I do not own the X-Men franchise.
Have a super mega chapter.
Three years ago, to the very day, I started this story. I wasn't sure where I wanted to take it, and I'm very happy with how it turned out. Thank you to everyone who read, reviewed and stuck with me over these past three years. I really appreciate it.
So what was your favourite part of this chapter? Your favourite chapter overall? I'm curious to know.
Until next time,
Runt of the Pack
Scott prowled the corridors of the Institute, peering into rooms and asking anyone he came across if they had seen a certain twelve-year-old lurking around. The grandfather clock stationed in Professor Xavier's office had clanged nine times exactly fifteen minutes ago. At this particular time in the evening, the youngest resident of the mansion should already be snug under his covers.
Searching for Jamie to order him to get to bed was not an everyday occurrence, but it happened often enough. So Scott, being among the oldest of the students, took it upon himself to ensure Jamie did not get away with staying up too late.
He checked the usual hiding spots, but Jamie could really be anywhere in such a large mansion. Heaving out a sigh, Scott paused in the middle of the corridor to think of where to look next. He happened to shift his head at the moment Jamie appeared at the other end of the hall. The boy caught eyes with Scott and hastily disappeared in a blur of brunette hair and burgundy sweater.
"Whoa, come back here!" called Scott, quickly taking up pursuit. When he rounded the corner, he could see Jamie's form sprinting straight down the hall towards the stairs. Brow furrowing, Scott hesitated for a moment, glancing at the surrounding rooms thoughtfully. As quietly as he could, he backed up and took cover behind a marble, decorative pillar, waiting patiently.
After a minute, Jamie slunk out of one of the rooms, peering down the hallway to see if the coast was clear. A triumphant smirk lit up his face and he strode in Scott's direction, hands slung in his pockets. The elder mutant stepped out from his hiding spot just as Jamie stepped past and grabbed him around the waist.
"Hey!" yelped Jamie, letting out a startled laugh as Scott swung him over his right shoulder. "No fair! How'd you know?"
"Please," scoffed Scott, striding in the direction of the twelve-year-old's bedroom. "This isn't the first time you've tried to lead me away with one of your copies. There's no way I'm going to keep falling for your little trick."
"Dang," grumbled Jamie, letting his forehead rest against Scott's back, his eyes watching the floor as Scott moved. "Guess I need to come up with a new strategy."
"How about your new strategy is to stop resisting and actually go to bed when you're supposed to?"
"Hmm…I don't think so," said Jamie cheekily, letting off a giggle when Scott gave his behind a light pat in response. "I've never managed to make it to ten. You always catch me."
"And I always will," the teen replied confidently. "So I wouldn't get your hopes up."
"Aw, come on. I'm the only one that has to go to bed this early." Jamie pouted. "It's not fair."
"You're only twelve, Sport. You need your rest. One day, you'll get to stay up as late as the rest of us." Scott thought for a moment and added teasingly, "Though maybe if you keep trying to push your curfew, I'll convince Professor to keep your nine o'clock bedtime forever."
"Scooooott," whined Jamie, pulling on the teen's blue sweater. "You can't do that! I'll never get to watch the good movies."
"Will you stop being a sudden escape artist when nine rolls around?"
Jamie let out a huff. "Oh, fine. I'll try."
They reached his bedroom and Scott deposited the boy to the floor. "That's all I ask. Or else I might start sending Logan to track you down."
Jamie's blue eyes widened. "I'll for sure be good!"
"I thought that might do it. Get into your pajamas, and no comic books."
"Alright." Jamie leaned forwards and wrapped his arms around Scott in a hug. "Night."
Scott returned the embrace, one hand reaching up to ruffle the boy's brunette locks in affection. "Goodnight, Sport. See you in the morning. Brush your teeth."
Being the youngest meant he had an earlier bedtime than the others. He didn't get to watch late-night movies or play his videogames for an extra few hours. But as much as it annoyed him, when he awoke the next morning fully rested while some of his peers shuffled around in a sleepy daze, he thought that perhaps it wasn't all that bad.
Hands resting on his hips, Jamie's lips were pursed together as he peered upwards. A tall oak loomed over him, the branches creaking in the soft afternoon breeze. Stuck between two branches was his soccer ball, having gotten there by a stray kick.
"Great," he sighed. "Guess this is why I'm a goalie."
He stood at the base of the tree for a while, willing the wind to blow his ball back to the ground. When it became clear that it wasn't going anywhere, he sighed and started the process of climbing. His hands scraped against the bark as he pulled himself upwards, sneakers searching for purchase. He managed to reach the first branch and maneuver his way to his ball.
"Easy," he muttered, inching his way along the thick branch. "Easy…"
He was just an arm's length away from his desired item when he heard the terrifying sound of wood splintering. He had no time to react as the branch gave way, plummeting him ten feet. Jamie cried out as he slammed into other branches during his descent before landing with a solid thud.
The impact spurned five copies, the group quickly gathering around the prone original. "Jamie?" Copy Four called urgently. "Dude, are you okay?"
"Of course he's not okay," exclaimed Copy Two, gingerly prodding the boy. "One of you go get Mr. McCoy, and hurry!"
Copy Three sprinted off to the mansion while the others tried to get a response out of Jamie. It was only two minutes later when the sound of feet pounding against the earth reached them, and they quickly backed away to make room for the approaching instructor.
Hank's worried call breached the fog of Jamie's mind, causing him to slowly lift his head. "Ow," he whimpered, the simple motion causing his body to roar in agony.
Hank came a halt beside Jamie's injured form and immediately started checking him over, hands pressing gently against his stomach and limbs in search of broken bones. "Talk to me, Jamie. What day is it?"
"Saturday," answered Jamie, flinching as Hank's prods aggravated his wounds. His sweater was torn in several places, revealing dark red gashes.
"Where are you?"
"I'm at the Institute."
Hank felt around Jamie's head, greatly relieved when he didn't find a bump. "Did you hit your head?"
"No, I don't think so." Jamie attempted to sit up, jostling his ankle in the process. He let out a cry of pain, tears immediately prickling his eyes. "Ow ow ow! My ankle!"
Hank quickly tugged up Jamie's pant leg, revealing swollen, heavily bruised flesh. "It doesn't look broken," he muttered. "But we need to make sure."
With careful movement, Hank lifted Jamie into his arms, and strode briskly towards the mansion. Jamie managed to muster enough concentration to fade his copies out, and then he sagged against Hank's chest.
"I'd be amazed if that wasn't the case." Hank cast a quick glance over his shoulder, heart stuttering in his chest as he was reminded just how far the boy had fallen. "It could have been much worse. What were you thinking, climbing a tree like that?"
"I just wanted my ball," whispered Jamie. "I thought I could make it."
"You should have gotten assistance from me, or one of the other older mutants. You know you shouldn't be climbing that high. It's dangerous."
Jamie felt guilt and shame well inside him, bitterly brooding that his New Mutant peers would have been able to scale the tree with no problems. He was quiet through the rest of the trip to the medical bay, where Hank set him on the cot and set about tending to Jamie's ankle.
An X-ray later confirmed that it wasn't broken, just sprained. Hank wrapped it up with gauze, and Jamie bit down on his bottom lip, tears trailing down his cheeks. Once it was covered, Hank propped the ankle up on a stack of pillows and set ice on it.
"There. How does that feel?"
"Better," answered Jamie, scrubbing away the tears.
"Let's disinfect those scratches."
Jamie helped pull off his torn sweater, and tried to stay as still as possible, even though the harsh sting from the disinfectant applied to his wounds made him want to wriggle. "Are you almost done?" he asked, screwing his eyes shut against the uncomfortable sensation.
"Almost…there." Hank set the bottle aside and surveyed the boy intently. "How do you feel?"
"Okay." Jamie played with the edge of the cot's blanket, subdued. "I'm sorry."
"I'm not mad, Jamie," said Hank gently, setting a hand on the boy's shoulder. "You're not the first kid to fall out of a tree. Bobby took a dive out of one two weeks ago."
"Really?" Jamie asked in surprise.
"He tried using his ice to bridge himself up. His little makeshift ladder shattered and he came crashing down. Got a nasty bruise on his cheek for his efforts."
"He said he got that bruise because Sam punched him," exclaimed Jamie, eyes wide.
"He probably fibbed to save his pride from bruising also," said Hank with a slight smile. "You're not the first one in this place to get hurt by trying to be a tree-climbing expert. Don't let the others try to tell you otherwise."
Jamie flushed under Hank's knowing expression, wondering just how the man knew what he was thinking. "Right. Thanks, Mr. McCoy."
Hank squeezed the boy's shoulder lightly. "Anytime, Jamie. Though try not to have another incident like this again. I don't think my heart can handle the shock."
"I won't," he promised with a smile.
"I have trouble believing that," replied Hank in amusement. "Are you in pain?"
"A little bit. My ankle hurts, but not as bad as before."
"I'll get some water so you can take a few painkillers. It should help get you comfortable. You'll be staying in here for a few hours."
Jamie wrinkled his nose, but did not argue. "Okay. Will you stay with me?"
"Of course. We can play checkers."
"Cool!" Jamie beamed. "Can we have ice-cream?"
"Pushing your luck, little guy," teased Hank. When Jamie only peered innocently at him, the man chuckled. "We'll see."
Knowing that this was very much a 'yes', the twelve-year-old grinned and settled back against his pillow.
Being the youngest meant that whenever he got hurt, everyone made a bit of a big deal out of it. Whenever he received an injury, it was fussed over, especially by the resident doctor. After the seriousness of his latest spill, he knew Hank would be a little more watchful of him over the next few days. But whenever he got hurt, his recovery often entailed sugary sweets and plenty of hugs, so the pain he endured tended to be worth it.
Rocketing upwards in his bed, Jamie let out a strangled gasp, his heart pounding fiercely in his chest. Sweat streaked his forehead and tears gathered in his eyes, the last moments of his nightmare flashing clearly through his mind.
It was just a dream…it was just a dream…
Breathing heavily, Jamie sat up, his blankets pooling around him. He swallowed thickly, glancing around the dark room. He could hear the soft snores of Ray and Roberto, both in a blissful slumber that was currently evading their roommate.
The darkness felt like it was tightening around him, suffocating him. Clutching Mr. Boo Boo to his chest, Jamie climbed out of bed and shuffled over to the door. He slipped quietly into the hall, bare feet padding against the hardwood as he headed for the kitchen.
"Stupid nightmares," he whispered, wishing his stomach would stop turning.
He walked down the winding staircase, the moonlight streaming through the picture windows. He paused for a moment, lingering on the last step to peer out into the peaceful night. Everything was quiet, and now that he was out of the confines of his room he could breathe a little better.
Startled from his blank staring, the boy turned to see Ororo in the doorway of the kitchen nook, a glass of water in hand. The woman was regarding him with worry, blue robe swaying gently around her ankles. "What's wrong?" she asked. "Are you sick?"
"No, I just can't sleep."
Ororo took note of the teddy bear held tightly to his chest. Expression soft, she extended an inviting hand, and Jamie quickly jumped the last step and crossed the space to grasp onto the appendage. "Did you have a bad dream?"
