Disclaimer: I do not own Marvel. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a tremendous film. It might have been the best superhero movie I've seen in a while. It stands alone and separates itself from anything else I've ever seen. You just feel good watching it. It's so much fun. It may be most fun I've had in a movie theater since Thor: Ragnarok. And if you know me, you know how much I love that movie.

What the fuck are you doing reading this? Go watch that movie. Oh, it's two o'clock in the morning? I don't care. Find a way to watch that movie. This chapter will be here later. Don't worry, I'll wait.

...So? How about it? I was right, right?

Chapter 29: Pythagoras' Theorem


The Paladins walked the path from the main mansion building to the student dorms after a pretty brisk team training session. Mister Rasputin was a good teacher. He didn't approach our training as cerebrally as Miss Pryde did, but the man had no trouble heaping on the practical work. Since he knew from experience that Hisako, Laura, and I could handle it, he correctly believed that we would have no problems working to get Eddie and Ruth up to team parity in the field.

It was only a matter of time until the Field Day sessions started where squads would compete against each other, and we were feeling good about our chances of standing out. Some of us were also feeling good for other reasons. Well, one of us, really.

Eddie had managed to snag a second date with Cessily. Good for him. He hadn't managed to goof things up on the rest of the group outing after I'd been removed from the scene. Of course, since he hadn't, it would have stood to reason that he didn't need to come to the rest of us to beg for input. That didn't stop him from doing it, though.

God, he pestered us all day after we found out he had another rendezvous with Cess for the weekend. I swore, by the end of squad training, Hisako was going to armor up and slug him into the clouds.

"Eddie, enough!" With the exception of Laura, we all flinched away from Hisako's sudden outburst, "We will not use Ruth's powers to psychically wingman for you. I don't know about everybody else, but I've got better things to do on a Saturday night."

"Like what?" Eddie challenged, and all of our ears were primed for the response. We all sincerely doubted Hisako had plans, not that she cared.

"Literally anything. Just name it," She replied. She wasn't wrong either. None of us wanted to waste our time holding Eddie's hand through a date when there was nothing in it for us.

He continued to beg, smartly keeping well out of Hisako's reach and keeping the decibels of his whining down, "Come on. Last time was easy because we were with everyone. What if it gets awkward?"

I put my hands on his shoulders, because I felt that if I didn't have some kind of hold on him, he'd start groveling, "If that was a problem, I think it would have come up already," Have some pride, man, "Remember what you told me? Just... don't be you, at least not all at once."

Hisako agreed with me, for once, "Yeah, ease her in to how annoying you are," She said, making a smooth, slow line with her hands.

"Thanks, guys," Eddie droned sarcastically, "But I don't even know where to take her. I don't know what's good for dates!"

I threw the dog a bone in order to get him to screw off for the time being, "Okay, this is all I'm doing for you. Life Pro Tip: If you don't know, don't ask a girl where she wants to eat. Ask her to guess where you're taking her to eat, then take her to the first guess," It wasn't a guarantee, but more often than not, it had good results.

Hisako looked at me as though she were impressed, "That's... a decent idea. You pull that on Pixie, Bel?" She added.

I scoffed, "No, I didn't. I fucking asked what kinds of things she liked before we started going out on our own. Wrote it in my phone," I wiggled said electronic device for emphasis.

"Honest Bel," Hisako continued to tease, "At least you didn't take credit for straight-up remembering it."

I blinked at her in confusion. Last time I checked, those two things weren't mutually exclusive, "I mean... I do, but it's nice to have a cheat sheet too," Also, I remember the gist of everything that I write down, but saying that out loud would have sounded even cockier than I was already being.

Eddie looked between Hisako and I in a bit of disbelief, "Do you guys really think I can do this?"

Hisako let out a laugh, "I sure hope so, seeing as how you've been complaining about being single for the last year," She joked, "But seriously, just worry about having fun. That's what this is all about, right?" She offered supportively.

"And you two have so much in common," I added, "You have red hair... she has red hair. Gingers unite," I held up my hand for a 'too sweet', and received nothing in return, "No?"

Hisako shook her head in the negative, "I'm not co-signing on that."

Eddie gave me a whack on the shoulder, "My compatibility to girls doesn't boil down to our hair color, you dick."

Even Ruth chimed in, "She is sorry, unfunny jokes are unfunny. Bellamy can do much better."

I didn't even laugh at the joke either, but that was stone cold. Damned humor snobs. All of my stuff couldn't be ten-out-of-ten. At least one member of the team didn't pile on, "That's fine. If I want to have an intelligent conversation, I guess I've got to rely on-," As I went to turn to the person I was referring to, it turned out she wasn't there... again, "What? Where the hell did Laura go? She was right here a minute ago."

Literally. As in, right next to me. Like, right behind my shoulder. I didn't even feel her presence leave mine. I'd stopped in my tracks to retrace our steps and try to determine when she'd slipped away.

"Dude, calm down," Eddie said, "If she didn't head back to her and Blindfold's room, she went to get food or something. I'll ask Cess. She might have gone to her."

I tried and failed to keep the hint of bitterness out of my voice, "That's interesting, seeing that your new girlfriend, who isn't on this team, sees Laura, who is on this team, more than we do."

To my surprise, I received no support on my point. Eddie looked at me as though I were crazy, "What are you talking about? Who's 'we' here? I see Laura all the time, dude."

Hisako offered her point next, "She's a really good workout buddy, actually. She's much quieter than you two morons, definitely."

Then was Ruth, who pleaded her case for Laura as well, "Yes. Good roommates see each other quite often, yes."

