DISCLAIMER: Still not mine. Anti-delusional drugs are doing their job, then.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: What can I say? I took one of those Internet tests - you know the kind. What kind of leaf are you? Which Care Bear are you? How much of a dipstick are you for taking these tests? That sort. Well, I happened upon one for 'Which Brotherhood member are you?' and it turned up that I was Toad. Thus, I was struck by the desire to write a ficlet to the little guy. Now, I'm the first to admit that I can't write Brotherhood, so no pointing out will be necessary on that front. Feel free to flame if you so wish, but don't expect me to do anything with them but warm my toes. It's May and hailing outside. Go British weather, ne?

Is set during Season Two, just after Tabby joined the Brotherhood. Just so you know.


'The Things We Leave Behind' By Scribbler

May 2003


'Nobody is stronger, nobody is weaker than someone who came back. There is nothing you can do to such a person because whatever you could do is less than what has already been done to him. We have already paid the price.' -- Elie Wiesel


The bus smelled musty, and the seats told of one too many encounters with folk doing things they shouldn't on public transport. Outside, the world flashed past in a blur of colour, movement and light, smeared across his vision in a strobe effect, and he blinked intermittently as the various scenes left watery green afterimages. The glass of this window, like all the others, was spotted with dirt and dust that had hardened with time to become a film across the chipped and pockmarked glass. The same grime covered almost everything else, too; creeping like a fungus across the faded seats and metal. Several discarded candy wrappers lay in the corner, and there was a lingering smell of cigarette smoke, defiant at the no-smoking sign.

Only the best.

Well, the best that he could afford, anyway.

He'd scrimped and saved for this; picking up coins off the street, snatching anything that happened to close to the pavement, purposefully going without lunch whenever Lance doled out the money he'd shaken out of kids at school. Equal shares for all, the way it always was - but his money had been carefully hidden; secreted on his person until he could get home and bury it under the loose floorboard nobody knew about in his room. He had to eat, sure, but he watched the pennies like a hawk, making sure there'd be enough.

Mystique once promised him he wouldn't have to do that anymore. Watching the pennies, that is. Then again, she'd promised a lot of things. She'd promised a warm bed, a full belly, and no more hiding in shadows.

Two out of three hadn't been bad, for a while. Then one out of three when she left, and the food ran out. These days, he was lucky if nobody had run off with his sole blanket and pillow while he was in the john.

He'd had to face it, the same as they all had after the whole Asteroid M debacle. Mystique was gone; and even if she were alive, she wasn't coming back. Not to them. Not to the Boarding House. Not to Bayville, in all probability. If that was her plan, she would've done it by now. No, Boss Lady was doubtless long gone, someplace safe from Magneto. Like Canada. Because if she'd survived, then he sure as hell would have, too. The pair of them were like cockroaches.

The Boarding House had been skint for a while now, with all money going into the 'food-fund', as Fred called it. It was yesterday breakfast he got anything to eat, the money Lance had given him at lunch topping off that which was needed for this bus ticket on the last leg of his journey; the one now clutched in his grubby little hand like it was some sort of life preserver.

None of them knew. As far as they were concerned, he was just off around town somewhere. They all did that; going off on their own, perhaps for days at a time. Pietro was particularly good at it. They always came back again, though. That was part of the rules. You went off, and nobody bugged you about it, so long as you came home within a few days. Any longer and Lance was liable to go looking, and an angry Avalanche was not a pretty Avalanche.

But this time was different. This wasn't just some petty walkabout or stargazing in the park. This was special. An out-of-towner job. This was the only reason he kept a calendar, and diligently crossed off the date each morning so that he wouldn't miss the day. He owed her that much.

The bus lurched, the driver landing hard on the brake. Expert driving skills. About right for what he'd paid.

A thick, fleshy thumb ordered him off in no uncertain terms. "Last stop, kid. Endatheline."

He hopped to his feet, nodding and clutching the small parcel to his front. His sneakers made flopping noises as he pattered to the door, making a conscious effort to stand upright. The driver gave him a strange look, but shrugged and closed the doors as soon as his battered soles touched down on the asphalt.

He coughed as it drove away, drawing his jacket close. It was the only one he had, and rarely worn since the buttons refused to do up properly. But, again, special occasion.

There would be no more buses down this way until tomorrow morning.

Sighing, he tugged at the traitorous collar a little more, and then stepped onto the cracked pavement. Like everything else in this berg, it was in disrepair, and he avoided the cracks and concrete gashes with little hop-skips and tiny jumps. Someone had pulled up a paving slab and thrown it into the road for fun. A bicycle tyre lay in its place, forlorn without the rest of its body. It was a good tyre, with no punctures to speak of, and very little wear or tear. Somehow that seemed to make it's early grave all the more poignant, and he hurried on as if it could see him.

Jeez, the crap he'd get if anybody at school caught him running away from an abandoned bike tyre.

The bus stop wasn't all that far from his destination, which was fortunate. Evening was drawing in, and nobody stayed out too long in this place - for good reason, too. The windows glared as people passed, silently shouting at them to go home, to scurry in and lock the doors and never venture outside again so long as they valued their miserable, inner-city lives. Even the cops didn't like it here, reasoning that, as soon as they'd got themselves all the way across town, any crime would've already been committed, so it was hardly worth bothering in the first place.

People were like that here. Not so much uncaring, as dispassionate. They barely looked when a purse was stolen; a person mugged, and never batted an eyelid when the ambulances finally turned up to cover faces with sheets. They were used to things like that. It was nothing new. Children went to sleep to the tune of women screaming, to drunken shouts and thumping downstairs or in the next room, and woke up the next morning to be greeted by bruises, black eyes and broken teeth as their mothers' packed them off to what passed for school.