"Uh-huh." Jamie let Ororo lead him into the kitchen nook. "I was scared to go back to sleep."
"Would you like to talk about it?" Ororo went to the fridge to retrieve some milk as the boy settled into one of the island stools. "It might make you feel better."
Jamie rested his chin on the top of Mr. Boo Boo's soft, furry head. "Some guys grabbed me from school," he began, "and they tied me up and threw me in a van. They brought me to a lab…they wanted to do experiments on me. They poked me with needles, and—" His throat tightened, and he trailed off, not wanting to recount the more gruesome details of his nightmare. "They did other really bad stuff, and I was screaming in my dream when I woke up."
Ororo, who had filled a mug with milk while listening intently to Jamie, went straight over to the boy and hugged him tightly. "I assure you, dear, no one will lay their hands on you while we're around."
Soothed by the warmth of the familiar embrace, Jamie whispered, "I know."
"How about some warm milk to chase those pesky thoughts away?"
"Okay." Jamie looked at the woman hopefully. "Can I sleep with you?"
"Of course you can." Ororo ran her fingers through his brunette locks tenderly. "Let's get you your drink first."
As she placed the beverage in the microwave to warm, Jamie already felt infinitely better.
Being the youngest meant that nightmares tended to have more of an effect on him. He knew the difference between dreams and reality, but that didn't make his nightmares any less frightening. Whenever he couldn't sleep, he would often crawl into bed with either Ray or Roberto, or if it was a really bad dream, he'd seek comfort from one of the instructors. But no matter how serious or terrifying the nightmare, there were always plenty of cuddles to chase the lingering darkness away.
Logan knew better than to take any of the New Mutants anywhere in public. Yet, somehow, they always managed to coax him into allowing them to tag along. Jamie was no exception, and the man found himself wandering the supermarket aisles with the boy in tow.
"Oooh, cookies!" he cheered, his hands snagging a box of chocolate chip off of the shelf. "Can we get them?"
"For the last time, runt, we're here for milk and bread, and that's it!" snapped Logan. His intended ten-minute shopping trip was starting to drag, thanks to Jamie's sweet tooth.
"Aw." Pouting, Jamie replaced the cookies and followed after Logan, who was already carrying a loaf of bread under one arm.
They crossed into the frozen foods section and went towards the milk. They passed by the cereal aisle on the way, and as the boy started to veer off Logan nimbly pulled him back by hooking two fingers down his collar.
"Don't even think about it."
"But we're out of Choco-Puffs!" protested Jamie, clinging to Logan's arm pleadingly. "There's only the yucky oatmeal-raisin stuff left!"
"It's healthy for ya," countered Logan, easily removing his limb from the boy's hold and wrapping him in a headlock. "The reason you're so short is because ya eat too much sugar."
"If that's the price I have to pay, so be it," said Jamie seriously.
They reached the milk section and Logan plucked a carton from the cool shelf. "Alright, let's get outta here."
Logan glanced down at the twelve-year-old, who was shuffling alongside him, expression disheartened. Huffing out a breath, he gave him a light shove towards the cereal aisle and ordered, "One box, Runt."
Delight immediately flooded Jamie's expression and he let out a whoop. He charged across the tiles, under the man's watchful gaze, and plucked a dark brown box from among the other colourful boxes depicting cartoon mascots. He hurried back to Logan and beamed.
"Thaaaannnk yoooouuuu!" he sang, hugging his favourite breakfast food to his chest.
"Don't mention it. Didn't want to hear ya whinin'."
The two made their way to the checkouts and Logan paid for the three items. Carrying the lone bag, Logan kept one hand on Jamie's shoulder as they exited the air-conditioned supermarket and into the muggy evening air.
"Can I have some before bed?" he asked as he clambered into the back of the car. He leaned between the seats with a hopeful expression. "Please?"
"Don't think so, Runt. Don't need ya bouncin' off the walls at all hours into the night. Sit your butt down and put on your seatbelt."
Jamie obeyed, settling against the leather seat and buckling himself in. The sun was setting over the horizon, an orange-red glow washing over them. The lull of the motion of the car and refreshing air from the rolled-down windows caused Jamie's eyes to get heavy.
Ten minutes later, Logan pulled up the long driveway of the Institute. "Alright kid," he spoke, turning the engine off and sticking his keys into his pocket. "Move a leg."
When he didn't receive a response, he turned around and was greeted with the sight of Jamie curled up in the backseat, head resting against the window. Logan clicked his tongue, snagging the bag of groceries and climbing out of the vehicle. He opened up Jamie's side of the car and unbuckled him. With one arm he gently removed the child from the vehicle, and held him securely in his arms.
"Ya are a serious pain in the butt, Runt," he informed fondly, carrying the sleeping twelve-year-old into the house. "I hope ya know that."
Being the youngest meant he often got what he wanted, even if it took a bit of wheedling. It also meant that whenever he fell asleep in a vehicle, he didn't have to worry about anyone waking him up. There was always someone willing to carry him to bed.
Keeping his eyes trained on the oncoming ball, Jamie waited a few beats before making his move. He lunged to the left just as his opponent kicked it, sending the ball sailing in an arc. He reached to catch it, but it sailed over the soccer goal entirely, landing on the grass just behind the net.
"I'm trying to practice here, and you're not helping much," he complained, leaving his position to retrieve the wayward ball.
His copy gave a shrug. "Not my fault you're terrible at kicking. I'm doing my best."
"I know, I know." Jamie picked up the ball and shuffled back to his place in the net. He wiped the sweat off of his brow, his soccer jersey sticking to his body. "Just try to aim in this general area."
"I make no promises."
Jamie tossed his clone the ball, and Copy set it down before backing up a few steps. He stared at the goal intently, trying to pinpoint where he wanted to strike. He charged forwards and slammed his cleat-covered foot into the black-and-white ball. It lunged to the right, missing the goal completely. Jamie was in mid-groan when the ball suddenly stopped in the air, hovering in place.
"A little bit off," Jean said with a laugh, crossing the lawn towards the boy. She summoned the ball over to her and tucked it under one arm.
"He can't kick."
Copy glared at Jamie, arms crossing over his chest. "You mean we can't kick."
"Aw, shut up." Jamie stuck out his tongue and promptly faded Copy out. "Thanks for catching my ball before it went into the bushes. I think those are the ones with thorns."
"No problem. Are you practicing for your game next week?"
"Uh-huh." Jamie brushed back his damp brunette strands, lips curling downwards in mild frustration. "But it's not going too well. It's hard to try and make a save when the balls keep missing me."
"Would you like some help?" offered Jean, setting the soccer ball on the grass. "I'm no all-star, but I like to think I deserved some of my trophies."
Jamie bounced on his toes, blue eyes wide with happiness. "Seriously? Aren't you busy with college stuff?"
"Just got the last of my homework out of the way." Jean pulled the elastic off of her wrist and tied her long red hair up with it. "I thought I'd take a little jog, but I'd much prefer this."
"Fire away!" cheered Jamie, eyes glinting with determination and holding his hands out readily.
The next few hours were spent with Jean kicking the ball precisely towards the young goalie. Jamie managed to catch most of the soccer balls, his gloves helping keep his grip secure. By the end of their little practice/game, they were both in need of a shower and it was time for dinner.
'Jamie, Jean, supper is ready.'
Charles' mental voice projected through their minds, and the two promptly made tracks for the mansion.
"Thanks for helping me practice," said Jamie, walking alongside the redhead with a bright smile. "It was fun."
"Anytime you need a soccer partner, just ask," replied Jean, affectionately putting an arm around his shoulders. "I'm sure I'll be able to find time between my college work and instructor prep."
Being the youngest meant that you were the little sibling, and the eldest peers took it upon themselves to be your responsible older siblings. Though it was sometimes annoying, it was also beneficial, especially when they made time to play with you.
Carting a towel through her wet locks, Rogue then set the damp fabric in her plastic white hamper. Leaving Kitty to rock out to her music, she strode into the hall, slipper-covered feet slapping against the hardwood. She was mulling over her snack options in her head when something caught her eye as she passed by the study.
Sprawled out on the floor, Jamie was searching underneath the couch, brow screwed up with concentration. Bemused, Rogue leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed over her chest. "What are ya doin', Jamie?"
"I think Bobby hid my bear again," the boy bemoaned, moving into a sitting position, genuine distress on his features. "I can't find him."
"Did ya check your room?"
"All over," said Jamie miserably.
"Well, let's take another look. Just to make sure. Come on."
Jamie got up and followed after Rogue, going straight to his bedroom. It was currently empty, and together the two combed the space inch by inch, searching under beds, in closets and shifting through the drawers. But a thorough check concluded that Mr. Boo Boo was nowhere, and since Jamie took good care of his stuffed toy, there was a good chance Bobby had hidden it again.
"Right, time to find the little rat," declared Rogue, eyes narrowing.
She stormed out of the room and down the hall, Jamie struggling to keep up. They entered the rec room and found the iceman watching television with Sam and Roberto, bowls of chips and bottles of soda stacked on the glass coffee table in front of the leather couch.
Rogue strode forwards and grabbed Bobby's right ear in a firm grip, causing him to cry out in surprise. "Where'd ya put Jamie's bear?" she demanded.
"I don't know what you're talking about!" said Bobby quickly, trying to wiggle free. He yelped in pain when the pressure increased as she twisted his ear in warning. Roberto and Sam snickered at their friend's predicament, watching in amusement. Bobby tried to glower at them, but quickly brought his attention back to the Southern girl when she gave another harsh twist. "Ow! If you don't let go, I'm gonna tell Professor!"
"Go ahead," dared Rogue, not loosening her hold. "Ah'll tell him ya hid Mr. Boo Boo again."
Although he did not like to admit defeat, Bobby knew when he had lost. He had been warned multiple times by Charles to leave Jamie's teddy bear alone, and this time might be the last straw, and he did not want to face the dreaded punishment for constant disobedience.
"Okay, okay! I put him behind the first washer!"
"Thank ya. That wasn't so hard, was it?" Rogue smirked and relinquished Bobby's ear. "Remember this the next time ya entertain thoughts of playing hide-and-seek with Jamie's bear."
"I got it! Geez. Sorry, little man."
"It's okay," replied Jamie, snapped from his awed staring at Rogue. "But seriously, don't do it again."
"I won't. Swear," promised Bobby, figuring that perhaps he would find another way to pester the young boy.
The two exited the rec room and went straight for the laundry room. They entered the sweet-smelling space and Rogue reached behind one of the whirring washing machines, soon emerging with a fluffy brown bear. Jamie positively beamed.
"Thank you thank you thank you!" he cheered, tackling the girl in a hug, her long green robe protecting both from accidental power absorption. "You're the best!"
Rogue smiled and ruffled his brunette hair. "Don't mention it, Jamie. Think ya can go to bed now?"
Being the youngest meant he was often picked on. The oldest ones were often there to intervene, and whenever someone went too far, they were quick with an apology and a sugary peace offering. So sometimes enduring the relentless teasing was worth it, though Jamie did wish Mr. Boo Boo was left alone.
