"NOOOOO! DON"T LEAVE MEEEEEEEE!"
Those were the last words out of Toad's mouth before Magneto brutally flung him out of the jet. The next thing he knew, his body was being thwacked by branches in the path of his fall. Instinctively, his tongue reached out to grab onto a stray branch in order to stop his fall, but all it did was slow it down barely giving him time to cling from tree to tree until he could hold on no longer. He fell into an unexpected pool of water with a plop!
Toad barely managed to get to the riverbank just in time to see the jet, now a tiny black dot disappear completely. "I can't believe they did that!" he spat out along with the stagnant water. He had been abandoned. Again.
With a groan he crawled out of the water, recalling the all too recent events that led him to this situation. "Why did they do this to me?" He moaned closing his eyes in pain. "Wasn't my fault Magneto's stupid plan didn't work."
Sure he had trouble during the battle. Okay so he wasn't as good a fighter as the rest, but he tried! He tried harder than usual, but no, once again the X-men beat the proverbial stuffing out of him. But it wasn't as if he was the only one. The others got beat too. But he got the blame. As usual. Sure he was used to it. Hey something went wrong, blame Toad. Loose the battle. Blame Toad. If the plan failed, blame Toad. If you were having a bad hair day, blame Toad. Because he was the youngest and weakest, his primary contribution to the team was taking abuse and blame when things went wrong.
This time was different.
He relived the past few moments again. Magneto ranting and raving, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he turned on Toad, who hadn't even said anything to deserve such attention. He would never forget how cold and cruel his eyes looked and how his words split into him like daggers. "A chain," He rumbled " No matter what it is forged of is only as good as its weakest link. And by the looks of you, Toad we are a pathetic chain. You, quivering, useless coward!"
The rest of the Brotherhood quickly parted away from Magneto's wrath, leaving Toad alone to bear the brunt of it. It was bad enough being yelled at, but no, Magneto said an example had to be made. That was when Mystique started beating him.
He had had beatings before. His Father, foster parents, bullies, jocks, even Mystique had cruelly hit him with unnecessary force. But this was far more brutal than he ever expected. Terrified, all he could do was cower there, trying as best he could to shield himself from the blows. He couldn't even fight back. All he could do was whimper, plead and take the abuse.
After what seemed like an eternity, Magneto stopped the physical torment. "Useless, " He snarled. "Utterly useless. Mystique what were you thinking when you allowed this…weakling into the Brotherhood?"
"He was all I could find at the time!" She shot back. "Before the others, remember? It's not my fault the idiot can't do the simplest tasks!"
"In the future Mystique you will find me more useful mutants," Magneto warned.
"That won't be too difficult," She snarled, kicking him in the ribs for good measure. Toad whimpered and coughed up blood mixed with slime. "Hard to imagine any other mutant as useless as this one!"
That was even worse than the beating. Heck, he had been beaten up nearly every day of his life to some degree since he was six. He was used to the pounding. But the cruelty of the words, no matter how many times in his life he had heard them before, still cut into him like razor blades. "I'm sorry," Toad whimpered, tears beginning to trickle from his eyes.
He looked up with pleading eyes at the other members of the Brotherhood. Lance looked away from him in contempt. " Wimp," He growled. Pietro stood there stone-faced. Freddy looked…scared.
"Weak," Magneto pronounced it as if it was a sentence of death. "The weak are useless. Therefore…" He raised his hand and to his horror Toad saw the jet's hatch open.
"No, No!" Toad begged on his knees. "Please! I'll do better. Really I will! You'll see! Please!"
"What I see is a worthless cretin who'd better not show his miserable ugly face around Bayville again if he knows what's good for him!" Mystique snarled. "Provided of course you survive."
"No, please don't leave me alone out there!" Toad cried out. "Guys, help me!" But none of the Brotherhood said a word. They were either too disgusted with him or too frightened to help him. Perhaps a bit of both. Toad tried one final appeal, tears openly streaming down his face. "Please! I'll die out there! Please!"
"Perhaps it's best for all Mutantkind if you do!" Magneto said, before flinging his helpless body out the hatch.
And that was that. Now here he was, alone in an unknown swamp. Every muscle in his body was sore and bruised. His ribs felt like they were on fire. His right leg felt injured if not broken. But he was alive. That was something to be thankful for.
Toad managed to get to his knees. Anger and shame rose inside him, mixing with the pain. "Well," he sniffed "Who needs you jerks anyway! I didn't wanna be a part of your stupid damn Brotherhood anyway! You hear that!" His voice rose to a scream. "Good Riddance! I can do fine all by myself! Hear that!? All by myself!"