He knew that lullaby only too well.

Three blocks, and he was there. The gate was locked, as per usual. They only opened the wrought black iron for special occasions. Like when they were getting a new resident.

Well, this was a different kind of special occasion, and no way was some stupid, puny lock going to keep him out.

He gauged the distance, standing a few paces back and surveying the fence. It was high, easily over eight feet, and curls of barbed wire fluttered along the top like deceptive clouds. A few twists of ivy tried to disguise the jagged prongs, but the tattered bits of clothing left by those not so capable told a different story.

Nothing he couldn't handle.

Spreading his feet to get his balance, he tensed those extra strong muscles that gave him his name, crouched, and leapt it in one swift bound. For a second he was soaring, just he and the impending night air. Then he landed heavily, stumbling slightly in an effort not to drop the parcel. A mound of compacted dirt attacked his left foot, and he hopped on the right, slapstick-like.

It was quiet in here. Very atmospheric. Small knolls and vague hillocks marked where the residents slept eternal, as did the array of unkempt, half-broken headstones. He half expected to see white mist wreathing the ground a la some cheap horror movie, but, thankfully, there was none. Just a whole bunch of weeds and several animal droppings scattered about.

In the centre was an attempt at a pond the authorities had dug out when this place was first built, when they were still denying this was an inner-city. Back then it might have been nice, pleasant even. Yet now it was dark and murky, and he knew that weeds choked the bottom. It was deep - much more so than people might expect given its size, and the water was an unhealthy shade that loitered somewhere between green and brown.

Nobody tried denying what this neighbourhood was anymore. What was the point? You couldn't make it plainer with a huge flashing neon sign that spelled out 'Welcome to the inner-city, now run like hell while you've still got your legs.'

He shivered, and time snapped at his heels. The air was growing cooler, a sure sign he needed to hurry up and get on with things. The light was already failing, and his mutation didn't include night vision, much to his chagrin. Underwater, yes, but not night. That was Freakshow's domain.

He hurried on his way, weaving in between the graves, nodding at any he needed to cross and apologising in his head. Could ghosts read minds? Did they know he was sorry for disturbing their rest like this? He hoped so. The last thing he needed was to be haunted for accidentally stepping on somebody's Great-great-great-Aunt-Mary-twice-removed or something.

The spot he was after was perched on a tall embankment on the other side of the pseudo-pond, directly on an overhang that wasn't really an overhang, since it hadn't been that way when they were put in the ground. Erosion had weakened the ground underneath, until sometime last year the soil just fell away into the water, leaving a gaping scoop of a wound where cliff should have been. There was enough left for a person to walk on without it completely crumbling, but he lived in fear that one day he'd arrive to find all the coffins along that way had given up and fallen through. Nobody came by here enough that they'd be found, and the thought of her lying, open to the elements instead of at rest where she should be; where she'd earned the right to be, was... well, it was distressing, to say the least.

Today he'd been provided with another respite from the nagging fear. Her grave was still in place, though smothered in lichen and enough white muck to paint a house. If you felt like painting a house with bird crap, that is.

He crouched down, carefully placing the still-wrapped package to one side, and tugged at the weeds ostensibly intent on asphyxiating the headstone. They were stuck fast, and his face quickly switched to one of annoyance and slight exertion as he grunted and pulled.

Gradually the top layer came away, screaming at him for the loss of its home. Beneath, another sheet peeked out like kittens in a basket taking their first glimpse at the world. He clawed at them, too, and they peeled off much easier, lack of sunlight making them considerably more fragile. Gobs of dead plant crowded his hands after only a few moments, and he tossed it all aside, listening as it hit the water below.

In all, it took him about fifteen minutes to clean off the stonework, by which time the sun had sunk another few inches over the horizon. He brushed at the surface with an open palm, and allowed himself a pleased smile at the name and inscription beneath. It was still legible, and pretty clear to boot. At least that icky plant gunk was good for something, then.

There was another grave, right next to the one he cleaned, but that one he pointedly ignored. If ghosts and spirits really did exist, then he hoped the inhabitant saw that and realised its significance. That one was less than dead to him, now. He never even existed. The birds could shit on that grave all they wanted, and then some.

The parcel crackled and crunched as the string was removed and the brown paper pulled back. Inside, a small metal plant pot glinted in the dying embers of the day. Next to it, a few plastic and fabric flowers lay wrapped in tissue paper and twine. They were second-hand, and a little battered, their stems a little too green to be real and their petals a little to worn to pass for silk; but they were still good. Roses, from what he could tell out of old books. She'd liked roses, especially yellow ones, and he'd scoured all the thrift stores in Bayville twice over before coming across anything he deemed good enough to grace her plot.

Once, when he was very small, she'd tried to grow them in a window-box outside his bedroom. Couldn't risk it outside her own, in case they were found and smashed in a drunken temper. Hadn't helped, though. They'd been found anyway, and she'd been cursed for wasting hard-earned cash on frivolous things like flowers. Like booze was any more frivolous?

They hadn't even had a chance to bloom.

Carefully, and with more tenderness than the entire content of Bayville High would deem him capable of, he undid the flowers and slipped them into the pot. It was the old fashioned kind; square-based, and with lots of little holes in one side to slip the stems into so they wouldn't fall out. He arranged the three fake roses and placed the ensemble at the head of the grave, right beneath the inscription.

Lynda Claire Tolensky.

