a large amount of your reserves?" I frowned and nodded my head. It was during the summer, "Did you feel the change, or did you find out later?" I looked away, and he correctly assumed it was the second answer, "Yes, you have access to much more energy. Your body's capacity to store it is significantly higher than it was when you first came to us, but your body processes only require the same amounts to operate that they ever have."

"So, I can't trust how much I have just off of feeling anymore..." The last fight of any significant value I'd had, I drained myself all the way down to yellow without even feeling it. And I still didn't sleep that night, "...That sucks."

"Now, now. You'll be fine," The brilliant, blue-furred man reassured me with pats on the back, "Alright, Mister Marcher. I think we're just about finished here. Don't remove that cast until the implant settles. Now, be on your way, my boy! You have class to get to later this morning," He reminded me with a toothy smile.

I drew back in distaste, "I still have to go to class? I just had surgery," I lifted up my cast-covered hand, "How am I supposed to write? I can barely feel this arm."

Dr. McCoy looked like he was going to write me a note just long enough to make me believe I was going to get out of classes, before he changed his tone entirely, "You're left handed," He deadpanned, killing my excuse, "No truancy will be sanctioned on my watch, young man," He said, escorting me out of his back office.

I grinned back at him and took off when he swung a mighty paw at me, playing around. He remained in the room, finishing some things up while I left through his lab.

...His lab. Where the Cuckoos told me that dead kid Quentin Quire was. When was I going to get another chance to look around? I took my shot.

Staying quiet and keeping an eye out, I skulked around, keeping an eye out for a dead body or something. I was pretty sure that it would be something obvious when I saw it. And yet, there wasn't a lot of clutter. What I saw around me was what was there. I didn't dare touch anything, seeing as how I had no idea what most of it was or how it worked.

Eventually, my eye strayed to a large container of glowing goo. If anything in the lab screamed mad scientist, this was it. I put my hand on the glass. Whatever was in there felt... alive. What kind of weirdness was this?

"The hell are you looking at, chump?"

I jumped back in shock, "Did you just-?" I said to myself before realizing I could probably be heard by Dr. McCoy if I spoke. This guy was a telepath, so I probably didn't have to talk to speak with him, 'Is this you? Quentin Quire?'

"Well, if it isn't the false prince, come to see the true ruler of Xavier's in his prison."

I didn't even bother acknowledging that, 'Can you, like, stop doing shit in my head, please?' As far as I knew, I hadn't done anything to piss off this guy or anyone he actually liked, if he even did like anyone at the school.

"Nope," Quire thought to me, quite nastily, "You've got everybody fooled into thinking you're some kind of badass. The other losers that run around this place... the teachers... the damn X-Men... even yourself."

'What are you talking about?'

"You're a house cat that acts like he's a lion. But every time you run up against a real one, they turn you into the pussy you are," Anger rolled through me, and I could feel that Quire was loving every moment of it, "And the wannabe X-Men filling this dump lap it all up! It's incredible! It's almost impressive, actually."

I was in disbelief that I was getting lip from some glowing ooze on a table. What had been a burning rage at having my practical performance issues thrown in my face turned into a smoldering one, "...And what have you done? You started a riot and got turned to psychic sludge by the fucking Cuckoos. That's your claim to fame – some punk that got shut down the first time he tried to tangle with the big boys."

That one had gotten to him. I could feel it, "You don't know anything about it."

"At least I lived to learn from my mistakes," I taunted him, patting his container, "I bet sitting in that fucking jar all day every day, all you think about is what you'd have done different, or what you'd do if you weren't goo."

"You think you're better than me? You're a sideshow! At best, you're like a star athlete in some podunk town. The minute you tear your ACL, they'll forget about you. The second there's any doubt; the second you fuck up, and I mean REALLY fuck up, just one time... they'll drop you. All of them. Because paper heroics is all you're good for, and once that's torn through, you're good for nothing."

If he was going to try and cut at me with words, he picked the wrong one, 'You mean like you? You could project to anyone in this school, but you went with me. That's how much I don't matter,' I thought with a silent scoff, 'You're strong from what I've heard. You could probably do some real damage to the X-Men to get your revenge or something, but there's just one problem. Your ass can't move! What's the point of being king if the only part of your kingdom you can experience is the dungeon?' I said, mocking him with his own metaphor.

Quire laughed the way you hear someone do it when they're angry and plan on getting even, "I was just screwing with you before because I was bored. But now? I'm gonna watch you crash and burn, and I'll enjoy every second of it," He thought to me maliciously, "Kid Omega's got his eyes on you."

'You don't have eyes,' I told him, rolling mine, 'Stay out of my head, or I'll pour you down the sink, Quentin.'

