It was a completely normal Saturday afternoon at the Brotherhood Boarding House. Nothing out of the ordinary. The walls were as cracked and mouldy as ever, the carpet just as grey and hairy, and the room smelled just like it always did: a mixture of damp, pizza, beer and Todd.
Everybody happened to be downstairs that afternoon, as the Brotherhood was deciding on a message for their (stolen) answering machine. Wanda, who wasn't in the slightest bit interested, was sitting in a large armchair that had stuffing poking out of the sides like flab in too-tight jeans. She was filing her nails, painted black of course, to sharp enough points to do Todd some serious damage the next time he lay his slimy hands on her. Lance was sitting in the other armchair, trying to figure out where the English section of the instruction manual for the machine was. The other three were sitting around the coffee table; Todd perched in traditional amphibian squat, Fred with his massive legs splayed in front of him, and Pietro reclining on one arm like a Classical statue of a Greek god.
"How 'bout this: You've reached the Brotherhood. Leave a message after the beep or we'll hunt you down and smash –"
"No," Lance said firmly from over the manual, interrupting Fred's suggestion. "Too violent, even for us."
"Oh." Fred's face fell into a disappointed frown, and he screwed up his eyes in thought. "Leave a message after the beep... or else?" he finally suggested.
Lance rolled his eyes and went back to the manual. Having decided that there wasn't an English section, he was now trying to find some foreign words that he vaguely recognised.
"I really don't think we should be threatening people to leave a message," Pietro scoffed, an arrogant smirk curling the corners of his mouth.
"You got any better ideas?" Fred growled, clearly hurt that the idea he had been thinking up for an hour wasn't up to scratch.
Pietro sat up suddenly, his blue eyes glittering with excitement. The Brotherhood knew him well enough to know that this signalled one of his offbeat ideas.
"I do, as a matter of fact," he said, clicking his fingers at Todd. "Beatbox," he demanded, and on request, Todd made a hip-hop beat.
Pietro talked over Todd's beat. "Hey hey," Pietro said in a voice a few octaves lower than his own. "You've reached Pimpsilver and the House of Bros. Drop your message after the –"
He was interrupted by a cynical "Ha!" from Wanda, who had finally looked up from her nails. "Dicksilver and the House of Dorks more like."
Todd screeched with laughter and went to high-five the object of his lusty dreams, who scowled at his hand like it was covered in dog-shit.
"Dicksilver! Aw man, you got told," Todd sighed, clutching his sides. Pietro stuck his tongue out at Wanda and narrowed his eyes, trying to think of a funny nickname for her that wasn't the Scarlet Bitch.
"I also called you a dork," Wanda said icily to Todd, who stopped laughing immediately and shuffled off to continue beatboxing in the corner.
"What if your dad rings and hears you calling yourself a pimp?" Lance asked simply, crushing Pietro's suggestion.
"It's ironic," Pietro replied, clicking his tongue as if to say 'duh, moron'.
Glossing over the fact that he had no idea what ironic meant, Lance put down the manual and folded his arms. "Pimpsilver and the House of Bros makes us sound like a gay brothel."
Pietro arched a black eyebrow. "Aren't we? What with your eighties porn hair and Dyke-Boots over there?"
"Eighties -?" Lance spluttered as his hand went instinctively to his long, messy brown hair. Wanda shrugged off Pietro's comment, knowing that she could actually do some major damage with her faithful scuffed platform boots.
"Cat got your tongue, Bon Jovi?" Pietro quipped at Lance, lying back on the floor with his arms crossed under his head.
"Fuck you," replied Lance, unintentionally making the ground shake. "All I said was that your message was dumb."
"You're dumb," Pietro retorted, flicking his silver hair out of his face. "You don't get it."
That was true. Lance had always found it hard to keep up with the speedster's current interests, obsessions and in-jokes. Maximoff talked so fast it was hard to tell what was serious and what wasn't. Plus he was so damn fickle. One week he'd love soccer and the next it'd be photography, one night he'd listen to grunge and the next it'd be Japanese pop. It was difficult to see eye-to-eye with somebody who was constantly changing his mind.