"Hey, Mom." His voice cracked the air, splintering the silence like a rock dropped onto thin ice. He shifted in his squat, conscious of how inappropriate his living voice sounded in this place of everlasting slumber. "Been a long time. Sorry I couldn't come visit you sooner, but you know how it is. No cash, y'know? Was all I could do to save up for this trip an' th' flowers. Uh, hope you like 'em. Picked 'em out special, just for you."

A breeze blew across the cemetery, caressing his grimy cheek and ruffling his hair.

"That you, Mom? Yeah, I know. I should clean up more, huh? It's just kinda difficult where I live. No soap, for one thing. All we got is what we swipe, yo. Besides, y'remember that mutation thing I was tellin' you 'bout last time? Well, turns out it don't do nuthin' for my personal hygiene. I can take three showers in a row, an' I still smell like wet dog and garbage. What can I say? It's a talent."

He brushed hair from his eyes; reminding himself for the umpteenth time it needed cutting. He knew she'd understand about the stealing. He'd had to do it often enough when Pa came home with all the money spent in a bar, and they'd been left with nothing to eat. Hotdog vendors had been his prime targets back then, with the odd Twinkie or so when he could get away with it down at the local convenience store. She hadn't liked it, but she'd understood. Hopefully, she'd understand now, too.

Needs, musts, wants; that's what she'd always said.

The breeze stroked his sallow skin again, and he nodded. "Didn't think I'd forget, didja? Nah, I remember what today is. Three years. To th' day, an' all." He relinquished the crouch and sat down, rear struck by the cold of the ground. "Three years since you left me. But it's OK, Mom. I unnerstan'. 'At's why I keep comin' back, to letcha know. I tried to tell ya back then, but by th' time I could get th' words out, you'd already gone."

That moment was etched in his memory like nothing else. Staring down at her eyes, her body too big to cradle properly, trying to get the words out as her light dimmed and snuffed out. Some nights he still woke, scrubbing at his hands like he'd done for hours afterward. He'd rubbed the skin raw, once, and had to pass it off to Lance that he'd had a run-in with Duncan Matthews and his cronies. It wasn't unheard of, after all, even if the injuries hadn't been quite of the usual variety. Yet Lance hadn't pressed him about it. He was good that way, letting people keep their silence if they didn't want to share thoughts or whatnot. Probably had enough of his own to contend with, but nonetheless, he was respectful of other people's privacy.

"So... what to say? S'been a pretty weird year, yo. Lotsa news. You remember that lady I told ya 'bout - Mystique? Th' mutant, like me? Well, turns out she ain't th' only one. We ain't th' only ones... th' way we are. There's a whole bunch of 'em up on th' hill in Bayville - you remember that place, right? That's where I had to move when Mystique took me in. Her hometown. Last time I visited she gave me th' fares an' junk to get here."

He fell silent for a second, remembering that long-past time when, in her Raven Darkholme guise, Mystique had walked him to the bus stop and made sure he left OK, and then been waiting in exactly the same spot the next day. Not that anybody would know it towards the end, but she'd actually been a pretty nice lady in the beginning, back when it had just been him and her.

Then Magneto reappeared, demanding she recruit new members, and everything went pear-shaped in spectacular style.

He shook his head, dissipating the recollections before they had time to form. "Anyway, like I said, there's a whole crowd of us mutants in Bayville - a real freak capital, yo. This big rich dude, Xavier, runs a special school for 'em. An' Mystique an' me, we had our own team, called th' Brotherhood. 'Cept she ain't with us no more. Upped an' left recently after a big fight with her boss. Heh, kinda odd, ain't it? Boss Lady with a boss she gotta answer to? Th' other guys in th' Brotherhood ain't so bad, though. Nice enough to live with, at any rate. Little rough around the edges, maybe, but who am I to talk, yo? Ain't exactly prize winnin' material m'self." He shrugged. "Lance is our de facto leader - yeah, I know what that means an' all. Proud of me, Mom? I'm actually *learnin'* stuff these days. Freddy's OK, I guess. Big for his age, if ya get what I mean, which don't go too well with my size. Good thing I bounce, eh? Pietro's the other one. He's Mystique's boss' son... if ya can follow that. Damn - makes me confuzzled just thinkin' 'bout it. Still, those're th' guys I'm livin' with, now. Plus one girl, but Tabby ain't been with us too long, yet. Still tryin' to figure out her angle on the world, an' us, so there ain't so much to tell 'bout her, yet."

He drew his knees up, trying to conserve a little more warmth, but it all seemed to be travelling downwards and seeping out his butt into the cold, cold earth. "I even got me a rival. Guy by the name of Nightcrawler. Howza 'bout that? An' Pa said I'd never amount to nuthin'. Shows what he knew." He looked steadily at the grave, as if it could talk back. "But you already showed him, huh Mom? Actions speak louder than words, an' you sure said a mouthful."

The doleful breeze wrapped around his neck, and he shivered at the sudden influx of ice in its touch.



"You there?"


"Nobody's gonna talk back, moron. In case you hadn't noticed, all the folk in here are in a permanently un-talkative mood."

He whipped around at the voice, but the speaker was already gone. A burst of air in his face, and he barely had time to turn before it was behind him. He swivelled, and the flash of silver draped itself over the headstone like some manically grinning gargoyle.

"Wassup, Toadie? Cat got your tongue?"

"What're *you* doin' here?"

Pietro lounged over the curved marker, seat of his pants smearing with crushed lichen previously missed. "Just curious. Wanted to see what you were up to, sneaking off like that without telling anyone where you were of to. Oh, yuck! Man, that's gonna leave a stain."

