I'd Sure Hate to Break Down Here

Notes: Done for the 2005 XMM Ficathon, for Apathocles; see the end for full notes and the terms of her request.

Ororo was kneeling in the dirt, engaged in her favorite pastime when she saw him coming down the steps of the whitewashed portico that extended out from the rear of the conservatory. He was walking at an almost normal pace, though no one was with him to require that. His hands were shoved deep in his pockets and his shoulders slumped.

She paused in her work to sit back on her heels, wiping a little sweat off her forehead. Her hair was hidden under a pink bandana, and if she didn't really care for the color pink, one of the children had given it to her as a present, so she wore it. Pink was just as good at holding back hair as any other color. "Hello!" she called now, making him start. He'd obviously been deep in thought and unaware of his surroundings. Seeing her kneeling among the mums, he made his way over and squatted down beside her.

"Ororo, right?"

"Correct. And a good morning to you, Pietro. I trust that you slept well?" She pulled off her right glove to offer her hand, though they'd already met formally at dinner last night.

He accepted the hand, shook it strongly, then released her to nod towards her weeding. "I wasn't aware the position of history teacher had manual labor attached?"

It sounded more harsh than humorous, but she thought he'd probably meant it as the latter. "I enjoy it," she explained simply. "And it is only this one area." She pointed with her chin across the little walkway towards the rose garden and the English garden. "Those are not maintained by me."

Indicating the basketball court just beyond them, he asked, "Don't you worry about overshoots and kids tramping through your flowers?"

Her smile was small and slightly impish. "They know better."

He shifted his attention back to her, and grinned, too. "I just bet they do." He watched her work a moment, then added, "My mother used to like gardening, but yard work bores me, I'm afraid."

"There are days I like to be bored," she replied. "The earth is warm, the air is sweet, and the plants do not complain about their test marks." Her lips tipped up again, and she changed the subject. "How are you settling in?"

His amusement faded, replaced by a snort and thinned lips. "Aside from being glowered at over coffee, not bad, I guess. I'm just trying to absorb how much the place has changed."

"Glowered at?" Ororo asked, trying to imagine who that would be. Not Charles, of course, and while she might have assumed Scott, Scott rarely rose before first period, if he could avoid it. "Who was glowering at you?"

"Mr. She-Thinks-My-Tractor's-Sexy," Pietro answered. When Ororo tilted her head in puzzlement, he clarified, "The guy with the weird hair and Mack belt buckle."

Ororo put a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing. "That would be Logan," she said, pulling her hand down. "I was unaware he had returned." Logan flitted in and out of the mansion like a stray, and she wasn't sure if that sprang from an inability to leave his boots under any bed for long, or an attempt to be sensitive to Scott. Or perhaps both. Logan, no less than the next person, did things for more that one reason. "He has been gone for a few days; he probably does not know who you are."

"And knowing who I am would help?"

Pietro had a point. Xavier had kept Pietro's full identity a secret from the students. 'Erik Lehnsherr's son' would not go over well with some of them, especially Rogue. Fortunately, Pietro used his mother's last name, so there was no direct connection -- if one ignored the brilliant, silver hair and the height.

"Have you run into Scott yet this morning?" Ororo asked.

"No, I'm saving that for the perfect cap on a terrible day."

Now it was her turn to glower as she returned to weeding. "He is not that bad."

"No, he's worse."

"He is still recovering from the loss of Jean."

"Oh? He never needed a reason before to be a bastard."

And Ororo breathed out explosively. It had been perfectly clear on the previous night that Scott was no more pleased to see Pietro back than Pietro was to see Scott still around. Pietro's first words to him had been, 'So you never found anywhere else to strut about and pretend to run things?' 'Pietro!' Charles had rebuked, while Scott had only smiled and replied, 'At least I still have my job' -- which had made Charles snap, 'Scott!' Ororo and Kurt had exchanged a glance, unsure whether to be amused or appalled. It seemed no sooner had Scott and Logan called a truce than someone else had arrived to strike sparks off Cyclops. Ororo had never found Scott that hard to get along with, herself. He was a good friend to her.

"That sounded worse than I meant it," Pietro said now, perhaps feeling guilty. "I am sorry about Jean. I liked her, the few times we met. She was always gracious -- made me wonder what she saw in him. Anyway, at least he gets to check the 'widower' box on forms instead of 'divorced.'"

