Todd counted the cash he'd just lifted and tossed aside the empty wallet. The band was playing full blast now that the game was at half-time, and he could hear cheerleaders squeaking out praise for the Bayville High home team. Why girls went nuts over a bunch of guys who threw around pigskin and grunted a lot, he couldn't tell and didn't really care. It was a distraction, and that was good enough for him.

His pale eyes swept the entranced crowd for an easy target. They locked onto a middle-aged man walking toward the bathrooms with a hot-dog and drink. The man's entire posture showed that he was in a hurry to relieve himself and get back to the game; he wouldn't notice his pockets becoming any lighter. Tolensky waited for the perfect moment, and made his move. Ten seconds later, he discarded the leather wallet minus whatever cash he could find. He never took credit cards anymore; he'd been caught once and nearly arrested. Skinny bitch of a clerk thought she could actually detain him until the police arrived. Shyeah, right, yo. Who did she think she was anyway, Duncan?

Thinking of the jock gave Todd the memory of an unpleasant taste in his mouth - namely blood. Duncan looked for any excuse he could find to torment Todd on a regular basis. As a result, Todd looked for any excuse to avoid him. A quick nervous glance around told him that Duncan was quite close. Even though half-time was almost over, Todd ducked into the shadows of the bleachers. As he looked up at the potential wealth above however, he forgot all about the bully.

So far, he'd made about fifty or sixty bucks. It would last for a few days at least, but it would be a shame to waste such a golden opportunity. If he found a loaded wallet, maybe he could check into a motel or something. One night off the street with a clean, soft bed and protective walls . . . it was the kind of stuff he could only dream about.

The boy grimaced at the mud that sucked at his shoes. It was sticky and clumped with garbage those above had dumped through the cracks between the seats, too lazy to get up and find a trashcan. Soda and coffee had also been dumped or spilled, the syrup and sugar holding the muck all together. Todd leapt up out of the digusting stuff, clinging spider-like to the bars and planks. One more wallet, loaded or not, and he was out of here - a motel room with his name on it waiting for him. Skillfully, he eased the thin wallet already sticking out of a guy's backpocket away from its owner and softly chuckled at the easiness. "Got another one. Heh heh."

Without warning, a hand grabbed the back of his shirt and yanked him down. Todd yelped in pain and fear as he landed hard on his back in the wet, cold sludge. He looked up at his attacker and paled.

"Well, if it isn't Toady Tolensky picking up a little spare change."

"Hey-hey Duncan . . . I-I can explain . . ."

* * *

Jean was just about to ask where Duncan and his two friends were heading, when someone drew her attention away. "Jean!" yelled a cheerleader, beckoning to her frantically. Of course. Melissa. Jean fought to keep smiling gently as she walked over to the girl. Melissa was a 'groupie' who seemed to think Jean was the coolest person in the universe and would give her right pigtail to be one of her closest friends; if anything to boost her popularity.

"Hi, Melissa, everything okay?" Jean asked politely.

"I'm totally in huge trouble right now, and I need you to do a big, big, big, big. . ."

It was all Jean could do to keep from strangling the girl or reaching up to rub her temples.

". . . big, big, totally huge --"

"Favor?" she finished for the girl.

Melissa nodded. "Reeeeeeally big favor."

Ever so slightly, Jean's eye twitched. "What can I do for you?"

* * *

Todd squirmed painfully to get away, even though he knew it was useless. Duncan already had him pinned in place against one of the wooden bars and moving made his back hurt. Frightened gold eyes searched for mercy in cold blue ones, and found none. Todd felt a shiver go up his spine as Duncan's knuckles shifted, digging into his collarbone. He knew what those knuckles could do and once again remembered the taste of blood in his mouth.

"Let's crush him, Dunc!" sneered Bruce, pounding fist into palm as if he was getting ready to pitch a curveball.

"Let's not, 'Dunc'," spoke a new voice.

Both victim and bullies looked incredulously at its source.

* * *

Melissa looked down blushing and tried her best to look cute.

"There's this guy I really really really really like and he's Duncan's friend so I thought maybe you would know him too and you could help me with one itty bitty teeny question, ummmm . . . . like, what's Jeff's favorite color?"

Jean's eye twitched more noticeably this time.

"And is something like, wrong with your eye?"

* * *

"What do you care about this scuzzo, Summers?" Duncan sneered.