He sat down, sobbing. "All alone..Forever…. Well who cares! I don't need anybody. No. Nobody. I'll be just fine on my own. I can take care of myself. Who wants to go back to Loserville anyway? Not me. No way. I'm not going to cry anymore. I'm going to pull myself together. And find a way out of here, and away from Bayville. "
He fought back the tears as he examined himself. His uniform was badly torn and covered with blood and grime. He tore off part of his right pants leg and made a makeshift bandage. He tried to console himself, but it was no use. For all his outside bravado, he was terrified. The Brotherhood had been his final chance at acceptance. A last resort to find a place where he belonged. Unlike the Professor's X-Freaks at least the Brotherhood had a realistic view of humanity. Toad knew all too well from experience that humans would never except them. They couldn't even stop fighting among each other, let alone another species. So what was the point in trying to get along with them?
He briefly examined himself again. Pieces of bruised skin appeared like patches in is tattered uniform. He felt uncomfortable at the thought of being exposed in any way, but hey, there was no one around to see him. He was covered with dirt and blood. "Well, I never was the cleanest person anyway", He sighed. Trying to figure out just what do now.
"Well," He spoke aloud. " I can't go back to Bayville, I certainly can't go to the X-Freaks. Even if they took me in, they couldn't hide me from Mystique forever." With a sigh he looked around his surroundings. The view of mud and dark vegetation did nothing to cheer him up.
"I guess this is…home. Perfect. A Swamp for a Toad. How fitting," He mocked himself. "Somewhere in this world there is someone with a very sick sense of irony. I can see it now, Next on Ripley's believe it or not…the mysterious Toad-boy. Fact or fiction? I'm gonna be running from Mulder and Scully wannabes for the rest of my life. Ow!"
Toad flinched in pain. "At least I'm still alive. Barely." He forced himself to stand up and hobbled deeped into the swamp. "Well, at least things can't get any worse for me today."
Right on cue, there was a rumble of thunder. Then a torrential downpour. Toad made a face. "Perfect. Just perfect. Nice touch!" He screamed at the sky as he slowly moved forward. "I'm alone, hurt, cold, wet, exhausted, hungry. Jeeze. Aren't there at least any mosquitoes in this swamp?" Toad's stomach rumbled. He let out an exhausted sigh. " If I can just find a dry place to hide and rest so I don't catch pneumonia and die…Just a place to sleep for a little while. That's all I need. Aggh!" He collapsed to his knees in pain. "Aw man, I'm gonna die."
He shuddered violently, trying to hold back more tears. The pain was stronger now, and he felt weaker. If he didn't find shelter soon…
His attention was caught by an unexpected snap of a twig. Startled, he turned around as quickly as he could. He could make out silhouettes of figures in the trees behind him several feet away. They were quite a few of them walking towards him. He could not see their faces, but he could count them. At least seven of them. And they were all carrying guns. Very big guns.
A sound came from Toad's throat. It was a primal scream of pure terror. A surge of adrenaline gave him the strength that only an animal in panic could know. He forced his body to its limit, ignoring the pain tearing at him from the inside. Each hop was pure agony. His mind raced. Mutant Hunters! Or maybe hunters period! Either way they have guns! Big guns! Not good! Not good! Not good! Did Magneto know? Did he leave me here to die? To let them finish me off? Or is this just some part of some curse I have? I don't wanna die! I don't wanna die! I gotta get away!
Normally with his enhanced strength and speed, Toad would have been able to easily shake his pursuers, especially since he was running, or more accurately hopping on all fours. But he was injured, exhausted. They were running after him. And they were gaining on him, yelling something but he couldn't make out what. He didn't want to know.
Even strength and stamina born from self-preservation can only last so long. Toad felt himself weakening with every hop. The distance between him and his pursuers was quickly growing smaller and smaller. Try as he might, he couldn't force his body to run anymore. His legs hurt too much. He could barely breathe. The rain practically blinded him. Finally his body gave out mid hop. He fell face first in the mud. He couldn't get up try as he might, but he was far too weak. "I…can't," he moaned, tears streaming down his face. He collapsed. This was it. The End with a capital E. He couldn't do anything anymore. He cowered, trembling, shielding his face with his arms. He had no will to run or fight anymore. What was the point? Magneto was right. He was a worthless mutant. He was too weak to fight back. He deserved to die. He shut his eyes to the world and sobbed heavily, waiting for the end to come.
He lay there in the filth for what seemed like an eternity. His thin body pounded by the heavy rain. He could sense they had caught up to him and were now standing around him. Why don't they just get it over with? He thought. Maybe they want to torture me first. Please, please just let it end! He waited for his body to be riddled with bullets.