Pietro was, Ororo thought, vicious in his bitterness. "I am not sure either of those is easy to face," she replied. And keeping her eyes on the dirt beneath her hands, she changed the subject. "How long do you think you will stay? And no, that is not a subtle hint of any kind."

He turned his head, looking off across the lawn towards the stables. Morning sun fell gold on the turning autumn leaves. "Only until I can get my job back." His glance returned to her, his eyes a light, icy blue with a stare that penetrated. "No offense, but this place isn't where I'd choose to stay. I can't stand teenagers -- couldn't even when I was one."

Ororo suppressed a smile. "Do you think you will get your job back?" she asked, curious.

He frowned down at the earth beneath his feet. "I don't know. But I figure if anyone can help, it's Charles. I understand he's got an 'in' with the president these days."

"I am not certain that I would call it an 'in,' but yes, he has been called to Washington twice since the incident with Stryker, for consultations." Her head tipped. "I had thought that incident might increase sympathy for mutants, not decrease it."

"Depends on what company you keep, I guess," Pietro said. "Working for the CIA is a little different than working for the local Wal-Mart." He stood and nodded politely to her. "I'll see you at dinner, Ororo."

"You're back out here?"

Ororo glanced up when a shadow fell over her, seemingly out of nowhere. This time he had come at Pietro-speed. "Good afternoon. And yes, I am 'back out here.' Winter is coming; I am preparing the garden for dormancy."

Squatting down beside her, he shook his head. "I still don't get why you waste your time at this."

"And as I told you before, the plants do not --"

"-- complain about their marks, yeah. Cute. It still begs the question."

She tilted her head to the side. "It is . . . peaceful -- calming. Here." Reaching out, she took his hand to place it, palm down, on the dirt. "Do you feel it? The heartbeat of our mother?"

He gave her a skeptical look but held his hand there for a moment before lifting it up and brushing it clean on his pant leg. "I'm afraid all I feel is grit and pebbles."

Now it was her turn to shake her head. "The earth speaks to you, if you will listen. It is alive no less than we are."

"I thought it was weather patterns you felt?"

She nodded. "So I do. It is all one -- the currents of the air, and the magnetic fields of the earth." She eyed him. "Your father could tell you that, as well."

He frowned. "I'm afraid my father and I don't talk much these days, and I'm not in a hurry to change that."

Ororo didn't reply because she couldn't, honestly, blame him. She had no love for Magneto, and did not envy Pietro that family connection. As much as she missed her parents, she would rather have had no father than to name Erik Lehnsherr in that role. "You should try gardening some time," she said now. "I know you claimed that yard work bores you, but being bored has its virtues, compared to our lives the rest of the time."

He didn't immediately reply, then explained, "Ninety percent of my waking life is spent being bored. I can't turn my power off -- I've had to learn to manage it, instead. Even this brief conversation with you . . . for me, it's progressed agonizingly slowly. That's not your fault, but it took time for me to learn to slow myself down to the speed the rest of the world functions at." He gestured around. "I could weed this entire garden area in the length of time it'd take you to finish the row -- probably in less time, actually."

It was merely an observation, not an expression of arrogance, and she paused to consider it. Pietro had lived at the mansion for three weeks now, driving everyone (except the professor) moderately mad. The best she could say for the experience was that he and Scott had gone from open dislike to a tentative tolerance. Neither were boys any longer, and had discovered -- somewhat to their surprise -- that they had several things in common, not least a certain appreciation for order and rules. They still didn't quite like each other, but their sarcastic snarking had transformed into mutual entertainment rather than open hostility. In any case, the students mostly found Pietro intimidating, Logan found him annoying, Kurt wasn't sure what to make of him, and Ororo -- Ororo liked him. Why, she wasn't sure. It wasn't romantic in any sense; he didn't appeal to her that way. But she liked him, and so was honored that he would confide in her a little of how he saw the world.

"Things that do not move look the same to you as they do to me, correct?" she asked. He nodded. "Then it seems to me that it does not matter at what speed you work, Pietro. The earth is the earth; she does not change, and she is a good listener."

She could see that he was struggling not to laugh at her words, finding them precious, perhaps. Instead, he stomped his foot on the ground and called out, "Hey! If you're taking orders, how about a little warm snap and a couple of sunny days?" Then to Ororo he added, "Northeast overcast is so depressing."