The sing-song summons caused Jamie to freeze in place, action figures in hand as he stared at his open doorway in horror. He could hear footsteps approaching the bedroom, and Ray and Roberto were not around to protect from the enthusiastic force of Kitty Pryde.
Abandoning his game of make-believe, Jamie charged for the closet and hunkered down amongst a pile of Ray's crumpled shirts and Roberto's mismatched socks. He shut the door, plunging him into darkness, and he waited anxiously, heart pounding in his chest.
Please don't find me, please don't find me…
Kitty was in the bedroom now, and the boy could picture her looking around the seemingly empty room with a thoughtful expression. He bit his bottom lip, trying to stay as quiet as possible.
"There you are!"
Kitty stuck her head straight through the closet door and Jamie let out a startled yelp, shifting backwards on instinct and colliding with a stack of shoe boxes. Kitty stared at him in bemusement. "What are you doing in the closet?"
"Just making sure I have enough socks for the week," said Jamie weakly. "I do, so I'm good."
Kitty stepped back as Jamie opened the door, crawling out of the stuffy space. He got to his feet and brushed the dust from his burgundy sweater. "You need me for something?" he asked warily.
"Yup!" Kitty grabbed hold of his arm and dragged him into the hallway, ignoring the door and stepping through the walls. "Mr. Lensherr is taking Pietro and me to the Synagogue, and I can't decide which nail polish colour matches my dress best."
"Why do you need my help?" cried Jamie, who was having horrible flashbacks of the last time she had practiced her makeup skills on him. "There are girls in this place!"
Kitty tugged him through one more wall and they appeared in her bedroom. On her vanity were various glass bottles of different coloured nail polish, and hanging on the back of her closet was a long, orange and red summer dress.
"To get the best results, I need someone with a similar skin tone, eye and hair colour," replied Kitty. "You fit the bill perfectly!"
She was staring at him hopefully, hand still wrapped around his wrist. Shoulders slumping, Jamie muttered, "Fine. But nothing with sparkles."
Squealing, she latched her arms around his neck in a hug. "You're super awesome!"
Jamie allowed himself to be led to the white stool situated in front of the white vanity. Kitty picked up a round bottle of dark red nail polish and got to work, expertly coating Jamie's right fingernails with the thick, strong-smelling substance.
"Why can't you do your own nails to see what colour you want?" asked Jamie, resting his chin against the palm of his free hand.
"If I don't like it, I'll have to use nail polish remover to get it off, and that'll take too much time," she replied, eyes focussed on her handiwork. "I have to be ready in just under an hour."
"Why didn't you do this before?" he asked in exasperation.
"I only just decided on what dress I wanted to wear," she answered matter-of-factly.
Jamie didn't understand why it always took the girl so long to decide what to wear. He also didn't understand why she always had to do her makeup, or got angry whenever Kurt messed with her hair. He was perfectly content with a sweater and a pair of jeans.
Kitty finished and studied the dark red glistening nails critically. Her eyes roamed over to her dress and then Jamie. "Stands out too much," she declared. "Let's try the other one."
Jamie dutifully held out his left hand as Kitty grabbed a curvy bottle of light orange nail polish. "How come Wanda isn't going to church with you?"
"Synagogue," corrected Kitty. "Wanda's not Jewish."
"Oh." Jamie furrowed his brow. "But…her father and brother are."
"Sometimes there are members of a family who follow a different religion than the rest," explained Kitty, dipping the brush into the bottle to coat it with more nail polish. "Not all of my relatives are Jewish."
"Oh," said Jamie, now in understanding. "What religion is Wanda?"
"Catholic, I think. Don't quote me on it." She gave one last swipe with her brush and regarded the lighter colour. "Yes," she decided with a cheerful smile. "That's the one! Much more subtle."
"Great," said Jamie in relief. "Does that mean we're done?"
"Yup. Thanks for the help, Jamie." She leaned in and kissed his cheek affectionately. "What would I do without you?"
"Find a new makeup test dummy," he quipped, standing up. "Now how do I get this stuff off?"
Kitty rummaged through one of her vanity drawers and pulled out a bottle of clear substance. "Go find one of the girls to help you remove it," she instructed. "Don't try and do it yourself."
"Got it." He snagged the bottle and said, "See you later!" before departing the room before she could decide she wanted to test lipstick colours on him.
Being the youngest meant that he was often subjected to Kitty's fashion tests. It was embarrassing and he would go to his grave without mentioning she had once managed to finagle him into a dress so that she could amend the stitching. But though he dreaded these moments, it made her happy, and he supposed he wasn't the first little brother to be slathered with makeup by their sister.
The sun was shining brightly in a clear blue sky, a mild breeze occasionally brushing past and bringing some relief from the heat. It was a perfect day to go biking—or in Jamie's case, skateboarding.
The twelve-year-old stood at the top of the long driveway, which snaked to the fortified iron gate that isolated the spacious Institute from the rest of the world. Evan's spare skateboard was tucked under one arm as he waited patiently for the teen himself to finish securing the kneepads.
"Do I really need all of this?" asked Jamie, reaching to push his black helmet further up. He was dressed up with all sorts of protective gear, from elbow pads to sports gloves.
"Yes." Evan finished adjusting the strap and stood, dropping his skateboard to the ground and setting one foot on it. "If you fall and get banged up, Auntie O is going to kill me. This isn't just for your protection, it's also for mine."
"Okay." Jamie placed the skateboard Evan had given him to the asphalt. He had gotten better with his skateboarding skills since the teen had taught him. He was able to ride without falling off, and he was quite proud of this fact. "Can we go now?"
But Evan had already set off, cruising down the blacktop at gradual speed. "Already gone!" he called over his shoulder with a grin.
"Hey! Wait up!"
Jamie hastily stepped onto his board and pushed himself forwards, the wheels clacking against the asphalt. He spent a minute wobbling about, but he managed to find his balance just as the skateboard started to pick up speed. He beamed brightly when he caught up to Evan in little time.
"Not bad," the teen said, impressed with Jamie's progression over the past few months. "You might even be ready to learn a few basic tricks."
"Really?" asked Jamie eagerly. "Can we go on ramps?"
"Uh…" Evan had a clear mental image of the young boy face-planting onto the base of a wooden ramp, resulting in a bloody nose and disapproving lectures from the parental units of the mansion. "Maybe when you have a little more experience."
They spent a half hour rolling back and forth across the driveway, and Jamie watched with awe at the ollies and kickflips he performed. Everything was going fine, which should have been Evan's first hint that something was about to take place. The boy had never gone this long without taking a spill, and he should have known his sudden coordination was too good to be true.
Jamie was travelling down the driveway with great speed, the hem of his red T-shirt billowing in the air that rushed past him. He was rapidly reaching the end of the driveway and tried to make a sharp turn to avoid crashing into the iron gates. The skateboard turned, but the boy did not go with it. He instead sailed off the deck and slammed into the object he had been attempting to avoid.
"Dude!" exclaimed Evan, racing over and helping the dazed twelve-year-old to his feet. "Are you okay?"
"Fine," he muttered, fingers reaching up to brush against something wet on his cheek. "Am I bleeding?"
"You've got a scratch," replied Evan, flinching bloody cut on his left cheek. "Um…we better go take care of that before-"
The teen groaned at the not-at-all happy voice of Ororo. He shifted his eyes over his shoulder to see the woman standing on the front steps, arms crossed tightly over her chest.
"Too late," he grumbled.
Being the youngest meant that his older peers taught him a lot of things, even stuff that they necessarily weren't supposed to teach him. But that was fine, because even if Jamie got caught doing said things (like dangerous skateboarding) he wouldn't get in trouble for it.
"There he is, yo!"
Peering over the edge of the mansion's roof, Toad pointed gleefully down at their target. Kurt, his partner in crime, also took a look, cautiously leaning forwards to get a better viewpoint. Walking across the lawn, soccer ball in hand, was Jamie, back from his practice.
"Anyone else around?" whispered Kurt, squinting around the impressive yard.
"You see anybody? And why are you whispering, dawg?"
"It's vhat you're supposed to do vhen you're doing something sneaky and secret," replied Kurt. "Let's get ready. He's getting closer.'
With Toad's help, he maneuvered a plastic white bucket closer to the roof's lip. When the oblivious Jamie was directly in their line of fire, they cried, "Glitter Bomb away!" and upended the contents.
A cloud of sparkly pink glitter descended towards Jamie, who made the mistake of raising his head upon hearing the cry. His eyes widened for a millisecond at discovering what was careening towards him before screwing them shut and ducking his head in an attempt to protect his face.
There was a great swell of glitter as it struck the front steps and every available part of Jamie's body. Kurt and Toad burst into laughter at the result of their prank, whereas Jamie stood stock-still in shock. He lifted his arms and stared down at himself, horrified to see bright pink glitter coating his soccer uniform and bare skin. He didn't even want to imagine what his hair looked like.
"Kurrrrttt!" he screamed, furious. "Toooodddd!"
"It's a good look for you, Jamie!" called Kurt, a triumphant smirk on his face.
"That's our cue," cackled Toad, high-fiving the blue-furred mutant. "Get us outta hear."
Jamie fumed on the front porch as the two disappeared in a brief puff of smoke. Angrily flinging his soccer ball in a random direction, he stormed inside the mansion. He climbed the stairs two at a time and burst into the nearest bathroom, which was thankfully empty.
"Augh!" he shrieked upon seeing his reflection in the wall-length mirror above the porcelain sinks. He carted his fingers through his brunette strands roughly, trying to shake out the clumps of glitter. Tiny pink pieces rained from his body, but when he straightened to see the progress, it barely looked like anything had been removed.
Oh, man, he thought in dismay. I'm going to be in the shower forever.
'Forever' turned out to be an hour, before Logan hammered on the door and ordered him to get out. Jamie stepped out of the marble shower stall, steam clogging the room, and hurried over to the mirror, his damp feet causing him to stumble. He scrubbed a portion of the fogged mirror clear and stared.
Dozens of pink sparkles twinkled back at him.
Frustrated, Jamie wrapped a towel securely around his waist and shoved his glitter-coated uniform into the hamper. He slumped to his bedroom, got dressed in a sweater and jogging pants, and collapsed into his bed with a dismayed moan.
"I hate glitter."
Initially, Kurt and Toad thought their glitter bomb joke was funny, but quickly changed their tune when Professor found out what happened. After all, when a twelve-year-old walked around with glitter stuck to his hair, you tended to notice. Jamie also refused to speak to the pair, ignoring their attempts at conversation and walking past them silently in the hallways.
"Come on, dude," wheedled Toad one night, a week after the prank. He swung himself over the back of the leather couch and beside Jamie, who was rigidly watching television. "We said we were sorry."
"Yeah, like twenty times," added Kurt, sitting on Jamie's other side. "It vas just glitter."
"Just glitter?" cried Jamie, speaking to them for the first time in seven days. He grabbed hold of the cushion and started whacking Kurt with it. "Once it gets on you, it never comes off! I'm gonna have pink sparkles until I'm thirty!"
Toad snickered at the sight of Kurt being pillow pummeled by a preteen, but it promptly turned into a noise of indigence when the cushion whirled around to slam into the side of his head. "Oof!"
