Disclaimer: I do not own X-Men. Who's your favorite member of the team, in whatever incarnation. Personally, Gambit's my main man. I love that smooth-talking, card-throwing, Cajun S.O.B.

Chapter 8: School Spirit – Part II

When dawn broke on day two, it was clear that the staff were not messing around anymore. The fun and games were over, comparatively speaking to day one.

My butt was kicked out of my room by an ornery Mister Logan at the crack of dawn. That almost led to an awesome moment of Saberwolf pouncing on the guy for busting into my room uninvited, threatening me like a drill sergeant. The fight that followed would have absolutely destroyed my room if those two had started fighting, but I think it would have been worth it to see, even if I had been killed in the crossfire.

I wondered how I didn't hear him coming with as loud as he was when he got to me. I hadn't been asleep. Maybe the insomnia was starting to get to me?

Me and every other competing student in the boy's dorm were herded into the locker room, area, told to dress in our uniforms, and then go and meet up with our teams to decide who was splitting off to compete in what team competition.

Three events, two teammates each. Because my team had four instead of the normal six, we could use people twice if we needed to… which we did.

All of the guys left the locker room and headed back topside in one mass of disgruntled, cranky humanity… or mutantanity.

…I don't know what the mutant equivalent of that word is. Let it go, already.

"Well that was a pain in the ass," I said, adjusting the skin-tight light and dark blue Paladins uniform I was in. The cup I wore was pinching my thighs because I had to rush into my gear, "What was all of that for again? Competitions don't start until 10."

I had planned to wake up at 7 and convene with the crew at 8 to go over what we were going to do. We didn't need four hours to do that. The most complicated thing we had to talk about was who was pulling double-duty and on what event.

"I hit my head on the ceiling when he busted into my room," Eddie said, touching at the fresh knot on the crown of his noggin, "Am I bleeding?"

"I don't know. You're a ginger, man. It's all red up there to me."

"You suck."

"You suck."

In the middle of the group, Santo took a deep breath and patted his rocky chest, clad in the Hellions' red, "Ahh, I love the smell of spandex and Right Guard in the morning," He said, doing his best Lt. Colonel Kilgore impression, "Smells like… victory."

I actually laughed at that. As a man whose father operated a movie theater for a living, I could appreciate the Apocalypse Now reference. It showed what he knew though. I wore Old Spice, "You know... one day, Field Day's gonna end."

Eddie completely missed what I was going for, "What are you talking about? It'll end tomorrow," He'd probably never seen the movie. I simply looked his way and swiped my hand far over his head, "What? What'd I miss?"

Ever helpful, Saberwolf chimed in from where he was walking next to us, "The mutant Rockslide made a reference to Apocalypse Now, an American motion picture released in the year 1979. I believe Bellamy was merely showing his understanding and appreciation by finishing the remainder of the quote."

"Why is that wolf-bot thing with you?" Santo asked, looking over the heads of several students to get a glimpse of Saberwolf, "I know for sure they're not gonna let you use him in any events."

"Because he's our mascot," I said. And because Mister Logan woke him up. Had that not happened, he would have been hanging out on his own for a second day, "Just look at him. Doesn't it seem like he's ready to cheer us on to victory?"

"I will be doing no such thing," Saberwolf said immediately, "I merely wish to observe. I have no desire to take part in these games."

"Who cares? Let them use it if they want to," Julian interjected smugly, "They need all the help they can get. They're hanging on to third place by their fingernails."

Okay, if he was going to be that guy today, this early to boot, I was going to get annoying. And I knew what would get his goat; reminding him that he wasn't number one.

"Yeah, I guess you would know, Fourth Place, since you're Fourth Place and all, Fourth Place," I could see him getting angrier at being reminded that the Hellions weren't sitting at the top of the heap just yet, "I'll be sure to take your expert, fourth place advice."

"I was led to believe his name was Julian Keller," Saberwolf inquired.

I let out a laugh and looked down at the big, metal wolf. He was just making it easier to keep this whole thing going, "It was, but since he wants to run his mouth at six-thirty in the goddamn morning, today it's 'Fourth Place', and for the rest of Field Day, it'll stay whatever rank his team is as long as it's lower than ours."

"Keep talking, Marcher," Julian seethed, amongst the company of his male squad members, "You had one good day. It was the best you all had. Instead of building to your peak, I say you all blew your wads yesterday."

Brian took a few steps away from Julian at his vulgar remark, "Dude, gross."

It was all just talk, but there was something to be taken from them. Day one had been big for us. It would have been easy to fall into a second day slump.

Time to make some magic happen.


They were getting more serious for the team challenges. For the first event, two members of each team would have to square up and fight an actual living, flesh-and-blood member of the X-Men. There was only one place on the premises that could accommodate something like that.

I felt a nagging itch in the back of my head as we stepped into the Danger Room. Whatever it was, I had to ignore it and focus.

Hisako and I were the money combo for combat. It was a no-brainer when that one came up that we were the two who were going in. Any combination of my other three squad members simply didn't come close to being as good, as evidenced by their performance in the last Field Day.

But it was a new day, yes it was. On paper, we were solid. Now we just had to perform.

"Not Miss Pryde. Not Miss Pryde," I started chanting quietly to myself as we stood there waiting on our opponent. It was still loud enough for Hisako to hear, "-Not Miss Pryde."

"Why do you keep saying that?" Hisako asked me. She was just as anxious as I was from how she couldn't seem to stand still and kept bouncing on her toes while we waited, "There's no way they're going to make us fight our teacher."

"And you really think that matters to them?" I said, somewhat disagreeing with her, "The headmistress and Miss Pryde have beef, remember?"

I wouldn't have put it past Miss Frost to stick us with our own teacher to fight, just this once, just to fuck with us. Do it and say it was randomly selected. 'Random' my incandescent ass.

Hisako seemed offended, "Of course. I've been on this team longer than you, remember?" She said before softening her stance, "...What's it over, by the way?"

Hell if I knew at the time, "Beats me. It seems like one of those things that go so far back, asking about it would only piss both of them off," It never came up, and I wasn't going to be the one to bring it up, "I just figured it wasn't worth it to mention, because it wouldn't change anything."

Hisako saw that as a good enough reason. Adults didn't like kids meddling in their affairs. It wasn't worth the headache to get involved, "Still, you're afraid of fighting Miss Pryde?" She said before leering at me with intent to tease, "Do you have the hots for her like Eddie does?"