Todd's eyes hardened. Trust Mr. I'm-better-than-you to go sticking his nose where it wasn't wanted. However accommodating Lance or Freddy were about privacy, Pietro made up for it in sheer nosiness. The word 'discretion' had as much meaning to him as 'lightweight' did to Fred. He should've realised no amount of secrecy could stop Pietro from going where he wanted, saying what he wanted, et al.

Yet this was different. This was something utterly private. It had been even for Mystique, when she'd offered to come along. Back when she was nice, that is. Todd had never even told anybody where this place was, and he'd done it for a reason. He wanted it preserved, kept special. It was where his mother rested, and he didn't want anybody spoiling that.

Not anybody.

"Go 'way, Pietro. Y'ain't welcome here." He hoped the harshness in his voice was sufficient to get the point across. The squeak probably wasn't doing much to help his cause, though.

"Not welcome in a whole lotta places, Toad. Don't mean I don't go there anyway." Pietro zipped around to stand behind him, tweaking an ear. "This place sure is outta the way, though. Anybody special you come to say howdy-hey-hey to? Mayhaps you should introduce me?" He slicked his hair, as was his habit.

Todd scowled, and shoved at the speedster's legs. "Bug off."

"Ooh, big man. Wanna fight me?" He bounced backwards on the balls of his feet, raising his fists and smiling. "Come on, I can take you. What? Are you afraid?"

"I *said* bug *off*, Pietro." Todd turned his face away and closed his eyes. Perhaps then he'd get the hint.

"Falling asleep in this setting may not be such a good idea, Toad. All the ghosties and ghoulies might come out to get you."

Something poked his shoulder, then whizzed around and did likewise to his kneecap. Todd studiously ignored it, and then again with the one in his chest. Normally, banter like this wouldn't bother him overmuch. However, Pietro was intruding on something very precious - a moment of weakness. It was the only one Todd allowed himself - the only one he could *afford* to allow himself. Being the bullies' resident punching bag, as well as the smallest in a house of people with inherently short tempers, meant he had to keep his guard up practically twenty-four-seven. The only way he could let himself have this one chink in his defences was because it was so far removed from all of that, from all of *them*. Pietro had no right to intrude, and it stirred something inside of Todd that he rarely showed.

"Aw, whassamatter, Toadie? You don't wanna play?" Pietro ceased zipping, and paused in front of him. Todd could tell by the warmth breath blowing up his nose, but he kept his eyes closed. Pietro could be so... so thickheaded at times; it virtually took a sledgehammer to batter a notion into his skull.


"So tell me, what's so great about this place that you couldn't tell the rest of us what you were doing? Had a fair time following that bus, y'know. Kept having to stop and wait to see where you were heading next. Who were you talking to? Lynda Clair Tolensky. Tolensky? That your grandmother or something?" His words were strung together to fast they were difficult to decipher, but Todd had had plenty of practise in that arena.


"Aw, come on, Toadie, spill. Who's the broad?"

Fingers pulled at his eyelids, dragging them up and open, and exposing his eyes to the world. Todd shook them off, blinking, and his face instinctively set into a deep scowl.

"Y'know, you look like one of those Neanderthal pictures when you do that. All big forehead and beady eyes."

"Pietro, I'm gonna say this once more. Scram. Vamoose. Fuck off, OK? I never asked you or th' others to come for a reason, damnit."

Pietro's slender hands flew to his mouth, but he was still grinning. "Ooh, Toadie cussed! Naughty boy. What would your Gram'ma here think of that, huh?" He bent almost double, feigning a walking stick in one hand and an aged wobble. "Potty-mouth! Evil boy! Wash that mouth out with soap!" Quick as a flash, he reached out and grabbed a hunk of pallid, encrusted cheek between thumb and forefinger, chucking it back and forth like some old crone. "And wash the rest of you while you're at it. Ugh, Toad, you're disgusting. You know that?"

Of course, Pietro's skin was always perfect. Pristine white and almost as pale as *Rogue's* make-up had been before she left. Half the time he was prettier than any girl. More concerned with his looks, too.

Todd felt something start deep in his throat, and realised with a jolt that it was a growl. "Pietro. Fuck. Off. I don't want ya here. I don't want nobody here. I just wanna be alone." Good. No whininess this time. Can't very well intimidate somebody with a whiny voice.

"I vant to be aloooone," Pietro drawled in a passable impression of the old movie star who'd made the line so famous. "How melodramatic. I'm not going anywhere until you explain to me why this place is so special you couldn't share the details of this little trip to Podunk, Nowhere with me and the guys."

Slowly, ever so slowly, Todd got his feet. He unfolded his legs, hearing the joints crack back into place. His limbs were stiff even after only being attached to the cold ground for a short while, but he gave no impression of it. Instead, he simply stood up and looked his unwanted teammate straight in the eye, gaze as challenging as he could make it.

"I didn't tell nobody 'cause I didn't want none o' you along, savvy? That means you too, Pietro."



"What, this ancient hunk of rock?" Pietro idly kicked at one of the headstones, the one still covered in grime and plantlife. That was OK; he could kick the shit out of Pa's grave all he wanted, just so long as he left Mom's alone.

Then the foot turned, the leg drew back, and before Pietro could complete the opposite kick, Todd saw red and launched himself forward. His powerful legs didn't fail him, and he drove hard into the taller boy's midriff, knocking him backwards, away from the headstone he'd been about to defile. Nobody was allowed to touch that headstone but him. Nobody.