But then Lance and Pietro didn't often see eye to eye. They definitely didn't on Pietro's new boyfriend, the psychotic fire-obsessed mutant, Pyro. Pyro (or John, as he was really called) was never without his precious lighter and had a habit of 'accidentally' setting things on fire, for example Lance's guitar just happened to get flamed after a disagreement over pizza toppings. Pyro laughed too loud and for too long, and he deliberately used Australian slang that nobody except Pietro understood. It was like Pietro and Pyro were an exclusive little club of insane hyperactive mutants. They were always disappearing somewhere together, though that was infinitely better than watching them swallow each other's tongues.
But the worst thing was, while Pietro seemed to be ridiculously into Pyro and liked him almost as much as he loved himself; Pyro was clearly more interested in Wanda. Whenever Pietro's back was turned, John-boy would try his luck with her – he'd wander into her room or go over and whisper something lecherous in her ear or even attempt to touch her. To Wanda, this blatant attempt at cheating was even worse than Todd's slimy advances. Pyro had no shame in doing it, even when Pietro was in the same room. It was unbelievably disgusting to watch the Aussie perv all over his boyfriend's twin sister whilst Pietro gazed at him, oblivious.
Nobody liked Pyro, and when Lance tried to tell Pietro that Flamey was bad news, he'd been accused of being homophobic. Why would he care that Pietro was gay, or bi, or whatever he was? It was so obvious that Maximoff was fruity as punch; they'd all accepted it long ago. He didn't care one bit that Pietro was going out with a boy – but he did care that Pietro was going out with a mental, rude pyromaniac with stupid hair.
At least John baby wasn't there right now, smoking up their house and calling them skanky bogans. Lance flicked through the manual boredly, looking for a suitable foreign insult for him. Smacna? Klevenjik? Telefono?
"So, Prince Alvers doesn't like my message," Pietro was saying, staring up at the ceiling where a sticky donut that Todd had thrown up there a month ago was dangling perilously above his head. "Since nobody has any other suggestions, we'll just do the standard message. Y'know, 'You've reached the Bayville Boarding House. We're not here to take your call right now, so please leave a message after the tone.' Boring, I know."
Todd's yellow eyes lit up and he hopped over to Pietro, grinning hopefully. "I can beatbox in the background, yo!"
Apart from Wanda, Todd's current obsession was beatboxing. At the moment he couldn't seem to go five minutes without breaking into a beat. Admittedly, he had a good sense of rhythm and it livened up the atmosphere (as well as filling awkward silences), but it could get ever so slightly annoying.
"Okay," Pietro shrugged, thinking that a beat might kick that amazingly normal message into life. He was still bitter that Lance had slammed his ironic gangsta-style message, which was clearly pure comedy. He pressed the button down on the machine, about to speak when Fred batted his hand away.
"You can't do the message," he drawled, looking very serious despite the fact that his pink tee-shirt and dungarees made him look like a gigantic baby. "Nobody will understand it, you go too fast."
This was a good point – people often needed Pietro to say things at least three times before they understood what on earth he was babbling about.
"Well, you can't do it, you're too slow," Pietro sulked. "And Todd can't 'cause he's beat-boxing, and Wanda won't do it 'cause she's a massive bitch and if she did do it nobody would leave a message because they'd think 'oooh, what a bitch, I'm not calling them again.' Anyway, we wouldn't want a chick to read our message or no girls would call us, though, actually, have you heard Wanda's phone voice? She sounds more like a guy than I do."
Here, Pietro had given a perfect demonstration as to why he couldn't do the message – without realising, his speech had ascended into hyper-speed rambling. Unfortunately, Wanda appeared to understand him and flicked his head hard with her newly sharpened nails.
"I'll do the message then," Lance said, knowing that he had the most normal and pleasant voice. Pietro, however, just sniffed and the tiniest of brattish pouts crossed his face.
"Perhaps I'll ask John to do it," he said, deliberately not looking at Lance.
This was too much for Alvers, who glared at the speedster and walked over to the machine defiantly. Pushing down the record button, he began to speak.
The evening after, Mystique had scheduled the Brotherhood in for a nice battle with the X-Geeks at Bayville docks. She'd left a message on their new answer-phone and had been the first to hear the new message.
"Nice message," she'd purred from the machine, and they could just tell that she was smirking. "Lose the 'music' in the background, though."
Todd had been most offended at the suggestion that his beatboxing didn't cut it, and sulked all the way to the docks. When they got there, Lance turned the engine off and spun round in his seat to address the others.
