Jamie had quickly warmed to being the man of the hour, not to mention the girls fussing over him endlessly. It was very rare that he got this sort of attention, but he was wise enough not to milk it for all it was worth. Especially since Hank had just told him that his nose was, in fact, not broken. Shaking off an injury was more impressive than whining about it endlessly anyway, even if it did sometimes get girls to coo at you and stroke your hair back with their fingers.
He was very grateful that he hadn't cried though. Being twelve years old and crying got you the wrong kind of sympathy from girls. Although, Kitty had been particularly kind to him after the Danger Room incident, and it had floated him up to Cloud 9 for the better part of an hour.
Jamie sighed, making his way down the hall toward the front lobby. Everyone was talking about heading down to The Parlor, an old-fashioned ice cream and malt shop downtown. Especially since Jean and Ororo had informed everyone that the Professor wished the desserts there to be his treat. It was certainly nice of the Professor to do that, Jamie thought. He felt guilty about his prior beliefs about the Brotherhood, that they were all no-good like Scott had been saying.
But first he'd befriended Todd, who wasn't even half as bad as he'd been told, and then Todd had approached him late last night asking if he'd want to join the Brotherhood team tomorrow. It had floored Jamie, who was so used to being the last one picked for anything. He'd gleefully accepted and then agreed to tell Amara that the same offer applied to her. She had obviously told Tabby, who wasted no time telling Kitty.
And thus a great Conspiracy had been put in motion, and Jamie had been more than thrilled to be a part of it. Of course, Scott had thrown a conniption fit when it all came into play, but that had been pretty fun to watch too.
The only thing he hadn't enjoyed, other than being punched, was the thought that Scott was in trouble now. Deep trouble, probably. Jamie had been in trouble enough times to know the horrible squirming feeling in one's gut. He wouldn't wish that feeling on anyone, not even if they'd punched him in the face twice.
He frowned as he walked down the staircase, nearly bumping into someone on the way. He looked up into Wanda's face, who looked just as surprised. "Sorry, lost in thoughts," she murmured, stepping aside. She looked at him then. "You haven't seen Todd anywhere, have you? Every time I think I've spotted him, he disappears."
"Um . . . no, I haven't seen him. Are you his girlfriend?" Jamie blurted out without thinking. As far as he was concerned, Todd had an enviable talent for getting any girl to like him.
Wanda made an odd noise, somewhere between a cough and a snigger. "No. But I'm his friend. Teammate, even. So have you seen him? I wanted to talk to him last night, but he sort of made Pietro explain everything to me instead and then vanished. I could almost swear he's avoiding me."
Jamie blinked. "Why would he avoid you?"
Her expression changed from mildly amused to sad. "For reasons best left unsaid." Seeing Jamie's confusion, she clarified. "I don't want to get into it. Let's just say I said something I shouldn't have."
"You hurt his feelings?"
Wanda looked at him a moment, then nodded.
"Oh. Well, he said he wasn't that good with girls. Which I think is a lie because he got Amara to smile at him and she'd been crying FOREVER." Jamie rolled his eyes to emphasize this fact.
This earned a small smile from Wanda. "Well, if you see him . . . tell him I . . ." She faltered and was then interrupted by someone calling her name. "Coming Kitty!" Not bothering to finish her curious message, she appeared to forget she was even talking to Jamie and hurriedly made her way upstairs.
Jamie sighed and shrugged, starting to walk down the stairs again.
If Jamie was unused to attention, then Todd was about ready to pack up his things and move back to a saner universe where he was generally scorned and ignored at best. He had scarcely made his way across the lobby of the Mansion after changing back into jeans and a t-shirt without being congratulated by someone. Even Rogue seemed okay with the fact that he'd just landed their leader in deep crap.
Pietro and Lance were fairly ecstatic about it, but Todd had been too guilty to really join in with the laughter. Not that he felt bad Scott was in trouble – the jerk deserved it. It was more that he couldn't help feeling like he'd let Jamie take a hit for him. That punch had been meant for his face, not for Jamie's.
Lance at least had seemed to know what was bothering him, and had put an arm around Todd's shoulders as they walked up to the main level. "He'll be fine. Don't worry so much. I bet you his nose isn't even crooked after this."
Todd had made a despairing noise, but Lance mussed up his hair, not having any of it. "Like I said, quit worrying. Enjoy this, you rocked it out there."
He moved on ahead to join Pietro and Freddy, leaving Todd to trail behind. And then to get cornered by Wanda.