Pietro stumbled, but kept his feet, and his arms windmilled for a second to keep him from falling over the edge and into the pond below. When he finally regained his balance, he turned blazing eyes on Todd, all humour evaporated like a puff of smoke. "*Jeez*, Toad. What's your game? There was no need to hit me."

"Let me put this in terms ya can unnerstan'. I don't want ya here. Don't want ya anywhere near here. I wanna be left alone so's I can get on with what I gotta do in peace. Geddit?"

Pietro's expression turned odd, like he was calculating the genuineness of the charge. "You're serious, aren't you?" he said at last.

"As I'll ever be."

"But why? Look, Todd, I get that this place is important to you somehow, but I just don't get *why*. Surely that's not such a huge question to ask?" He blinked those long lashes of his, brows drawing together.

Todd felt himself wavering.

*Was* it such a big question to ask? After all, this *was* a public cemetery when all was said and done. It was just he and the lock on the gate that had made it a private function.

But Pietro was such a blabbermouth. This was Todd's private place, his own spot. This was where he'd said goodbye to his old life and hello to the new, without either of his parents to guide or discourage him anymore. Was he willing to share that at all, much less with a nosy busybody like Pietro? If he did, no doubt it would be all over the school come Monday morning. Todd Tolensky talked to ghosts.


"Not Toad this time?" Todd sighed, glancing at the grave. "She... was my mother. That one right next to her was my no-good sonovabitch Pa."

Pietro's eyes went wide, and again the hand flew to his mouth. Yet this time there was something different about the gesture. The mocking ring had gone; replaced by something akin to sincerity. If Pietro Maximoff was even capable of anything so sensitive.

_Not bloody likely,_ came the savage thought, spiking Todd's mind like an ulcer.

"Oh shit." Whispering on the breeze, the light cuss hushed into Todd's ear, and he looked at Pietro again. "Oh shit," the speedster repeated. "I didn't realise. I thought... oh shitty-shitty-shit-shit! I never realised these were your *folks*. I thought... they were, y'know, your ancestors or something, they looked so old."

Todd shook his head, bending down and brushing aside a trailing yellow piece of moss. "S'pose they are, after a fashion. Well, she is anyway. He ain't no relation o' mine no more. Was glad th' day I could spit on his grave." To demonstrate, he hucked a gob and sent it sailing. "An' they ain't old. Just neglected. Don't get out here as much as I should, y'know?"

"But..." Pietro stopped, and Todd looked up.

There was pity in Pietro's eyes.

Anger abruptly flared in Todd's gut, and he snapped, "But what? Look, you came out here to pester me, right? An' you done a good job of it so far, so ya might as well go the whole frikkin' hog. You found th' one place in the world I never wanted nobody else to know 'bout, Pietro. Ya happy 'bout that? Yet another thing to get over on little Toadie, huh?" He snorted, air rushing from his nostrils in a blaze of dust motes and bits of dead fungus. "Go on, admit it, ya wanna ask why they're dead, doncha? Ya wanna ask why I never told none o' ya 'bout 'em, doncha? Come on, spit it out."


"Well, I'll tell ya. Then you can toddle off back home to Bayville an' spread the news like you like to do. Always gotta be in the know, right Pietro? Well how's this for a juicy bit o' gossip? My Mom's dead cause she killed herself. She killed my Pa, an' then she killed herself. Happy? Got what you came for, now?"

Pietro looked suitably chastised, as well as shocked down to his core. Something deep inside of Todd felt vaguely pleased at that look. Triumphant, almost. It wasn't often Pietro was lost for words.

Yet another part of him cried out at the cost of getting that look. That was Mom's legacy, it screeched. That was what she did for you! And there you go spouting it off to the first person that gets on your nerves? Even *Mystique* didn't know the full story, and now you've gone and told *Maximoff*; a guy you don't even particularly *like*!?


Pietro's look of reproach swiftly changed to one of surprise at the loud noise that gashed the air. Todd blinked in twin amazement as the face he'd been glaring at suddenly vanished, and the sound of a thunderous, scattered splash replaced it. It happened so fast that for a second he thought the speedster had run behind him, and spent a second looking around before the realisation he wasn't there fixed in place.

He hopped to the embankment that had crumbled away at the edge, taking its passenger with it. Pietro was slight, but the force of his steps on the shallow ground and general looseness of the soil had taken their toll, and both he and the patch he'd been standing on were now nothing more than a cluster of bubbles, rising to pop on the pond's surface.


Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

Pop. Pop.

"Hey, Maximoff, cut it out."

Pop. Pop.

"So I blew a fuse at ya. Look, you were askin' for it. Maximoff?"




No more bubbles. The pond's was all but completely tranquil once more; with no indication anything had happened at all, save the gently lapping shores where the last vestiges of ripples were smoothing out.

"Shit!" Todd abruptly remembered the reason local kids had stopped using this place to play around in; the reason they'd affixed that lock to the gate when all it had to guard was a bunch of corpses. The paper's had been full of the little girl's death for a week, telling how she'd gone swimming for a dare and drowned when her kicking legs got caught in the multitude of weeds. It was the same kind of story that graced many, if not all such stretches of water across the country.

Todd hardly even thought. He was up and shucking his jacket before consciousness lured him into the trap of thinking about what he was doing.

The water was icy, soaking through his clothing in an instant and chilling him to the bone. For a second he couldn't see, murk and his own hair obfuscating everything. Then, like a bell had been rung somewhere, the underwater world became clear, and he blinked into a gloom that seemed almost to part before him like the seas for Moses.

There were the weeds, beckoning like skeletal fingers and grasping towards a sky they could never reach. They were indeed very long - much longer than he would've thought, given the depth of the pool. Instinctively, Todd kept to surface level, scanning the depths for a flash of something lighter, something that didn't belong.

