Beta readers: Nathan & Noelle Pico, Kam Martinez
“He’s going to kill you when he gets back.”
The statement was matter-of-fact, but Jubilation Lee simply pressed her lips together and lifted both her brows as she looked up, her face a mask of utter innocence even as she dipped her spoon into the bowl of ice cream set on the table before her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, M.” She murmured back nonchalantly, savoring the cool, creamy taste of it on her tongue. Let the rest have their chocolate. For her, it was about the Vanilla, baby.
She watched her friend out of the corner of her eye, and the wry smile on Monet St. Croix’s mouth aptly complimented the perfectly arched brow that rose. “You know that belongs to Warren.”
Jubilee grinned and sucked in her lips again, swallowing the ice cream that coated the interior of her mouth. “Id nod ads ib id hads hid nabe on id.” She scrunched up her face in what she imagined someone out there might find cute. She was, after all, just that. She held up her spoon, a drop of white, melted dessert sliding down the silver. “This isn’t Starbucks, M.”
“If I were you, I’d just buy some of my own.”
“Well,” she wiggled her brows, utterly unfazed by her friend’s half-hearted tone of admonishment. “Unlike the brilliantly rich, poor little me can only do so much. C’mon,” she scooped up a large glob of ice cream and held it out to Monet ‘airplane-needs-to-land’ style. “You know you want some.”
But Monet was already looking away, one hand smoothing away a stray lock of hair that the cool evening breeze had lifted out of its place and onto her face. Behind Jubilee, the others—their peers and batch mates from the first and second batches of Generation-X—had just arrived, settling down without so much as a hitch on the table they’d reserved for their little group. Dinner had more or less concluded inside, and they had all opted to transfer outside to enjoy what they could of the night sky. Clouds were grouped together in the distance, but it was clear enough overhead to dismiss any worry of rain.
Still, Monet’s expression remained the same: a most unimpressed mask, as she watched as the younger batch transferred tables and chairs from inside. Santo Vaccaro, the biggest of all the teenagers in the institute and the token bully-figure, was holding up two heavy tables at the same time, while Julian Keller, the self-proclaimed ‘top dog’ moved a batch of chairs with his telekinesis. The others dragged out their own chairs, and some balanced bowls of finger food taken from the buffet table, chip bags swiped from the kitchen tucked under their arms.
Monet smiled to herself as she leaned back against the rest of her chair, attempting to reconcile the idea that just a few short years ago, she and Jubilee and Paige had been pretty much the same.
“Hey beautiful,” She heard Julian call over to Sofia Mantega, the Venezuelan with a commendable bone structure and predisposition for poise. “Let me get that for you.” Without further ado, Sofia’s chair levitated without so much as a hitch into the air, joining the others that the boy had kept floating above everyone else’s heads.
“Show-off, isn’t he?” She looked up to see Amara Aquilla a.k.a. Magma, half-hiding a smile behind her fingers. “But you have to give the boy credit for trying to impress.” The elder X-Man had apparently slid in barely noticed into the empty seat beside her.
“As if you didn’t have the boys eating out of your hand back in the day.” Monet murmured simply, recalling how she’d first sized up the girl who was now one of her closest friends. There was no question that Amara was ‘a looker’, as Tabitha had put it, once.
“How is class treating you?” She asked idly and Amara rolled her eyes, a shaky breath escaping her. “The equivalent of Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell so much that I just want to go up to my dorm room and vegetate wrapped in all my blankets.”
“So which is it? Fighting over the River Styx or making like a corpse beneath the water?”
“A little bit of both. Half the time I want to punch something when project-formulation season comes along, which I suppose counts as wrath. And the rest of the time… well, I did mention sitting and vegetating in my room, which is a close enough thing to gurgling underwater, right? I mean, it would be my brain gurgling with all the bad TV shows that I seem to catch in my free time. You’d think that I’d catch something worthwhile at least instead of those damned reality shows.”
Monet laughed then, causing someone—Doug, really—to comment “oh no, Monet’s laughing. Call an ambulance,” which earned him a rolled up table napkin tossed it in his face in a well-meant bout of fun.