So, it was just me. Fantastic, "What the fuck? You jerks are all telling me that you see Laura all the time? It's just me who only sees her during squad practices?" Everyone didn't seem to know how to answer, other than a vacant shrug, "I can't even find her to confront her about this shit!"

Hisako gestured to me as though I'd just answered my own question, "Maybe that's why she's avoiding you? Because she knows you'd want to talk about whatever's bothering her, and she'd rather not feel that uncomfortable."

Tough titty. Clearly, we had some kind of issue that needed working out. Also, Laura was my friend too, goddamn it. I liked having her around, and felt very sore about the fact that this did not seem to be a shared sentiment between us. I had her over my house for the summer. Hell, we 'too sweeted'! I thought that meant something!

"Hey, look at the bright side," Eddie offered, throwing an arm around me, "At least it isn't affecting our teamwork."

I grumbled my response, "Yeah, silver lining, I guess," The Paladins were, for the most part, a well-oiled machine – whatever that was worth, in the grand scheme of things.

XxX

My frustrations didn't subside into the next day. They only seemed to compound at lunch. I was barely able to enjoy the burger I was chewing on, partially because I was still annoyed at Laura.

Julian smirked at the raincloud over my head, "Still mad about the thing with the clone," He asked, knowing full well what my problem was.

"Yes," I droned in between bites of my food, "Also, shut up," Julian, Santo, and even Eddie got a few laughs.

In addition to my own personal issues, my mood was partially because out of the corner of my eye I could see Cessily giving me some look a few degrees shy of a stink eye. It hadn't been the only day I'd noticed. It had been like that for a few days now. It just so happened that on this day, I was pissed off enough in general to make a thing out of it.

"...What?" I barked, without even turning my head in her direction.

Everyone at the table perked up when I said it, which was what I wanted. Cessily was the only one who responded, confirming some semblance of guilt, "Nothing," She feigned innocence.

I sighed and set my sandwich aside, "No, seriously, what?" I asked, this time turning to face her fully, "I'm not dumb, Cess. You've been giving me some kind of look for the last few days when you think I'm not paying attention. I just figured you would have said something by now."

"Oh, so you notice when I'm looking at you."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing. I'm not picking sides."

I didn't even pretend to know what that meant, and that made me angry. And yet, there was nothing I could do. If someone wasn't keen on talking, I couldn't make them.

No longer feeling hungry, I stood, tray in hand to throw my stuff out and leave, "Okay, I'm only going to say this one more time. One. More. Time," I emphasized obnoxiously, before getting to my point, "If I don't know what I did wrong, not telling me about it isn't going to help me fix it."

With that, I went to leave, only for a metallic hand on my arm to stop me, "Bel, don't go," I turned around, giving Cessily a chance to speak her piece, "It's just... you seriously can't see it?"

I raised an eyebrow before sitting back down in my seat, "I am a bonafide space cowboy, an aficionado of superhero combat, a gangster of love-."

Julian, tired of hearing me talk myself up, cut me off there, "Is there a point to this listing of your many virtues?"

"Aw, why'd you stop him?" Eddie asked from where he sat next to Cessily, "I wanted to see how many he could come up with before he ran out of steam."

I looked at Julian with a bored expression, "Yeah, there are lots of things I suck and blow at. I'm not omniscient, for one," With that, I turned back to Cessily, "I'm not asking anyone to tell me what to do to fix my problems, but goddamn, what am I supposed to do when I don't even know what the problem is?" I made a note to look Sooraya's way to apologize, "I'm sorry for the profanity."

Santo chuckled, "Don't apologize, Marcher. Sooraya hears worse than that every day from the rest of us. You say worse than that to the rest of us."

He had a good point. Still, something felt wrong about being the usual scoundrel I was around Sooraya, "Yeah, but I respect her. I feel bad being 'me' around good people who are actually nice to me."

Through the eyes of her niqab, it seemed like Sooraya was smiling, "Your consideration is very much appreciated, Bellamy."

I put my hand over my heart and nodded, "Thank you. It's very hard not to run amok as much as I'd like," I was only half-joking. Being a decent person was hard.

Cessily took offense and jabbed me in the arm with a metal finger. It was like getting poked with a ball-point pen, "Hey, I'm nice to you."

I rubbed at the brand-new red spot on my bicep from where I got poked, "You're usually nice to me. But you're hiding something right now and begrudging me for it, so spill."

"It's... not my place to tell," She said sheepishly, turning her eyes away from me.

I was stunned. I felt my mouth fall open before I regained my composure and schooled my expression into what I liked to call the 'disappointed dad', "So you won't tell me what I did, or who I did it to, but you're still mad at me?"

Cessily laughed in a way that if I didn't know any better sounded nervous, "Hey, what can I say?"

All of that stuff I just talked about, for starters.

Eddie, knowing full well where his bread would be buttered for the foreseeable future, sided with Cessily on this one, "Yeah, girls are complicated, Bel."

Oh, so that was all it took to lose my hype man? Honestly, I should have seen it coming, "You shut your traitorous mouth, I'm tending to some business here," I said, pointing at Eddie before turning back to a stunned Cessily, "Now, what do I have to give you to get what I want to know?"

Before Cessily could say anything, Eddie slid between the two of us, almost protectively, "Let me handle this," He told her before putting on his game face to deal with me, "She won't come off of those details without you paying in full for our next date."

Sooraya seemed more amazed by this than I was. Again, I should have seen it coming, "Are... you extorting your team leader?" She asked.

"Absolutely, I am," Eddie replied with no shame, "So, boss, what do you think about those terms?"

I was ready to wheel and deal with a counteroffer, but Cessily put a stop to all of our deal-making, "Eddie, no," She rebuked him, before addressing me, "I really can't tell you, Bel. It's not about me."