But it didn't happen. What he felt next was not a barrage of gunfire piercing his body or a sharp knife cutting his throat. It was the most unexpected thing in his entire life. It was a hand gently touching his shoulder and gingerly squeezing it.
Toad opened his eyes, red with tears and looked into the face of a huge, muscular bald black man with a moustache and a goatee. It wasn't a cruel face at all, but kind and worried. "Hey kid," He asked in a deep voice. "Are you okay?"
Instinctively, Toad flinched in fear. Wildly he looked behind him. The other men behind him were huge as well. They looked like redneck hunters but he could tell that they were soldiers. But they didn't look like they were going to shoot him. They actually looked worried. About what?
The man gently reassured him. "Easy, Easy. We're not going to hurt you. We just wanna help. Who are you? What happened? Who did this to you?"
Toad still couldn't speak. He was still too hurt, confused and afraid. He kept crying and shaking. Were they actually talking to him?
The man tried again. "Listen, you don't have to be afraid of us. It doesn't matter that you're a mutant. We aren't going to hurt you. We just want to help. You're safe now. Okay?"
"It looks like he's in shock," one of the others said.
"It's okay," the man gently took the boy in his arms. "It's okay." Toad kept sobbing, too afraid to do anything else. He went limp. The man began to rock him back and forth, stroking his hair, as if soothing an infant. Toad stopped whimpering, allowing the tears to silently fall down his face. The man gave some orders to the others, but Toad didn't hear them. He was too wrapped up in fear to notice anything else. He felt himself being effortlessly lifted by the powerful arms holding him, being carried like a small child through the swamp. The last thing he registered before losing consciousness was the man's voice telling him not to be afraid, that everything would be all right. Toad felt strangely calm. Almost safe. He saw the swamp around him as a green blur, taking in the scent of the man's aftershave. He closed his eyes and allowed the blackness to claim him.
What came next was what Toad would always refer to as The Blur, because that was all he could remember. He could never recall specifics during that time. It wasn't lineal. Just random sensations. The rain on his face. Strange voices talking over him. A feeling of being exposed. Lying in a warm pool of water. The sensation of cloth over his skin. A hand holding his. The smell of his own natural scent, plus other unfamiliar ones flowed in and out through his nostrils. The feeling that he was flying. Being warm. Being cold. Lying on something very soft then very hard. Or was it very hard then very soft? Dozens of other half forgotten memories that went in and out during the blackness.
He did not dream during this time. It was if his brain had purposely shut down that department. All he could sense was darkness. There was no pain. Just a bland numbness dominated his body.
Then he was back. That was the best way to describe it. He simply opened his eyes and found himself in a strange room. His brain felt fuzzy and his body felt stiff and sore. All he could see was a ceiling. Wait a minute, wasn't he just outside? And now he was dry when he had been soaked with rain. It didn't make sense. He closed his eyes and moaned, turning his head slightly. Rather obvious thoughts hit him. I'm inside, not outside. I'm dry, not wet. I'm warm, not cold. This pillow is nice. Wait, I feel blankets too. I'm in a bed. Something's attached to my arm. He looked again. The room was slightly dark but he could see a small tube in his arm hooked up to an IV unit. Hospital. I'm in a hospital of some sort. But where? How did I get here? Where's my uniform?
He looked at himself. He was wearing a white hospital gown, various small bandages on his arms and right leg and nothing else. His cheeks flushed for a second. Someone took my clothes. Some one...saw me! Well, duh Todd, how else were they going to fix you up? Stop being such a spaz!
As he tried to shake the cobwebs from his head the door opened. He saw the nurse on duty turn up the light in the room. She was tall with dazzling blonde hair. She smiled at him. "Finally awake huh?"
Toad blinked. Was she talking to him? She was so beautiful. Of course she's talking to you idiot! His brain screamed at him. And don't start drooling over her! She's gotta be at least in her late twenties so let's put a stop to any teenage hormone fantasies right now! You are not, not now, not ever in her league! So forget it! Great, now his own mind was telling him how unworthy he was. Terrific.
She walked over to his bed. " How are you feeling? Would you like some water?"
Suddenly Toad's throat felt very dry. He nodded. She poured him a glass from a pitcher on a stand next to his bed. Gratefully he took it. The water felt good going down his throat. "Thanks," He replied when he finished, his voice sounding very small.
She smiled again. Toad turned his head a little, feeling a little warm. He caught his reflection in a mirror positioned across from his bed. There was a bandage on his head too. Both of his eyes looked black and sunken. He was heavily bruised all over. He had had beatings before, some of them equally damaging. But each time it was a shock to him. Oh well, it wasn't as if he was handsome or anything.