That wasn't necessarily a bombshell, even if it was bad form to talk about that sort of thing amongst ourselves. The other day when he'd asked me to do something for him if my plan for our pre-Field Day team meeting didn't work, he'd asked me to try and get him some alone time with Miss Pryde, which was doable.

I had no idea what he thought was going to go down after he got it, but that wasn't my problem, especially since after we kicked ass during the solo events, I didn't have to do it anyway.

I gave Hisako a look. Did she think insinuating something like me wanting to hook up with someone bothered me? Hadn't she learned from watching me blatantly check out girls during Field Day opening ceremonies? I like women. A lot. I wasn't ten years old. There was no shame to my game.

"In the sense that I think she's fine, yes, but that's not the point," I said, taking the wind out of her sails, "How the fuck are we supposed to beat someone we can't hit?"

That was one of my combat nightmare. At least with other enemies, even if I couldn't hurt them, I could do something to at least slow them down. Miss Pryde could just phase through anything either of us threw at her.

I didn't care about hurting her. She could handle herself just fine. She was actually an X-Man. We weren't.

"By not necessarily trying to beat her? Just last the whole ten minutes?" Hisako ventured as a solution, "We're not supposed to win. We're supposed to be smart about how we deal with them."

"I want a perfect score though," I said, getting an exasperated sigh out of her. Screw that 'barely skating by' crap. Shoot for the stars! "If we can get a stoppage, we get ten sweet, delicious, hard-earned points."

"And if we get stopped, we get a zero," Hisako argued back, "A ten would make us, but a zero would fuck us. Don't fuck us," She warned.

Hisako had a point. A good point. A point too good for me to ignore and fly off the handle in this fight.

Stupid logic. Couldn't it just take a backseat for once while I was trying to make some goddamn progress? I wanted to go balls-to-the-wall.

In the end, I let it go. It just wasn't the day for Bellamy Marcher to make himself a big-time player. The team came first, "Fine. We'll play it safe. But if I see an opening, I'm taking it, and I expect backup."

To punctuate this, I held up my hand with the index and pinky fingers held up, the tips of the middle and ring fingers pinched to the thumb.

Hisako stared like I was committing some kind of war crime by holding it up, "What the hell is that?"

"It's our thing. Our team thing," Eddie and I had decided on it the night before. We were both excited to use it as much as possible. We already had, three times before we split up for the competitions, "Come on, Hisako. Give it a tap."

She regarded it, then me, with all of the distaste of someone who was too good for what was going on, "You would have to laser my hand off and fix it like that to get me to do it."

I had no idea why she had to be so serious all of the time. It couldn't have been a fun way to live, "You're just exaggerating. Come on. 'Too sweet' me."

The depth of the frown on her face was borderline hilarious. I didn't think a human being could squint at another any harder, "Absolutely not."

"It's a show of solidarity. It says, 'I believe in you, do you believe in me?'" That had been my trump card, and she didn't buy what I was selling for a moment, "…Okay, I just think it looks cool. Do it," I demanded.

"Not a chance," She said, mentally digging herself in for my siege of requests.

Stubborn wench. This would only be as cool as she helped Eddie and I sell it to be. I needed the 'too sweet' to be a thing. My end goal was to have kids all over the school doing it by the end of the semester.

"Please?" I finally begged, "You know you want to."

She hesitated forever, leaving me hanging for the longest time. Eventually, she got tired of my hand hovering just out of reach and returned the gesture. I laughed as she humored me.

She blew her long black locks out of her face in a huff, "There. At least no one else saw it," I promptly pointed at one of the camera drones circling the room, contradicting her. Everyone saw it. She yelled at me in what I could only assume were Japanese swears, topped off with a satisfying-, "To hell with you, Bellamy!"

The doors to the Danger Room opened and a man with auburn hair and a full black bodysuit with a pink chest plate underneath an open brown trench coat walked in. His eyes were an odd combination of solid black with red pupils.

"Nice to see dat you kids look all warmed up," He said with a distinct Cajun accent as he walked up to us, "Both of you gonna need it."

Remy LeBeau, a.k.a. Gambit.

Hisako and I looked at each other to make sure we were both on the same page. Really, no matter who we wound up drawing for this fight, it was never going to be easy.

I took a step forward just as the clock began starting to tick down from ten minutes. He hadn't started jumping us yet, so perhaps this could kill a few seconds, "So... do you know what we can do?" Gambit nodded, the calm, easy smile on his face never going away, "Alright, that makes asking this next question easier. What do you do?"

"It's a lot'o fancy, scientific explanation to get to the whole thing," He said, with an errant wave of his hand, "Basically... Remy makes things go 'boom'." With that, a playing card slipped from his sleeve into his hand. After a moment it seemed to be brimming from all edges with raw energy.

I didn't like the sound of that, or the looks of it.

Hisako looked around at the plain, regular features of the Danger Room, "So... are they going to turn the room into something?" She asked curiously. Again, that itch came up at the back of my mind. It was annoying! I needed to focus. Whatever was touching at my thoughts could wait. A fight was a'brewing, "It feels kind of blank in here."

Gambit chuckled, "Nah. No tricks, much as Remy be a fan of a good sleight a' hand," He said, "This test is just a question of can you go? As in, fight?"

I saw his body tense up. We weren't going to get any more time out of him. Thirty seconds was going to have to be enough, "Well when you put it that wa-," I shot at him before I finished my sentence. Gambit dodged to the side, in the direction that Hisako took off in to intercept him, armoring up as she did. Gambit got a clear view of me and threw the charged-up card in his hand right at me. Hisako saw where he was aiming and moved between the two of us, intercepting it.

"You need something a little tougher to hurt me," She said, balling a large armored fist to swing at him.

"Dat shot wasn't meant for you," Gambit dodged with some weird, ninja/parkour kind of agility. I tried to move around from a distance to try and get a good shot at him, but from how Hisako was barreling ahead to get a decent swing at him, I couldn't track him well enough to do so, "On the other hand, this one though..."

From inside his coat, he pulled out a collapsible bo staff and smacked Hisako in the armored right knee, bringing her down to a kneel.

"Corner pocket, no?" He said before jabbing her right in the chest, sending her flying back. I was floored.

In addition to the fact that he didn't look nearly strong enough to do anything like that to an armored Hisako, it was how easy he made it look. He swatted her leg like he was trying to punish her for something instead of hurt her. And he poked her like he was taking a shot with a pool cue.