"Eeep," Todd greeted, every muscle in his body tensing for flight.
"Hey, Todd. I know you've been avoiding me. And I know why," Wanda said earnestly.
"Heh. Let's not beat around the bush or anything, yo." Todd joked weakly.
"I had no right to say any of those things. I was angry and hurt and I wanted to lash out at someone. I was trying to make you to feel how badly I hurt, being abandoned so easily by Father. After everything he did for us. I thought we were a family again."
Todd had opened his mouth, but any retort he had died on his lips at that last sentence. Guilt crashed ashore and made him pale slightly. No matter what she had said to him, they were even, because he had let her believe this bullcrap about her father to keep her close. Hadn't he?
Who was he to trap her like this and then turn his back on her?
"Fathers . . . ain't always what they look like on the outside," Todd said quietly. "They can lie too, babe. They can hurt you just as good if not worse than anyone else can, even if they don't leave scars on the outside. Trust me, I know."
Wanda's eyes were wet and she bit her lip, nodding. For a moment, she stared into the distance and willed the tears back. Todd had to admire her strength. She leaned down suddenly, capturing his lips in a soft kiss.
When she pulled away, his breath caught in his throat but he was surprised to find that he wasn't filled with the waves of rapture he always dreamed he would be. Wanda had kissed him. She had kissed him and he felt . . . the same as always. Maybe he was in too much shock to really wrap his mind around it yet.
Any moment now he'd be jumping twenty feet in the air and swinging from the chandelier, or doing cartwheels around the room, or maybe a little Irish jig or something.
Nope. Nothing. The hell?
"You did really amazing today," Wanda said offhandedly, trying to act now as if it hadn't happened. "I liked your moves. Wish you'd punched him a little more, but a girl can't have everything," she shrugged, one shouldered. An act that Todd would have found utterly adorable on any occasion . . . save this one.
"See you at that ice-cream place?"
"Yeah, sure," Todd said, sounding dazed. "I guess." He stared after Wanda as she walked away and suddenly Pietro was in his immediate vision.
"You're not breathing. Yes she's my sister and gorgeous like me and she kissed you, I know. Just BREATHE, okay? BREATHE!"
"GAH!" Todd squirmed away, batting at him. "I was breathing just fine, yo! Until you started breathing in my face!"
"Guys, chill out. Pietro, let Todd enjoy the moment, okay?" Lance winked at him and thankfully pushed Pietro toward the opposite end of the lobby.
"Um, hey," a voice behind him spoke. Todd turned and saw Fuzzy standing there, looking vaguely embarrassed.
"Yo, what's up? Thanks for . . . you know. Back there," Todd managed, feeling like an idiot as soon as he opened his mouth. "It was cool," he added lamely.
"Well, it needed to be done. Scott was really getting on my nerves. I actually wished I could've been on your side. Seemed like more fun."
"Eh, maybe next time. Don't see why we've got to be all Brotherhood against X-men if we live here now, y'know? Mixed teams could be fun," Todd said, mostly babbling.
"That's a good idea," Kurt offered, grinning. "Ah, anyway, listen . . . I think I need to sit this trip out. I'd be attracting unwelcome stares."
"Say what?" Todd looked at him in confusion. "Ain't no reason for that, you can come with us. Don't you got your induc-"
He stopped suddenly, realizing something painful. Todd looked down at the spots on his arms and the slightly greenish tint to his skin. There were plenty on his face as well. Todd rallied admirably. "Guess I'll be sittin pretty back here too. Ain't no problem. There's a couple pints in the freezer. We can play games after or somethin'."
Kurt just smiled at him and turned over Todd's hand, putting something in the frog-boy's palm. Todd stared down curiously and his eyes widened as he saw Kurt's inducer there. "Say what?" he yelped, startled.
"This is your party, Todd. You shouldn't have to miss it."
Todd blinked at him, not sure what to say. His throat felt tight, like he suddenly didn't know how to swallow.
"Breathe," Kurt admonished gently, smiling.
Doing so, and then sheepishly chuckling, Todd put on the inducer. Kurt had saved the last image he'd made of himself, all the little subtle differences that would make Todd feel as though he were handsome. "I'll . . . I'll give it back. I promise."
"I'm not worried about that," the elf grinned. "I do know where you live."
Todd laughed outright at that. It earned him some stares, mostly because he was standing next to Kurt and looking happy. The two of them weren't exactly known for being on friendly terms.