Three weeks turned into three months, which doubled into six, and Pietro was still around. He no longer spoke of getting his old job back. Attitudes towards mutants had grown worse, not better. Instead, he'd revamped mansion security, and taught the students self-defense and firearms safety. He said he still didn't like teenagers, and Ororo didn't think they'd warmed up to him, either.

Scott, however, had. And Ororo kept her amusement to herself when both men would take Logan to task for haring off on his own. Again. "So I have to put up with two of them with sticks up their asses," Logan would mutter when feeling especially put-upon. In any case, Pietro's previous experience in the CIA had made his inclusion among the X-Men inevitable, though his uniform wasn't made of leather, but of streamlined black spandex like the material speed skaters wore. He accepted Cyclops' authority and (mostly) didn't complain. If 'Quicksilver' were no more of a leader than Wolverine, he was also less inclined to defy orders. (One didn't last long in the CIA, if one did.) And Cyclops, in turn, asked for his experience on more than one occasion.

In early April, the X-Men were called to the scene of a break-in at a biochemical engineering laboratory -- only to find Magneto's Brotherhood in the process of leaving. Magneto sent his own team on, then turned to hold off the X-men.

And so, father and son faced each other for the first time in over ten years, and the rest of the X-team hung back a bit. This was Pietro's private little war, and Ororo was struck by how much the two looked alike. Quicksilver called for Magneto to surrender, to which Magneto replied with a raised eyebrow. "Doesn't the Bible have something to say about honoring thy mother and father?"

"Only if they don't break the law."

Magneto sighed in mock exasperation (which may have concealed something real). "How, pray tell, did I sire a son who willingly joined the government? Did you enjoy working for Big Brother until they decided you were too much of a liability?"

"You can blame your own example for me joining the CIA -- you taught me that people like you have to be stopped."

"Not today," Magneto had replied, lifting himself in the air faster than Pietro could reach him, and no matter how fast Pietro was, he couldn't fly. Storm could, to a limited degree, but she had long ago learned that striking Magneto with lightning didn't do much good, and although Cyclops could blast him, Magneto had raised a chemical storage tank as an improvised shield -- and none of them were willing to gamble on what was in that tank.

So that night, Magneto got away. The X-Men didn't always win.

Pietro refused to talk on the trip back, and no one said anything to him, either, even Logan, who'd been left behind with the Hummer when they'd realized who they'd be fighting. Adamantium-laced Wolverine made a handy action-figure for Magneto to play with.

Back at the mansion, Pietro hadn't waited for the professor's debriefing before stalking out, and when the debriefing was finished, Ororo went to look for him (with a little assistance from Xavier). She found him in the most unlikely of places.

Pietro and a shovel in the moonlight were turning over the frost-hard spring soil of her garden, and doing it with such a fury of pace that he seemed only a blur to her eyes. Hearing her approach on the sidewalk, he stopped, becoming distinct again. She said nothing to him, but he answered her anyway. "You told me once that plants don't talk back. They can't get away, either."

Ororo just nodded.

"I still don't like yard work," he added.

"Of course not."

"I don't need a pep talk."

"I am not here to give one. Perhaps you are the one who needs to talk.

"Before I lost my parents, I recall a certain day when I was angry at the whole world. I cannot now remember why; I only remember the rage. My mother told me to go outside and lay on the earth and beat it with my fists. The earth was strong enough to take it, and to forgive me. Then, when I was tired from the fighting, I could lay there on her breast, and she would soothe me. And if I remained quiet long enough, she might tell me something I needed to know."

Turning on her heel, she headed back inside, via the portico. In the distance, she heard him go back to his digging, the sound of the shovel hitting the dirt like the sound of a child's fist.

Notes: The title references a popular country song written by Julie Roberts (performed by various). Many thanks to Chris (Adon) for playing such a wonderful Pietro at the RPG "Left Turn at Westchester." While this Pietro isn't quite his, it was strongly influenced by his. The parable about the earth is a much modified version of a story originally told by Sr. José Hobday.

This story fills the first two requests from Apathocles:

Character/pairing request 1: Quicksilver
Specific request: Bring Pietro into movieverse, somehow -- with the Brotherhood, X-Men, or anything else that takes your fancy. Character-focused story preferred, but het or slash elements are fine. Would prefer him late teens or adult (i.e. not the little kid from the first film who apparently had superspeed).

Character/pairing request 2: Storm
Specific request: Gen, please. Can be character study, friendship fic, action/adventure, whatever -- I just want a story about Ororo that has no hint of romance (or lust) whatsoever.