Todd, now able to recognize his would-be rescuer for the sunglasses, wanted to know the same thing. He barely talked to Scott at all, so why the sudden effort to save his ass?

"Not much," Scott said. "But I'm not crazy about three against one either. Let's settle this peacefully."

Oh, brother, yo. You call that help?

"I think me and my buds are going to squash this slimeball. So you and your stupid sunglasses at night can just bail!"

Todd's stomach turned to jelly and he gave a high-pitched yelp of fear now that Duncan's attention was turned back to him. In the next second, the world turned upside down as he was slammed into the mud, landing wrong on his hip. Dazed with pain, he lied there in a curled position. Duncan's boot was already raised and as soon as Todd realized where it was coming down, he yanked his fingers out of the way in record time. Duncan snarled and raised his foot once more, this time aiming for his face.

"I said stop it!" yelled Scott and ran forward. Toad watched as Duncan was thrown into the other two jocks, sending all of them down into the mud. He would like to have smirked, but he knew that as soon as they got up . . .

Todd scrambled to his hands and feet and started to jump away. He felt a little guilty about leaving Summers there, but from the looks of it, the older boy was handling the situation pretty well. Already he heard the angry shouts of Jeff and Bruce noticing his escape. A quick glance over his shoulder told him they were determined to beat the crap out of him and if they caught him, he was as good as dead. To add insult to injury, they'd probably make a few footballs out of his corpse.

"Ohhhh," he moaned and kept hopping.

* * *

A very bored Jean was stuck listening to Melissa raving about how she just died whenever Jeff looked at her and how he was definitely the sexiest guy in school. Desperate for an escape, she dropped her shields to look for Duncan . . . and did not at all like what she found.

A chill went up her spine at the level of fury Duncan was aiming - at Scott. She could feel the same anger echoed back, and though she didn't know what was going on, she knew it was most likely going to get nastier if she didn't do something.

God, she thought. Boys. Could they be stupider?

"Excuse me, Melissa, but I have to go. I'll be right back!"

Before the startled cheerleader could reply, Jean was running as fast as she could toward the bleachers where the emotions were coming from. Peering into the gloom, she could make out two figures, duking it out. One of them was wearing red shades.

"Scott? Scott, NO!"

Scott turned in the direction of Jean's voice, allowing Duncan to punch him in the face, knocking his glasses off. And all hell broke loose.

* * *

Todd groaned as he was slammed up against something hard. Again.

"So, you - hhhuh - you thought you could - hhhff - get away that easy?" panted Bruce, twisting his arm against his back. Tolensky muttered a response, face and chest shoved up against the metal surface of the dumpster.

"What did you say, you little creep?" Jeff twisted his fingers in Todd's dusty brown hair and yanked his head back. Todd gave something between a sob and a yelp.

"N-nothin'," he croaked. "Leggo a'me!"

Jeff was about to reply when an earsplitting explosion coming from behind them made his heart leap in his throat. Bruce and Jeff turned about and could only gape at the fireball that was once the Bayville High game field. Todd took this opportunity to twist out of Bruce's grip and dash down the alley as fast as his legs would carry him. His foot slipped in a puddle and he fell hard on his knee. Floundering unsuccessfully for balance, he crashed face-first into a pile of refuse, knocking over trashcans. Terrified, he scrambled up again and hopped as if he were on live coals, sure that Bruce and Jeff were right behind him.

After a short while, he realized the quarterbacks were not in pursuit and slowed down. What the heck had just happened anyway? Panting for breath and trying to swallow past the knot of dryness in his throat, Todd leaned his back against a nearby post, waiting until his heart slowed down. As soon as he recovered, he climbed the wall of the school cafeteria and tried to get a better vantage point of the field. Yep, there it was, burning like a merry bonfire, with tiny ant cheerleaders running around screaming and waving their tiny ant arms in hysteria. If it weren't for the fact that most of the flames were coming from under the bleachers he'd just escaped from, it would have been almost funny.

That could have been him. If Duncan hadn't shown up when he did to beat him up . . . great, now he was thankful for being a jock's punching bag. Just when he thought his self-esteem couldn't get any lower . . .

He should leave now; go get that motel room and try to recover from the night's close encounter of the jock kind. But at the same time a random thought burst in his head and left an unpleasant realization.

"I hope that Summers guy came out okay, yo," Todd murmured.