Of course, it wasn't. I didn't need her to tell me that, "Duh. It's a Laura thing," Cessily seemed surprised that I knew that, "What. I told you, I'm not dumb. I don't remember doing anything to you, and you only start giving me that look whenever my issues with her come up."

"I still can't tell you what's going on."

Okay, fine. Enough being patient and nice, "I guess we're doing this the hard way," I pulled out my phone and found my A.I. friend's number, giving him a quick call, "Saberwolf, where's Laura? I know you know," I dared him to say otherwise, not that he knew that.

"I was not aware that it was a secret," He said over the line, "She is in the forest, at the southern shore of Breakstone Lake. 1.1 miles away from your current location."

The ease of that communication put me in a more chipper mood, "Killer. Thanks, buddy! Catch you later."

Before I could get out of there, Cessily again went to stop me, this time getting in front of me entirely, "Bel, you can't just confront her about it!"

"Why the fuck not? Sorry," I quickly apologized to Sooraya again, before continuing my tirade, "This is how I deal with my problems – by facing them head on and making them go away, or learning to accept them."

"That's not how she deals with her problems."

Oh, I'd noticed. The thing was, Laura tried not to deal with problems that she couldn't liquidate. She ran from them. If the solution required more tact or introspection than anything a person raised from birth to be a living weapon was trained to deal with, she wasn't able to handle it, and it didn't look like she was interested in learning how to, even with help.

I'd given her time. I'd given her space. I'd been calm, I'd been cool. I'd tried to ignore it, and granted, with the future son coming back in time to kill me, it hadn't been that difficult. But now, I had nothing life-threatening to occupy the bulk of my thinking, giving me plenty of time to stew over this. That would not stand.

I gently took Cessily by the shoulders, and guided her out of my direct path. Granted, a more dramatic thing to do than simply going around her, but I was a theatrical guy, "Cessily, stop enabling," I said, finally going to leave for good.

Her reaction was amazing. Her brain couldn't process what I'd said fast enough. It wasn't until I'd taken a few steps that I heard anyone say anything else, "Way to be an asshole, Marcher!"

"Yes, I'm an asshole! Sorry," I said, pausing momentarily again for dropping a hard curse in front of Sooraya, "But I get things done, and I'm gonna get this done too! Because that's what I do!"

"-Except for when you make things worse."

"-Except for when I make things worse! Thank you, Julian!" I said in parting as I went to get rid of my tray. As I left, I tried to ignore the fact that I'd given the cafeteria a free performance to entertain them with for a few seconds.

XxX

When I went to approach Laura, I contemplated doing it from upwind, to try and hide my scent, but I didn't. It wouldn't have mattered in the grand scheme of things. She still would have smelled me. I just walked through the woods to find her and hoped that she didn't bolt when I got to her.

By the time I reached the tree she was situated in, looking out over the lake, she didn't run. She sat on a branch, curled up and hugging her knees. I spoke up loudly, letting her know that I hadn't been trying to sneak up on her, "Hey."

"Hello," She greeted me back, and glanced at me out of the corner of her eye. That was a start.

I pointed to the tree, "Do you mind if I sit down?" She did mind. She absolutely minded. But she didn't say that she did. She just shook her head, giving me permission.

I didn't go up to the branch she was on, or even climb up at all. Instead, I took a seat underneath it, on the ground, and tried to get comfortable. We settled into a silence as I gazed out at the lake scene, much like Laura was. While I decided what I was going to say, I took in the scene. The weather was starting to turn, getting cooler as we went into fall. I could see colors beginning to change on the leaves of trees on the other side of the water.

It was a nice, peaceful atmosphere. It was a shame I had to go and start ruining it by opening my mouth, but I'd been barking up the tree for this talk all afternoon.

"So, I've had a hell of a week," I led off, trying to get a dialogue going before I bit into the meat of my issue, "My son from the future has been trying to murder me," Most people would have had something to say about that. Not Laura, "Nothing? No response?"

I could feel and see her branch move as she shifted where she sat, "I am... sorry. I wasn't there," She apologized.

I snorted in amusement. There was absolutely nothing she could have done. Skip would have grabbed me the moment he had a chance, no matter who had been there, "Don't worry about it. No one was there. He kind of abducted me," My son abducted me, "I beat my own son to a pulp and locked him up. Eddie's an ass, by the way. He says he's going to start a pool on who the mother is."

I wasn't sure if I believed him on that, or if he was bluffing. It could have gone either way, to be honest.

While thinking to myself, Laura hopped down from her perch and started to stomp away. Aha. A trigger had been found. She'd been fine until something about a future baby mama came up. She usually snuck away whenever similar events occurred. It just so happened that she had my full attention this time, so she couldn't manage to give me the slip.

This time, I was quick enough to get her by the wrist before she could ditch me, "Let go," She growled, popping the claws on her free hand as a threat.

I winced at the sound of metal punching through her skin, but didn't let up, "No," I said, "Is it Megan? Is she what's pissing you off? Because every time she comes up, you get all surly."

I mean, Laura didn't have to like my girlfriend if she had a problem with her. I just needed to know so I could keep them apart and make things as comfortable as possible for everyone involved. The two of them didn't have to interact.

Laura put her claws away and looked down at the ground, "Yes..."

She seemed to feel bad about it. That was a start, "Well, what's the problem? Maybe I can fix it?"

Laura shook her head and pulled her wrist out of my grasp, "You can't fix everything, Bellamy."

Perhaps not. But this certainly felt like something I could help work out. And since it directly involved important people in my life, it was in my best interest to do so, "You can't just say that without trying. Come on."