He turned his eyes to me and grinned. I began pumping as much power to my legs as I could in short order. With hardly any visual warning whatsoever, more cards appeared in his free hand that he threw my way. In that time frame I had gotten enough energy going to jump from where I had been standing clear over Gambit to land between him and Hisako as she got back up.

The shot I fired flew past him, barely missing but taking him out of whatever he was about to do next, "Whoo!" He exclaimed, taking a moment to regain his proper footing. We were at a standoff after a quick round of action, "Didn't think you was that fast, homme."

"You alright, Armor?" I asked as Hisako got up as quickly as she could.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Didn't hurt," She said, standing ready to fight once again, "It was more embarrassing than anything else."

Gambit chuckled and gesture to us to bring it on, "Get used to that."

I shot at the ground directly in front of us, kicking up a momentary cloud of smoke. With Gambit's eyes off of us for a moment, I turned around and stepped on a platform of Hisako's armored hands. She sent me flying up to the ceiling where I landed and jumped off, taking aim at Gambit. He saw me coming and jumped out of the way. I rolled through the landing and twisted to my belly where I fired an extended blast at him, following him around the room, slowly catching up to him.

He saw my blast closing in and backflipped over it just as the beam was closing in. Hisako kept up with how he was moving all the way and jumped into the air to shoulder-check him. He turned in the air and tried to block with his staff. It hardly helped. Hisako still smacked him away. Credit to him, he recovered well, flipping through with the blow and landing feet-first on the wall to cushion the force and drop to the floor.

The man knew his acrobatics. I made a note to try and remember that trick. I could pull moves like that when I was charged up. I just had to practice to learn how.

It would have to wait though. From where he landed, he judged the distance between Hisako and I, then gauged his chances at taking on one of us or the other. He clearly thought his chances of taking me down first were better, for good reason, because he charged me.

Hisako reached for him and tried to slow him down, but he was still quicker than her. He made it past her and bombarded me with cards. I tried to dodge a few, but the force of the missed blasts knocked me around. Instead, I started picking them off out of midair, causing them to detonate prematurely. Gambit used his own covering fire to finally get close enough to me to start in with hand-to-hand combat.

Both hands on his bo staff, he took a swing at me. I ducked, but he used the back end of the weapon to hit me in the head. The pole smacked me vertically, right down the center of my face. My nose burned in pain. I fell down right on my butt.

Through the tears welling up in my eyes, I saw enough of him to kick forward at him from the floor. He stopped it cold with his staff, "Ah-ah-ah," Gambit chided with a wag of his finger.

Screw that. No one was going to taunt me and just get away with it. My palms were still on the floor, so I let off a blast that lifted me off of the floor, pushing me in Gambit's direction. My foot was still on his staff. He went stumbling back to where Hisako was charging his way, coming to back me up. He turned his head and saw her coming, pivoting his body out of the way to send my momentum flying in her direction.

As I flew past, he let a card go that exploded against my back. It sent me spinning out of control until I found myself nestled in the merciful, red, psionically-armored bosom of my teammate, "Sol! Are you alright?"

He hit me right between the shoulder blades. I couldn't even reach back there to touch at the burning feeling to get some relief, "Gah! That fucking hurt! Is it bad?"

She hesitated to answer at first, "Uh…" She saw Gambit coming right at us and set me down so we could both deal with him, "Well, get him back!"

I steadied myself and fired two blasts on opposite sides of Gambit before swinging them both inward to trap him. He ducked both beams and kept coming at us again, closing the distance quicker than my wounded body would have liked.

Hisako stuck close behind me, so when Gambit went to hit me with his staff again, she was able to block it with her armored arm. I swung myself off of her protective limb and kicked Gambit in the side of the head. He got an arm up to protect himself, but I felt my leg make contact with skull.

I was so happy when I felt his body give under the force of the kick, but it was short-lived.

Gambit's power was molecular acceleration, and yes, it's just as cool as it sounds. Basically, for inanimate objects, he can take its stored potential energy and turn it to kinetic energy. Since that isn't ever supposed to happen, the object blows up.

Why am I explaining this? Well, when his staff shot was blocked by Hisako, the sly bastard reached down to touch the floor. That explained why my kick landed so cleanly. In other words, the metal floor panel we had all been standing on, he charged it. And when I kicked him, I knocked him away to a safe distance, so he wouldn't be near us when it exploded.

...Stupid, lucky, Cajun dickhead.


Thank God for two things. One, that Hisako had been armored up, because she might have had pieces of her missing if that hadn't been her mutant power. Two, that I had super solar powers that enhanced my body's abilities, because regular old squishy Bellamy would have been painting the Danger Room with his guts otherwise. He had to know our powers could endure that if he was willing to pull that move.

Even with the latter, Hisako's armor had taken most of the blast. I knew this for certain, because I was stuck underneath her afterwards, my ears ringing as I was pinned by a Japanese girl with big, transparent armor. Not as cool as it sounded.

"Hisako, if you're not as deaf as I am and you can hear me, please get off," I said, groaning in pain as I tried to push her off from a position with no leverage. Her armor had actual mass to it, "Seriously, you're kind of crushing me here."

Gambit, ever the asshole, took that moment to stand on top of Hisako's armored form and pointed down with his staff, "Good try, kids. But, bang-."

He didn't expect two beams of light to fire through Hisako's armor and blow him away. The explosion was fantastic, as was the sight of his body flopping off of the floor like a dead fish. Does it make me a bad person that I enjoyed that?

Nah. He was gloating instead of finishing us off. He deserved it.

I took a moment to relax, there on my back, Hisako on top of me, muttering something about her head. The cold floor felt so good against my burning back. I just wanted to keep lying down.

Only it wasn't over yet. Gambit was getting up. He was getting up slowly, but he was getting up nonetheless.

"Damn it," I muttered as Hisako's armored fomr finally got up off of me. That little surprise play had been our trump card. Our biggest ace in the hole. My blasts by themselves were pure light. Light went right through Hisako's armor, which sucked for her when we discovered it while we were sparring, because I hit her dead center the first time it happened. What was great though, was that we learned I could shoot other things through the armor.

It was a shock tactic. A desperation move. It wasn't something that we just did whenever, because it would only work like that once. And since it didn't put Gambit down, it was wasted.

I spared a look at the clock. I had no clue how long we were all down for, but the clock was right at three minutes.

Hisako looked back down at me and cringed. She could guess how much her landing on me probably hurt, even knowing how sturdy I was, "Can you stand up? Are you good to keep going?"