He laughed at the threat/insult, "The last thing you, or any of the rest of these sheep want is for you to let me out of here," He thought back to me, quite forebodingly.

Having gotten what I'd come for, I turned to leave before Dr. McCoy found me lingering in his lab, 'Whatever. I just wanted to know that I wasn't losing it. It's just you messing with my head.'

"You think I'm messing with your head? You aren't worth the effort, idiot. It's like rainbow stew up there," Quire thought to me, parting with one last sarcastic shot, "Oh, and happy birthday, Marcher."

I ignored him. I had early morning things to do before classes started for the day.

XxX

The growing pains of the new semester included managing to coordinate with your friends. All of the Paladins had the same time set for lunch, except for Hisako, with her advanced class schedule. We basically didn't see her during school unless we were in a part of it we weren't supposed to be in at that particular part of the day. Definitely not that day at least.

The same went for other groups, like the Hellions. Unlike us, they were split down the middle, with half having different eating times. Julian, Cessily, and Santo were saddled with our lunchtime, and so they gravitated toward us.

This confused Eddie, who had been out of the loop as to why things had changed so much from the end of the last semester, "Why are the Hellions sitting with us?"

As far as he knew, we were on truce terms with each other because of the party we'd all gone 50-50 on. But that did not necessarily make for the kind of closeness that came with sitting together at lunch. This was a big deal.

Cessily was the Hellion that chose to answer him, "Because Julian thinks sitting at a half-empty table is sad."

"Shut up, Cess," Julian grumbled with no heat to it.

This did little to solve Eddie's current conundrum over Paladin-Hellion relations, "Okay, but why us? Are we friends now? Did I miss something?"

"Well, we did have that life-changing field trip over the summer that you weren't there for," I reminded him, taking a fork to some mashed potatoes, "I got shot, and me and Laura snuck across the border into Tijuana."

Santo laughed victoriously, looking back on the really intense day he was involved in, "Yeah, we kicked supervillain ass! You should have been there, Wing. It was the kind of shit they make movies or miniseries about."

Eddie clicked his tongue in annoyance, "Man, I miss everything cool. I need some hero cred. Sol, Armor, and Laura all have it. Where's mine?"

At that moment, I noticed Laura not too far away in line, eyes curiously scanning the options for lunch, "Speak of the devil..." I muttered before speaking up, "Hey, Laura! Grab some food and get over here! You need to tell Eddie why you and me should be in jail for grand theft auto!"

It was very intriguing to watch a human being spook like a deer. Seriously, Laura saw me, her eyes went wide, and she proceeded to leave as quickly as she could without breaking into a jog. I'd had the feeling she'd been avoiding me since classes had started, because out of all of my team, I had not seen her. And team practices hadn't started yet to force her to be around us. Her dipping out on us in the cafeteria just sealed it, and it pissed me off, as many things seemed to.

An unwelcome, weaselly voice in my head made itself known again. A shame. I had been fine without it, "Oho! Clone chick's got the right idea. Get away from your toxic ass as fast as possible."

"Where's she going?" Eddie asked, "We still need to come up with her codename!"

I didn't know, but I was going to go find out. At least, I was. Cessily got ahold of me before I could get up and stomp off after her, inadvertently hitting the table and forcing Eddie to spill some of his soda on his book, "Hey, no-no-no, Bel," She said, making sure I stayed seated while she went off to find Laura, "I think I know what this is all about. You stay here. I'll go and get her!"

With that, the metal girl did just that, taking off in the direction Laura went. That left me sitting at the lunch table, impotent. Irritatingly impotent. Everyone could see I was put out. Julian was barely biting his tongue to keep from taking a shot at me.

"Goddamn it," I said, not even trying to let the whole thing slide, "Is it just me? Am I really that bad at this whole connecting as a team leader thing?"

Julian nodded in agreement with my self-deprecating statement, "You do suck. But I wouldn't blame any of that on you, Marcher," He said, "The clone-, err, Kinney is just one weird chick. Nothing you can do about it."

I rolled my eyes. Even though his whole 'big man on campus' thing had been toned down a lot, he was still that guy, "We're all weird. It's not like I need her to change. I don't even want her to, really. Maybe I should pick Cess' brain?"

Santo threw a handful of fries in his mouth from a bucket full of them, "Cess doesn't have any better idea than you do," He said between bites, "She's just giving Laura advice. You know, how to act in certain situations and stuff. I say she'd be better at that than anyone on your team."

Cessily taking an interest in being Laura's friend was good. The more of those she had outside of my crew, the better. But to imply that anyone was better than me at anything stabbed at my pride.