"This is the big one guys," he said, the moon glinting off his bowl-like helmet. "We've gotta kick some X-Butt tonight. Remember, cover each other and don't let 'em trick you. Stay on your guard and," he took a deep breath, searching for another motivational cliché, "reach for the stars."
Pietro let out a snort of laughter. "Reach for the stars?"
"Can it, Pricksilver," Lance snapped. He scanned up and down for any sign of the Xavier Nerd Brigade, realising that he felt nervous. They couldn't afford to screw up again, and yet, he knew that they would.
"What's the purpose of this battle?" Wanda asked Lance, who shrugged in response. Wanda was beyond annoyed at having to leave the house on a Monday night to have a stupid fight with stupid people. The X-Men were still intent on trying to persuade her to join them – really, she couldn't see how her destructive powers could tie in with their world-peace vision.
Pietro jumped out of the Jeep and dashed ahead for a sign of their opponents. In just a second he was back without a hair out of place. "They're coming!"
So the Brotherhood got out of Lance's ancient, rusty old Jeep and assembled themselves into a textbook 'threatening pose' to greet the X-Men. A moment later, the opposite team were facing them in a threatening pose to threaten their threatening pose, and to say that the Brotherhood was outnumbered was an understatement.
As well as the usual line-up of Shades, Psychic Bitch, Shitty Pryde, the Über-Goth, Blue Thing and Spike-Boy (nicknames courtesy of Pietro), they were joined by six of the newer X-Geeks. Lance exhaled slowly and clenched his fists. How the hell was it fair to fight five against twelve? Or even more than twelve, considering that one of the younger kids could multiply himself. Damn it, this was not fair!
"Got any more X-Men in the jet, Summers?" Pietro asked, voice dripping with sarcasm.
Summers tightened his lips to a thin line. "If you're insinuating that we don't fight fair -"
"Let's get things rocking," Lance growled, making his first rock pun of the evening. He cracked his knuckles and stared violently at Summers, just Summers, indicating the trouble he was about to cause.
"Bring it on," Summers barked, and his hand flew up to his visor.
And in a shower of slime, spikes, rocks and explosions, the fight began.
"Why," Wanda glowered at the redhead, "do you always want to fight me?"
She threw a blue bolt right at Jean Grey's smug face. Jean threw it back effortlessly with her mind and Wanda ducked it, getting angrier by the second.
"You don't have to fight me, Wanda," Jean said to her, although her lips didn't move.
"GET OUT OF MY HEAD!" screeched Wanda, shoving the girl away from her.
"Woah, no need for a catfight!" said a boy with brown hair, who shot out a sheet of ice from his fingers and coated Wanda in it.
"Bad move," she whispered and winked a heavily-lined eye at the Iceman. The ice around her fingers began to glow blue and she threw it off, sending it smashing hard into the boy. He hit the ground, arms flailing as he went. Wanda smiled a catty, half-smile at him and without warning, threw him up into the air again with such impact that he passed out when he hit the ground. She didn't even need to turn around to sense Kitty Pryde behind her, who she took out immediately with one bolt.
"That's why I won't join your team," she said sweetly to Jean Grey, who had gone very pale.
Nearby, Pietro and Lance were fighting Daniels, Summers, Rogue, the multiple brat and some kid that could turn herself into molten-lava. Really, it wasn't much of a challenge fighting the lava girl and Pietro, who had become quite obsessed with all things fiery, was pretty taken with her. Not that there was much time to reflect on this when he was constantly dodging spikes, optic blasts, fireballs and annoying clones of twelve year old boys whilst simultaneously avoiding Rogue's lethal touch. He was also trying to protect Lance, who was so intent on bringing down Cyclops that he hadn't even noticed the mutant missiles coming his way.
"Bet you're loving this, Daniels," Pietro sneered as he ran straight at one of the Multiples and tackled it to the ground. Unfortunately it just spawned more Multiples, which he decided to run a tornado around in the hope that this would finish the kid off. He could hear the Multiples screaming as the force he generated hit every one of them; he ran faster and faster until everything became a blur. Running so fast made him feel invincible – the wind in his hair, the looseness in his limbs, the way everything blended into a rush of colours... the inevitable thud to the ground. He blinked. What the hell?