Laura didn't budge on her stance, "I can say that, because the only thing you can do to fix it, you won't do. You will not want to, even if I told you that I wanted you to," She seemed frustrated.

"Unless you're telling me to hurt myself, or someone else I like, I really don't think it'll be that much of a problem."

Just like that, Laura's frustration seemed to turn to worry, something I hadn't seen from her very often, "It will do both. This isn't something simple. At least, that is what I have gotten from talking to Cessily."

I grunted in acknowledgment and went to lean against a tree, "Yeah... she and I had words about this earlier," I told Laura.

Laura's green eyes went wide, "You did?"

I tried to keep prodding gently. I didn't think she would up and bolt on me, but I didn't want to risk it, "We did. Right before I came to find you, actually. She didn't want to let me know anything was up, but she couldn't exactly hide it."

Laura stepped back to size me up, "What do you know?" She eyed me like I was a damn spy, which to be fair, I technically was. It was just that instead of going for state secrets, I was working more toward personal ones.

"The same thing I've always known," I said evenly, dumping the bulk of the responsibility on myself "I did something, and because I'm stupid, I don't know what that something is."

When I started trying to turn the blame of our little situation onto myself, Laura relented, "You didn't do anything. It is not your fault. Not really," She admitted begrudgingly, "I cannot blame you for being in a relationship with Megan. It is not fair."

It was weird. After she said that, it felt like everything around us went dead silent. The wind stopped blowing the trees. It was like nature itself was eavesdropping on us.

"...Huh?" For a moment, I felt that it sounded like she wanted me to-. No, it couldn't have been. My brain tacked itself to a more rational reasoning, "Oh, that's right. You don't like my girlfriend. We already established that a while ago."

Laura frowned, confused, "No. I do like Megan," What? But I'd just heard her confirm to me that it was Megan that was pissing her off, "Cessily helped me realize that what I do not like is that she is your girlfriend," Her cadence slowed down as she mumbled the last part.

"Oh," I said in response, finally getting a clearer picture. And the picture was now clear enough for me to solve the puzzle, "Ohhhh..." I repeated in understanding as the gravity of the situation started to level on me, "Ohhhh... shit."

Which was not the way to react to a girl saying that she liked you. The more I realized the horror of what I found myself in, the more dejected Laura's body language became. Well, horror wasn't the right word. Too strong, perhaps. But this wasn't a good outcome.

"Yes, 'shit'," Laura echoed. I winced at the clear bitterness in how she said it. Mouth, insert foot, " I told you, you would not want to, even if I told you that I wanted you to," With that, she turned on her heel and walked off.

I didn't go after her. What was I going to do at that point? Nothing smart. Nothing that wouldn't make things worse one way or another.

All this time, Laura thought I was good with people. No, it was just that there was usually a road map for dealing with people that I'd gotten pretty good at recognizing. There was no GPS or atlas for working with Laura Kinney. I was off the beaten trail now, for sure.

"Well, I really fucked that one up," I complained to myself under my breath. The chill of the impending fall seemed to agree as a cold wind blew right up my spine at that moment, "...Should have worn a jacket today..."

XxX

None of my teammates really liked to hit the gym the way I did. Laura worked out a lot, but for now obvious reasons, spending that kind of quality time with me had been too awkward to bear. Hisako worked out in her spare time, but didn't like the pace I set because she could almost never keep up without being dead on her feet afterwards. The only exercise Eddie really got was our X-Men training, and the same went for Ruth.

Luckily, our squad advisor was a mountain of a man that spent a considerable amount of time in the weight room. Hitting the weights with Mister Rasputin had been a great way for the two of us to bond since he became our instructor. The man was an absolute ox, even when he wasn't using his powers. He had to take multiple plates off of whatever we were doing when it was my turn to lift, no matter what we were doing.

I stood over Mister Rasputin, spotting him as he bench pressed 320 pounds while carrying on a conversation with me. He'd gotten to fifteen reps and hadn't lost steam yet, "Bellamy, I am not psychiatrist, but I can tell something is bothering you," He grunted out between reps, "You know you can talk with me, yes?"

So even through the distraction of focusing on lifting extremely heavy metal things, it was clear that I was irked about something, "I don't want to get in the way of your workout," I said as an excuse, "It doesn't really matter anyway. My issues are stupid."

My teachers and mentors universally had a problem with my tendency to downplay my own self-importance. Mister Rasputin was no different, "They aren't stupid to you."

That was where he was wrong, "But they are," I'd been fighting for my life for months; had to do my part to save the world once. After that, in the grand scheme of things, what did any of this drama really mean? "My shit doesn't matter. None of it matters. It's just high school, you know? Eventually, I'm going to graduate, I might leave… someone else might leave… we probably won't ever see each other again… I'm probably gonna be dead in a few years," I threw in casually.

Mister Rasputin frowned up at me and set the weights back on the rack. He wasn't done. I knew he wasn't done. I'd seen this monster bang out at least thirty before with that much weight. He didn't even need me to spot him for that much weight. It was just a courtesy. But trying to get out of it was too rude to someone I respected. So, I prepared myself for a talk with a mentor that I hadn't asked for.

He sat up and reached for a bottle of water. I rolled my eyes and walked off to grab a pair of dumbbells to do some lateral raises. That didn't stop him from gesturing for me to speak, "This is a chick situation," I said as I started my set.

Mister Rasputin raised an eyebrow, as if to say 'so what?' "I have dated women before, Bellamy. You know this."

He had a quip? Well, I had one too, "Then why do you always slip away whenever Eddie starts begging for-?" I stopped myself. I didn't even have the mindset to screw with him. The sooner I just went ahead and talked, the sooner it would be over, "Forget it. Doesn't matter. Anyway, you know how I'm dating Megan? From the Paragons squad?"