"Thanks, yo. Seriously, dawg. Thank you," Todd said, more quietly. He turned to join his friends, pausing to smile at Kurt over his shoulder and then moving on. Lance was already heading out to the Jeep, keys in one hand and Kitty holding the other.
"So then, is breakfast ice cream, or will ice cream be served with breakfast?" Freddy wanted to know.
"Well, it goes well on waffles. Me, I want mocha ice cream, with chocolate covered expresso beans."
"No," Wanda, Lance, Kitty and Fred intoned all at once.
"Awww, but why not?"
"Why do you think, birdbrain? You'll die from cardiac arrest. That is, after you give wedgies to everyone in downtown Bayville, including the Mayor and half the police force!"
"I only speed-wedgied one person, and that was only one time."
"Yeah, and Mystique had to pay for the guy's hospital bills, not to mention his silence!"
Pietro argued the finer points of this as Todd got into the Jeep, sitting beside Wanda. It was a rather tight fit, but instead of feeling elated, Todd found himself wishing Lance would just stop arguing and drive. Or that Pietro would run ahead and give them all more space back here.
Wanda looked at him again, offered a shy smile, then looked away. Todd didn't know how he felt about that even. Confused and slightly heartsick, he looked back toward the Institute and saw Kurt watching from the window. Todd waved as they drove away, wondering if he shouldn't have just stayed there after all.
Kurt waved back and wandered off into the empty Institute, looking for something to occupy his time with.
"Come in," Xavier said calmly.
He could feel Scott's anxiety as thick as fog and he sighed, knowing the young man hated being wrong about anything. But this was necessary and frankly, overdue. There was a point in which believing you were right became more of an unhealthy obsession than anything else.
Scott obviously felt threatened by the Brotherhood's arrival, and Xavier should have done something about that much sooner than this. He had been hoping Scott would come to the humbling realization that he was in the wrong before something like this happened.
His first student sat down where Charles indicated and waited, shoulders tense, for the lecture that was to follow.
Charles merely sat back and waited. After a short silence, he asked, "What are you thinking, Scott?"
The young man grimaced. "That I should never have let my anger get the better of me," he offered. "I could have really hurt Jamie."
"Hmm. But if your fist had connected with its intended target . . .?"
Scott raised his head, disbelief etched across his face. "He stepped aside to let me hit Jamie, then pretended to be his friend afterwards! I'm not saying it was his fault Jamie got hit – that was completely mine, but you have to admit that was cowardly."
Xavier frowned. "No, Scott. Saying that Todd meant for Jamie to be hit is just as unfair as saying that you meant to hit Jamie yourself. I think you have become blinded by your anger at their intrusion into your life. You've had to fight them in countless battles, and now 'the enemy' is here, living in your home. The one place that you've always known as safe."
"Professor, I understand they needed help, but why couldn't you have just rebuilt their boarding house and sent them money for food? Maybe give them a security system, I don't know. I think all of us would have been happier if we hadn't been forced together like this."
Xavier raised his eyebrows. "Perhaps I have been wrong. You are angry at me for this decision and you've been lashing out at them because you don't want to confront me about it."
"No . . . well . . . maybe a little," he admitted, looking down.
"Have you been hoping they'd leave, despite having nowhere else to go?"
"No!" Scott said, a bit louder than he meant to. "No, I don't want them to get dumped out in the cold again . . . I just don't want them here. They're disorderly and rude and troublemakers, and if they cause trouble now, the police will come here! Doesn't that concern you?"
"Of course it does. But they no longer have any reason to cause trouble. Magneto has turned his back on both his children, and I'm sure without his guiding hand, Pietro and Wanda will find something more worthy to spend their time and devotion on. Lance made a fine X-man while he was here, you remember full well how your accusations drove him away. Fred has only ever wanted someone to accept him, as does Todd. If they can make friends here, strong ties, then they will have something better than what they had before.
"There's no reason for stealing anymore. Old habits may die hard, but they were strongest in Todd. He has been living on the street for quite some time – having run away after his mother's death. Stealing was literally his daily bread. Since he's been here, there have been matters more pressing than eating. One of the things I'll need to talk to him about actually. He sneaks food like a bandit, and not very much of it at that."
"So he is stealing," Scott frowned.
"No. He is surviving. He takes just enough to survive and hides away to eat it, as though it will be stolen. In fact, I don't think I've seen him sit down at a table to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner. Not once since the Brotherhood has moved here. Do you know why that might be?"
"Because, like you said, he's used to stealing his food to survive."
"Scott, should he be surviving here, or living here? Should he feel as though he has to steal food in order to eat? Or should he feel as though he is among friends, who he can share his mealtimes with?"