I waved off her attempt to help me up. It was better to worry about herself for the time being. She'd had her armor up for a while ever since the fight had started. She couldn't maintain it forever, especially taking the kind of beating she had, "I kind of have to be. We've got three minutes left to go, and he's not gonna stop. Especially not after that," If he wasn't badly injured, he was probably pretty upset, "How are you doing?"

I could see the sweat on her brow, and the clamminess of her skin. It wasn't because this was a hard fight, "I'll last," She told me.

A frown spread across my face and I gave her a shove. She of course hardly budged, "Don't lie. If you're feeling tired, armor down," I said, "I can deal with him by myself long enough to give you a breather."

She glared at me, but she armored down. The need to rest overtook the desire to hang tough, "You're out of your mind. He's been handing you your ass every time he's gotten close."

This I knew, which was why I didn't plan on getting close again. I planned on ending things then and there.

I put my hands together, palm-to-palm and felt them stick, the heat from the energy I was generating growing between them. Something was happening. I had no idea what. When I was experimenting with my powers, I was always afraid to see, "Do you trust me?" I asked.

Hisako hesitated. Hard, "…" I pulled the palms of my hands away to look inside the pocket and saw a little ball of light. It didn't help convince her. She could feel the raw energy building. Even I knew anyone else around me could feel it, "..."

"It's a yes or no question!" I snapped at her, "Answer, please!"

She snapped out of her deep thought and took a few steps back for safety, not that I could blame her, "You don't just say something like that when we're doing something this dangerous and you're holding something like that."

There was a solid ball building at the center of my hands, and it was heavy. The wider I parted my hands with my fingers locked, the bigger it got, the faster it started to spin, the louder it started to hum.

"What is that?" She said warily. Again, I couldn't blame her. I was scared too. This was the longest I had ever held this. I'd always wussed out before it got this far.

"I don't know," I said, slowly moving forward, carefully keeping my hands in that position. It felt like if I let my fingers loose, something would happen. Whatever that something was, I hoped it was good, because Gambit was up, and looked ready to blow me up before I did it to him first.

He had two fists full of cards, both eyes locked on me. I had the distinct impression that he didn't like me at all, "No way Gambit's lettin' you throw dat lil' death ball."

"It's not a death ball," I said, offended. I had to say it louder than normal though, because the hum from the light ball was steadily getting louder, "...Okay, it might be a death ball."

"Mm-hmm," Gambit cocked his arms back to throw. I flinched and hoped the stream of consciousness that flowed from my mouth made enough sense to give me a chance.

"Dude, if you pick me off, it's gonna blow the fuck up," I quickly sputtered out, getting him to stop for a moment. I had to make the most of it, "You hear that? Skin contact with me is the only thing keeping this thing stable, and I'm pretty sure no one in the room is getting away from it when it goes."

I had no idea what this thing was going to do, but it felt like it was going to explode, and nothing that exploded and made loud sounds beforehand to this degree ever exploded lightly.

"You included?" Gambit said, trying to talk me down from today's bout of mutually assured destruction.

Smooth talking S.O.B. almost made me second guess myself for a moment, "...That may not have accounted into my plans," I admitted. Why did I admit that out loud?

"You had a plan?" Thank you, Hisako.

"Shut up, girl," I hissed back to her before turning my attention back to the actual threat, "So! Mister... Gambit, or LeBeau... or whatever the fuck you want to be called by students. You have thirty seconds to give up, or I am going to blow all of our asses to – best case, a hospital bed. Worst case, Heaven, Hell, Valhalla, Purgatory, Shangri-la, or whatever alternate plane of existence floats your particular boat."

Gambit scoffed, "You wouldn't."

He might have been right, had he not said those particular words in that order. Telling me I wouldn't or couldn't do something was the worst possible way to try and get me to not do it.

"Armor'll be fine," I said, sounding confident in Hisako's chances of walking away, "Both of us need to be taken out to get a zero, but if we put you down, it doesn't matter how we do it, or if one of us goes down in the process, we still get a 10."

Those were the rules. Good for us. One of us, at least. It was going to be bad for me. That much I knew, and I was willing to accept that.

"You willin' to bet with your life like that, homme?" Gambit asked.

There wasn't really any turning back at this point. Besides, it wasn't like I could just make the ball go away. It was there, so I might as well have used it, "I'll tell you what; we are all about to find out in ten seconds."

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Hisako ventured to ask again. She thought I was bluffing. I was not.

"Not even a little bit," I told her, "Armor up."

She would be fine. If she could take Gambit's big explosion that he tried on us without a scratch on her, she could handle whatever this would be. If I could just get between her and the direction of the blast, I had a chance to not completely get a face full of hot blast shockwave.

"Sol, I don't think-."

"-Hisako, your opinion is duly noted. Now armor the fuck up!"

In any less serious circumstance, yelling at her like that would have caused her to do about as close to the exact opposite of what I said as was reasonably, healthily possible. Whether she did so on this occasion because I said so, or because she was willing to err on the side of caution, it didn't matter. The moment I saw the red of her psionic protective suit go up, I was prepared to let my fingers separate. The ball of light was vibrating so hard, my hands were going numb. It wanted to be fired.

Gambit did not want it to be fired, with all of three seconds to spare.

"Alright, Remy surrenders," He said, putting his hands up, flicking his charged cards to the ceiling to explode harmlessly, "Dis ain't worth getting blown to bits over," He said somewhat ironically as bits of playing cards drifted down from the air, "You look just young and dumb enough to do it."

I wasn't taking him at his base word, "Say it out loud! I need it confirmed."

"Remy surrenders!"

Hisako armored down and let out the biggest sigh of relief I had ever heard from her. I was busy stomping the floor victoriously, "You heard the man! Give me my ten goddamn points!"

I was a little too loud for my teammate's tastes. Even the glow of victory wasn't enough to mellow Hisako out to the extent that she would get off of my back, "You know that would never work again in a million years," She chided me, but she was grinning wider than I'd ever seen her.

Actually, she could have it. I didn't bother arguing. There was no need. We finally got a ten. It didn't matter to me how we got it, "Don't need it to, Hisako. Don't need it to."

She shook her head, but also decided to just let it go. Besides, there was still something pretty important going on, and it was in my hands, "...What are you going to do with that now?" She asked, remembering the potentially very destructive object I had in my hands.

"I would re-absorb dat if I was you," Gambit advised, moving closer and closer to the door that was still shut tight. We must not have been the only ones wondering what to do with the light ball.

Thank you, captain obvious. If I knew how to do that, I would have by then. I didn't really need it anymore, did I?