And then he saw it. A bolt of silver, wrenching just below in a fight for oxygen. The avaricious vegetation seemed to swarm towards it like hungry dogs to a meaty bone, catching hold and tugging to claim a piece for themselves. The more Pietro struggled, the more caught up he became. Down here his speed was his enemy, and the stream of bubbles escaping his mouth spoke for themselves about how much time he had left.

Taking only a moment to grab a lungful of air, Todd did what Toads do best, and dived further into the water, kicking legs so powerful that any weeds seeking to drag him down were ripping from their moorings like wet tissue paper. He was at Pietro's side in a trice, tearing at the fronds with his hands. He signalled the older boy to stay still, but Pietro, speedier than most as per usual, had already reached the point of blind panic, and let loose another volley of kicks and thrashes that threatened to undo all of Todd's work.

He used his nails, his feet, his teeth, clawing at the weeds until he felt his lungs would burst from lack of air. Pietro's struggles became weaker, then ceased altogether. Shit! Todd made one last attempt to twist him free. He sliced with one formidable leg, and the entire bundle of weeds snapped, permitting him to drag them both to the surface, gasp, and then paddle to shore.

Todd grabbed at a rock, flinging Pietro out and following in his wake at a slower pace. The weeds were everywhere, like some sort of second skin. They trailed from the water and languished over everything - clothes, skin, hair, ground. He was abruptly reminded of the old TV show Fred like to watch, called 'Swamp Thing'.

It would have been a funny sight, had Pietro's chest been moving.

"You bastard," Todd wheezed, removing the green from around the pale face and making sure none was caught in his throat, blocking the airway. "Don't you dare make all that effort have been for nuthin'. Don't you fuckin' *dare*!"

Todd was no idiot, despite what many took him for. He rolled Pietro onto his side, allowing for water to drain from his mouth and nose, and patted his back so vigorously he half expected something to snap or crunch or make some equally disturbing noise.

But there was nothing. Not even the sound of breath.

"Bastard," he panted again, rolling him back and pressing his thin chest the way they'd been taught in first aid at school. "Bastard, bastard, bastard!" He tipped the head back, pinched the nose, and snapped., "You'd better appreciate this," before breathing hard into Pietro's lungs.

Mouth-to-mouth was no problem. Todd had been the best in his class at that on the torso-dummy Mr. Kelsow had brought in especially for them to practise on. Nightcrawler had been sick at that, sure enough; trying to beat Todd out like always, but finding his hidden tridactyl hands a bother with CPR. Yet Pietro stubbornly refused to breathe, and Todd punctuated each ram of his hands with a proficient invective.

"Bastard! Crapola! Pissant! Wake up! Damn you! Die an' I'll kill ya!"

He knew that, if this kept up, one of Pietro's ribs was due to crack soon. They'd been taught it was common for such a thing to happen during CPR, but still...

Abruptly, Pietro's eyes snapped open, and he coughed so violently that Todd sprang backwards. The albino hacked again, eyeballs bulging, and turned onto his side, coughing so much he sounded like he was about to barf up a lung. Sickly green water trailed from the side of his mouth and out his nose, and he curled into a ball as another round of hacking wracked his slender frame.

Todd was breathing hard, breath he could scarcely spare having gone into Pietro, and now he flopped backwards on the spindly excuse for grass, staring up at the rapidly appearing stars.

Night had finished drawing in, and was now into full-on encroaching, driving away the last residue of the day like a shepherd chasing a wolf from the fold.

He closed his eyes, all but totally spent. The day had been a long stretch of anticipation, adrenaline steadily draining off his energy as he watched the clock, watched for the bus, and watched the world go by from his seat. Playing rescue was something he could ill afford, considering when he'd last eaten, and now Todd suddenly felt like just curling up right there, as he was, and going to sleep without finding a safe bolthole for the night.

Beside him, the coughing and laboured breathing gradually subsided, melting into the oncoming dark. Todd drew a deep breath, water sliding off his body and his clothes and dripping into the bedraggled sward. Yet he could for the life of him find the energy to move, no matter how cold nor wet he was.

"Nhg," Pietro said after a while. Todd didn't open his eyes, but the waft of movement told him the hanger-on weeds were biting the dust. "You didn't have to do that."

"Pietro, shut up." Jeez, when did talking become such an effort? "'M too cold, too tired, an' too pissed off to deal with that 'I-coulda-done-it-without-help' or 'I'm-not-worth-it' shit. Just shut th' hell up an' let me cuss m'self stupid for savin' your sorry butt in peace, yo."

Another waft of movement, and a wet splat as another round of plantlife went bye-bye. Pietro, to his credit, shut the hell up and let Todd cuss himself stupid.

At least for a while, anyway.


Todd groaned. "Why what?"

"Idiot. Why did you jump in after me like that? Could've got yourself killed - and don't say it's because I'm your teammate, 'cause I know for a fact that you don't even like me."

"Well, you're right about one part."


"Dumbshit." Todd reached up, his arm sluggish, and picked a lock of extra-smelly hair from between his lips. Oh faboo, now he had stagnant water to add to his list of odours. Now wasn't that just a fine and dandy turn of events? "I jumped in 'cause I got a tendency to act 'afore I think 'bout stuff."


He sighed. "An'... 'cause I couldn't very well let ya drown. For one thing, you'd stink up th' pool somthin' rotten, yo."

"And you wouldn't do the same by following me?"

"'M a toad. You ever heard of a toad drownin'?"