Mister Rasputin nodded, "Da. She is very good girl."

"Yeah, she is," I agreed shortly, hesitating before continuing. I finished my set and put the dumbbells down so I could rest and focus on how to handle the conversation, "Well, someone else has a thing for me... and even though I like being friends with her, she can't hang out with me because it's too weird for her. And now that I know what I know, it probably will be for me too."

"How do you feel about this other girl?" Not one to mince words. My kind of guy.

I paced around the area, rubbing my sore shoulders, "I like her a lot. But I never thought about dating her," Honestly, I hadn't even thought Laura possessed the capacity to be attracted to someone else like that.

"And about Megan?"

"I like her a lot too."

"Not love her?"

Crafty bastard, trying to steer me into that teenage trap? It was almost laughable, "Mister Rasputin, I haven't thought that far ahead. She asked me out, and eventually we just got together. It just turned into a thing. And I never had a problem with it. I still don't. I like the thing that we have."

"Hmm."

I didn't like how that sounded. It sounded judgmental, so I kept talking to dig myself out of a hole that probably didn't exist.

"I think I'm fucked up in the head. I don't have any real empathy," I said before trying to explain my mindset, "I can understand when someone has it rough, and feel bad when they're going through a shitty situation and think it's wrong, but..." I trailed off shrugging my shoulders, "I can get attached to people. But I don't feel like I need anyone. Like, I can imagine not having anyone around and getting over it. That's not how you're supposed to feel if you love someone, right?"

I may have said too much. Given too much of a glimpse into the collage that was my mind.

Mister Rasputin didn't say anything at first. In fact, he took a long drink of water. Too long for the little amount he actually took in. That was okay. I wouldn't have known how to respond to my bullshit either. I didn't, seeing as how it remained a problem for me. To his credit, he did admit it.

He rubbed his flat top haircut uncomfortably, "I think this is beyond me. Is a little out of my depth."

I had no sympathy for his difficulties, "You asked."

"I did," Mister Rasputin chuckled slightly, "Have you thought of talking about this with Dr. Garrison?"

I shook my head. Not a fucking chance. No way in hell. That guy was only my shrink to make sure I was good to put on a uniform and take my ass into the field to do some superhero-ing. He wasn't going to double as my relationship therapist... or love guru... or whatever you wanted to call it.

"Not happening," I scowled at the thought of sitting on a couch, bearing what counted as my heart to a person who was being paid to listen and report his conclusions on what I said, "You're lucky I told you. And the only reason I did is because you have no reason to talk about this with anyone else, or even bring it up ever again," I picked up my dumbbells and started another set.

Mister Rasputin smirked at my show of sass, "That, and because you wanted to tell someone," He called me out, not incorrectly.

"If it makes you feel any better, I wouldn't have said a word of this to Miss Pryde," I told him, "She would have lectured me. I'd have felt even more like crap afterwards. It wouldn't have been good."

That got a laugh out of him. It was nice to bring up Miss Pryde in a way that made him smile instead of mourn. It also gave him a helpful suggestion, "Maybe woman's perspective is what you need?"

There was a chance he was right. Talking to another dude could help me start getting what I was thinking together, but the whole boys' club approach would only get me so far. To figure out how to approach the lady portion of this equation, I'd have to pick the brain of one... or more, if I could swing it.

I had to choose wisely, though.

XxX

When it came to girls I trusted, Megan was right up there. Obviously, I trusted her, because I was dating her. But she wouldn't hear a whisper of this if I had my way. The other girl who was right up there with her was Hisako. She was my friend, and had the best head on her shoulders out of all my acquaintances, except for maybe David Alleyne. Only she wasn't as holier-than-thou. Granted, she would still grill me when the time came, but she wouldn't be super-judgy about it, which was all I cared about.

I took her aside let her know what was up, with the single parameter that she told no one else, including members on our team.

"Even Eddie?" I remembered her asking when I first brought it up.

"Especially Eddie," He would never let it die if he found out. Also, if he knew, half the school would also know within three hours.

"Ruth probably already knows."

"She's fine. She's been taking the 'don't tell everyone everything you know' advice more to heart."

So, with that, I dragged her off, found Cessily, dragged her off as well, and took them both into town to do this properly – over a decent meal that I was of course paying for. Even so, Hisako still had to give me shit, because why wouldn't she?

"Why did you drag me here to talk about this?" Hisako said, fingertips drumming off of the table as we waited on our food to come.

I gave her an annoyed look, "Because you're supposed to be my conscience, remember?"

She stared me down, remembering the agreement that had led to our relationship improving on the Paladins. She was supposed to call me out at any given turn, and check me if I was being a prick, "I guess I'm the mediator then," She said with a resigned sigh, before her eyes darted to Cessily, "If so, I'll start with this. He's never going to actually break up with Megan. Ever."

Cessily scowled into the straw she was drinking from before pulling back to respond, "You don't know that."

"No, I do," Hisako said, reaching out to tug at the side of my hat, until I swatted her away, "He's content. That's all this idiot needs. If it ends, I would bet an arm it isn't going to be through him."

Cessily looked my way to get the words from my own mouth confirming or denying this. I was on the side of my battle ax of a teammate, "I firmly believe that eventually Megan is going to realize that I suck, and she'll get tired of me," I explained, "I really suck at being someone's boyfriend. She can do so much better than me."

She had to realize that at some point soon. She had to.

From the look on her face, Cessily clearly didn't understand why I was together with Megan if that was the case, "So, why are you dating her?"