“Seriously though, Monet,” Amara continued, lifting her hands up in order to pull back her hair into a loose ponytail at the base of her neck. “It’s more or less good. I’m challenged by the whole program, which says a lot since I had my heart set on attending Empire State.” She paused then, her eyes straying to where the younger batch had settled down.
As always, most of the Hellions (the exception being Lance as per usual) were clustered on the far end, their own little Genosha separated from the rest of their little world. The other Guthrie boy, Jay, was seated—perched, almost—along the marble railing, token guitar in hand, strings strummed as the wayward Lance Alvers drummed the heels of his palms against the table. Next to them, Tommy Jones pulled up a chair, saying something or another about what his friends should play next.
“He’s grown up so much.” Amara murmured wistfully. “Remember when he used to hang out with us?”
“You mean when he used to act like a seriously whipped puppy and tag along with us.”
“No need to be mean,” Amara smiled placidly, still watching. “You might not say it aloud. But there was probably even just one time where you thought fondly of that kid.”
“He was annoying.”
“He wanted to make you smile.”
“By alchemizing my bathroom???”
“He wanted to ‘repaint’ it without the paint.”
“It looked like a faulty science experiment.”
They regarded each other for a moment and then bowed their heads together, laughing softly at the memory. “And if I recall things, Ms. Aquilla,” Monet leaned back against her chair again, a smug smile on her lips. “You had to deal with that bathroom too.”
“Hmmm,” Amara smiled sheepishly, averting her eyes skyward and making like an innocent. “Yeah, I did, didn’t I?”
They both fell silent then, the only sounds breaking the air that of laughter from either side of them and that of music twining in-between.
“This is nice.” Amara short of sighed.
“What is nice?”
“Just… being here, ‘hanging out’ as the boys would say.” She inhaled deeply. “Just… what was that? Kicking back and relaxing without having to worry that some extremely large catastrophe needs to be averted—speaking of catastrophes, did you hear? Ms. Moira’s getting the bigwigs to listen to Sam’s defense. I don’t know about him, but I’m glad I’m not in his shoes.”
Monet inclined her head curiously and leaned in. “Bigwigs like who?”
“I’m not sure of the final panel, but I know that Professor Richards is going to be one of them.”
“Which Professor Richards?”
“Aaahh.” Then came the careless shrug. “He’ll do fine.”
“Yeah. I know he will. But you know what I mean.”
They fell silent again, the sounds coming back to wash over them. This time, it was Monet who exhaled heavily, her hands bracing on the wrought-iron arms of her chair as she rose from her seat.
“Going inside?” Amara asked softly, her cheek resting on her lightly fisted hand.
“Just remembered that I left my cell phone in the common room. I’ll be back in a bit.”
There was something about this house, Monet thought, idly letting her fingers trace a horizontal path along the wall as she turned to walk into one of the halls. The ‘adults’ as she and her peers preferred to call the elder batch of X-Men, were exchanging stories at the main dinner table of memories and old exploits. She’d tuned them out just as she passed the table, her mind falling on idle as she headed towards the first floor common room.
“Stormy,” a voice floated down to her from up ahead. Remy had just slipped into the room ahead of her, but her pace didn’t slow, and she slipped past him, heading to the back of the room, where her mobile phone was sitting by the window.
“Have you seen Ro—” The rest of the sentence died as something caught the Cajun’s attention, and the newsman continued his spiel from the television, “… as you can see Dave, from up here on the chopper the smoke rising from the explosions looks like a skull. No doubt the work of the vigilante known to us all as The Pu—” (*)
“Methinks de mon’s got some serious anger management issues t’deal wid, eh Stormy?” Came his glib remark, and as Monet slid back out barely noticed and phone back in her pocket, she smiled to herself, Ororo Munroe’s soft, rich laughter trailed down the hall after her.
Mark Sheppard was, for lack of a better term, having fun. The weather was great, dinner was fantastic, and everyone was more than happy to just bleed off the stress caused by the major trig exam earlier on that day. And frankly, there was no better way to de-stress than to bring out some tables, chairs and snacks onto the patio to just chill.