They fell silent, cold seeping into their skin, through their flesh, and curling into the very marrow of their bones. Todd shivered, but still his eyes remained closed, and he wrapped cold arms around his equally cold torso.

"I guess I should say thank you to you, then."

"Never said it before. Why start now?"

"Because..." Pietro tailed off. "Because... you saved my sorry butt, basically, and that deserves a certain degree of gratitude. Even from me. So... thank you."


More silence.






That got him to open his eyes at last. "'Scuse me?"

Pietro sat, hunkered in the grass, knees drawn up to his chest and chin, in turn, resting on his sodden kneecaps. The two ridiculous pieces of hair he insisted on wearing hung limp and bedraggled in his face like a couple of wilted antennae, and had his expression not been so earnest, he might have looked exceedingly comical with a residual piece of weed still stuck to his forehead and olive coloured slime smeared all over his usually immaculate clothes.

He breathed deeply, and fixed Todd with a stare. "I'msorryfortrailingyouuphere."

Todd blinked. "I'd ask you to run that by me again, but it weren't th' fast-speak that got me." He shuffled a little, but didn't get up. "Let me get this straight. You, Pietro 'I-can't-do-nuthin'-wrong' Maximoff, are apologising to *me*?"

"Pretty much the long and short of it. I didn't realise quite how... uh..." he rotated a hand at the wrist, obviously searching for the right word to use. "How... personal, this trip was for you. I thought you were just, y'know, sneaking off someplace for... y'know..." He raised his eyebrows, and it took a moment for Todd to catch on.

"Oh, puh-lease. People don't put dead rats in my locker on Valentines for nuthin', yo."

"Yeah, well..."

"Besides, if I was getting' any, doncha think I'd be yellin' it from the rooftops instead o' keepin' it secret?"

Another lapse into silence. This was getting monotonous.

"My mother's dead, too."

"Dwa?" Todd blinked. He hadn't seen that one coming.

Pietro just nodded, staring solidly at the water that had so very nearly claimed his life. "I was just a little kid at the time, but... she died when I was old enough to remember her. And how she went." He sighed loudly, and his eyes flickered briefly shut. "My family's not exactly the sturdiest of things. Never has been; but I'm used to it. My Dad went a little weird after she died. Kept blaming himself, saying he should've done more to save her."

Todd swallowed, not sure how he should react to such a candid statement. "Save her?"

"Uh-huh. She... died in a house-fire. It was an accident, and my Dad tried to rescue her, but... she didn't want to be saved. She was scared of him, of what he could do."

"You ain't never tole' me 'bout your family 'afore, yo. Why start now?"

A shrug. "Seemed right."

"Your Dad... was a mutant?"

"Yeah, he was. He left... a long time ago, though." Pietro looked up at the sky. "Don't even know where he is anymore, let alone what he's up to. Might be dead. Might be alive. Either way, he never came back for me. I think... I reminded him of my Mom. He said once before that it hurt to remember her. When she died, she... ran away from him. Back into the fire. Killed herself."

Todd sat up, resting his hands on his feet and playing with the shoelaces. "I know that song."


"You remember what I tole' you up there?" He indicated to the crumbled embankment where the graves sat.

Pietro nodded, looking.

"I won't dress it up. No point. My Pa was, like I said, a sonovobitch. You name it, he'd prolly done it. Drunkard, gambler," he paused. "Wife-beater."

Pietro gave a sharp intake of breath, but said nothing.

Todd's shoulders met his ears. "It was no big thing where we used to live. This place. Around here, people raggin' on each other is so normal, they look atcha funny when ya get along. He... used to beat on my Mom sumthin' chronic. Favourite was 'round the neck." He pointed, tracing a line across his throat. "She used to say she never needed no jewellery, 'cause he gave her so many necklaces. Took me 'til I was seven to realise necklaces were *supposed* to be made outta bruises. Bastard." He snorted, blowing away the maudlin touch to his voice. "Anyway, when my mutation first started growin' in things... got worse. Pa always liked th' sauce, see, an' he weren't never too clear 'bout junk when he'd got a few glasses down him. He never liked nuthin' different when he was sober, neither, but drink made him quicker with th' fists than th' mouth, if ya get my meanin'."

Pietro just nodded again. This had to some kind of record. The guy even talked in his *sleep*.

"I only ever had one shiner in my life, an' it weren't nuthin' to do with Duncan Matthews. Mom was at work, an' school got cancelled for a snow day. He came home an' just... laid into it full throttle. Never even knew what it was I was s'posed to've done wrong. She walked in, an' then there was... screamin'. Shoutin'. You ever seen what a carvin' knife can do to a body?"

Pietro shook his head.

"It ain't pretty. Afterwards, she just looked at me an' said she was sorry. Then she... she..." Todd turned away, glowering at the ground and forcing the treacherous wetness back into his eyes. Damnit! Wasn't there some rule in nature that said Toad's didn't cry! Fuckit!

Something lightly touched his shoulder, and he snapped up so fast Pietro nearly rocketed backwards. "I... I'm..." he said.

"Don't. Don't say you're sorry. I made good outta it. Got m'self out of here, lived rough for a bit until Mystique found me. Rest's history, yo. Picked things up, got on with life. But... I come back here on th' same day to tell her how 'm doin'. Three years runnin', now. Hafta keep her plot cleaned up, y'know? Gotta keep it looking nice." Fuck! Why couldn't his mutation have done something useful, like eradicate his tear ducts?

Pietro was quiet for a minute. Then, "I wish I could do that for my Mom."