Predictably, Spyke had trapped him in one of his classic spike cages. And worse was that, he was trapped in there with the Multiple kid, who was suffering from motion sickness after the tornado.
"LAAAAAAAAAANCE!" Pietro yelled, trying to distract his team-mate from his pointless grudge match. He could see Rogue advancing on him, taking off her gloves. "A little help here?"
Rogue glared at him through the spikes.
"Now Roguey," Pietro said in a 'let's try to be reasonable even though I just made your X-kid puke all over my boots' tone of voice. "You don't wanna put me in a coma, I'm too -"
But before he could finish his sentence (which probably ended in 'beautiful'), a great crack formed in the earth leading up to his spike cage and burst it open.
"Yes!" Pietro cried, raising a fist in the air. Trying to catch him off his guard, Summers fired a blast in his general crotch area which Pietro jumped just in time.
"Too slow," he taunted, running in a giant figure of eight around Rogue, Spyke and Cyclops. "Missed me, ooh, too slow, missed again!"
In his gloating, Pietro failed to notice a giant spike, which was gliding through the air like a javelin straight towards his heart. Lance acted on impulse, and before he knew what he was doing he had jumped, taken the spike and fallen with a searing pain in his left shoulder.
The moment played out in slow motion, and then everything was chaos.
"Look what you fucking did!" Pietro shrieked, delivering a super-speed kick to Daniels. Then he sped to Lance's side, desperate for a sign of life.
"Is... Is Avalanche alright?" Summers asked, suddenly coming over all serious as if he hadn't just been trying to kill Lance himself.
"BACK OFF!" Pietro screamed at him, blue eyes blazing. Rogue shook her head slowly at Daniels in disgust and Summers led him away, no doubt lecturing him about 'dangerous grudges'. That was the X-Squad's only saving grace – they always fought fair and knew when enough was enough.
"Lance... you okay?" Pietro asked, trying not to look at the pool of blood around his friend.
"Yeah... No... Freakin' hurts," Lance replied through clenched teeth, also trying to ignore the pool of blood. He couldn't work out what just happened. Why had he taken the spike for Pietro? Maximoff would've been able to dodge it in time, for god's sake!
"I... can't believe you did that," Pietro said softly, his eyes lingering on Lance's large brown eyes. "You saved me, man."
"I'd say it was nothing but... uh... it was. Get me out of here P, I need bandages."
Pietro nodded resolutely and looked around for any X-Geeks that might intercept them. When he saw none, he bent down swiftly and picked up Lance. "Hold tight," he said, and broke into a run.
Up by the fishy-smelling cargo crates and boxes, Fred and Todd were fighting Nightcrawler and the strangely named Berzerker. Todd, who always found himself fighting the German fuzzball, was caught up in an only half-serious wrestling match whilst Fred seemed to be immune to the bolts of electricity that Ray threw at him.
"You wanna be careful using electricity round water," Fred warned Ray. He could be very sensible when he wanted to be.
"Give it up, bugbreath!" Kurt growled after Todd bitch-slapped him with his tongue for the third time. Annoyed, he teleported to the top of a crate and pounced on the toad-boy from above.
Meanwhile, Berzerker had given up on trying to electrocute Fred and was now charging objects to throw at him instead.
"Hey!" Fred yelled as a sparking crate flew off his enormous belly and exploded in his face. He seized the electric boy by the front of his suit and threw him hard into a crate, which sparked and blew up.
"Man, that was trippy," Ray blinked from the remains of the crate. Kurt teleported over to help him out, Todd hopping over to examine the damage that Ray had done.
"Whoa," he said, his yellow eyes growing enormous in awe.
"Oh come on," Ray shrugged, spiking up his orange fringe with one hand. "I blew it up, nothing special."
"Check this out, Freddy," Todd whispered, still staring into the crate. Fred lumbered over and Kurt teleported on to his shoulder, peering into the crate nosily.
"HOLY FUCK!" Fred cried, pointing at the contents of the crate with a trembling hand.
"Mein gott! Ray, you gotta see this!"
They all stared at what Ray had uncovered for a good ten seconds before Ray spoke up.
"There's got to be at least... a million dollars there."
There was a beat where everybody eyed each other with great suspicion.
"IT'S OURS!" Todd demanded, jumping into the splintered crate with a deranged look in his eyes. "I found it, I call the shots."