I eased back in the booth we'd been seated in, "Because I like her, and I like the idea of being in a relationship. But I also know myself," The curse of self-awareness, "I'm a starter boyfriend, at best. Someone for a girl to have fun with and learn what she wants out of a real relationship," Let it be known, I had no problem with riding that for as long as I reasonably could. Someone had to do it. And it wasn't like there were no benefits to that kind of romantic classification.

Cessily struggled as though she knew what she wanted to say, but didn't know if she should say it, "...I've known you for about ten months, and I never wanted to say it, but you totally are," She started listing off reasons, "You're good-looking. You do cool stuff that gets the right kind of attention. You're not a pushover, but you're a decent guy that will treat a girl good for as long as she's with you."

I started to preen at having my ego stroked a bit, "-Thank you."

"-But you have the emotional depth of a WalMart cheesecake," She continued, bringing me back down to earth callously. Callous, yet realistic, "I feel like a goldfish would be a more emotionally fulfilling partner than you," Ouch. And yet, I didn't have the facts to dispute her, "...Aside from the sex. According to Pixie, you have that handled, but I don't think she has anyone to compare it to, so I'd take that with a grain of salt."

I was stunned. Not only because she was probably right, but because she had the lady-balls to just hit me with it; no sugarcoating, "You're a good friend to say that to my face. I respect that. You weren't even malicious about it either."

Cessily shrugged as though it were a small trifle, "I told you already, I think you're a good person. But you have some seriously crappy traits."

Hisako threw her hands up in understanding, "Yes, thank you!" She wagged a finger at me, "I love you as much as I love Eddie, but sometimes you really suck."

Cessily pointing this out made even less sense as to why she wanted to steer me toward my teammate with claws, "I don't get it. Why are you 'Team Laura' then?"

At that, she gave me a stern look, "Because I've hung out with her since the summer. She needs a starter boyfriend. You are perfect for her right now. She trusts you already. You don't want anything from her. You know more about her than anyone else here. You won't expect anything from being with her, but you'll do just about anything she wants while you're there. You do that now. You do it with all the girls on your team."

Anything they want? I felt offended. I did no such thing. Not with all of them, at least, "Okay, I'll admit, I spoil Ruth rotten. But Hisako? No. All we do is fight with each other."

The metal girl reacted like I had played right into her hands, "All Hisako wants from you is to fight with you," The she replied, crossing her arms with a smug grin on her face, "You both know I'm right."

"She is right," Hisako admitted without shame, "But it's kind of surprising though. You have a soft spot for girls. Everybody knows it. But you've never..." She trailed off. What was with the hesitation?

"Never what?" I asked impatiently.

Cessily let out a laugh once she figured out what Hisako was trying to say, "She's trying to figure out why you never tried to get with her or Ruth."

"Don't put it like that," Hisako spat, kicking Cessily in the shin under the table, "I know Bel gawks at us when he thinks we aren't paying attention," She stared me down as if I would deny it, but I met her look right back. There was no shame to my game, "You never even hit on us though. I had a big fat 'no' ready for months, and I never got to use it."

As they say, looking is free, touching will cost you, "I never thought about it because we're teammates," I said, "That's a dangerous conflict of interest."

Quickly getting what I was alluding to, Hisako winced, "Ooh, good point. Yeah, dating teammates. Yikes. That's a terrible idea," It shouldn't have taken her that long to figure that this was why I hadn't taken my shot with any of my girl teammates.

Unfortunately, Cessily hadn't been introduced to the rule we were alluding to, "Why?"

"Don't dip your pen in the company ink," I said. Or, as I would have preferred to say, were we not in a diner, 'Don't shit where you eat', "Don't bring up stuff that could cause problems in a place, group, or situation that you know you're going to be in a lot."

Hisako added on, "Don't mess up your safe spaces, like the student squads," Those were the 'us against the world' groups that we were supposed to feel most comfortable in.

"Josh and Laurie are dating," Cessily offered as a counterpoint.

And providing an example of a bad idea in practice made it a good idea? That wasn't how it worked. Plenty of bad ideas were done every day by people who should have known better.

"Well, they're stupid," I offered plainly as a reasonable rebuttal, "That way lies damnation."

Cessily's mouth fell open at my brazen declaration. She turned to Hisako to get me to stop, "Aren't you supposed to stop him from being a jerk?"

Hisako and I looked at each other, finding that there was no conflict between the two of us, "No, I agree with him. That's stupid. It's going to mess the New Mutants up," She said, "That's one reason why I'm so happy you're giving Eddie a chance instead of pining over Kevin."

"-Who is pining over Laurie too much to even notice me that way," Cessily interrupted, setting her cheek in her hand as her elbow propped it up on the table. Her entire demeanor seemed to lose spirit as she looked my way, "Yeah, I know, Bel. I have my own problems with this kind of thing, but is it so wrong to want it to be better for one of my friends?"

She had been expecting me to pile on when I wasn't even going to say anything about it. We all had our problems, and you couldn't help what your tastes were in romantic partners, "Not at all. But if you want better for your friend, you don't want me, whether that friend was Laura or not."

Cessily shook her head, "To be fair, I don't think it's as easy as setting her up with someone else and trying our luck."

There was no way I believed that, "Why not? Laura's finer than a motherfucker," A family with a six-year-old kid walking past shot me a dirty look. Making friends all over. I rolled my eyes at them off-handedly, "That by itself would have dudes lining up, even if she is kind of dangerous. We're all kind of dangerous."

"It's not them, it's her," Cessily said, "Because you're one of two men that she trusts. The other one is Logan."

And as one of those two men she trusted, I was letting her down, "I just don't know how to help."