"Why doncha then?" Todd snapped, irritated the focus had shifted back to him. Why did everything have to be about Pietro when he was around? Did the world *revolve* around him or something? "Ya got legs, an' ya can prolly reach anywhere in the country within an hour."

"Running clean across an ocean or two is a bit beyond my limit, though."


"My Mom's buried in Europe, in some ratty little country I can't even pronounce the name of." He scooched his weight to let blood flow into his legs, and Todd watched from the corner of one eye, gauging the sincerity in his ice-chip eyes. "I think... look, you repeat this to anyone and I'll personally string you up the school flagpole by your boxers, but... I think it's nice. You coming here to take care of your Mom's grave, I mean. God help me, but I reckon she'd be... I dunno... proud of you. Or something." He was struggling, the concept of actually complimenting someone clearly an alien one.

Todd watched him, and after a moment he let out a wry breath. "Pfft. Lookit us, yo. Who'd a'thunk we used to have dreams 'bout rulin' th' whole damn human race? We can't even get our own lives to go straight, much less th' rest o' humanity." He spread his arms, breaking the moment. "Two kings o' the world right here, yo. Don't think much o' your crown, though."

"Say what?" Pietro felt his forehead, and grimaced as he peeled off the piece of pondweed. "Eew!" He shivered. "I dunno, though. Reckon there might be something in the whole homo-superior schtick. We gotta have these powers for a reason, right? I mean, for some reason other than fucking up our own lives, that is. Uh... I mean... aw shit, I didn't mean to..."



"Can it. If it hadn't been for me an' my bein' a mutant, my Mom woulda just kept on livin' the way she was. P'raps until *he* killed her. Least this way, she died knowin'..."

"That you were safe?"

"Sumthin' like that. Just not so corny."

"I'm big on corniness. Love makes the world go 'round. Keep smiling. Things'll be alright in the end. Keep people from going insane if you say them enough."

"Yeah, right. You just keep tellin' yo'self that." Jerkily, Todd got to his feet, and shivered.

Pietro followed suit, and clutched at his arms and torso. "Damn, but it's cold. Uh, you done here?"

"Maybe." Todd sighed, and began to climb the embankment again; careful to avoid any piece of earth the looked like it might give way. "Maybe not."

Pietro stood beneath him, not following, head cocked to one side like some sodden, bewildered albino puppy. "Uh, no offence, Todd; but if you stick around here all wet like that you'll most likely be joining the residents through hypothermia."

"My decision, ain't it?"

"Not bloody likely."

The familiarity if the phrase he'd used no so long ago himself cause Todd to pause, and he looked down. "'Scuse me?"

"You saved my butt, so I'm not about to let you freeze your own off in a graveyard. I can... give you a lift back to Bayville, if you want. We can be there within the hour."

"Thanks, but no thanks. Worse things than hypothermia in the Boarding House now they city shut off the electricity. I'm lookin' to stay at a youth hostel I know near here. Least that way I know I'll have a warm bed. I, uh... only got enough cash for me, though." He frowned at Pietro's stubborn look. "I... guess I could sneak ya in through the window, but you'll hafta be real quiet."

Pietro snorted. "Me? A youth hostel? Be serious." His hands were a blue for a second, and then he was waving something small, gold and plastic. "You're not staying in some crummy rent-a-flea-infested-mattress, either. I saw a hotel in the next town. We're staying there tonight."

"You got money for that?" Todd goggled. "Where th' hell - "

"I have a savings account. Last time I used it was to get the water turned back on. There's enough for us to rent two beds still have enough left over for breakfast. I'm not leaving until you come with, Todd, so unless you want *both* of us to freeze to death..."

Todd bit his lip, looking between his mother's grave and the tantalising scrap of plastic. To have one night of pure luxury in a place he would probably never be able to afford again? But this was the special day. He hadn't finished telling her all his news, yet.

A gentle breeze filtered through the smog-filled air, blowing softly into his face. Todd blinked and opened his mouth to speak, but it blew into his mouth, hushing him with the strange, incongruous scent of lavender and perfume.

Pietro frowned at the enigmatic smile, but Todd barely noticed. Instead, he vaulted up to the graves, gathered together his things and shouldered the old jacket. He halted briefly, just long enough to lay a hand on the rough mound that held the woman who had once been his whole world. Then he sprinted back down the easier side of the slope, rejoining Pietro and stuffing the brown paper and string in his pocket.

"Ya do realise this don't change nuthin', yo? I still don't like ya."

"And I'd let Fred pound you soon as look at you. Now hop on." He crouched a little, gesturing. "This is the one and only time in your adult life you're ever going to be willingly offered a piggyback, I'd wager."

Todd obliged. "Dunno 'bout that. Might get lucky with a girl, someday."

"Yeah, and pigs might fly."

"Oink oink." Todd's mouth curved of its own accord, and he held on tight as Pietro tensed and started running. The gate proved no problem. He just ran up and over it, landing on the other side without breaking a stride, and Todd twisted his head just in time to see the cemetery vanishing around a corner.

_'Til next year, Mom. See ya then. An' I promise, I won't forget. Not ever._




A/N: Argh! Cheesy shite! I had a vision of Todd and Pietro sitting by a dingy old pond, and this popped out of my twisted mind. Ugh. It's set in Season Two, 'cause I figured that the Brotherhood boys wouldn't know yet that Pietro is Magneto's son, and he wouldn't be too keen to tell them, either.

Um, also, re-reading this, I apologise to anybody's fics I might've encroached on thinking they were referring to canon. I think I spotted InterNutter's universe and Yma's in there so far, so to anybody else, I'm sorry. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, you know.