I looked around at my immediate company. Hisako wasn't there. Eddie was busy trying to dry the pages of the textbook we'd just gotten days ago. I had nothing, "I would love to dispute you, but considering the immaculate and unique roster the Paladins has on-hand, I can't argue," I turned and nudged the telepath next to me, "No offense, Ruthie. I love you to death."

Wasn't that the God's honest truth? I didn't have siblings. Ruth was my school sister, if ever I were to have one. She knew this and preened from her seat.

"Dude, you're trying too hard," Eddie said, shaking the moisture out of his wet book. He'd probably bitch about that to Cessily later, "Hear me out. Girls are kind of like cats. If they come and talk to you, it's great. But if you try to talk to them, it doesn't always go so well."

"This coming from the guy that doesn't have a cat, or a girlfriend," Julian chimed in.

Eddie glared across the table at Julian, but did nothing to disprove his statement, "Granted, Hellion here has a point, as my advice is based off of mostly secondhand knowledge. But come on! Have I ever led you wrong before?"

I went to grab some examples to use against him when I realized that there weren't any, "...Actually, no. Now that you mention it, you usually give me pretty solid advice on things like this. Better than Saberwolf, anyway."

Julian let out a snort of laughter, "You ask your pet robot for advice?"

I took offense for my absent A.I., "Hey, he's really smart! Just... not with people stuff," Also, he wasn't my pet.

Eddie swatted aimlessly in Julian's direction to get him to shut up, but he kept his eyes and attention on me. He was serious, "Sol, as your wingman, I'm saying to let the chips fall as they may with Laura. If she wants to go to you, she will. If she goes to Mercury and leaves us out of it, nobody should complain. You don't have to try and fix everything. As long as we're a well-oiled machine when competitions start, we're good."

Okay, my earlier thoughts were accurate. Sometimes, Eddie did say smart stuff sprinkled into his usual crap, "You're right. I know you're right," I sighed, "I just don't get her, dude. I thought I'd figured out how she ticks by now."

We spent a good chunk of the summer together. We'd had at least one talk that could have been considered a heart-to-heart, and it still felt like trying to dig through bedrock.

Ruth took that as her cue to poke me in the head with her index finger, and it wasn't just a friendly gesture. In the span of five seconds, countless thoughts were shoved into my head. Thoughts that weren't mine. Thoughts that weren't even Ruth's.

They were Laura's, and they were awful.

It was... disturbingly intimate. I knew what it felt like every time she popped her claws. I knew what different people's blood smelled like to her. I knew what she felt now about some of the kills she had made. I knew the sensation she felt when the trigger scent overwhelmed her. She remembered all of the sights, sounds, and smells of more than a few of the episodes... and terrible sorrow over one. A woman that looked a lot like her.

It was too much. I knew more than I wanted to. I nearly collapsed trying to jerk away, holding myself up with my hands on the table.

"Whoa. Blindfold, did you just make Marcher cry?"

Santo's voice prompted me to reach up and touch my eyes, "Hah... what the..." I felt tears. Everything that had just been unloaded into my mind felt like a punch to the gut that I couldn't catch my breath from. Ruth reached out and rubbed my back while I fought the urge to throw up. Probably not a good thing to do in the cafeteria, "W-Why did you show me that?"

Ruth didn't seem pleased with how it seemed to affect me, "Because, to walk a mile in her shoes, yes? Yes, she saw everything herself when she first met Laura," She said with a frown, "...Sorry. Was she wrong to do that?"

"You probably shouldn't have," I said, heaving a deep sigh as I tried to get my head on straight again, "That felt like her whole life summed up into one brain dump. Couldn't that much have killed me?"

Ruth seemed hurt that I would think she'd be reckless with my noodle, "…No. She would not let anything bad happen to Bellamy's mind. And pardon, you are wrong. Those are just the things Laura still dreams about."

I just saw the things that stick with her to such a degree that she thinks about them constantly. That was to say nothing for the everyday little horrors that I only got a taste of, or the things I didn't see at all.

Yeah, I wouldn't want to talk much after dealing with that shit either. I wished Quire didn't. Being in my head without permission at the time Ruth mindtapped me meant he got everything I got. Served him right, "What is that thing doing in a school!? In any school!? You have a fucking monster on your team, Marcher!"

Ruth turned my way. Quire wasn't subtle in the slightest. She heard him. I grabbed her hand and ran my thumb across the back of it to let her know it was alright, 'She is what they made her. The people who did that to her are monsters,' I thought back heatedly.

"Dude, can you stop crying already?" Julian asked, looking at me uncomfortably, "It's getting kind of awkward sitting with you. Your eyes are leaking like you just heard Pixie broke up with you."

I was in the process of regaining my composure, in a manly way, mind you, "Give me a minute, would you? I just got a brainful of the greatest hits of raising a child assassin. You're just lucky I don't make noise when I cry."