Whatever happened, Scott wouldn't have been under that thing if it wasn't for Todd. Something was nagging him to make sure the older boy had managed to escape. Probably that little waste of pigeon feathers who called himself a conscience . . . but still it was a nice sentiment. Maybe Scott had been killed or seriously injured. Todd frowned, biting his nail. He should at least go down there to thank him while he still had the chance, even if the place was swarming with police now.

Todd clambered down and began to hop toward the crisping field, ignoring every attempt of his inner coward to convince him otherwise.

By the time he got there, ambulances were already on the scene and the fire wasn't as bad as it had looked before. Todd hopped around, looking for any sign of Summers, then stopped as his gaze fell on paramedics wheeling someone on a stretcher to a waiting emergency vehicle. He squinted, trying to make out who it was, and grinned as he recognized Duncan. Jerk deserved whatever injury he'd gotten.

He took a few leaps forward, still scanning the area for Scott and saw his target leaning against another set of bleachers, shoulders hunched and scowling darkly towards the field where Duncan was being fussed over. Glad he was okay, Todd approached.

"Hey, uh . . . Thanks, Summers. I mean really. Y'know?"

Scott didn't answer, still glaring at the captain of the football team. Todd followed his gaze and suddenly, the realization of what was bothering Scott hit him like a brick. Jean was leaning over Duncan's stretcher, comforting him as best as she could.

"Sure, whatever," Scott responded and began to walk away.

"He don't deserve her, yo," Todd grumbled, narrowed eyes resting on Jean. Scott stopped in his tracks.

"Tell me about it," he agreed bitterly. "He treats her like an object. You think she'd know that, being telepa-- er . . ." Scott suddenly blanched.


"Nothing. Um, Todd, is it?" Scott asked, desperately trying to change the subject. He didn't dare leave until he was sure Todd hadn't picked up on anything. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, yo. You saved my ass, big time. Thanks."

"Don't mention it," Scott said, shooting another nasty look towards Duncan.

"By the way, not that I'm complaining, but what the heck made the football field go boom?"

"Uhhhh . . ." Scott fished around for a possible explanation. "You see, there was this um . . hairspray can, and Duncan had a pack of matches -- I mean lighter, and he uh, dropped it . . . um, wait no . . .

If Todd knew one thing, it was a load of bull when he heard it.

"Uh-huh. Eh, what were you sayin about Jean? She's a telepa-whatta . . . somethin'? Sounds like 'telepath'?"

Ohcrapohcrapohcrap . . .

Scott's face told all, and Todd had to smirk with how easy it was to nudge the truth out of him. "Hey, that's cool, yo! So she can read minds or tarot cards or what?"

Todd noticed that Scott was turning paler by the minute and decided to make this easy on him. His eyes casually followed a fly that buzzed by his face and in a second, the tongue was out and the fly was gone. He licked his lips and looked at Scott for a reaction.

"You're a mutant . . ." Scott stated, then breathed an immense sigh of relief.

"Yeah, so what's your power, yo? Startin' fire or telling really bad lies?" Todd snickered.

"Very funny. You scared the heck out of me, Tolensky. And by the way," Scott added, remembering something. "I think you took something that doesn't belong to you. Now hand over the money."

Todd's smile faded. "And just how do you think I'm gonna eat tonight, yo? If you think I can live off bugs for a week, you got another think comin'."

Scott was taken aback. "You . . . don't have a place to live?"

"'Course I do, yo. I live in a high-quality refrigerator box, complete with a seaside view. Not so bad once you get used to the drafts."

If only Scott would take off his big stupid glasses. Tolensky was dying to see his full expression.

Summers placed his hands on his hips and looked down condescendingly on the smaller boy. "Well, from one mutant to the other, I think you'd be safer at the mansion."

Todd blinked. "Whoa, did you just say mansion? Ohhh, wait, you're one of those institute kids! Ain't that a place for loonies or juvies?"

"No. Those are just rumors. To the rest of the public, it's just a boarding house for exchange students. But for people like us - mutants - it's a place for those with special powers."

"What, they get sent there when their folks don't want them anymore or somethin'?"


"Then why?"

"I . . . well, lots of different reasons. We're able to find them with this machine called Cereb-- um, I can't really talk about that here." Scott looked around, nervously for anyone who might be within earshot.

"I heard that place is tough . . . what's gonna happen to you?" Todd searched Scott's face for any telltale signs of fear. He found merely a grimace but it was enough to set him on guard. "They don't beat you up or nothin' do they?"