Cessily reached out across the table and gave me a pat on the arm, "You can't fix everything. Dating Pixie is hurting Laura, but changing gears to date Laura would break Pixie's heart," Which I was not going to do. I liked Megan. I wanted to stay with Megan, even if she was too sweet to have to put up with me,"As much as I said that I'm 'Team Laura', things happen. Sometimes, we can't do anything about them."

"All I want is for everything to be cool," Why couldn't I ever just win? When a problem popped up, why couldn't I just solve it, and move forward with everyone in a better place than before? I would fight back, and just end up doing damage to myself somehow. I was probably taking this too personally, but I couldn't help it, "...I'm supposed to have her back. I'm supposed to have all of your backs. Knowing me isn't supposed to make things harder for any of you."

People called me smart. People said I was talented. People said I was a good leader. Well, why did everything I did feel like the wrong thing? Why did my best move always end up with someone on my side paying for it somehow?

XxX

Despite everything that had happened, there was still one more person I needed to deal with. There was one more person deeply intertwined in this that would wrongly be confused if any of this got to her before I could – Megan. As a preemptive strike, I didn't want it to blow back on me that I was keeping anything from her if this happened to blow up any bigger.

When the Paragons practice started rounding to an end, I made my way to the locker rooms and waited outside for Megan to come out. Ben, Nicky, and Mark all gave me a 'what's up' when they came out of the men's side. When Megan came out of the women's side, her reaction to seeing me was much more enthusiastic.

"Bel-Bel!" She flew the short distance across the hall to where I'd been standing and threw her arms around my neck, "You came to pick me up from practice?"

She hit me with some force, but I'd seen her coming. With a good step forward to meet her, and liberal application of my powers to fortify my body, I was fine to catch her, "Yep. Unfortunately, this isn't just a social call though," I put her down and slipped my hand into hers, "Come on. Let's walk and talk. You want to go back to your room?"

Megan shook her head and shouted over at her friends, "I'll be back later, Hope. See you later, Jessie!" She bid her friends farewell, before switching gears once she realized that something was going on, "Oh. We're gonna have a real talk, aren't we?" She asked soberly.

I replied idly as we walked down the hall to the elevators, "Yeah, we-. Wait, why are you jumpy?"

"What? I'm not jumpy," She tried to feign disinterest, and badly.

I called her on it, "What your words are saying, and what your body is saying, are two different things, babe," Her wings were flicking. Also, there was an extra little bounce to her step.

She admitted it, but took a moment to defend herself, "It's just that we never have real talks! We go out a lot and play all the time, and you kick poor Saberwolf out so we can sleep with each other-."

My interruption was swift and merciless, "-I can handle him being at the foot of the bed while I'm inside you if you can," I interjected vulgarly.

Her cheeks went red, but much to her credit, she otherwise ignored me and soldiered on regardless, "-Buuuut... we never talk about anything serious. I know you don't want to bum me out, 'cuz you're a sweetie, but I'm a big girl. I promise, I can handle it," She asserted, bumping her hip against mine.

We would see about that, wouldn't we?

I took her to the library, which wasn't the most romantic place to go on the surface, but in reality, it was a pretty good place for privacy. Not a whole lot of people came through the library, and if people were in one area, it made others want to go somewhere else. That, and the big window on the upper level had a great view outside of the sunset. I chose to set us up there.

We sat down together, and Megan kicked her feet, waiting patiently for me to come up with what I wanted to say, "Well, Pix. It's not a big deal, but I figure you should know about it," A look of alarm came to her face, which I couldn't blame her for. It didn't sound good right off the bat, "Someone very close to me has a thing for me, so in case things get weird I want to get it out there."

Instead of being intrigued, she seemed more embarrassed, "I... kinda already know where you're going with this."

"You do?" Had someone already smartened her up? Damn it, if I'd missed my chance...

Megan nodded and wrung her hands in her lap fitfully, "It's Laura, right?" She identified correctly, "When I found out the two of you were in San Francisco by yourselves... I mean, I know you said you two never did anything, but I couldn't shake the thought. In the back of my mind, I couldn't help but think about you cheating on me."

"I never-," I came up to defend myself before she settled me back down by the shoulder.

"I know you didn't, silly. But that didn't stop me from thinking about it," Megan said, "So, right after we came back to school... I might have brought it up with Laura," She explained sheepishly.

My mind immediately began illustrating the scene through what I knew, and filled in the blanks with my expectations, "You were going to go and have a 'stay away from my man' argument with Laura," I accused.

The thought of Megan getting at Laura in the courtyard like a bad World Star video both intrigued and horrified me. Imagination was a wondrous thing.

Megan already knew what that must have seemed like, which was why this had only come up now, "I mean, I had Hope and Jessie with me, just to make sure I didn't make her mad," Or to try and help bail her out in case she did make Laura mad, "Her claws are kind of scary. They look like they hurt. Are they longer than Logan's? Because-," The bemused smile on my face must have let her know that she was starting to ramble, "Oh, right. Supposed to be making a point here."

No, she could feel free to continue to do that whenever the notion took her. I would never not find it adorable. Unless maybe if she did it during a life-or-death situation. But we hadn't crossed that bridge just yet.

"So, about her having a thing for you," Megan continued, looking remarkably like a kid admitting guilt to a parent, "We got to talking for a while. A lot of it was about you. And I sort of think I might have put the bug in her head, kind of, in the first place. Maybe."

I knew things couldn't have gotten so strange between Laura and I for nothing. I couldn't remember doing anything to set Laura off, or really to get her thinking about me in a romantic sense, "Alright, let me get this straight. It's NOT that I've been leading her on this whole time? It's that you went and had a heart-to-heart with her and made her read the writing on the wall inside her head?"