Damn it, I was already seeing a shrink. I didn't need more loose shit rattling around upstairs. It was already a mess up there.

XxX

I had U.S. history that semester with Dani Moonstar, who was the New Mutants advisor. Speaking of them, three of her students were all in that class – Sofia, Noriko, and Laurie. Lucky for me, I had Eddie with me. Unlucky for me, he spent a lot of time hitting on them.

"Eddie, stop," I said after listening to three straight minutes of him trying to low-key hit on them before class, "Are you trying to die?"

I was still grumpy from lunch. But I was always kind of prickly, so no one else would have noticed anything wrong. Eddie didn't, "They wouldn't do that to me. It's not like I'm being pushy. I'm just saying that if any of them are interested, they have my number."

"I don't mean them," I pointed out. All of those girls were either into somebody, or vice-versa. If I knew this, he for certain did as well.

Eddie waved off my minor concerns, "Well, they're not dating anyone last time I checked. You would never let anyone beat my ass for hitting on single girls."

"Well, I wouldn't count on that," I lifted my cast-covered hand and wiggled my fingers, "For the next few days, I'm handicapped, buddy."

Eddie tapped it, feeling that it wasn't a hard cast. It was just there to cover something and keep me from picking at it, "Can you even train until that thing comes off?" He asked. I shook my head, "That sucks Don't you heal really fast?"

"When I sleep, which I never do," I specified, "And this isn't a bad enough injury to force me to."

"Wow, you are in a mood today," Noriko pointed out, "Is it because of that thing at lunch? I heard you cried."

I smirked at her in return. If she wanted to mess with me, she had to try better than that, "Yes, I cried. No, I'm not saying why. It's personal, and not my personal."

I'd never had class with Noriko, but she followed Hisako's school of thought in dealing with me – challenge me at every turn. However, where verbally jousting with Hisako was more related to finesse and timing, Noriko was as subtle as a sledgehammer. Plus, it was way easier to make her lose her cool. She did not want to play that game with me all school year long. I'd drive her insane.

Eddie, on the other hand, could get to me without meaning to, "No, it's not that. He was pissy before that," He said. My teeth clicked in annoyance, "He's kinda been an asshole all day. A bigger one than usual, I mean."

Had the bar for me being a jerk been lowered that much? I was offended, "I haven't been an asshole, in a while, actually. I haven't messed with anyone or done anything mean in forever," Eddie went to open his mouth, a point from me stopped him, "Hisako doesn't count. Screwing with each other is our thing."

Sofia's brow furrowed in thought, "Okay, so Bellamy is bitter about something else," Nope. Not a chance, sweetheart. We were friends, but she didn't know me well enough to reason out my attitude.

Nori leaned back and grinned like a cat that ate the canary, "I can't imagine why, after what he got up to last night."

My head turned her way so fast, my neck popped, "Why do you know what I get up to ever? I don't spread my details around."

She was way too smug about knowing any of my inner workings, "Pixie likes to talk. She really to talk about you," She looked me over and shook her head, "What are you doing for that girl?"

"All good things, apparently," Sofia mumbled, covering a mischievous smile behind her hand.

I gave her a look a betrayal. And here we had always been so civil, "Now you're getting in on it too?" I complained, before pointing at Laurie, who had been refreshingly passive in the conversation, "You know what? I changed my mind. Wallflower is my favorite New Mutant now. She never talks to me, but at least she never fucks with me either."

Eddie shrugged, coming to the defense of the ladies, "It's not a secret, dude. You and Pixie disappear all the time whenever you think you've got Hope or Saberwolf out of the way," He was way too smug, "You're not slick."

I mulled things over for a moment. What was I getting embarrassed about? All of this just meant that I was the man, "So what? Damn. You guys jealous?"

"I am!" Eddie admitted unashamedly.

Noriko pulled out her phone and started digging into social media, "Okay, let's see what makes Bellamy tick," Good luck with that. I didn't put anything important on any of those things. I held my breath when her face shifted. She had clearly found something, "...It's your birthday today."

Crap. Well, there went that little nugget of information, "Yep," I admitted begrudgingly.

The girls all looked Eddie's way, thinking he had either been hoarding the information or had forgotten my birthday entirely. He pleaded his innocence, "Don't look at me. I didn't know. This is the first I'm hearing about it."

"That was the idea," I chimed in, defending my good friend, "I didn't tell anybody."

Sofia's face lit up, clearly finding plenty of reason to brighten up, "Well, happy birthday, Bellamy."

I wanted to roll my eyes, but someone was being legitimately nice to me. I wasn't so awful that I'd just throw something like that on the ground, "Thank you, Sof. As my present, don't say it too loud, and forget you ever found out about it."