"No way," Ray shook his head. "I blasted the crate, it's ours."
"Nuh-uh." Todd stuck out his long, green tongue. "Finders keepers! It's the Brotherhood's, fair and square."
Fred backed off from the crate and stood thoughtfully rubbing his Mohawk. "How 'bout we split it?"
"NO!" Todd and Ray said at once, glaring at one another.
"Blob's right," Kurt said, words which had probably never been spoken before unless addressing what made the best sandwich filling. "We split the cash and nobody gets hurt."
Todd eyed him suspiciously. "What do you X-Men want with more money, yo?"
Kurt moved in close to Todd and put a hand on shoulder. "We don't have to tell anybody else about the money..."
"It'd be our little secret," grinned Ray, who had taken out a stack of bills and waved it under Todd's nose. The boy's eyes followed it greedily.
Fred narrowed his eyes until they were merely slits in his large, doughy face. "How do we know we can trust you?"
"Because we haven't called the other X-Men," Kurt pointed out simply. "If we told Scott, or Jean, they'd only make us give it to the police. And I could just 'port right outta here with the whole box if I wanted to."
"He got a point," Todd shrugged. "You know, I'm really startin' to like ya, Blue."
Kurt pretended to be disgusted, but he couldn't hide his grin. "So, do you agree to split the cash?"
Todd and Freddy looked at each other and nodded solemnly. Kurt was right – if he did let the other X-Men in on the secret, they'd only lose the money to some dorky charity. And there was no way they were telling Lance, Pietro or Wanda about the cash; it'd disappear quicker than they could say Rockefeller. Anybody with any sense would keep half a million dollars secret! But... since when did the X-Men have any sense?
"You guys can't tell nobody," Todd said warily. "It's gotta be completely secret."
Ray stuck out his hand. "Deal!"
The boys then counted the cash and split it accordingly, Todd taking a little more than he should. They filled their suits, shook hands and went their separate ways, daydreaming about all the things they could buy with their delicious, secret find.
When the boys returned from the battle to their respective teams, nobody could understand why they were quite so happy.
It took Pietro less than three minutes to run home carrying Lance. Lance found the whole experience something he definitely didn't want to repeat. The only good thing about it was that the feeling that his eyeballs and stomach were going to be left behind in the massive rush overruled the burning agony in his shoulder. Also, Lance was about twice the size of the lean speedster, and he didn't know how Pietro managed to run with all that extra weight without stopping. Little did he know that Pietro was very tempted to stop, just to show the whole of Bayville how he was carrying Big Macho Alvers like a new bride. Luckily, Pietro decided to cut Lance some slack for saving his life and for once, he knew that he had to be serious.
Pietro was incredibly good with his hands. He'd cut, sewn and altered all the Brotherhood costumes (naturally, making sure his was the sexiest), and often had to extend his sewing talents to stitching up wounds and bandaging. As soon as he got Lance into the house, he checked the wound, with his mouth in a thin line of severity.
"It's gonna hurt," he warned, and zipped upstairs to fetch his medical kit and a bottle of brandy which had two purposes: one, to sterilise and two, to numb the victim.
Lance looked up at Pietro. The front of Pietro's suit was drenched with blood, and his boots were stained with Multiple's puke. He was holding out the bottle of booze as if it were medicine.
"Drink this," Pietro muttered as he went to wash his hands. In a moment he returned, saw that Lance hadn't touched the brandy, sighed loudly and poured it down his team-mate's throat.
"JESUS!" Lance choked as he swallowed an enormous mouthful. Then another, and another, and the room began to sway. Pietro was mopping at his wound, not at all grossed out by the gaping flesh. Then, without any kind of warning, he doused the wound in alcohol and Lance grit his teeth as the scorching pain shot through him. Pietro threaded the sterilised needle and looked into Lance's face as if to question his trust.
Perhaps it was the brandy, but Lance found that he couldn't look away from that cobalt blue gaze. And Pietro must have noted this, because his eyes darted away the minute he saw that look in Lance's eyes.
"Ready?" Pietro held up the needle.
"Do it," Lance panted, tossing his sweat-sodden hair out of his eyes.
And Pietro had sewn him up with no further questions, listening to Lance count from one to two thousand under his breath. There was no questioning it; the boy was a true stoic.