After a few hits, Jamie let out a huff and hugged the cushion to his chest. "I shoulder glitter bomb you, see how you like it," he grumbled moodily.
"Nah, dawg. I can't rock pink like you can." Toad smirked and this time snagged the pillow before it could land in his face. He tossed it harmlessly to the side and looped the boy in a headlock. "What's it gonna take for you to be cool with us again?"
Kurt snorted, using his foot to jab Jamie in the side, eliciting a startled giggle. "We're as broke as you are. Vhat if you helped us with our next prank? Vhoever you vant."
Jamie stopped wriggling in Toad's hold and glanced at Kurt with speculation. "Can we get Bobby?"
"Vhat kind of a question is that?" laughed Kurt. "Of course ve can."
Jamie mulled this over for a moment before declaring, "Peace offering accepted."
Being the youngest meant he was often the target of pranks, ranging from orange juice in the milk carton to getting glitter bombed in the middle of the day. Though he tried to be a good sport about his peers' jokes, sometimes they went a little too far. He would be angry for a few days, but insistent apologies often wore him down (and he didn't mind the peace offerings that occasioned).
The laundry room was filled with the sound of whirring washers and humming dryers. Colours swirled as various garments went through the cycles, and the space smelled like lavenders and lilacs. Wrestling with his overflowing hamper, Jamie went in search of a free machine. There were eight washers in total, lining one wall of the rectangular room.
He found one not occupied and set his dirty clothes down. Amara and Jubilee were right beside him, chatting as they waited for the last few minutes of their clothes to finish. Jamie retrieved the laundry detergent from the cabinet, grunting at the weight of the bright orange bottle.
He managed to lug it over to his washing machine and started separating his clothes, starting with the darks and shoving them inside. When it was full, he unscrewed the cap and spawned a copy to help him pour out a small amount of detergent.
"Don't cause a bubble flood like last time," teased Jubilee, casting a smirk at the boy. "It took us forever to clean out the suds."
"Nobody told me you couldn't put too much in," defended Jamie, phasing out his copy and sticking the cap back on the bottle.
"The instructions are right there," pointed out Amara.
"I don't really read instructions," said Jamie with a shrug. "Besides, at least I didn't fry all the dryers like Ray did."
"Oh, yeah," recalled Amara with a grin. "He-" Her smile quickly fell and turned into a mask of horror when she caught sight of a plump grey rat skittering out from beneath one of the dryers. "Aagghh!" she hollered, swinging out her hand and shooting a magma blast towards the creature, which just missed.
Jubilee, also noticing the rodent, jumped backwards with a shrill scream, her hands flying out in front of her instinctively. Jamie's eyes widened at the bright sparks that started to crackle from her fingertips and hollered, "Hit the deck!"
Amara was severely reluctant to lower herself to the rat's level, but Jamie grabbed her arm and yanked her to the tiles. Jubilee launched a purple blast that roared throughout the room, shorting out the dryers and causing the washers to work overtime. The rat raced out the door to safety, leaving the three New Mutants to the chaos.
Soap and water gushed from the tops of the washers, whereas the dryers started to smoke. The dryer doors had blown open, causing clothes to fly out and stick to every available surface with static.
"Oops," whimpered Jubilee, face flushing red with embarrassment.
Amara sprang up from the floor and brushed herself off frantically. "I hate rats, but I think you took it a little too far," she remarked.
"You fired first," protested Jubilee, pointing at the massive scorch mark on the tiled floor.
"Oh," the Brazilian girl muttered, shoulders slumping. "Right."
"Ray's incident is gonna be forgotten after this," spoke Jamie, squinting to check on the state of his clothes. They were supremely soaked, but not damaged.
"Oi! What's goin' on in there?"
Jubilee paled at Logan's bellow, his strong footfalls coming rapidly towards them. "I am in so much trouble," she whispered fearfully.
"I can't be grounded," hissed Amara, appalled. "Kitty and Jean are taking me to a fashion show this weekend! In the heart of New York City!"
"I was supposed to shopping with Wanda and Rogue," complained Jubilee. "The sweater I've been eyeing forever is finally on sale!"
Jamie stared at the two girls for a moment. "Well…" he said finally. "I don't have anything to do."
They looked at him oddly, but did not get a chance to speak, for Logan appeared in the doorframe. He took in the scene in an instant and he scowled, arms crossing over his chest. "What happened?" he asked in a low voice, eyes narrowed.
"It was just a joke," spoke Jamie, putting on his best guilty expression. Amara and Jubilee did a good job of hiding their confusion, simply staring at Jamie with unreadable expressions.
Logan arched an eyebrow. "What was just a joke?"
"I thought it would be funny I shouted 'rat'. I didn't think they'd react so strongly."
The man surveyed the three mutants for a long moment. They fidgeted uncomfortably under his intent stare, but offered nothing more. "In that case," he finally spoke, "ya can laugh it up in your room, 'cause you're grounded for a week. Fireworks, Princess, ya know better than to just let loose with your powers. Ya can clean this mess up."
"Yes sir!" they chorused.
Though Logan did not believe Jamie's version of events in the least, he knew the boy would not budge and the girls were too grateful for his cover-story to dispute it. He gave his head a shake and strode off, figuring he better find the rodent before another incident occurred.
When he was out of sight, Amara and Jubilee tacked Jamie in a hug. "You are my hero," informed Jubilee, planting a loud kiss on his cheek.
"We seriously owe you," said Amara gratefully.
"It was nothing," wheezed Jamie. "Lemme go, I can't breathe!"
Being the youngest often meant that he was the scapegoat for his peers whenever they got into trouble. They knew he wouldn't get in as much hot water as they would, and Jamie didn't mind taking the blame for some escapades. It meant he would get treats and money later on, and only a fool would refuse such payment.
Jamie knew that it wasn't exactly the smartest idea to get into a vehicle that Tabitha was driving. But he wanted to go into town, and the blonde had a craving for sour candy, so it was only convenient to get a lift with her. His only solace was that she was a smidge better than Kitty, if only because she was more aware of her surroundings.
Jamie clung to his seatbelt, biting his bottom lip nervously as Tabitha slammed on the brakes in order to avoid crossing the intersection on a red light. When they screeched to a stop, he let out a long breath and slightly relaxed his grip.
"Maybe you shouldn't go so fast," he cautioned, eyeing the streetlight warily. Once it hit green, his death grip would return.
"I'm going the speed limit, Jamie-Baby," she said dismissively, checking her reflection in the rear-view mirror.
Jamie frowned dubiously, but did not argue. He knew very little about driving, so who was he to argue? Maybe she was allowed to go sixty-five even when the sign said fifty. "If you say so."
The light turned green and Tabitha roared left, narrowly missing another vehicle that was attempting to go straight. The horn blast cut through the air but she paid it no mind, speeding down the street. Jamie tightened his hold on his seatbelt, gritting his teeth as the wind whipped through his hair. Tabitha had taken Lance's jeep for the ride, and because the weather was warm the back compartment was completely exposed.
"Isn't it a little too windy?" he asked loudly.
"Nope!" she replied cheerfully. "It feels good!"
Jamie would have agreed, if the wind had been a gentle breeze. But at the speed she was going it felt more like a hurricane about it blow the jeep straight across the street.
They were just about to enter the heart of downtown when sirens chirped behind them. Tabitha glanced in her mirrors, carefree smile falling completely when she realized that it was a police cruiser. "Oh crap."
"What if Lance reported his car stolen?" cried Jamie fearfully. "We're gonna go to jail!"
"We're not going to jail," soothed Tabitha, manoeuvering the vehicle to the right shoulder of the road. When she was in position, she put the gearshift to 'park' and slumped against her seat. "I was speeding."
"I knew it!"
"I didn't think it was by much!" protested Tabitha.
"Aren't you supposed to watch the dial thingy?" demanded Jamie. "Don't the numbers tell you how fast you're going?"
"Just wait until you're old enough to drive. There's so much stuff to keep an eye on that you forget to look at other things."
Conversation ceased when a police officer approached her window, and she hastily rolled it down. She handed over her license and attempted to play innocent, but no such luck. She received her speeding ticket, a firm warning, and then was dismissed.
"Great," grumbled Tabitha, staring glumly at the piece of paper. "Eighty bucks. Professor is gonna kill me." She pursed her lips together, thinking intently. "If I borrow money from Pietro, bribe Lance into keeping his mouth shut, I might be able to sneak this past." She turned to look at Jamie with a pleading expression. "Our little secret?"
"No more speeding," instructed Jamie seriously.
"You got it, Jamie-Baby."
"Then it's our little secret," he promised.
Tabitha beamed and pinched his cheeks affectionately. "I knew I could count on you. Let's go get us our candy, at a reasonable speed!"
Being the youngest meant that he tended to be the one who people spilled their secrets to. He never spoke a word of what was told to him, though each secret was archived in the back of his mind. Perhaps when he got older and little meaner, he might use such information as blackmail. But for now, he was perfectly fine with being the secret-keeper of his siblings.
It was well known amongst those in the Institute that Jamie was a pushover. If you wanted a chore to be switched, an errand to be run, extended television time, you went to Jamie, who more often than not agreed to whatever you wanted.
This is the reason Sam and Pietro chose the twelve-year-old to be their referee for their race. Though he realized the dangers of performing such an action, he was also intrigued by the possible results. Sam was pretty fast in his own way, and he'd never really gotten to go head-to-head with Quicksilver. This was an opportunity to see how well the blonde matched up to the super-speed mutant, and in order to get fair results, they needed an unbiased third party (who would not lecture them on such misuse of their powers).
The grass had just been cut, the fresh aroma wafting through the summer breeze. No clumps of grass or overgrown weeds littered their predetermined course, and Jamie had already gone through to make sure all noticeable sticks and rocks were out of the way.
The two would race one lap around the mansion, starting at the front steps, looping around the extravagant building and finishing where they began. Jamie leaned against the glass door, idly rolling the brass doorknob with his fingers. Sam and Pietro were doing warm-up exercises, touching their toes and reaching their arms above their heads.
"Ready to lose, Blondie?" sneered Pietro, jogging in place.
Sam's eyes narrowed in determination. "Not to you, Pretty Boy. Let's do this, little man."
Jamie straightened and raised his arms in the air. "Alright guys, I want a good clean race," he declared importantly. "No pushing, no shoving and no shortcuts! At your mark!"
Sam and Pietro stood at the edge of the top step and knelt down in starting position. Jamie waited a few beats before crying, "Go!"
The two were gone in a blink of an eye, leaving nothing but a trail of dust and dirt. Jamie craned his neck to watch as they disappeared around the mansion, delighted to see that Sam was keeping up with the white-haired teen.
"Woooo! Yeah! Go, go, go!" he cheered.
It took no more than seconds for the two to round the other side of the mansion, and in retrospect, Jamie figured that's when he should have gotten out of the way. But instead, he practically hung over the edge of the first step, keeping intent eyes on the rapidly approaching teens to see who would reach the mansion first.
So when it registered that the two did not seem to be slowing down, it was too late for him to make a dive to safety. Sam and Pietro, too caught up in their competition to really pay attention to where they were going, slammed into Jamie, and all three blasted through the front door.