"Heh-heh... whoops?" Megan said, with nothing more to defend herself, "Are you mad?"

"I don't think so," I replied honestly. More like confused, "So, one more time, just to make sure. None of this is because I was leading her on?"

Megan shrugged, "Not any more than you do to any other girl," I had no idea what she was talking about, prompting her to roll her eyes, "Bel, you're super-friendly to most girls, unless they give you a reason not to be."

"That's how I was raised," I deadpanned.

"Mm-hmm," Megan droned, smiling through half-lidded eyes, "It could also be considered flirting by the uninitiated. It's why a lot of people are convinced you're a player. How dare you? You big stud, you."

Hisako and Cessily kind of alluded to something similar back when we'd had our earlier conversation, "Give me a break. Who have I ever pulled being this way, other than you?"

"Laura," Megan said, happily going for low-hanging fruit.

"I-, you-," I stammered, trying to come up with something in my favor, only to give up in the end, "Oh, whatever. Just as long as everything is out there."

"It's definitely out there," Megan confirmed, letting out a sigh, "It might sound bad, but all of this was kind of a relief."

"Only for you, most definitely," I mumbled, before speaking up, "Why?"

Megan looked a little forlorn as she told me what was up, "Laura assured me you never did anything bad, and then you came to talk to me yourself about all of this stuff all on your own. I was a little nervous when we first sat down. I thought you might want to break up with me."

And that was my fault. Because I wasn't the 'can't live without you' romantic type, "...Have you ever heard 'Cold Cold Man', by Saint Motel?"

"I'm aware of Saint Motel," Megan said, raising an eyebrow at me, "Better yet, why do you know what Saint Motel is?"

I waved off her question, "Gonna to need you to stick to relevant questions here, Pix," There was no need to go down that track today, "Anyway, the guy singing that song? That's who I am. But I'm trying to be better, because I don't want you to break up with me."

Megan looked at me like I was insane, "Why would I break up with you?"

Why wouldn't she? God, the day she realized that she was too good for me would hit her like a ton of bricks, "Because I suck at this. I'm shit at showing that I care," Eventually any minuscule amount of care I could show her wouldn't be enough compared to all of the other bullshit that would complicate everything, "And you're so passionate. You've got so much energy! It's awesome."

I didn't want to fuck up and steal that sunshine away from her. I wanted to leave things the way I found them, or better. That went for Megan especially. A raincloud overhead could only help a flower grow so much before it started to drown it.

Megan, bless her heart, she didn't see things my way at all, "So, we're different! That's fine!" She grabbed my cheeks in both hands and smiled up at me brightly, "I want you to be you. I like you. You're a big, grumpy, glowing teddy bear," She stopped to give me a reassuring kiss on the lips, "You frown and you snarl, but you don't really mean it."

Didn't really mean it? Au contraire. I was a hateful son of a bitch, "Woman, I dislike everyone and everything not in my direct circle of influence," I deadpanned.

"A direct circle that keeps getting bigger," Megan argued in return, "Admit it! You've got a lot of love in you, and everyone around you is starting to figure out what it looks like."

"Grrrr... let go of me, girl," I growled at her. I was Bellamy Marcher, the kid with a track record of dropping supervillains' faces in the sand. The last thing I needed was anyone making me look soft, even if Megan's hands were fucking warm and soft, and her thumbs were rubbing in that same spot, and it was really comfortable-.

"Aww, he's trying to look tough."

Goddamn it.

"I am tough," I disputed, trying to shake my head out of her grasp like a dog. I lost all fight when she kept stroking my cheeks with her thumbs and giggling, "You're so lucky no one's around to see this. I mean it. You'd kill my X-Men street cred," Hanging around a literal pixie with bubblegum-colored hair did that enough on its own without letting her baby me in public, "I worked hard to get people to take me seriously."

My complaints were promptly ignored, "Hey, sing that song," She asked quietly with a big grin, "That Saint Motel song you talked about. Sing it for me. I want to hear it."

Was she listening to me? I was trying not to kill my credibility, "Right now? In the library?"

Megan gestured to the empty tables around us, "No one's paying attention to us. No one's even here."

Sure, not on the second level. But there were still people using wi-fi on the first floor, and the staff, "The librarian lady is here."

"Oh, hush. Xi'an isn't paying any attention to us."

"Yes, she is."

"Yes, I am," Said librarian, Xi'an Coy Mahn, announced from where she was leaning on a desk on the ground level, "Listening to you two is literally the only entertaining thing that's happened in here all afternoon. You're both adorable," She looked up at us with a teasing smirk, "Megan, your boyfriend is so shy for being a big a tough guy with X-Men street cred."

So, she'd heard that, had she?

I narrowed my eyes at Xi'an through the bars of the upper level guard rail. I wasn't shy about anything. The day I got called out by a teacher that wasn't mine, or a senior staff member that I didn't answer to, would be the damn day. It only occurred to me after the fact that I'd been goaded into taking action.

Now, I'm not going to say I was proud that I knew all the words to 'Cold Cold Man' well enough to sing them back to Megan at that moment, but I won't say I wasn't not proud. I mean, from the angle of the video on Facebook, if you watched it on a small enough screen, you couldn't even tell it was me.


And that's the chapter, guys.

Sometimes it isn't about flinging superpowers all over the place. Sometimes the teenagers get into teenager shit, and it was time for the elephant in the room to be addressed. So, now it's done. And it's never going to be a thing ever again. Because that's how interpersonal relationships work – one and done.

...I'm not sure how well sarcasm comes across in author's notes.

Anyway, where do we go from here? We shall see, ladies and gentleman.

I hope you all enjoyed. I'll see you again next time.

Kenchi out.