He cast his gaze around, checking to see who was where and with whom. The primary reason for bringing out tables and chairs had been so that everyone who wanted to could moonbathe on the terrace, and bags of snack foods and chips had been brought along for those who felt they needed to top up their healthy meal with a little junk.
Nearby, he could hear Jay and Tommy talking and the next thing he knew the winged redhead strummed out the opening chords to a sweet, sweet rendition of Guns n’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine”. A second voice came into play, mingling with Jay’s in easy harmony as Lance Alvers drummed out the beat of the song with his hands against the table’s surface.
From there, Mark slid his glance to the other end of the terrace, where a lone table had been set down a distance from theirs. The Hellions sat together sans their one teammate, talking, laughing and bonding like a little family; and while Mark had no real beef with Ms. Frost’s prized team, the teen often felt that they could be just a little bit more social with the rest of them all (‘them all’ being the other students who had yet to step up or didn’t want to become ‘Junior X-Men’, as most students referred to those who were taking more extensive sessions to hone their individual abilities).
In the past few months since he’d come down to Xavier’s from Jersey, he’d never managed to interact as much with them as he did with the rest of the kids in school, who were exactly who he was seated amongst at that very moment.
The table where he was, was a mish-mash of some of the kids from the other two existing squads, plus several others who hadn’t quite made the cut: people like him and Megan Gwynn, who’d come down to hang out and spend some quality time with friends who were either on different schedules or who spent more time in the Danger Room. And then there were those in the middle, the new kids: the blonde who wouldn’t—or couldn’t—talk, and her dark-haired companion. At the moment, Clarice and Sooraya were with them, talking to them in hushed tones.
Well, Mark wasn’t really sure about the talking part. Though he’d glimpsed the blonde move her mouth once or twice, her voice was something he had yet to hear. The brunette on the other hand, didn’t seem much for talking; though given the circumstances, Mark couldn’t really blame her. Her powers had manifested that day, right in the middle of Ms. Munroe’s history class, and she’d been brought out and up to the Professor so he could fix whatever it was that had gone wrong with her. From the looks of things, Mark was ready to say that she seemed to be fine now, but assumptions never got anyone any real answers. Curiosity got the better of him—as well as the desire to extend a friendly welcome—and so, Mark slid over into the chair next to Clarice and threw over an easy smile. “Heya Sooraya, Clarice.”
“Hi Mark,” The pink-skinned teen answered, still just a little bit shy though she was learning to shed it fast around him. Sooraya replied with a nod and a “Good evening,” and Mark wondered if there was a chance that she was smiling under her veil. It was so hard to tell what the Afghani girl was thinking and feeling most of the time, with almost her entire face covered, but that was just one more minor difficulty to get used to. Since he’d enrolled, he’d encountered his fair share of things to adjust to. After all, when you were a student at Xavier’s, you had to open up to a number of new experiences—most of which, dealt with a number of different individuals.
Greetings exchanged, he turned to the two girls who had arrived only a few days back. “Hi there,” he held out his hand. “Name’s Mark Sheppard, everyone just calls me DJ though.”
It was the blonde who responded first, reaching out to clasp his hand firmly in her own despite the shy smile on her lips which reminded him almost instantly of the first time he’d met Clarice. “Ellie Ridley,” she murmured, her voice soft and a little hoarse, making Mark strain a bit to hear.
Well. That confirmed at least one thing: the girl could talk, but didn’t want to, or didn’t do it often enough. He recalled someone mentioning that one of the new students had a ‘problem’ with her voice—the problem being her ability to mind control others by simply talking. He had a good guess that Ellie was probably that person.
A beat after she let go of his hand, her brunette friend leaned forward and took her turn. “Lee Delgado.” Her voice was polite in a no-nonsense fashion, reminding him of girls who preferred to keep to themselves. He glanced over his shoulder then, her hand falling away from his as Roberto da Costa’s voice piped up, “Wait, wait, wait,” with the question “‘Delgado’? As in, Dr. Benigno Delgado?”
Lee blinked then, as did Ellie, but it was former who answered simply: “Yes.” And Mark leaned back against his seat, interested in where exactly this was going.