It was a mixture of shouts as they rolled across the tiles before knocking into the wall, leaving a decent-sized dent in the plaster. The door had been completely knocked off its hinges, blown clear to the stairs.
"Ouch," moaned Jamie, dazed. He managed to shove a stunned Pietro off of him and climbed to his feet, squinting at the five copies the impact had spawned.
"Maybe that wasn't the best idea," Copy Four remarked, amusement written across his face.
"Shut up," grumbled Jamie, fading his snickering clones out of existence. "Geez."
"Ohhhh…" groaned Sam, sitting up and rubbing his head. "That hurt. You okay, little man?"
"Fine," assured Jamie. "Are you?"
"Ask me that tomorrow," muttered Pietro, lying flat on his back, eyes closed.
Sam gingerly stretched his limbs, relieved to feel that nothing was broken. "So who won?"
"It was a tie," replied Jamie honestly.
"I demand a rematch," snapped Pietro, weakly slapping the tiles with the palm of his hand. "Obviously not now, but in the foreseeable future."
"Oh, I wouldn't be so sure about that."
The two boys cringed at the matter-of-fact tone, turning their heads slowly to stare at an irate Hank, who regarded them from the hall's entryway.
"You won't have any more races in your future," continued Hank, arms crossed sternly over his chest, "but you'll have plenty of punishments."
In the corner of his eye, Sam caught Jamie's dejected expression. "We convinced Jamie to be our referee," he piped up. "He really didn't do anything, so he shouldn't be in trouble."
"Yeah," agreed Pietro. "We're bad influences."
"I appreciate your honesty. Jamie, you aren't in trouble, but you and I are going to have a long talk on how to say no."
"Okay," replied Jamie, flushing slightly. "That's fair."
"To the medical bay, you lot. Let's make sure you haven't damaged anything important."
"Yes, sir," they chorused.
As they set off, Jamie said brightly, "Thanks for getting me out of trouble. You didn't have to."
"Well, it was our harebrained idea," reasoned Sam, ruffling Jamie's hair fondly. "Thanks for helping us out."
"Are you sure it was a tie?" asked Pietro, slinging an arm around the boy's shoulders. "I totally think I beat him by a second."
"Well, both of you crashed into me at the same time, so I'm pretty sure it was a tie."
Being the youngest meant that he was often enlisted to do activities that were either against the rules or slightly dangerous. It didn't take much to coerce him into offering his assistance, and though Jamie wished he wasn't such a pushover, he also knew he wasn't being taken advantage of. So he supposed he didn't mind being a referee or makeup mannequin once in a while.
At one in the morning, Jamie found himself standing in the kitchen in his pajamas, in search for something to eat. He tried moving about as quietly as possible, bare feet padding across the floor. The entire mansion was silent, and every slight noise he made sounded like a clap of thunder.
"Please let there be ice-cream," he whispered to himself, opening up the freezer door. A strong blast of cold air stung his face, but he ignored the sensation to peer into the icy depths. Among the frozen corn, peas, bacon and sausage was a container of chocolate ice-cream.
Smiling victoriously, he grabbed the plastic carton and dragged it out. He set it on the counter and rubbed his hands against his leg to warm them up before going to snag a spoon from the drawer. When he turned around, silver utensil in hand, it was to see Bobby cracking upon the lid of the ice-cream.
Jamie let out a startled gasp, nearly dropping his spoon. "Where did you come from?" he hissed, pressing his palm against his pounding heart.
"Upstairs," the iceman quipped. "Hey, can you grab me a spoon?"
"Get your own late-night snack!"
"Aw, we can share. There's enough."
Jamie grabbed a second spoon and tossed it to Bobby. He caught it in midair and stuck it in his mouth, picking up the white plastic container with his hands. "Let's go," he managed to get out, and started out of the kitchen.
Confused, the boy followed after him, tiptoeing down the corridor and keeping a wary ear out for additional footsteps and noises. They reached the living room and Bobby plopped down on the couch, snagging the remote and turning the television on.
"Logan and Hank are going to hear," whispered Jamie, hovering behind the couch.
"Not if we mute it and put on subtitles," countered Bobby, quickly cutting off the sound and activating the captions. "What do you wanna watch?"
The brunette climbed over the back of the couch and lowered beside Bobby. He'd never watched midnight television before, and he was sure there were plenty of things on that he wasn't allowed to see. "One of those late-night talk shows?" he suggested. "I've never seen one before."
"Sure." Bobby changed the channel and set the remote beside him. Together, they dug their spoons into the soft chocolate dairy treat and started satisfying their appetites, very much aware that the intake of sugar meant they would not get very much sleep.
It was halfway through the talk show, when the sandy-haired host was interviewing a pretty blonde actress, when they heard the stairs creak under the weight of footsteps. Bobby nimbly turned off the television and dragged Jamie down to the floor, hunkered against the couch and keeping out of sight of the open doorway.
The footfalls came closer, and Jamie suddenly had an inexplicable urge to burst into laughter. He exchanged a glance with Bobby, whose shoulders were shaking with suppressed giggles, and he hastily turned away, covering his mouth with one hand.
"If a certain iceman and runt don't get back to bed in the next ten seconds, they're gonna be doin' double the Danger Room sessions in a few hours."
Bobby and Jamie hastily sprang to their feet, helpless giggles now spilling from their lips. "Sorry," choked out Bobby, a wide grin on his face.
"I can see that," drawled Logan, scrubbing a hand down the side of his face in exasperation. "Leave the ice-cream and get your butts movin'. I bet ya won't be laughin' tomorrow durin' trainin', when you're too tired to move."
The two mutants obeyed, skirting past Logan (who gave each a slight rap on the head as they passed) and hurried upstairs, laughing all the way.
Being the youngest meant that he had to share a lot of stuff, whether it be his comics or his food. There were some of his possessions he didn't really like to share, such as his videogames. But he was always willing to share the blame, especially when it came to getting nailed for stealing food at one in the morning.
Jamie, like most kids, hated doing chores. They were boring and it seemed like they always had to be done, such as making his bed. He didn't understand the point of it. He was just going to mess it up again, so why bother? Unfortunately, the instructors didn't see his logic, and so every day he resigned himself to fluffing his pillows and smoothing out creases in his sheets and blankets.
But today he didn't just need to make his bed—he had to help Ray and Roberto clean their room from top to bottom. Roberto swept the floor, Ray was dusting and Jamie took care of the trash and clutter.
"This is disgusting," he grumbled, dumping the contents of their trash bin into a black plastic garbage bag. "Roberto, trade with me!"
"No way," he replied instantly, gathering up clumps of dust and dirt into his dustpan. "I'll sacrifice my allergies, thank you."
"How come I get stuck with the gross jobs?" the brunette complained, tying a knot to keep the stench of the trash contained within the plastic confines. "Every time we clean our room, I'm stuck dealing with the trash and your dirty laundry."
"That's what happens when you're the squirt," explained Ray with a smirk. "You get the jobs no one else wants to do."
"I hate the system," muttered Jamie, setting the trash bag next to the door so he could take it out later. He surveyed the piles of dirty clothes shoved into the corners and scowled. "We have hampers for a reason, guys."
"It all goes to the same place, doesn't it? What's it matter where it is beforehand?" reasoned Roberto.
"Exactly," agreed Ray.
"Well, you do it then!" Jamie crossed his arms stubbornly. "I already washed my laundry. Why should I do yours?"
"Because if you don't, we'll pound you." Ray paused his dusting of his dresser, rag splayed out across the wooden surface, and pointed warningly at the twelve-year-old. "You're not gonna want that."
Though his older peers often threatened to pound him, it was really just a brutal headlock or tickling him until he surrendered. Eyes narrowing, Jamie strode over to his bed, grabbed a perfectly-plumped pillow, and declared, "I accept your challenge!" and chucked it at Ray.
The object struck the teen in the face, causing him to grunt in surprise and stumble backwards. The pillow slunk to the floor, and Ray blinked at it for a moment before smiling sinisterly. "Oh, you are so going down, little man."
Pillows were soon flying everywhere, slamming into walls and knocking knick-knacks off of the dressers. Jamie spawned three copies to help him with his assault, and with war cries they charged towards the two teens, wielding pillows like swords. Copy One and Copy Two tackled Roberto to the floor, and Jamie assisted Copy Three in wrangling Ray to the ground.
"Do you surrender?" demanded Jamie, holding his pillow above Ray's head while Copy Three pinned him down.
Both teens having kept an intent eye on the original, they knew copies were the ones restraining them. With an easy flick of his fingers, Ray released a static shock that caused Copy Three to fade out. Roberto flared up for a brief moment, the surge of power startling Copy One and Two out of existence. Ray lunged forwards and wrestled Jamie to the ground.
"Hold him down, Robby."
Roberto sat on Jamie's legs and held the boy's wrists to the floor. Jamie wriggled madly, trying to escape. "No fair!" he wailed. "You killed my army!"
"All's fair in pillow war," countered Roberto with a wide smirk. "Let him have it."
Ray promptly started to tickle Jamie's sides, causing him to shriek with laughter and thrash back and forth. "Stoooooop!" he yelped, trying to kick out and failing, thanks to Roberto. "Stoo-ha ha ha-oooop!"
"Will you do our laundry?"
"You asked for it."
He intensified his attack, sending Jamie into new peals of laughter. Tears of mirth trailed down his cheeks, and after another minute of helpless pleading, he finally gave in. "Okaaaay! I'll do it! I'll do your stupid laundry!"
Satisfied, Ray moved back and Roberto let Jamie go. The brunette lay splayed out on the floor, panting and trying to catch his breath. He glared weakly at his roommates and feebly kicked at them. "You're a couple of bullies."
"And you're a pain in our butts," retorted Roberto, even as he reached down to ruffle Jamie's hair.
"Move it, little man. We won fair and square."
"There was nothing fair about it," protested Jamie. But he accepted Ray's assistance to get to his feet, stuck out his tongue and shuffled off to gather up the dirty clothes as Ray and Roberto high-fived.
Being the youngest meant that he was stuck with all the terrible chores and errands. As much as he hated carting dirty clothes to the laundry room and taking out the trash, he figured there were probably worse things he could be forced to do. He wasn't cleaning the toilet, so right now there wasn't a need for a strike.
With thirty-one residents at Xavier Institute, there was always a sink-full of dishes to do. Plates and bowls were stacked like a tower, clouded glasses resting on the counter and utensils gathered at the very bottom of the sink. Many a person had pleaded for Charles to install a dishwasher, but the man would not move. They were all capable of doing dishes, so what was the need for a dishwasher?
They had to be done twice a day, after breakfast and after dinner. Two people were paired together to wash and dry the dishes, alternating every week. This week it was Jamie's turn to do the dishes, and he was paired with Alex. Since he typically was the one who dried the dishes, he didn't mind this particular chore.
"What's it gonna take to convince Prof that we need a dishwasher in this place?" complained Alex, stacking the dirty dishes onto the counter to his left. When the sink was empty, he stuck in the stopper and filled it with warm water and lemon-scented dish soap. Jamie stood next to him, tea towel in hand and ready to go.