"No, they do not," Scott explained, sounding exasperated. "You really have a problem with figures of authority, don't you?"

"Actually, it's more like figures of authority have a problem with me," Todd grinned.

"There he is!!!" yelled someone's voice. "Let's get 'em!" Ah, good old Bruce and Jeff.

Todd crouched down, his whole spine tensing up. "Great, just when I thought I got rid of 'em."

"Come on, back here!" Scott called, waving for Todd to follow him. The teen hopped after Scott and both of them traveled fleetly, keeping to the shadows.

They relaxed only when they heard the fading shouts behind them trail off in confusion and die away.

"God," Todd moaned, lying himself on the ground. Scott immediately went into worry mode and knelt next to him.

"You okay? Where does it hurt?"

"What you talkin about? I'm just resting," the boy wheezed.

"Can you get up?"

"Yeah, yeah, just gimme a minute. God, I've never run so friggin' much in my life. By the way, your nose is bleedin'."

Scott put a hand consciously to his face and fished around in his pocket for a napkin. Todd rolled over on his side, still breathing unevenly, and listened to the rustle of grass as the older boy laid down beside him. He glanced over to see Scott flat on his back, head tilted up with a napkin clamped around his nose.

"What happened?"

"Duncan punched me when Jean yelled at us. I looked at her for just a second and got a left hook to the face."

"Ouch. And you still care about her? Me, I'd forget about it."

Scott sighed and lifted the napkin away, studying the two spots of dark blood that had covered his nostrils. "I guess I should. If she wants to stay with Duncan, it's her choice. Can't really blame her for it, if she likes him."

"Mmm. Yeah, okay, I can buy that. Weird, though. I don't think Duncan would be so hot around her if he ever found out she was one of us. She oughta just dump him right now and save herself the trouble. She should be goin' out with fella's more her type. Like us."

"Maybe she thinks Duncan would accept her," Scott reasoned.

"Whatever, yo. Deeee-lusional."

"Maybe not," Scott admonished. "The Professor says we should have faith in the human race and hope for acceptance. How can we do that unless we try?"

"Who's the 'Professor'?"

"Professor Xavier runs the Institute." Scott sat up and stayed like that for a few moments, quickly wiping a finger across the underside of his nose to make sure it was dried. "Speaking of which, we'd better head over there now. He's probably gonna want to talk to me, but later he might let me show you around."

"Can you show me the kitchen first, yo? I'm starvin', and this time it ain't for bugs."

Scott looked Todd over, eyeing the various scrapes and bruises he could see. "I think the first thing either of us will be touring is the infirmary. Just for a quick fix-up. Do you have any belongings?"

"Yeah, in my locker. Just books and stuff. Ms. Darkholme lent 'em to me."

"The principal?"

"Yeah, she is weird, yo. She looks at me sometimes and has this weird smile on her face like she knows I'm . . . y'know, different . . ."

Scott frowned. "That's pretty creepy, but it might not be anything. You wanna talk to the Prof about it?"

"Mmmm, nah, you're probably right. She's just . . . eh, whatever," Todd shrugged. He looked away, embarassed that he had made a fool of himself.

But Scott didn't say anything; and the two walked along in perfect silence for a while, making their way toward the road in the direction of the Institute.

* * *

The limosuine drove at a moderate rate, making the lights of the city look like shooting stars. Kurt watched out of the corner of his eye, enjoying how one light would move across his line of vision slowly, then zip away in a streak. It was fun. It took his mind off the feeling of being away from his parents and home; the only place he'd ever felt safe.

His tridactyl hands clutched the handle of his duffle bag tightly and his tail twitched in occasional boredom. Kurt hated that tail sometimes. It had a mind of its own. Here he was, his nerves in a tight bundle of knots and his tail was bored. Or maybe just as exhausted as he was from worry and jetlag.

From the driver's seat, Ororo could not help glancing in the mirror at Kurt. Even though his face was still mostly covered by the hood - he'd refused to take it off, even when he got in the car, despite the assurance of tinted windows - she could pick up the emotions he was feeling almost as well as Xavier. And if she was right about them, it was going to take far more than kind words and promises from Xavier to make him feel comfortable with his new home.

To be continued . . .

(A/N: Next chapter, Todd and Scott meet Kurt. Logan returns. Ororo sings opera. Er, kidding about that last one. Maybe . . .)