Noriko continued going through her phone, trying to figure out how she could have missed this, "I really should have gotten this. Wait. Did you turn off all notifications for your birthday on Facebook? Who does that?"

"Someone that doesn't care about their birthday," I answered, really wishing that the bell would ring so Miss Moonstar would shut us all up, "Guys, let it go. I really don't care. It's just a day."

Eddie, as was his nature, tried to get me pumped up, "Fuck that. We should be throwing some kind of party, which could also double as a welcome back to campus for everybody. We'd be so cool after that!" Unfortunately for him, this time it failed. The stern look I gave him shut him down quickly, "...We could have at least gotten you a gift or something."

Sofia nodded in agreement, "I would have wanted to celebrate. Or at least properly wish you well. You have been a good friend to us. I think many people would feel the same. You don't still believe people dislike you, do you?"

The voice in my head that had been plaguing me for some time came roaring back, "Well, well. Look at you, mister popular. All those losers. They're just as dumb as you are if they think you're worth stressing over."

Noriko took a different route in trying to break me down, simultaneously stealing my attention back, "Aww, are you afraid nobody would come if you threw a birthday party?" She asked in a baby voice, reaching out to pinch my cheek.

Eddie rolled his eyes at her attempt to tease me, "Surge, I don't think any of us ever have to worry about that again after the last one, which I remind you, was the brainchild of our incandescent commander."

Despite the girl pulling on my face, I couldn't help but grin, "Wingman, you're a lyrical gangster," I said, before my scowl returned and I swatted Nori's hand away, "Girl, look at me. I try not to let any of this kind of bullshit influence any aspect of my life here. It's like my motto says, 'If it doesn't matter to me, who cares?'"

"I thought your motto was, 'I'm a grumpy, sarcastic fuck.'" Nori chirped. I raised my eyebrow at her as if to ask if that was the best she had. She must have realized that it was terrible from the lack of eye contact that followed. Hisako she was not with the banter, "A-Anyway, just because you're too much of a chameleon to be cliquey doesn't mean you've got enemies. You've had plenty of beef with students before. You've had beef with teachers before."

"Thankfully, we all got over it," I said, "Nothing like bad guys trying to kill you on a regular basis to put things into perspective."

Eddie still wanted his answers, "That doesn't explain the birthday thing," Why did he have to focus on this, of all things?

"Because I hate the idea of celebrating my goddamn birthday," I blurted out before putting a high, sarcastic pitch to my voice, "Oh, my mom squirted me out on this day 17 years ago, and I spent the last twelve months not getting murdered. Ooh, what an accomplishment."

Noriko chuckled to herself, "Around here, I think it actually is. We should all have a party every day nothing goes wrong," Eddie raised his hand for a concurring 'too sweet' and got it from the blue-haired Asian girl.

"Your birthday," Laurie spoke up for the first time since any of us had sat down. The shy girl powered through having my unfamiliar eyes on her and continued, "...You said 'your' birthday, and not birthdays in general."

Damn that perceptive, quiet chick. I would have to second-guess that thought to switch who my favorite New Mutant was if she kept analyzing my words like that. It even got Eddie to realize it himself, "Hey, yeah. You got me something for my birthday. Blindfold too."

"Because I'm glad you guys are around and I want to make sure you know it," Everyone just stared at me as if the same thing went for all of them, "Oh whatever. I'm the leader. I'm supposed to look after my friends," I said, after realizing I'd trapped myself.

Noriko reached out and put one of her gauntlet-covered hands on my arm, "...Who hurt you, Bellamy Marcher? Did you get some trauma from a party game gone wrong when you were little?"

Eddie shivered in his seat in reminiscence, "Seriously. Games of 'pin the tail on the donkey', or hitting the pinata can go very bad very fast when you're dealing with little kids," The awkward silence that fell prompted him say more, "...I've got a younger brother and sister."

All of the speculation got to me, which wasn't hard to do. I didn't have any major tragedies or traumas in my childhood. I just thought celebrating my birthday was a waste of time, money, and effort, "Nobody. Seriously, thank you guys, but just wait to give me some gifts and throw me a party until I do some real shit. My ego will demand it then."

"Like last semester?" Sofia commented, sounding wholly unconvinced, "What was the reason for that party?"

I raised an eyebrow and touched on an earlier point her teammate made, "I think surviving until summer break in this place was enough of an accomplishment for everybody who did."

Sofia huffed, smoothing her brown hair out of her face as she regarded all of us, "Really, there is no need to exaggerate the danger at Xavier's. No, it isn't the safest school, but-."