"I guess this is supposed to help build character or responsibility or something," he replied.
Alex wrinkled his nose. "Oh. One of those lessons." He grabbed a plate from the top of the stack, a red dish stained with barbeque sauce. He dunked it into the soapy water, scrubbed hard with a dishrag, and handed it to Jamie to dry.
This was the system they followed for every dish, barring the knives, which Alex preferred to handle, to save Jamie from accidentally cutting himself.
"So," the blonde said conversationally, "you got a girlfriend yet?"
Jamie scoffed. "No. Of course not. Do you?"
"Maybe," said Alex coyly.
"You're bluffing," declared Jamie, rubbing at a cereal blue with the light blue tea towel.
"Oh really? What makes you say that?"
"Your hair is too long," informed Jamie. "People probably mistake you for a girl if they see you from the back—oof!"
Alex used his dishcloth to smack the brunette in the face, droplets of water and soap flying. "Say that again, little dude. I dare you."
Jamie rubbed some soap from his cheek and casually reached for the rinse nozzle. "I said, you look like a girl!"
He yanked the second, extendable sink tap out from its place, causing the water from Alex's tap to stop flowing and spurt from the nozzle in Jamie's hand, spraying the blonde. Spluttering, Alex held up a hand to guard his face as he grabbed half-blindly for the soap bottle. He uncapped the top and started pumping the yellow bottle, globs of dish soap splattering onto the brunette.
The clear sound cut the two's battle short, both whirling around with wide, guilty stares. Jamie hastily replaced the rinse nozzle, returning the water flow to the original tap. The soap bottle hung limply in Alex's hands, half-empty. The floor was coated in soap and water, Jamie's hair and clothes were sticky and Alex's top half was soaking wet.
"I believe," began Charles, pressing his fingertips together and surveying his two charges, a barest hint of amusement in his eyes, "you were tasked with washing the dishes, not each other."
"He started it," protested Jamie, pointing accusingly at the blonde.
"I did not!" denied Alex. "The little dude has a smart mouth."
"Regardless of how it started, it is now finished, and you will both work together to clean this mess. Understood?"
"Understood," they chorused.
Inclining his head in satisfaction, Charles left the kitchen. Alex and Jamie promptly got to work, mopping the floor and finishing the dishes.
"You don't look like a girl," said Jamie apologetically, putting away the last glass. "I was just messing with you."
"I got that," said Alex with a laugh, reaching over and playfully pinching the boy's cheek. "But man, you sure know how to get in those low blows."
Being the youngest, it was only natural that he would behave childishly. Sometimes he didn't quite think his actions through, resulting in less-than-desirable consequences. But he was only twelve, and as such most of his mistakes were forgiven, so long as he didn't put himself or anyone else at harm. If he wanted to start a water war, he could start a water war, and all he would get was a light scolding. Totally worth it.
There were two recreational television sets in the Xavier household. The instructors all got their own plasma screen T.V.s, and only they were allowed to use them. With so many teen and young adult mutants, getting television time was pretty much a rarity. Laying claim to the precious device to use at a future time didn't amount to squat. Each person was allotted two hours of using the television at certain times in a day. When the television wasn't scheduled, it was an all-out battle to see who would get to use it.
In a miraculous set of circumstances, Jamie found the television in the rec room available. He practically flew into the room, launching over the back of the leather couch and flopping down into the cushions. He seized the remote from the black-painted wooden end table.
"Yes!" he whispered to himself, a wide smile on his lips as he happily clicked the power button. The television flared to life, bright colours exploding onto the screen. Jamie found his favourite cartoon and settled back to enjoy it.
He should have known his free reign of the television was too good to be true. Only ten minutes into the half-hour show, Lance and John sauntered into the room, and the pyromaniac ordered, "Oi, give up the tube, Munchkin."
"We wanna watch the game," returned Lance, reaching over to bop the boy lightly over the head. "It's the semi-finals."
"I was here first!" protested Jamie, hugging the remote tightly to his chest and glaring. "Wait until it's your T.V. time."
"The game will be over by then, squirt. You can watch a rerun of your show later." Lance attempted to snag the black plastic device from the brunette, but Jamie nimbly dodged and scampered to stand in front the television.
"We gonna hafta do this the hard way?" asked John silkily, slowly rounding the couch, a smirk growing on his lips.
Refusing to back down, Jamie spawned five copies and cried, "Protect the remote with your life!"
The six Jamies quickly scattered throughout the rec room, and a game of hot potato was played as John and Lance attempted to steal the remote. With the six running around, the two quickly lost track of which one was the original.
"Non-destructive powers for the win!" crowed Copy Two, catching the remote as it was tossed to him. John attempted to dive for him, but Copy Two tossed it to Copy Five, who was open.
"You little twerp," growled John, glowering around at the attentive Jamies, whose eyes were alert and anticipating next moves. "You should learn to respect your elders."
"Respect does not exist when television time is at risk," said Jamie seriously.
"This tactic isn't working," decided Lance, settling his hands on his hips. "Follow my lead, Pyro."
The dark-haired teen lunged towards the nearest Jamies and looped his arms around their necks, bringing them into a tight headlock. John copied his action, jumping forwards and snagging two more Jamies.
With four copies incapacitated, Jamie hastily spawned three more. The second he did so, Lance dove forwards and tacked him to the ground, triumph written across his face. "Gotcha, squirt."
"Wait!" yelped Jamie, blue eyes widening as he realized he had just gotten played. By rendering most of his copies unable to act, they knew he would create more, and his copies were unable to spawn further copies. They leapt on their window of opportunity to take the original down. "Not cool!"
Lance easily lifted the boy up and held him upside-down, his brunette hair brushing against the carpeted floor. The blood rush to his head caused him to get dizzy, and his lack of concentration caused his copies to abruptly fade out. The remote clattered to the floor, and John scooped it up victoriously.
"Got it, mate."
Scowling, Jamie pouted as Lance lugged him over to the couch, dropping him into the cushions. The twelve-year-old straightened himself out as Lance and John plopped down on either side of him, the baseball game already playing. Huffing out a breath of defeat, Jamie curled against Lance's side, lifting his feet to rest in John's lap.
"One day, I'll be able to kick all of your butts," he grumbled, poking John in the stomach with his toe and Lance in the side with his pointer finger. "That is when you'll face my wrath."
"I'm shakin'," drawled John, pulling on Jamie's big toe teasingly. "It'll be attack of the Munchkin."
"Whatever you say, kid," replied Lance in amusement, moving his arm to wrap around the boy's shoulders.
Being the youngest meant he was lucky to get extra hours than his appointed television time. Even when he got a hold on the remote, he didn't have the strength to defend it. It was vexing when he didn't get to watch his cartoons when he wanted to. But sometimes his television-snatchers took him to the movies to make up for their greedy behaviour, so he supposed it was enough of a balance.
Sitting at one of the worn wooden patio tables surrounding the modest ice-cream stall, Jamie happily licked his strawberry cone. The warm weather was already causing the ice-cream to melt, sticky trails of pink snaking down his hand before dripping onto the surface of the table.
Remy stood a few feet away, leaning against the steel fence that surrounded the property of the ice-cream shop. He was chatting into his cellphone, probably to yet another girl he managed to charm earlier in the week.
Jamie eyed the man for a moment, thoughtfully taking a bite of his treat. He didn't get why Remy was hanging out with other girls his age when it was pretty obvious he liked Rogue. "Teens," he muttered under his breath, shaking his head. "They don't make any sense."
Turning his head at the familiar voice, Jamie smiled and waved at the girl who jogged towards him. "Hey!" he greeted when she stopped just in front of him. "What are you doing here?"
Sarah, a curly blonde who transferred to his class a few months before summer vacation, gave a casual shrug. "Just hanging out with my friends from my old school," she replied, gesturing to a giggling group of girls who were observing their interaction. "I thought I'd come say hi. How's your summer so far?"
"Good. Haven't done much, but I think that's the point of summer. How about you?"
"I've been swimming a lot. I really can't stand the heat." She tucked a strand behind her ear and eyed Jamie's ice-cream longingly. "That looks so good. I wish I brought change with me. I could really use something cold right now."
"I have some change left," offered Jamie. "There's enough for an ice-cream cone."
Sarah beamed. "Seriously? Thanks so much! I'll totally pay you back."
"Don't worry about it."
Jamie handed over his silver change and was startled when his friend leaned over and pecked him briefly on the cheek in gratitude. He blushed lightly when she skipped off to purchase her treat, and the blush turned full-blown cherry red when Remy said loudly, "Yeah, we'll be back soon. Jamie just bought his girlfriend an ice-cream cone."
"Remy!" he shrieked, catapulting out of his seat and dropping his strawberry cone in the process. He charged over and frantically tried to seize the man's cellphone. "She is not my girlfriend! Who are you talking to?"
"He's tryin' to deny it, so he's totally dating her." Remy easily halted Jamie's attempts by looping an arm around his neck and pulling him close to his side. "Hmm? Pyro wants to know her name," he directed towards the struggling, mortified boy.
"None of your business," snapped Jamie, smacking at Remy's secure hold in frustration. "And I told you she's not my girlfriend."
"Ask around the juniors, see if they know anything," advised Remy. "Ah think he's tryin' to have a secret romance."
"Shut up," whined Jamie, elbowing him sharply in the gut. "You're gonna spread rumours, and then Professor is gonna want to have a talk with me."
"Ah'll wheedle it out of him. Au revoir."
Remy hung up his phone and stuck it in the pocket of his jeans. He released his grip on Jamie and smirked when the boy glowered up at him. "So what's her name, gamin?"
"None of your business," he repeated, crossing his arms stubbornly.
"Then Ah guess Ah'll just have to wait until she comes out and ask myself…"
Jamie's eyes widened, his imagination running through all the embarrassing scenarios Remy would cause. "Alright! Her name is Sarah."
"She's a pretty little thing. Not bad for your first girlfriend."
Exasperated, Jamie pushed him lightly, not that it had much effect. "She isn't my girlfriend! Stop saying that. Now John's gonna start saying things and I'm going to have to tell everyone that you're both a couple of losers."
"Look who's talkin', gamin," countered Remy, pinching Jamie's nose teasingly. "Ah'd hold on to her. Ah don't think you're goin' to get another girlfriend anytime soon."
"Aw, knock it off," whined Jamie nasally. "You owe me a new ice-cream, by the way."
"Tch. You're the one who practically threw it to the ground." But Remy started for the ice-cream stall, hands slung casually in his pockets. "You like pistachio, right?"
"No! I hate pistachio!"
"Pistachio it is."
When Sarah exited the shop with her vanilla cone, she spotted Jamie going through the other entrance with a tall man with reddish-brown eyes. They were knocking into each other playfully, and after a moment the teen slung his arm around the boy's shoulders, causing Jamie to lose his mock-glare and grin.
She returned to her friends, who regarded her coyly. "So who was that?"
"That was Jamie. He's from my new school," she replied.
"Who was he with?"
"Uh…his brother, I think." She screwed her face up in thought. "He lives at Xavier's Institute for Gifted Youngsters. There's a bunch of people who live there, and they're pretty much family, though most of them aren't blood-related."