“Are you, by some strange, far chance, related to him?” Roberto pressed on, leaning forward on his elbows onto the table. When Lee nodded, her own curiosity cutting across her features, the Brazilian grinned in satisfaction. “I saw Dr. Delgado leaving, and I’d heard from the grapevine that he’d enrolled someone. I didn’t know it was you.”
“Okay,” Lee nodded, completely nonplussed by Roberto’s recognition of her grandfather though she smiled, looking vaguely amused. To Mark, it seemed as if she was used to it, brushing it off as if it was no big deal that her granddaddy was something of an important name in certain circles. He’d just remembered himself where he’d heard of Dr. Delgado. The school’s library had his entire published collection stocked for reference.
Following suit, as was expected, Roberto leaned in further, rising off his seat just a bit to extend his hand in greeting, “Roberto da Costa,” he said, prompting the latter to respond: “Just Lee. And this is Ellie.”
“So, you guys know each other long?” Mark cut in again just as Roberto sat back down, passing Lee and then Ellie one of his smiles.
“In a way. Yeah,” Lee answered as she took a sip from her glass of water—not soda, Mark noticed. “We met each other at our previous school.” She paused and glanced over to her friend. “Been a year now, right?” At her side, the blonde nodded as her only answer, and something brief and sad flickered in her eyes.
It was Megan who leaned in next, expression curious: “So what’re your powers?” Her translucent wings were hidden from view, Megan being able to fold them neatly away.
Lee fell quiet for a while, as if considering. And just when Mark thought she wasn’t going to answer, she opened her mouth to speak: “Ms. Tessa—”
“Just Tessa,” all four teens (Mark wasn’t sure if Sooraya had spoken up) chorused the words, prompting shared grins even as they attracted the attention of Laurie Collins and Sofia Mantega. The corner of Lee’s mouth lifted slightly in a somewhat confused smile, but the girl amended her statement and continued: “Tessa… said that I seem to have the ability to manipulate vibrations.” She paused once more, seemingly trying to recall whatever it was that had been told to her when she’d been pulled out of class.
“Right now, its just sound waves and ambient vibrations since I’m just starting out. But eventually, she said I might be able to do more.” She nodded at Ellie, smiling fondly at her friend. “Apparently, that’s the reason why I wasn’t affected by Ellie’s powers. Tessa said I was filtering out hers without even knowing it.”
Mark grinned broadly. “Cool. We should talk.” He gestured to himself then back to Lee. “I work with sounds, hence the codename DJ.” He beamed, unable to help his habit of turning on the charm. “You never know, we might be put together under a new squad. I vote that we get Miss Pryde though, ‘cos she’s just awesome. You’re not in her Algebra class, are—” From across the table, a balled up paper napkin zeroed in on his forearm. “Hey!” Mark called out, making a face at the Asian girl whose hair was a brilliant shade of blue.
“Ignore him.” She spoke up. “He tends to get carried away with the ladies. Hell, we speculate he’d hit on anything as long as it looked remotely female.”
Laughter rolled across the table, Mark throwing the girl a look of mock offense before he turned back to zone in on Ellie. “What about you, cutie?” He settled back against his seat, eliciting yet another “Mark, knock it off!” to which he just chuckled, flashing yet another grin. “Ignore her. She just hates admitting she gets jealous when I give any other girl attention.
A second bout of laughter followed the jibe, and something akin to the sound of frying fizzed in the air, prompting Mark to yelp, standing suddenly from his seat, his arm cradled and held away. “That hurt.” He said, rubbing the skin where Nori had sent a light bolt of static.
“Serves you right.” She huffed, blowing on a finger as if it were the barrel of a gun.
“Subliminal suggestion through vocal statements,” Ellie spoke up suddenly, her intrusion to the moment not quite as smooth as she might have wanted. She kept her gaze at a certain level as she answered his question, her attempt to smile faltering as her expression fell back into a mix of the serious and slightly sad. “Sometimes,” she murmured, braving to speak a little louder, “when I tell people to do something—or even if I just say something,” she paused, her tone hinting a little of something akin to shame. “They do what I tell them to do.”