"Um," By then, my hands had definitely gone numb. That couldn't have been a good sign about how much energy the ball had sucked out of me. "I'm scared to hold on, but I'm scared to let go," What color were my eyes by the way? "Hey, if I just stood all the way by the door and pointed it at the back wall, do you think-?"


I didn't need both of them to yell it at me. I would have gotten the message from just one.


I missed Ruth and Eddie's team test, and the third one as well. I had been stuck with a few of the senior X-Men trying to figure out a way to get rid of the big yellow ball of doom between my hands. Mister Logan suggested cutting off my hands as a joke. Pulled his claws out and everything. I said sure, if he wanted everyone in the room and half of the school to get vaporized. He replied, 'Why not?' After all, it wasn't like it would kill him.

I didn't know if he was serious or not, about any of it.

Eventually, Dr. McCoy measured the amount of energy I'd poured into it and decided that it wouldn't end the world if I set it off somewhere. So they took me outside and let me shoot it into Breakstone Lake. The tidal wave it made had to be seen to be believed. Mister Drake froze it at fifty feet high. I wish I had my phone. I would have taken a picture.

Either way, when they were done with me, they let me walk back to campus proper by myself to look for my squad. I wanted to know how everything had panned out for us.

Also, my body wanted me to lie down. Everything on me hurt. I couldn't wait to get out of my uniform to see how much of me was bruised up.

"Hey! There he is!"

I turned at the sound of Megan's accent and saw her flying a few feet above her team. I waved as she headed over, however I was not prepared for her to hug me.

I was paralyzed from the pain. I couldn't even yell. My poor, aching muscles. She didn't even notice, "Bellamy, that was so great! You and Hisako! You guys actually beat an X-Man! Like, you beat him!"

"Yes, yes, I'm awesome," I said, my voice straining. Megan wasn't strong, and all things considered, her touch wasn't unpleasant, but at that moment you could have pressed a pillow to my chest and it would have felt like a cactus, "Please let go. Oh God."

Ben put his glowing orange hand on Megan's shoulder to get her to let go, "Pixie, let him go. You saw the fight. He's got to be feeling it right now."

Megan saw some of the bruises on my shoulder that led underneath my top and quickly flew back, "Oops! Sorry!"

I seethed, not out of anger, because I would never be mad at a pretty girl hugging me, but out of pain, because any and all contact hurt, "Aww... it's not you, it's me," I said, downplaying any need for apologies, "I need aspirin, IcyHot, and sleep. Wow, I actually could sleep tonight."

It was kind of a shame she let go though. She was soft and smelled awesome. If only my body hadn't been tenderized by an X-Men grade beatdown.

Having saved me from pleasant torment at the hands of Megan, Ben informed me of current events, "You weren't there, so just so you know, your team held on to third place," He told me, "Your overall score for team events came out to an 8.5."

It hurt to smile so much. My head was still throbbing, "Really? We kept the same average as the solo events? Okay then."

Good work, Paladins. 'Too sweets' for everybody once I saw them all again. I would have been more enthusiastic, but that could wait for when everything didn't hurt.

"If you and Armor hadn't gotten a 10 in the combat test, it would have been lower," Nicky said, grinning at me, fanged white teeth gleaming, "You got the highest score of the day in any event. Way to go," A ringing endorsement from the wolf boy. Fantastic.

Megan muscled back into the conversation, flying back in front of me, her wings fluttering to keep her aloft, "Yeah-yeah-yeah. Bel, you've got to tell me! How did you win?" She asked, a pouting curve to her lip, "Don't keep all the good tricks to yourself. The closest anyone else got was 8.8."

"And that wasn't us," Mark chimed in from the side, his headphones sitting comfortably around his neck.

Because he wasn't trying his hardest. None of the instructors probably were. Anyone who came up at the end of their fight still conscious should have figured that, "I don't even think Gambit really cared until things started getting dangerous, and even then, he still only kind of went at us seriously one good time," I said, "They weren't ever going to go all out on us. But just because they weren't didn't mean we wouldn't. So I went ham."

To a stupid, self-destructive degree. If we hadn't gotten the stoppage in the end, we might have been heavily penalized for how we went about doing it. It might not have worked on someone else that would have definitely demanded a pristine performance and would have fought as such.

For example, if we had fought Mister Summers, he likely would have taken our asses to school. He was too by-the-book, all substance. No amount of guts and crazy ingenuity was going to get to that guy without some serious steak to go with the sizzle.

Everyone else got it. Unfortunately for poor Megan, who was still in the process of being Americanized, the most important thing I said went over her head, because I said it in slang, "W-What? Ham? I don't-," Hope took pity on her and whispered what it meant to her on the sly, "Oh!"

"Well there's still day three," Ben said. He sounded determined, "The Paragons aren't laying down without a fight."

The last time I checked, our scores had been very close, with them and the New Mutants ahead of us. I didn't know what the leaderboards looked like now, but things were tight enough for them that Ben felt the need to call us out. The target was going to be on every top team's back for the final day.

I accepted it in what I felt was a graceful manner, "As much as I wish you would, I wasn't expecting you to," I said as I started walking away, "Just take it easy on me tomorrow, guys! I'm beat up!"

The Paragons weren't my last run-in for the day. When I said before that everyone kept up with Field Day, I meant everyone. More than a few people stopped me to tell me how great they thought my team was doing, or how we were going to get smashed by whoever the hell they were rooting for.

I got away from them as quickly as I could, but it wasn't fast enough. Come on, people. I just wanted a sandwich and a nap.

Eventually, I did work my way back around to the dorm side of the Institute, when one more person called out to me.


My name had been called so much that day, I was tempted to ignore it, but that was just too rude. It was just as well, because it wasn't some random passer-by trying to get my attention. It was Miss Pryde. It was interesting as to what she wanted, because she'd been pretty hands off as far as we were concerned since the start of Field Day events. All of the instructors were.

She'd popped in after the first day to let us know that we were doing well, so it wasn't surprising that she wanted to do so now, "Hey, Bel. You're the only one I didn't get to see today. Do you have a minute to talk?"

I wanted to lay down, damn it. But she was my advisor, and I honest-to-goodness liked her. If she was asking for me, it had to be for something worthwhile, "Sure," In the end, a minute or two wouldn't affect my rest and recovery time, "What's up?"

"Remember what I said about you doing something for me in exchange for that project you have me working on with you?" Miss Pryde asked as I walked the rest of the way over to her.

Absolutely. I kept track of whenever I owed someone or someone else owed me, "Yeah? You finally know what it is you want? I can't believe it took you this long to figure it out."