"That means he's a mutant, right?"
"Yes." Sarah eyed her friend and said defensively, "There's nothing wrong with that. He's a great person."
"I was just curious! I don't care if your boyfriend is a mutant."
"He is not my boyfriend!"
Being the youngest meant that Jamie was often teased. He received a lot of jeers from his New Mutant companions over Mr. Boo Boo, and apparently every girl he spoke to was his girlfriend. It was embarrassing and frustrating, but he couldn't exactly be truly miffed. He made more than a few smart remarks himself, and so he couldn't blame his older siblings for picking on him when he did a bit of it himself.
"No batter! No batter!"
Ignoring the jeers of Rahne, Laura (formerly known as X-23, her new identity gifted to her by Professor Xavier) kept a firm grip on the wooden baseball bat. Her eyes focussed on a copy of Jamie, who stood on a makeshift pitcher's mound. The original stood out in the field with Rahne, another six copies scattered about the baseball field with catcher's mitts.
Dark hair pulled back with an elastic to keep it out of her vision, Laura shifted on her sneaker-clad feet. She wore a purple T-shirt and black shorts, having long ago burnt her onyx HYDRA training uniform. "Don't be scared," she taunted. "Give me your best throw—if you can."
Behind her was Copy Eight, dressed up in catcher's gear, the protective mask a smidge too big for his face. He made eye contact with Copy Three, who was pitching, and moved his mitt slightly to the outside, indicating where he wanted the pitch to be aimed.
Nodding, Copy Three reared his arm back and let the ball fly, Laura zeroed in on the path of the ball and swung her bat, making contact. But it sailed right along the right foul line, and Jamie darted over to scoop it up with his baseball glove.
"Foul!" he cried, tossing it back to the pitcher.
Pursing her lips together, Laura readied her position and waited. This time, when the ball sailed towards her, she slammed it deep into left field. She quickly dropped the bat and made a mad dash for the bases.
"Rahne!" called Jamie. "It's all yours!"
The Scottish girl quickly changed into her wolf form and raced after the ball. When she was close enough she leapt high into the air, grabbing the ball between her sharp teeth and landed smoothly back on the grass. She transformed back into a human, spitting the ball into her hand and letting out a whoop of victory.
"Out!" cheered Jamie. "Change up!"
Laura shuffled to take Rahne's place in the field, trading her bat for a baseball glove. It wasn't a normal game they were playing, with Jamie, Rahne and Laura each getting just one chance to make it to base. If they got to first base, they got one point, second base, two points, third base, three points and a homer got you a whopping ten points. But if you got out, you had to change positions with whoever was up next. The Jamie clones stayed dutifully in their positions, making it even harder to score a run.
Rahne stepped up the plate, bat in hand and a determined expression on her face. When she was ready, Copy Three wound up and let the baseball fly. It missed its intended mark, allowing a nice clean hit for the redhead. With a wide grin, Rahne swung the bat and hit the ball. Her grin quickly fell when she realized where it was headed.
"That's a lot of power," remarked Laura, watching in awe as the ball sailed clear of the field and towards the mansion. "It's really travelling."
"Slow down!" yelped Rahne, dropping her bat and waving her arms in a panic. "Stop! Cease! Desist!"
But her pleas did nothing. The baseball crashed right through the living room window, and the startled shouts from the occupants inside could be heard from the field.
Jamie hastily phased out his copies and said quickly, "We were never here."
"Especially nae me," said Rahne feelingly.
"Let's get out of here!" hissed Laura.
The three promptly booked it, and later on in the day played innocent when an interrogation was held by Logan to see who broke the picture window.
Being the youngest meant that sometimes he got in trouble without meaning to. If he had to choose, he much preferred getting into trouble with someone else. Sharing punishments wasn't so bad, and though he'd rather avoid groundings and extra training entirely, he'd rather have someone to suffer with him. But sometimes he got lucky, and could escape an incriminating scenario before he was discovered. He'd also rather be with someone when that happened, because it was fun to share the secret and marvel on the miracle that they had actually gotten away with something.
The food court was particularly busy this summer afternoon. The heat outside was almost unbearable, and the air-conditioned mall was the perfect place to be for people who didn't feel like chilling at home. Teens were camped out at tables in large groups, chatting loudly and texting at a mad pace. Elderly couples observed passing people as they drank coffee and families were trying to wrangle their children for lunch.
Jamie and Blob were stationed at the far corner of the eating area, taking up the booth of their table. The two chairs that had sat opposite them had been politely taken by a couple of teens a while ago, dragging them over to sit with the rest of their friends. Jamie rested his chin against the plastic surface, playing with the edge of his empty, ketchup-stained hamburger wrapper.
His stomach gave a rumble and he glared down at it. He didn't understand how he could still be hungry, after downing a burger and fries. He peeked over at Blob, whose tray was overflowing with food, from pizza to burritos to onion rings. Jamie stared at the roast beef hoagie with particular longing, but did not say anything.
It wasn't his food, and he knew Blob had a strong appreciation for any type of cuisine. He'd seen what could happened if one tried to steal his food, and everyone had snickered over an irate Toad's black eye.
Maybe I have enough change to get a cookie.
Jamie peeked into his pocket, but the three coins he found would barely get him a single chocolate chip. That's what I get for not saving my allowance.
So he resigned himself to waiting for Blob to finish, idly watching people as they walked past. They cast the pair odd looks, and some gave them a bit of a berth. Blob's immense size could certainly be intimidating, and once upon a time the weird stares would have bothered him. But he learned to not care what strangers thought of him, thanks to Professor's care and attention in building his self-esteem and confidence.
Another growl of his stomach startled Jamie from his quiet musing. This time Blob heard, and he paused in annihilating a double-decker sandwich to stare at the small twelve-year-old in amusement. Jamie smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. Guess I'm still hungry."
"Why didn't you say something? I woulda shared sooner." Blob grabbed the very roast beef hoagie the boy had been eyeing and handed it over. "You like roast beef, right?"
"Uh-huh!" Beaming, Jamie happily accepted the food. "Thanks, Fred."
"Ah, anytime. You can have some onion rings too, if you want."
Being the youngest meant that he had more of a chance to get something he wanted than his older peers. He had discovered a while ago that a pout paired with his wide blue gaze was often all it took to convince one of his family members to cave in to whatever he wanted at the time. Sometimes he didn't even need to utilize his secret weapon, and that was always a good day.
Hands tugging idly on the straps of his backpack, Jamie lingered outside of the post office, just in front of the wide windows so he was still within Piotr's sights. The young adult was waiting in line at the front counter, a pair of white envelopes in one hand and enough change for stamps in another.
Every two weeks, he mailed out letters to his family in his native Russia. Jamie once inquired why he didn't just send an e-mail, and Piotr replied that hand-writing a letter and sending it through traditional post was more personal. As such he made his biweekly trip to the post office without fail, and sometimes Jamie accompanied him when the man picked him up from his after school activities.
"Well, well, well, what have we here?"
The sinister voice caused Jamie to turn around and back up instinctively. A group of four teens strode towards him with sneers on their acne-riddled faces. Nothing about them was friendly, and Jamie twisted on his heel, attempting to make a break for the entrance doors. But the group's long-legged stride allowed them to easily surround the twelve-year-old.
"What do you want?" he asked, keeping his back straight and tone strong.
He kept his blue eyes constantly swivelling from one teen to the next, not wanting to get hit with a surprise attack. He frantically debated on whether or not to spawn copies to aide him. Though most of Bayville and the surrounding areas knew the members of the Institute were mutants, Professor was still firm on them not using their powers in public.
I'm sure getting jumped is one of the exceptions, thought Jamie, gripping the straps of his bag tightly.
"You're one of those mutant freaks, aren't you?" The tallest of the four, a teen with spiky raven hair and a silver nose piercing, loomed over the boy. "I've seen Summers lug you around before. If you're with him, you must be just like him."
"So what if I am?" defended Jamie, who greatly disliked denying his powers.
"Then we have a problem." He reached out and grabbed the front of Jamie's burgundy T-shirt and hauled him off his feet, and the others began to crack their knuckles in a threatening manner. "Do you know how we deal with people who we have a problem with?"
"No. But do you vant to know vhat I do to people I have a problem vith?"
The low, dangerous Russian accent caused the teens to whirl around and take up defensive positions. Jamie craned his neck in time to see Piotr bodily throw the two teens who tried to rush him to the ground. "Cool!" he exclaimed.
Piotr was by Jamie's side in two seconds, easily yanking him from the grasp of his would-be attacker. He set the boy carefully beside him before turning to glower down at the teen, who found himself being the one having to look up.
"I do not like people who discriminate and harass others because they perceive them to be different. Being mutants does not give you the right to attack us. If I ever see you harassing him again, or anyone else for that matter, you vill really see vhat I do to people I have a problem vith."
Jamie barely blinked when Piotr punched the teen right in the face before he could even form a response. Flexing out his fingers, he glared at the final teen standing, who promptly stammered out an apology before turning tail and running away.
"Thanks. I was worried they'd knock my face in," said Jamie gratefully, happily accepting the hand Piotr extended towards him.
"If they had, no one vould be able to recognize their faces, once I vas through," the Russian man replied, hoisting Jamie up and onto his shoulders.
Jamie lightly laced his fingers through Piotr's hair, giggling in delight at his high vantage point. He swayed and bounced gently with every brisk step. "Did you mail your letters?"
"Then homeward!" cheered Jamie, pointing in a vague direction. "Where we can watch television and play videogames!"
Being the youngest often meant that he had trouble standing up for himself. He was short, skinny and lacking strength. This made him an easy target for bullies, and pretty much anyone who didn't like mutants and knew that he was one. But Jamie wasn't bothered, because he did not get pushed around for long before someone in his family found out what was going on. When that happened, Jamie felt genuine pity for his harassers. They never stood a chance, and more often than not they never bothered him again.
"How did this even happen?"
Jamie tore his dismayed gaze from his reflection in the mirror, where he had been staring at the large wad of pink gum firmly attached to his brunette locks. He gave a helpless shrug in response to Wanda's bemused question. "I don't know. I was chewing it and then I sneezed and when I sneezed the gum flew from my mouth and I tripped at the same time and-"
"Okay!" interjected Wanda, cutting off the boy's frantic ramble of words. "I get the picture."
The raven-haired girl rummaged through one of the bathroom drawers and removed a pair of silver scissors. Jamie immediately backed away with his hands held defensively in front of his hair. "No! No haircut!"
"I thought you wanted my help in getting it out," said Wanda, mystified.
"I do! But I don't want to be bald!"
Wanda surveyed the boy's predicament and had to admit that a good portion of his hair would be chopped off in order to liberate the gum. She set the scissors on the counter and crossed her arms. "Fair enough. But I don't really know of another method to get it out." A thoughtful expression descended across her features. "Actually…my father might know of one. I'm pretty sure Pietro found himself in a similar situation when he was younger."
The two set off down the corridor in search of the metal-manipulating mutant. They found him in the library, reading a thickly-bound book. "Father, Jamie's run into a bit of a problem," spoke Wanda, alerting the man to their presence.