Whatever she was about to say was cut off by the sound of an explosion in the direction of the front gate. All of the trained kids jumped to their feet while the others flinched and ducked. In a matter of seconds an alarm went off and red lights started to flash in the hall.

Miss Moonstar moved to the door and checked the hallway before motioning for us to head out, "Alright, we've all done the drills. Listen to the faculty on the floor and head to the basement," She tried to keep a calm demeanor, but she could only play it so cool when an emergency was happening during school hours.

There was a lot of tension and mumbling while everyone moved through the halls. No one was running. The stairs down to the lower level weren't that far. It just took credentials that most students didn't have to open the doors or the main elevator to get down there. There were senior staff guiding us along, keeping watch at certain points along everyone's route.

"Crap. That's right," Noriko cursed when she realized why all of this seemed less fortified than it should have been, "We're still working out updated lockdown procedures. The old ones involved the Danger Room. You know, the one that doesn't work anymore."

Eddie remained optimistic, "The lower levels should be safe enough. They've got to go through the X-Men to get there anyway, if hurting students is what they're after."

I looked around and saw we were now moving alongside students from what would equal middle school classes, "We should probably stop talking about that with the younger kids around," We didn't need anyone getting more scared than they already were.

Contrary to popular belief, the faculty at Xavier's had their shit together better than most of us gave them credit for. Better than any human counterparts would have if given the same circumstances. The problem was, they fought professional killers who usually had powers that were just as formidable as theirs. And having a bunch of squishy, uninitiated kids around to protect made it hard to fight.

They did the best they could, but facts were facts. And the fact was that all any bad guy had to do to get the upper hand on them was go after any one of us. That was why they arranged student training squads on the high school level, so the ones of us with the acumen to fight could at least make ourselves less of the victims. The better ones of us were in the running to be X-Men and take part in defending the others.

"Come on," Mister Drake was in his ice form, but like the rest of the teachers, he hadn't gotten the chance to change out of his professional clothes into his X-Men uniform, "Watch your step on the stairs, guys. By the time you all get to the bottom of that thing, this'll probably be over," He assured some of the more frightened kids.

Eddie hustled behind me, as a herd of students headed to relative safety, "Jeez. These guys are getting bold now; trying to get at us in broad daylight, through the front."

Sofia had a nifty little talent where she could isolate sounds using the wind, and used that to sort through everyone's nervous chatter, "Other people are talking about a fire in the woods from someone destroying the defenses there."

I tried to keep a reasonable mind. The building hadn't been hit yet. I hadn't heard about anyone being hurt. Hopefully things would stay that way. Maybe this was just some loon who wanted to send a message to mutants by scaring us? It was better than the alternative of actually being attacked.

After the Danger Room, the most secure place in the school was the room with Cerebra. But you weren't going to stuff a few hundred kids in there with equipment like that around. The third most secure place was the hangar. There was plenty of room there, enough to fit vehicles, aircraft, and other large things. Plus, it was built into the side of the mountain the original mansion rested on.

"Alright, time for Paladins roll call," I started tapping out a group text for the entire team, and decided to multitask at the time, 'Ruthie, if you can read me, let me know you're good.'

"She is fine, Bellamy, yes. She is downstairs. The hangar is a safe place, pardon. That is what the teachers believe."

That was good. And as I sent out my text, I got responses from Eddie who was right next to me, and even Laura, who I thought was avoiding me. She was tucked away in the basement level just like Ruth. No answer from Hisako, though. I hadn't seen her all day.

Instead of a message in the group chat, I got a direct message from her phone. All it said was, 'Call me'. I didn't like that. Nothing good came from someone telling you to call them when they could have just texted you about whatever the fuck they needed instead, especially at a time like this.

With great hesitation, I gave her a call. The voice I heard on the other end was not my Armor, "Right on time, mister leader," A flash of pure rage ran through me, "Ah-ah-ah. Not too loud now. Think about what you know right now."

There had been an attack. More than one from the sound of things. Enough that the response had to be spread out to make sure there wasn't something coming from multiple sides.

"All I want is for you to come and get your friend. If I see any sign of X-Men, I'll have to do something neither of us wants me to," With that, whoever was on Hisako's phone hung up.

There was no time to waste. I bit my tongue to choke down part of my anger. The taste of blood settled me a tad. I pulled Eddie in close, "We've got to get out of here. Now," I doubted the kidnapper was going to wait until lockdown was cleared.

Eddie looked at me like I'd grown a second head, "We've got to get out of here? What are you talking about?"

I couldn't tear my eyes off of my phone. I could feel the plastic strain under the pressure of my grip, "Remember when you said you wished you could get some hero cred? This is your chance," I looked up and met Eddie's confused eyes, "We've got to go get Hisako."