Miss Pryde was a fun mentor, and she was the one who told me to be more casual when we weren't in a situation where she had direct authority over me.

She grinned at me and tapped her own temple. Whatever this was, she was excited about it, "I knew what I wanted when I first brought it up. The last two days just gave me time to confirm that I made the right decision."

The right decision for what? If she had thought of something big over the last few days, none of us were privy to it, and I was as lost as could be. I hadn't done anything with her since we'd come to our original arrangement.

Miss Pryde paused, as though she were building up to what she wanted to say. But it wasn't out of nerves on her end, she just wanted to give me a moment to get ready, "I want you to lead the Paladins."

With good reason. My legs almost gave out from the weight of the bomb she dropped on me. I couldn't believe what I'd heard at first. But when she remained standing there, leaning forward in anticipation as to how I would react, smile as wide as ever, I had to accept that she was being serious.

I also had to wonder if she had gone for the last few days with an undiagnosed concussion if this was the kind of choice she'd been sitting on with any kind of certainty.

I was befuddled. I needed an explanation. Why was I her prime choice? "Me? You're not going to ask someone that's been here longer? I mean, if I were you, I'd have gone to Hisako about this instead of me."

Miss Pryde shook her head adamantly. She was sticking with this. Any doubts she'd had were nonexistent, or had clearly been cast out due to whatever I'd done, "You were the one who took charge. No one else so much as even tried to do that since the team was first put together," She told me, "They listen to you. Even if I didn't ask you directly, you still would have been the informal leader. We would just be making it official."

Was it Field Day? Oh no. If that was what this was about, I felt the moral obligation to nip this in the bud before bad things happened, "I just don't see myself as some kind of amazing chess master than can work things to our advantage."

I was still getting used to the idea of other people counting on me, of other people being affected by my actions. I wasn't great at it yet. I tried to be thoughtful, but I had habits that were hard to break, if I ever would. Going from learning how to be more responsible to bearing most of the responsibility was a heck of a leap.

Miss Pryde's calm demeanor was helping to let me try to wrap my head around it all. No matter how gun shy I seemed to be, she wouldn't let me step back from the idea,"You think you have to be some kind of strategic mastermind to lead a squad?" I felt like I had to be serviceable in that department, yes, "Bel, it's not all about plots and schemes. You've got all of the qualities. You're smart enough. You're focused, your confidence is infectious. You're transparent and authentic, even passionate when you want to be. You're decisive, personable, and you're patient-."

I stopped her right there and started laughing. Those last two had to be some kind of joke, "Whoa-whoa-whoa. Personable? Have you met me? Most of the people who aren't on this team either hate me or think I'm weird. Or crazy," I added, before moving on to the next point, "And patient? I sure as hell wasn't patient out there today."

She smiled like I had fallen into her trap, "I'm not talking about in the field," She said, alluding to something else, "You're the best thing that's happened to Ruth since she joined this team. You have no idea."

I let out a snort, letting her know just how much I believed that, "Ruthie would have been fine if I'd never showed up."

Miss Pryde started to frown. Apparently, she didn't think it would be this difficult to get me onboard, "But she's better now than she would have been by now without you. And it's not only her. It's just her you've impacted the most."

The skepticism could be read from the curious lift of my eyebrow, "Oh really?"

Miss Pryde sighed and marched up to me, looking up right into my face, "Eddie needed someone to stand up and be as competitive as he is. Your whole 'hate to lose' thing resonates with how much he wants to be an X-Man. He really outdoes himself because you do in every assignment I have you do," She explained, her tone deadly serious, "Hisako needed someone to get under her skin enough to make her step up. She's got so much untapped potential, and whenever you two are at each other's throats, as much as I wish you would both take a chill pill, I see a real spark. She does better just so she can lord it over you, and her gloating just slides off of you like water off of a duck's back. You never care for any longer than thirty seconds. It annoys you long enough for her to get something out of it, but it never sticks to make you resent her."

Of course not. Losing at anything was my fault. If I failed, it meant that I wasn't good enough to get the job done. Nothing more, nothing less. Get mad, then get better. Resenting others for their talent was for mental midgets.

But I was beginning to see what she was getting at. Eddie didn't have the temperament to lead to match his drive. He couldn't be the spiritual focal point, even if he was more than willing to match the intensity of others. Hisako could do it... eventually. Even I knew she was more than capable once she got her backside in gear. But for the time being, she needed an in-house motivator to push her to live up to reaching that point.

I didn't even have to think about why Ruth wasn't considered. I loved her to death, but bearing top responsibility for a squad was not in the cards for her.

While I was far from a finished product, or even passable as a real crisis situation sort of leader, I was the best option we had at the moment. I couldn't lie and say I wasn't much for thinking. Field Day results aside, she'd seen me take the lead on other things that required planning. I was a good enough fighter in my own right to lead the charge for whatever bullheaded mess I convinced the others to go along with me for.

And most importantly, her original point. I was the only one that had so much as even tried to grab the reins, even if only because someone had to steer the horse.

I'd been here significantly less longer than the others and still noticed that when I didn't try and direct the team, no one else really did. It took a month of us running around freestyling our drills before I picked up on it and tried to organize some stuff, just to give us some default gameplans to fall back on. If it had been that way all year long, before I got there, someone trying to get everyone to do anything had to seem like a breath of fresh air.

The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Miss Pryde just stood there, waiting patiently as I mulled it over. I didn't want to let her down either. It wasn't even about me owing her. For something this big, that was a bad excuse anyway.

I didn't want to let her down by saying no, but I didn't want to let her down by being a complete screw-up either. Her and everyone else.

...To hell with it. Man up.

I swallowed down the lump in my throat. It was heavy. I felt it hit my gut,"...I'll only do it if everyone else says it's okay," I eventually said, staring her down eye-to-eye. I needed her to know how seriously I took this. It was a big deal. She didn't blink once I started speaking, "Everyone. Not just two out of three. This team's not big enough to handle any dissent like that."

She nodded and accepted that before backing away, smiling at me again, "You'll do great. I just know it," She said, turning to go her own way, "You already are."

"Yeah, we'll see about that tomorrow."


By the time I got back to my room, I was spent, both physically and mentally. It hadn't been a very easy day, but the life of a bonafide superhero wasn't supposed to be. It was what I had signed up for bumps, bruises, and all.

When I entered, Saberwolf perked up from where he had been relaxing and watching my TV.