Scott was silent then lowered his head, thinking.
"I'm going to play a conversation for you that our cameras recorded yesterday. Hopefully it will give you some insight as to how the Brotherhood truly feels about you. There are no insults, just a frank couple of statements that you should pay attention to."
Xavier put a small device on his desk and pressed the play button. Todd's voice came out of it and Scott frowned automatically, though he paid close attention.
"Threatened! By what? We're here on your charity, we can't go home. We never really had a home to begin with - even before it got overrun by bills and foreclosure threats 'cause that bimbo Mystique kept leaving us dry! Sorry, no offense . . ."
"None taken. I don't care anymore."
The second voice was Kurt's, though that wasn't really a surprise to Scott now. He felt like such an idiot for trusting Kurt to shoot out Todd. But then why hadn't Kurt joined the Brotherhood's team today? Scott shook his head slightly and listened. Todd was speaking again – more like ranting.
"Anyway, it was barely a home and we can't even have that anymore. We're here and we're still kinda reeling from it, Pietro and Wanda especially. Magneto is their father and he just . . . poof, he's gone! The rest of us are used to that sorta crap, but not them . . . and Scott's all asserting himself over us - hardcore, yo. He's tryin' to break us into this place and this routine, meanwhile we're already broken! We might not act like anything's wrong, but trust me - you just look at Lance's face when he thinks nobody's looking and you can see lines in it. He's eighteen and he's had to take care of us for so long - suddenly losing that responsibility is a relief, but it's kinda painful too, you know?
Scott frowned. He hadn't noticed that, about Alvers. About how bereft Lance was. He really had been too busy enforcing that he was in charge now . . .
"It's like he gets no acknowledgment that he's been holding all of our heads above the water this whole time - instead, he gets to watch Scott strutting around the mansion and passing judgments on him and on us like we had this coming 'cause we're such horrible people for not being able to make it on the 'bad guy' payroll. And Lance can't say anything about it because he's not in charge of us anymore! Summers is, and he's not giving us any time to adjust to the changes or the new people or anything. He's just pummeling us over and over with his 'I'm a great person and you aren't, so I'm gonna teach you about morality' crap! And the fact that the adults aren't even sayin' anything 'bout all this makes me wonder if they even notice!"
Scott tried to rouse a tiny bit of indignation at Todd's words, but found that he couldn't. He found that he was instead thoroughly deflated and refilling slowly with shame instead of pride. Had he really been so blind? The Brotherhood boys had seemed so full of themselves, so cocksure and mocking that Scott had failed to see how vulnerable they really were. He'd taken what he'd seen as immature posturing, and in his mind had turned it into a threat rather than a sign that they needed a friend more than an authority figure breathing down their necks.
Scott felt utterly ashamed of himself and he had no idea that Xavier had turned off the recording two whole minutes ago.
"So, what are your thoughts now, Scott?" the telepath prompted gently.
"I . . . I've been awful. They didn't deserve that. I was more of a threat to them than they were a threat to me . . . this was supposed to be their safe place."
Xavier nodded, looking both proud and immensely relieved. "We all let our prior experiences and judgments get the best of us Scott. The road ahead to gaining their respect will be harder, but you should try anyway. Even if it means giving them some space for a while, after any apologies you decide to make."
Humbled, Scott nodded. "I wish I'd realized this a lot sooner."
"That is my fault also, Scott. However, I wish you to remember that you have enough compassion in you to have come to the realization at all."
"Thanks, Professor," Scott offered a wan smile, before getting up and quietly leaving the room. He had a lot to think about.
The figure walked along the rickety old porch. Boards long since past rotten creaked beneath his feet. It almost sounded like the place was moaning. The figure paused at an old bench-swing. It had once been painted white to match the house, but the paint was peeling off. Among other names carved into the wood, a heart shape was crudely etched, with the initials T & W in the middle. It looked as though it had then been blasted with some sort of flame, since most of the white paint was peeled, blackened, and bubbled around this particular area.
The figure touched the center of the heart and pushed, sending the porch swing in motion, chains whispering softly. There was a radio pulled out of a coat pocket, and the soft click of a button. "It's clear tonight. Everything's dried out since the last rain. Tonight, then?"
In a burst of static, the figure had its answer:
A/N: So apparently, I just said to heck with it and finished up the other half of the huge long chapter. It's a couple pages shorter than the last, but eh. This is literally the fastest chapter I've ever gotten out! And now suspension builds! Mwahahah!