The nurse caught his expression. She pulled up a chair and sat down next to him. "You were very lucky," She told him. " You were badly injured. Not to mention a fever. You almost died. If the patrol hadn't found you when they did…"
"Yeah," Toad sighed. "I can imagine. Wait a minute, patrol? The people who found me, were army guys?"
"Yes, you're in the base hospital. Don't be afraid!" She responded to his look of fear. "We're not going to hurt you or run experiments on you or anything like that! We're not exactly regular army. We do things differently here. Besides even if we did do things like that we would have done it when you were brought in here a week ago."
"A week? I was out that long? Was I in a coma or something?"
"No. Not really. Your mind was just taking a little time out that's all. Your body was so badly hurt and you were in shock. You needed time to regroup. That's all."
"Wait a minute I don't get it. You army guys helped me, a mutant just because I was hurt and for no other reason? That doesn't make sense! Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful you helped me but…doesn't the army…I mean…" He was completely confused.
"You mean isn't the army more likely to hunt mutants rather than help them? I suppose that's probably true of a lot of units, but not this one. We're…special. Hunting mutants isn't exactly our top priority in this outfit. I hate to squash your ego, but there are much more immediate threats to the world than mutants. Besides this base has a lot more freedom than more traditional military bases. Because of the work we do. It's a long story."
"Must be," He held his head in his hands. This went against everything he ever knew. Everything he had been taught. It had to be some kind of trick. Had to be.
"Look," she placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. " We're not going to hurt you. That's one thing you have to believe. We are the good guys. Okay?"
"I don't know," he shook his head.
"Look, we aren't like those people who hurt you! You have to believe me! Who did hurt you anyway?"
Toad looked away. "You can tell me. Was it mutant haters? Soldiers?" Her voice softened. "Was it the X-men?"
"No, it…" His eyes froze. "How do you know about them?"
She sighed. "A while back we…borrowed a few files from some sources. We learned about Xavier and his school. And Magneto. Let's just say that there was another group interested in the Brotherhood as well. They still are. They want to use mutants to further their own ambitions. We're trying to stop them from doing that. Our team wants to save the world for everyone, including mutants. "
Toad sat there in disbelief. "Todd," She asked gently "It wasn't mutant haters who did this to you was it? And it wasn't the X-men. It was the Brotherhood wasn't it?"
Toad tried to choke back the tears streaming down his face. "Yeah. I got kicked out, literally."
"Why? Why would they do that to you?"
He couldn't hold it in any more. "Because I'm weak!" He screamed. "I'm useless! That's why! And he's right! I can't fight as well as the others. I'm not as strong as they are. All I can do is hop around and slime things. Big whoop! Oh yeah and I've got a tongue that can catch flies! Wonderful!" He snapped it for effect. If she was startled, she didn't show it. She did look concerned.
"Todd," She said. He ignored her. He really didn't care how she knew his name. He didn't want to care about anything anymore. But he couldn't stop how he felt. All the pain, anger, and shame was raging inside him. "Todd, don't say that."
"Why not? It's true!" He was sobbing heavily now. "I'm a failure as a mutant! A loser. I'm a pathetic, ugly freak!" He threw his pillow at the mirror then curled up into a ball, hiding his face. " I can't even go back to Bayville. I'll never fit in with those X-jerks and even if they did take me in, Magneto and Mystique won't let them keep me! They'll kill me. I should have died out there, but I don't wanna die. But I don't have anywhere to go! Nowhere…"
He cried so hard that his sides ached. He felt the nurse gently take him in her arms and hold him. She tried to comfort him but he could feel nothing but self-pity and self-loathing. Why did these people help me? How can she even stand to be near to me? He asked himself, cursing his mutated sweat glands. Why couldn't have he had a normal, useful mutation? If he had to be like an animal, why couldn't have it been a cat, or wolf, or a bird or something? Not a disgusting toad.
He wanted to pull away from her but he couldn't. He was so ashamed of himself. What was wrong with him? Shouldn't he have some dignity? Some pride? He couldn't even keep himself together in front of a stranger. Now to top off his humiliation he was acting like a little baby. He had tried so hard to be tough and strong about this. But he wasn't. He couldn't stop acting like this. He wanted to be held like this. Some depraved, affection starved part of him craved it. He hadn't been cared for like this since he was a toddler.
Now he truly had nothing. But he didn't care. All he wanted was just to be held like this. To forget the pain and the terror that dominated his life. To simply be safe and loved. That was all he had ever wanted. Was that so much to ask, even for him?
To be continued! Who are the mysterious soldiers who rescued Toad? What will happen to our favorite frog-boy? Is the author insane? Well, yes to this last question! Be prepared for a surprise crossover!
By the way, all the characters are owned by Marvel. Even the ones I haven't named yet!