"What's up, Wolf?" I greeted wearily, walking right through the room into my bathroom. It was there that I began the slow, agonizing process of peeling my uniform off.

"Bellamy," Wolf replied, acknowledging my presence, "Your performance was very surprising today."

I let out a grunt as I checked my self over in the mirror. There were bruises everywhere, and my back was an angry red, which was very impressive because my skin was brown. I was going to be sleeping face down for a little while, "It was everybody else doing their thing too. If the score me and Hisako had was all we had, we would be out of the running right now."

I could hear the soft sound of Wolf's hydraulics as he moved around, "I was not talking about just that. I expected that due to your ongoing problem with the Danger Room - your accusations of it gaining sentience - you would have refrained from stepping foot inside."

I didn't know what he was talking about, at least not at first. After thinking about it for a moment I felt a pop at the back of my head, like a joint loosening in my brain. From there, it all came roaring back.

I had been in the Danger Room. I had fought in the Danger Room. How had I not pitched some sort of bitch-fit about it, either before, during, or after? I had known what the competition would be since the opening ceremony. There was no way I would have let that go.

Wolf was more attentive to the human condition than I had expected, "What is the matter?" He asked.

"Nothing," I tried to insist. I failed.

Wolf walked over and looked me over. The red lights of his eye panels scanned me several times, just so he could make sure of what he was making an observation on, "Your jaw is clenched, your muscles have tightened, and your heart rate has increased. You are lying."

If he was that perceptive, maybe I could use that intelligence of his to help me out? It was worth a shot. It wasn't like there was anyone else I could go to who would listen to me, "Wolf, you're smart."

"-Smarter than you, yes."

Sometimes I got the feeling that Wolf didn't like me, despite the amount of time he spent with me, "..." I stared at him, trying to make him feel awkward, until I realized that as much as he tried to learn, it wasn't going to be that easy to teach him about human discomfort, "...I'm sorry, do you want me to pat you on the back? You know, since you don't have the hands to do it yourself?" An A.I. with an ego. What a world, "I was about to ask for advice."

"My apologies. You were saying?"

Good. At least he was willing to lend an ear and maybe help me out. It was all a man could ask for from another person, "If you were sure that someone did something to your brain, and you were certain they could do it again with a thought, but you didn't want to let it slide, how would you go about dealing with that?" I asked.

"Practically speaking, I would not," Wolf responded. It wasn't what I wanted to hear, but it wasn't as if he didn't have his reasons, "The truly skilled warrior chooses his battles wisely. If you are suspicious of someone meddling with your mind, how would you prevent such a thing from happening a second time?"

He was right. While there were a handful of telepaths walking around the school, there was only one with the talent to slip something into my brain without me noticing anything and with the motivations to do so. Confronting her would just end up with me looking ridiculous, because what could I do to Emma freaking Frost?

It sucked, but going up to her and calling her on it wasn't going to do anything for me. She didn't seem to strike me as the kind of person who cared about what she herself had done if she felt she was right about doing it. She definitely didn't seem to be the type who cared about public opinion.

I walked out of the bathroom, not in the mood to shower just yet due to our discussion, and flopped on the bed. I was at the end of my rope, "Wolf, I'm tired of this. I want to do something," I told my mechanical confidant, "Do you think shutting down the Danger Room is possible?"

Not forever. Just long enough to take it off of the table until Miss Pryde and I could finish with the replacement for the central computer.

Wolf was willing to conspire alongside me. Probably out of boredom. It had to have beaten just sitting around waiting for something to happen and observing a bunch of high school kids, "It depends. I believe the easiest way to do so would be to separate the room from whatever power source it uses."

Yeah. Way to put all of that tactical analysis and critical thinking to use. If we screwed the power, it would take longer than a few hours to fix it. Especially if they wouldn't know it happened until right when they started firing things up for the final day of competitions. It was either that, or put every kid competing in Field Day at risk tomorrow.

The format of the competition was a practical exercise for all teams. The only place that could contain such a thing without something getting destroyed on campus was the Danger Room, and they would use the room's functions to make it all work.

Fuck that.

I looked at the clock. It was only four o'clock in the afternoon. I had to wait until much later before I tried to go and do my thing.


My usual haunting hours of around one or two in the morning were still the best time to act. After all, I never came across anyone in the underground parts of the mansion that late at night. All of the other times I skulked around to exercise and do this or that, I had never been caught.

Of course, that had been before the first Danger Room incident when it had been discovered what I had been doing. No one had caught me since then, but that didn't mean that no one had forgotten. I was mostly right. I didn't run into anyone. I was followed, instead.

I wasn't turned on to this until I stopped moving while I had been trying to quietly move along in the underground corridors, "Hgn..." My body simply wouldn't budge an inch.

"Oh don't worry, that will only last for a short time," I heard inside of my head. Crap. I couldn't do anything but remain in place as I heard heels click off of the floor. Eventually Miss Frost walked in front of me into my line of sight, "Long enough for you to start explaining to me just what you're doing down here, Mister Marcher."

"Sure," I said, feeling control return to my body, "Just as soon as you tell me if you've been screwing with the wiring in my head."

Normally, being so direct usually threw people off in situations like this. Not tonight. She rolled her blue eyes nonchalantly in response, "Who else, pray tell, would it have been?"

I felt more amazement than outrage at how easily she copped to ganking up my brain with telepathy, "Ugh. At least you'll admit it," I muttered.

Miss Frost didn't let that one slide, "You already know that it happened. There's no reason to hide it now," Wow. She didn't regard me as any sort of threat at all. What if I'd had some kind of explosive temper? Well, I guess she wouldn't have cared about that much to begin with, "It wasn't a mind wipe. It wasn't mind control. It was just a subtle suggestion that what you were worrying about wasn't important."

"And you knew I'd gotten past it?"

"Dear, I felt it when you broke through the block I put on your thoughts," She almost sounded impressed, "I've been keeping tabs on you every so often for the last two days. I mistakenly thought things were all clear when you got through the combat exercise without breaking it, but here we are."

Indeed, "Why'd you do it?" I asked.

"Many reasons. You would have eventually caused fear and panic among the students. Even if your Danger Room theory had no legs, you're absolutely convinced that you're right. That kind of certainty is persuasive,"

"You said reasons. That means more than one."

Miss Frost paused for a moment, a frown tugging at her lips for a moment before she came forward with another reason, "With your mindset the way it was, you would have performed poorly in Field Day. Not just today, but throughout the entire competition. You would have been preoccupied," She explained, "That would have been a shame. I wanted to see how talented you really were, and I wasn't disappointed, until now at least."