The whole table fell quiet. Others, like Nori and Sofia, Sooraya and Laurie who had spoken to her previously already knew this information. But the others didn’t know, so it was only now that people were linking the other day’s incident with Wolverine with the hushed rumor that the X-Man had been told to jump out the window. (*)
“She’s like Laurie,” Mark and the others looked over to Sofia, who smiled kindly from where she sat, her arms folded over her stomach. “Not completely the same, but similar enough. Laurie’s,” she gestured to the other blond seated at her side, “are based more on the manipulation of pheromones, which prompts chemical reactions within the bodies of those around her manipulating their emotions.” She was explaining it to Ellie, having not had the opportunity to explain fully to the girl at their earlier meeting.
Silence threatened to fall again, possibly because thoughts were running quick in people’s heads. So Mark cut in yet again saying: “Nice comparison, Sof, but she’s y’know,” he smiled cheekily, “she’s more like Eden from Heroes.” He turned his gaze back to Ellie appending an, “only much cuter,” before winking, the brief flush across her cheeks and nose reward enough for him.
A second balled-up bit of paper hit Mark squarely at the back of the head. “You’re such a flirt. Quit it already.” Laurie stuck her tongue out then, amused, no doubt, that her aim had well improved. “Hi,” she waved to Ellie, “Laurie. We’ve already met, and introductions were made previously but again, welcome to the school. Don’t worry,” She offered a smile. “Tessa’s pretty cool once you get past the fact that she’s more than sorta intimidating. She helped me back when I couldn’t control my own powers. Helped me figure out how to find the off-switch, so to speak. I’m sure the Professor will set up another session for you.” Her gaze slid to Lee and her smile turned sympathetic. “You okay? We saw what happened this morning.”
“Am good.” Lee replied, running a hand through her hair. Her body language was more relaxed now, finally comfortable in her surroundings. “Thanks though.” She inhaled and exhaled. “Just feels strange, that’s all.” She shrugged briefly. “To be honest, I didn’t really know I had powers. Lolo Ben—that’s what I call my grandfather,” she smiled sheepish, “He just said that he wanted me to study in a new school that a colleague of his ran.”
Sofia smiled. “I’d assure you that the feeling will pass, but I think you’re entitled to find that out for yourself.” The Venezuelan lifted a hand to gesture to herself. “Sofia Mantega, it’s a pleasure to meet you. This is Laurie.”
Lee nodded in response, “Hi.” She said simply before segueing into the question that had been sitting at the back of her mind: “Since we’re on the subject of powers, what are yours?”
Sofia smiled again, “I already mentioned Laurie’s so I won’t explain again. As for myself, I control the wind on a number of levels.” She gestured to Noriko Ashida. “Nori generates electricity. Those things on her arms are specially made gauntlets that help her regulate her powers.” Next, she motioned to Roberto, “Roberto’s been dubbed by the professors as Sunspot. He absorbs heat from the sun and metabolizes it in a variety of ways.”
“Much like some kinda ‘plant man’, if you ask me.” Dallas Gibson snickered loudly from the Hellions’ table and Santo followed with, “No, dude. More like a big, black, walking mole.”
Roberto straightened then, his expression as wry as his response: “Look who’s talking, the Rockbiter and the living blackhead.”
Electricity crackled then, Nori’s arms held out with hands fisted, the sparks reflecting blue on her gauntlets. Her eyes were level and not the least bit amused. “Can we not have to deal with egos?” She glanced from the two seated at the other table and then over to her own teammate.
“My boys aren’t your jurisdiction, Ashida.” Julian called over, cockily tilting up his chin, a challenge, as was expected.
“Enough.” It was Sofia this time, her jaw set as she met Julian’s gaze head on. The Hellion winked and she rolled her eyes, expelling a sigh and putting forward a proposition. “It’s Friday, Julian. Let’s all just try to pretend that we’re friends?”
“Sure gorgeous.” He leaned back against his seat, folding his hands behind his head.
Beside her, Sofia heard Laurie uttering soft gagging sounds, which made her laugh in spite of herself. Turning back to the new kids, she said, “Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah.” She gestured to Megan Gwynn. “Pixie here has butterfly-like wings. They’re hidden right now, but they’re pretty when she puts them out for everyone to see. And I mean pretty in both the aesthetic and deadly sense. She also has this kind of dust that can do a number of things from acting as a hallucinogen to temporarily blinding a person.”