"What do you mean, we-?" He started to exclaim before I gestured for him to quiet down, "What do you mean, we've to go get Hisako? Where the hell is she?" He hissed at me in a whisper.

I checked my phone for the friend tracker app I'd signed us all up for. The three dots representing Eddie, Ruth, and Laura were where they needed to be. Hisako's was a few miles away, "...Off-campus."

Eddie wasn't a genius, but when the pieces to a picture were in front of him, he could put the image together just fine.

"Dude..." He whined, the reality of the danger his best friend was in hit him, "Well, why is it up to us? We should tell a teacher or something, and God, that might have been the most bitch-ass thing that ever came out of my mouth," He finished, eyes widening in realization of that point.

"If any X-Men show, she's screwed. The guy said us," I told him, swallowing down my anger. That could wait until we saw the bastard that took Hisako, "Buzz the New Mutants, but don't tell 'em why we're leaving. I'll find an opening."

Good wingman that he was, Eddie did as I asked, and told the best possible person who wouldn't make a fuss over it – Laurie, "We've got to go check on Armor. Cover for us," She was too stunned and too shy to stop him before I'd come up with an exit strategy and pulled him away.

Eddie and I slipped out of the mass of humanity moving toward cover and into an open classroom. Opening a window, he floated out first and grabbed me, letting me shut the window behind us to cover our tracks. From there, he took off, following my direction to find Hisako.

It took us some time to get there while I was being carried. Eddie had to say something to try and calm his nerves, "What if this is a trap?"

"This is almost definitely a trap," I deadpanned, "It doesn't matter. If we don't go, Hisako dies anyway. What's upping the student body count two more if we die too?"

I could hear the frown on his face, "That's dark, Bel," I didn't know if he wanted me to reassure him in some way, but it was what it was. Sugarcoating things wouldn't help us, "Why is anyone after us? What did we do? School just started back up. We've been back in town for a week!"

These were all questions I planned on asking once I busted the kidnapper's head open to see all of the bright colors inside. Or kidnappers, because I had no idea if this was a group effort or not.

We landed a little ways away from where the app said Hisako's phone was and walked the rest of the way. It took us down a side street to a part that was under construction to connect back to a main road somewhere. There was construction equipment all over the place, and one person sat on a metal container watching us approach.

Eddie was jittery. It was a good thing his powers weren't as twitch-reactive as mine, or he probably would have fired by now. Not that I would blame him. I wanted some vengeance as well, but I wanted answers too, and I couldn't get those if I put a hole in the guy.

I took a deep breath and counted to ten. I wanted a calm, civil introduction, "Who are you? What do you want? And why am I not melting your face off with my bare hands?" I punctuated with a glow to my hands.

Close enough.

Our would-be kidnapper was a black guy with short dreads. He dressed just like a normal guy – jeans, t-shirt There wasn't anything remarkable about him at first glance. The lazy way he chewed his gum while sizing us up pissed me off though. He was holding my friend hostage. Have a little more urgency about you, dick, "I was hoping you would come alone."

"I'll bet you did," I remarked, "Easier pickings, right?"

"Well, yeah," He admitted, "That, and I don't give a shit about these two. I just wanted you, Bellamy."

Eddie looked between the two of us, "Just him?" He asked in disbelief, "Why any of us? This is bullshit. We're kids. What did Bel do to piss you off, man?"

"I don't care what I did," I snapped. We could see Hisako sat in the lifted shovel of a bulldozer, tied up and miserable, "I came to pick up something that belongs to me," I dropped my scowl and tried my best to smile at Hisako, "Hey, Armor. You okay?"

"My head hurts from where I got hit, but I'm fine," Hisako said, fidgeting with her bonds. Her face was full of regret, "...Damn it, Bel, Eddie. I'm sorry."

I shook my head. She didn't need to apologize for someone ambushing her, "It's okay. It seems like this shit happens to all of us," I then jerked my head in the direction of my red-headed homie, "Well, not Eddie, yet. I'm guessing he's due at some point."

"Dude, don't put that evil on me," He bantered back. He was still very concerned with what was going on with Hisako, "...Why isn't she armoring up?"

A great question. He'd clearly gotten the drop on her somehow and made the most of it. But tying her up wouldn't stop her from activating her powers when she woke up, "What did you do to her?"

The man looked at us like we were dumb, "I thought the mutant cure was created in this time."

My legs almost gave out in horror. Hisako's eyes started welling up with tears the moment it sank in what was said. I wouldn't believe it. It couldn't be true. The X-Men destroyed all of that crap. They said they did. Had they missed some?

Eddie reacted much more explosively than either of us.