She actually thought I was good at this? Wow. Until she'd said something, I thought she figured that I was at best just some kid that went to her school. At worst, I believed she saw me as some sort of troublemaker.

Looking back, I'm a little ashamed to admit that because of her 'better-than-you' attitude and the way she came off whenever most people talked to her, I believed as far as students went, she only cared personally about the ones in the Hellions; her handpicked squad of X-Men hopefuls.

Miss Frost continued explaining her circumstances and just what had been going on recently about my suspicions, "We spent yesterday running test after test, and for the sake of heeding your warning, we didn't hold any exercises using the Danger Room's systems. Again, we didn't find anything," My heart sank at what she said next, for two reasons, "Tomorrow, the practical exercise will be held inside of the Danger Room, operating under its full systems. But the Paladins may not be competing."

Fear started creeping into my heart. Not at the possibility of danger befalling me and others like me, but at the thought of rendering my friends' hard work meaningless, "You're going to disqualify us?"

I did not think this through. I did not think this through whatsoever. Sometimes, I thought I did, but no. I was thinking of plans of action. Ways to go about doing the things that I wanted to do. Not what the fallout would be afterwards, which was usually way more important in hindsight.

There was no way I could have faced any of my friends if we were barred from competing because of me.

I didn't want to believe it. There was one day left. Miss Frost wouldn't throw us out when we were so close to the end, "Could you... really do that? Now?"

She looked at me with an expression of pity. I would have preferred her to be angry, "I don't want to, but I'm well within my rights to. You were going to sabotage the Danger Room," She said, "Mister Marcher, I'm willing to look past this, because I want a clean resolution to Field Day. But I need you to work with me. Let. It. Go. If there is a problem of this nature, it is our responsibility to manage it. Not the student body's."

I hated everything about this. I didn't want to let it go. I was informed. I was invested. I couldn't just forget about it. I wanted to make a difference.

But it was hard to do when no one believed you were right.

"Fine," I said. I had finally given up. There was no avenue left for me to go. Anyone who knew what I thought about the Danger Room thought I was nuts, and I couldn't prove the thing was sentient without forcing its hand, which I couldn't do. Case in point, what was happening right now.

A one-word reply didn't convince Miss Frost. She felt the need to drive her point home, "I don't just mean through Field Day," She said, "You're free to continue working on the new central computer with Katherine to replace the current one, but beyond that, nothing more. I will disqualify the Paladins if this comes up before the end of tomorrow. I will suspend you from squad duty if it comes up afterwards... if that's what it takes."

Message received. No rabble-rousing from this student, otherwise she would sanction my ass.

"There is nothing personal about this. I don't have anything against you. All things considered, I actually like you, believe it or not. But this school cannot exist in a state of chaos. Do you understand?"

Again, my background as a son of a movie theater owner was affecting how I dealt with things. Maverick heroics only worked in the movies and the comic books. The plot of those demanded that the hero would get past the authority figures that wanted things done by the book, no matter how improbable, because that was how the story progressed.

And then in the end, when they were proven right during the course of their crusade, all would be forgiven and they would be seen as the incredible champion that they were.

Yeah. Movies, comics, and video games were nice like that. Life didn't settle itself in so neatly most of the time.

This was the first time I'd felt legitimate failure. I'd come up short before, but this time I'd been shut down entirely. I couldn't convince anyone in a position to help me that there was a need to take immediate action. The only thing I could do was sit back and deal with it.

Yelling wasn't going to help. I couldn't fight the system. Not this system. The best thing I could do was take it all in stride, head up, chest out.

"No, I don't understand. But... that's not the point, is it?" If this was how everything was going to go, I would wash my hands of it. Whatever happened later wasn't my problem anymore, "You win. I'm done. I've tried everything I can do. Even if I was prepared to risk getting kicked out of here to get what I'm after and shut the Danger Room down, you would stop me anyway before I could. So getting the boot wouldn't even be worth it."

Miss Frost could tell how down I was. My spirit wasn't quite broken, but it was just as worn down as my mind and body, "If it helps, I can redo the mental blocks. I can even wipe the entire thing from your mind, if you'd like."

In her own way, that was an offer of help. A way of trying to soften the blow, perhaps? Maybe she still thought I was slowly losing my grip on the waking world because of insomnia. Maybe I was?

The offer was tempting, because I was still going to think about the Danger Room stuff once I left. But there was no benefit to expunging it from my mind. Nothing other than blissful ignorance.

"No," I decided quickly, shrugging my shoulders, "Even if I said yes, I wouldn't be able to hide it. And when Miss Pryde found out, she'd probably try to kill you," It was the reason I didn't run to her in the first place after I first thought Miss Frost had done telepath stuff to me. That, and the fact that I hated getting others involved in my business.

For the first time since I'd seen her that night, Miss Frost smiled at me, "You're probably not wrong. She would absolutely try," The attempt at disarming wit didn't get so much as a rise out of me. It was all over my face, and soon it was on hers too, "Go get some rest for tomorrow. You've had quite the day. You look exhausted."

"Yeah..." I mumbled, turning and walking away. My head hurt, and it wasn't because of any mind meddling. My heart hurt, and it wasn't from any kind of physical trauma. I was at a loss, "Yeah."

Conflict, embarrassment, frustration, fatigue, pressure, fear. It was all adding up. Every step I took felt heavier than it should have.

Miss Frost bid me with a touch of counsel before I got too far away, "Don't ever lose that enthusiasm you have. You care. That's a good thing. Just try to rein it in a bit more," It was hard. I kept to my own affairs when I could, but when I was involved in something, anything, I was in all the way, "You're still so young. There's no need to rush to bear the weight of the world on your shoulders. The world will do that on its own in good time, trust me."

Fair advice. Absolutely rock solid. It fit. Unfortunately, we were who we were. Mutants. And with that, came a laundry list of people and things looking to kill us.

Some of them were farther away than we could anticipate or know about, and others were closer than anyone wanted to consider.

Annnnnd there's another one, because why the hell not? I do what I want.

Sorry, Bel. You don't have magical protagonist problem-solving powers just yet. You're going to have to gut this one out the hard way. But hey, adversity builds character!

That's what I've been told, at least. So far, I'm not convinced, but what do I know? It's the best I've got for you, buddy.

Alright, I'm done. Go ahead and direct your attention in a more worthwhile direction now. I'm going to go back to the place where I'm kept in until people need me for something.

Kenchi out.