"What kind of problem-?" began Erik, raising his head. He caught sight of the miserable twelve-year-old and finished with, "Ah. Never mind."
"Help me!" Jamie pleaded, gingerly prodding the sticky wad.
"Don't play with it," chided Erik, getting up from the green chintz chair. "You'll only dig it into your hair deeper."
Jamie immediately ceased, clasping his hands tightly behind him. "Do you have any ideas?"
Wanda and Jamie exchanged curious looks when Erik did not elaborate further. He simply motioned for the pair to follow him, which they did. They made their way down the corridors and into the kitchen. Jamie watched with confusion as Erik removed a jar of peanut butter from the cabinet.
"What does peanut butter do?" asked Wanda, intrigued.
"When applied over the gum, the oils make the base stiff. It makes it easier to remove."
Ketchup had worked when Bobby dyed his hair green, so Jamie had no problems believing that peanut butter would be the solution this time around. He sat dutifully on one of the wooden kitchen stools and declared, "Let's do this!"
Erik unscrewed the lid and Wanda dipped the tips of her fingers into the thick substance. She rubbed the peanut butter all over the area in which the gum was stuck. They waited a few minutes for the oils to sink in before attempting to remove the gum with a tea towel. Jamie's face lit up when the entire wad slid off easily, taking little hair in the process.
"Thank you!" he breathed.
"Anytime," replied Erik, tossing the tea towel aside to wash later. "How in the world did you get gum stuck in your hair, anyway?"
"I tripped as I was sneezing and the gum flew out of my mouth," he replied.
Erik regarded the boy with amusement. "I see. You ought to be a little more careful with yourself. Go wash out your hair."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
Being the youngest meant that he sometimes got himself into sticky (pun not intended) situations. Thankfully, he had lots of people who were there to help him when he needed it most. Whether it be getting gum in his hair or locking himself in the attic, he never had to worry about facing a tricky dilemma alone.
Pushing open the sliding glass door, Warren ventured out into the warm evening air. He had forgone his typical business-casual attire for jean shorts and a plain light blue T-shirt, which was needed in order to comfortably bear this heatwave. His leather sandals slapped across the stone, coming to pause near the pool's edge.
Warren could not help but grin. "Come now, the heat isn't that bad."
"Lies. I'm dying."
The boy was wearing his dark red swim trunks, floating on an inflatable purple tube. His feet and arms hung lazily in the water, which happened to be the perfect temperature. A pair of dark sunglasses covered his bright blue eyes, and resting in the plastic cup holder attached to the tube was a can of soda.
"Exactly how many of those have you had today?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
Though his eyes were covered by the shades, Warren could practically see the blue orbs shifting back and forth in a guilty manner. "I plead the Fifth."
"Well, let's cut off your sugar intake for the rest of the evening."
"That's probably a good idea," muttered Jamie, having long lost the buzz of his sugar rush and now feeling the aftereffects. He lazily swung his arms around in the water, watching the ripples the motion created. "What's up?"
"It's dinner time," Warren answered in amusement. "I've come to get you."
"Dinner?" exclaimed Jamie. He yanked off his sunglasses, blinking against the sudden sharpness of the rays. "No way. What time is it?"
"Six. You've been in the pool all day."
Jamie lifted up his hands, staring the pruning that had developed. He stared for a moment before shrugging and letting them fall back into the refreshing water. "I had to fend for myself," he defended. "Until the air-conditioning is fixed I'm gonna live in the pool."
At the absolute worst time, the air-conditioning unit broke down just as an intense heatwave struck Bayville. The mansion was now filled with sweaty, sluggish, short-tempered mutants. Jamie, who never did like the heat, retreated to the pool, like most of his peers, but was the one who stayed in the water the longest.
"You need to keep your energy up, and you can't do that by drinking soda."
"I had some water," insisted Jamie, who had made several trips into the kitchen to retrieve beverages.
"At least you remembered your sunscreen," observed Warren, relieved by this. After spending hours basking in the sun, he didn't want to imagine what kind of sunburn Jamie would emerge with if he had forgotten to lather on the lotion. "It's time to come inside, kid."
"Nooooo. Don't wanna."
"Alright," said Warren with a sigh. "If that's how it's going to be."
He walked off and out of Jamie's immediate sight. Satisfied to be left in the cool sanctuary of the pool, Jamie lowered his sunglasses back over his eyes and reclined in the pool tube.
Jamie let out a howl of surprise as frigid water struck his bare torso, sending shocks through his system. His thrashing caused him to tip out of the tube and submerge into the water. He spluttered to the surface, sunglasses hanging off of one ear, and swam for the edge of the pool. He gripped the cement and hauled himself out of the water, streams of water rolling off of his slick skin.
"I'm out," he gasped, fixing his sunglasses. "I'm out!"
Warren grinned and set down the green house, starting to walk towards the boy. "Glad you could join me. Ready to go inside now?"
"I guess." Jamie grabbed the towel he had set aside and dried himself off. His empty soda can floated towards the edge and he kicked it out, watching it clatter against the cement. "What's for supper?"
He let out sudden shriek of delight when Warren lifted him up and swung him over his shoulder, uncaring of the water that now dampened his clothes. "Pizza. Does that suit your interests?"
"Yup!" laughed Jamie, grabbing hold of the fabric of Warren's T-shirt to keep from swaying with the man's long strides. "That's perfect with me."
"First you have shower and clean up. Ororo found the water trails you left and she's not too pleased."
Being the youngest meant he could be pretty stubborn. When he got into these moods, he didn't stay in them for long. Someone was always there to knock sense back into him, or wrangle him into doing what he didn't want to do. It often took some love taps, some roughhousing, a few threats of undesirable punishments, and soon Jamie rebounded back to his cooperative, obedient self.
When Charles Xavier first learned of Jamie's existence in New Mexico, he knew this particular mutant would need more training than the others he had taken under his wing. The boy was young, his X-gene beginning to develop before puberty. This made it difficult for him to exercise control, the smallest of impacts triggering his abilities. In the future, his body would certainly feel the effects of the morphing X-gene as it accommodated the change to adolescence.
When Jamie moved into the mansion, Charles worried that perhaps he wasn't ready to undergo the consistent training he would need. These doubts disappeared after Logan informed him of the events of Jamie's first Danger Room session, and from then on Charles had all the confidence in his capabilities.
Yes, he was only twelve, but Charles quickly discovered that he was a bright child. He could debate and offer his own opinions on complex concepts such as morality and the meaning of being a mutant. He understood that right and wrong wasn't so black and white. Jamie was the prime example of how a child's intelligence should never be underestimated.
Jamie's most endearing, rare trait was his big heart. He didn't have a shred of hatred within, and was quick to accept anyone who walked through the Institute doors. He was forgiving and did all he could to help someone in need. His giving and loving nature had a noticeable effect on the other students, especially the seniors, who became more accepting of their newest residents after witnessing their interactions with Jamie.
Charles had once, foolishly, told himself in the beginning stages of the Institute's life that he would hold a strict professional relationship with his instructors and students. This vow had promptly shattered when he took in Scott and Jean, and employed Logan and Ororo, and he never bothered to renew his vow when the other senior students, New Mutants and additional instructors walked through his doors. He knew he was perhaps setting himself up for heartbreak, in a world where most people were hostile towards mutants, where they had to fight to survive and retain peace and order. While he could stop many things, preventing emotions was not one of them. He grew to love each student, and a seasoned parent might concede it was natural for one to develop a soft, special spot for the youngest.
Jamie, with his bright blue eyes, sweet smile and innocent outlook on life had seized the hearts of everyone instantly—Charles was no exception.
Logan had often accused him of spoiling Jamie, which amused Charles greatly, since the man was not immune to the charm of the twelve-year-old. But he supposed he did have a habit of giving Jamie what he wanted.
When Jamie had first started his new school and returned home with a consent form for his school's soccer team, Charles signed, even though he knew it was perhaps not the best sport given the boy's mutation. He tended to overlook the instances when Jamie stayed up a few minutes past his curfew, and perhaps went a bit extravagant when it came to Christmas and birthday presents.
But he knew when to put his foot down. Jamie had a habit of getting into trouble, most often a partner-in-crime to one of his older peers. His school grades were high, but every so often he received an unacceptable mark that would have to be dealt with.
Charles was very proud of his youngest ward, a pride that only burned brighter the more Jamie grew as a person, as an X-Man. He was immensely loyal, and Charles still experienced some guilt of the boy's estrangement to his parents. He knew Jamie had contact with his mother, but his father still ignorant views on mutants, and Jamie had long since expressed he had no desire to return home. Charles could not describe what Jamie's love and loyalty meant to him, and felt that he did not truly deserve it.
Jamie was also brave. He faced his aerophobia and was slowly overcoming his greatest fear, risked his life to save his soccer team from a dangerous bus accident, and went headlong into battle during the Apocalypse Incident. He was willing to fight for his family, to fight as an X-Man, and his emotional strength as a twelve-year-old was extremely impressive.
Charles paid close attention to the boy's training, and did one-on-one sessions to ensure Jamie had a solid grasp on his control to prevent another episode. When Jamie didn't have training, Charles did everything he could to give him as normal a childhood as possible.
So when he entered the living room one evening and found Jamie passed out on the couch, the television blaring video game music and mountains of potato chips on the coffee table, Charles decided that Jamie was definitely having a perfect summer. Shaking his head in fond amusement, he went over to the edge of the couch and picked up the remote, turning off the television.
The lack of noise roused Jamie from slumber. He lifted his head from where it had been buried in the couch cushions and asked groggily, "What year is it?"
"The same year and same day as it was when you started your game," replied Charles, lightly running his fingers through the boy's messy brunette locks. "It's almost time for bed."
"Aw, but its summer," protested Jamie. "Most kids get a later bedtime in the summer."
His little nap seemed to have renewed his energy, and he sat up against the back of the couch with his eyes wide and alert. Charles arched an eyebrow and said, "Staying up late and sleeping all morning isn't a healthy habit to get into."
"One movie?" bargained Jamie hopefully.
Bright blue eyes stared pleadingly at him, and Charles regarded Jamie with an unreadable expression for a moment before the smile finally broke through. "One movie, and an earlier bedtime tomorrow."
"Deal!" said Jamie with a wide, happy grin. He leaned forwards and wrapped his arms around Charles' neck, resting his chin against the man's shoulder contently. "Thanks, Professor. Wanna watch it with me?"
"That depends," he replied, voice teasing. "Will you let me select the movie?"
"I suppose," answered Jamie with a dramatic sigh.
"Very generous of you."
Charles extended a hand, and Jamie cheerfully linked up with him. They made their way to the rec room to choose from the impressive film collection.
"So," spoke Charles casually, "Remy tells me you have a lady friend. You ought to bring her around so I can meet her."
"Aw, Professor, not you too!"
Sometimes it was hard being the youngest X-Man. Jamie was the one who was most watched over, the one who was pushed a little harder and the one who was picked on the most by his peers. But on the other hand, being the youngest also had its benefits.
Being the runt of the pack was the best, and Jamie wouldn't change anything for the world.