"What?" He was beside himself. When the news about the mutant cure came out, he was more afraid of it than any of us, and now his best friend was powerless? Livid wasn't the word to describe him, "You did what!? YOU GAVE HER WHAT!?"

Before I could say or do anything myself, Eddie bolted off of his starting point, flying at Hisako's kidnapper as fast as he could. My boy wasn't much of a hand-to-hand guy, but there was no doubt in my mind he would have torn his head off if he'd hit him. He didn't, because we weren't the only ones on the scene with powers.

The moment Eddie went to attack, the kidnapper took a step back and dropped into a tear in reality, avoiding the wrath of Wing altogether. Another reality tear opened up in the air by Hisako, with the man landing on the bulldozer next to her.

A teleporter? We had to hit him fast and hard. The moment I saw him again, I took my shot. With a wave of his hand, he opened a portal that ate up my blast. It reappeared, firing from a place in the sky at Eddie. It nearly clipped him, but he somehow dodged it. It slowed him down before he could rush the kidnapper again though.

"You piece of shit!" Eddie spat hatefully. And why not? It wasn't like he had no reason, "You're a mutant and you erased her powers forever! How the FUCK could you do that to anyone else!?"

The kidnapper sneered at Eddie, "What are you talking about? 'Hope' is temporary. It lasts 12 hours and wears off if you don't keep taking it."

"What? That's bullshit. No, it's not," I said. It just came out a few months ago, before the X-Men shut it down. We watched every scrap of news on that crap when it first came out. It definitely took away powers for good, "It strips your powers, and that's that. There's no wearing off. It's permanent."

The guy seemed honestly confused by what I was saying, until suddenly it dawned on him, "That's... that actually makes sense from what I know about history. Well, it's not like that where I come from. She'll definitely get her powers back."

With those words, whether we could trust them or not, a weight lifted off of our shoulders. Hisako used her shoulders to dry her eyes before any more tears could leak out. At least we weren't dealing with a complete monster here.

Even Eddie calmed down, "Where you come from?" He parroted, his emotions having run the absolute limits in the last few minutes, "Dude, I'm sick of this. Who are you?"

The man didn't seem keen on identifying himself properly, "I guess if you have to call me something, you can call me... Skip, I guess."

My eyes went wide and my lips twitched, "Skip? You're kidding, right? You kidnapped my friend and had the balls to attack my school with a lame ass name like that?" This was a serious situation, but I couldn't help but laugh.

What kind of self-respecting asskicker would walk around and let themselves be called Skip in the 21st century? I hoped for his sake that wasn't his given name. Actually, no I didn't. It would be just another thing I could mock him about after I beat his ass.

I laughed. Eddie laughed. I hoped it made Hisako feel better where she was. It was a Paladin bonding moment. And then I was knocked flat on my ass from a fist that appeared out of thin air.

"Oh shit!" Eddie called out from above, "Bel, that dude just teleported his fist into your face!"

"I noticed!" I shouted. I could see a fist poking out of a tiny portal before it pulled back and the portal vanished. I got up off of the ground with a brand new bloody nose, "If you could get to Hisako the way you did, and you only wanted me, why didn't you just get me?"

"Because you always have someone around you," Skip said. I inferred from his tone of voice that he was somehow calling me a bitch for always having some kind of company around. He gestured to Eddie, "Case in point seeing that you brought your pal here to watch your back. When you're in your room, you have your little wolf thing with you. Also, you don't sleep."

He knew way too much for someone who I'd never seen before, "How have you been watching me?"

"I haven't been. Let's just say I got that information somewhere else, from a very reliable source."

That wasn't very helpful at all. Then again, we were supposedly enemies, "What do you want from me?" I asked.

"I want your death," Okay, we were definitely enemies, "I don't care about the rest of them," He said about my friends, which... actually did make me feel better. Not by much, though.

I didn't get it. I was a high school student. I wasn't even a real X-Man. Unless this guy was a Reaver or with the Facility, I had no idea what his deal was, "What did I do to you? Why are you trying to kill me? There are actual superheroes at that school who could fuck with your evil plans. Go after them!"

"I don't have any evil plans, you stupid little-!" Skip growled at me "I'm here to kill you, because 30 years from now, Bellamy Marcher, you destroy the Earth, and the entire galaxy!"

...Oh.

Well, hell then.


Oh no. Say it ain't so. Our boy can't be the kind of guy to go down that deep, dark hole to supervillainy. Or can he be? Either way, this Skip fella wants his head on a stick. And he probably doesn't have any problems going through the Paladins to get it. Not if the future fate of the planet is on the line.

What does this all mean? Well, that's what the next chapter is for, ladies and gentlemen. So I hope you enjoyed this chapter in the meantime.

Until the next time, Kenchi out.