Pausing, Sofia shifted and motioned to the far end where three boys were still making music. “And over there are Jay, Lance and Tommy.”
“Jay’s the one with the wings.” Nori slid in at that point, taking over the conversation as she leaned in, moonlight a sheen on the metal of her gauntlets. “But,” she paused, “Not only can he fly, he’s got voice that can mimic any sort of sound as long as he’s heard it.” She shrugged her shoulders as she tilted her head in the direction of the brown-haired boy seated at the table end. “The one drumming on the table is Lance Alvers. He generates seismic activity, which is just a fancy way of saying that he makes earthquakes.” The smirk on her face bespoke a cockiness that seemed more right than privilege. “Sure he’s got a bit of a temper and he’s got the misfortune to be a Hellion—that’s his squad—the rest of us here are either from Gen-X or the Corsairs, if not still free to be regular students. Other than that, Lance is fine, as far as the rest of us are concerned.”
Nori slid a dispassionate look in the general direction of the Hellions, gazing flicked away just as quickly as she veered back into the conversation. “And that over there,” cue laughter all around, “that’s Tommy Jones, but he likes to call himself after this character in that show, Full Metal something or another. Some guy named Ed.” She shrugged again, drawing back from the table to lean back against her seat.
“You mean Edward Elric?” Lee supplied, a smile hinting on her mouth. “From Full Metal Alchemist?”
Nori nodded unsteadily, “So you know the show…” she paused a little and then continued, “well, in any case, I’m not totally into animé, so I’m just going to say ‘yeah’, since that sounds about right.”
“Did I hear someone mention Edward Elric?” It was Pixie who giggled this time, just as Tommy slid over, poking his head through the space between her shoulder and Mark’s. The boy had showed up right on cue as if called by name, and Mark couldn’t help remember something he’d been told by either Laurie or Clarice; about how Tommy could tune you out no matter how many times you called out ‘Tommy’ or even ‘Thomas’, but at the moment the name ‘Ed’ even so much as left your mouth, he’d come running straight away.
“As usual,” Nori rolled her eyes good-naturedly, a smirk in place. “Never miss your cue, do you, Jones?”
Tommy just grinned goofily. “You know me better than that, Nori m’luv—”
“You know I never did get the appeal behind Brits calling every other girl m’luv—”
“Oh, come on. Give a bloke a break.” They shared a smile and Tommy turned his attention to the two girls. “Well, well, two new additions to our merry band of misfits.” He grinned broadly. “So you know about FMA?”
Ellie hid a smile and Lee nodded openly, smiling now. “Read the manga when I can get a hand on it. Seen the show.”
“Girl after my own heart!” Tommy exclaimed.
Quietly, Laurie whispered to Sofia, “Oh no, there’ll be no stopping him now that he’s got someone to share his ‘fannishness’ with.”
“Ugh,” Nori piped up, leaning forward and folding her arms over the table. “When people aren’t fans, he can’t help himself. Do you think he’ll let up because she is?”
Sofia grinned, and set a hand on either of her friend’s forearms. “Shame on you both,” She glanced briefly to Tommy who was now well on his way into running away with the topic as he spoke with Lee over who was the best character and which episode was the best. “I think it’s nice.” The Venezuelan turned back to Nori and Laurie, adding, “Besides, maybe she can actually reel him in and make him stop,” just soft enough so that Tommy wouldn’t hear.
Whil laughter broke out from the three other girls, Ellie cut in softly between Lee and Tommy’s conversation: “Why do you call yourself Edward Elric?” Ellie asked, curious. Before Tommy could to respond though, Nori cut in rather quickly, “He manipulates the composition of matter.” Hoping the statement would put an end to the discussion.
But the boy hadn’t heard, and instead steamrollered dramatically over her words saying: “Why?” He was grinning like a loon, “Because—because—I, am the real—” close to the railing now, “—live—” clapping hands overhead, “—Edward—” pulling them apart and slamming them onto the marble, “—ELRIC!” prompting stone to shift and rumble, sending Lance rising abruptly from his seat and Jay tumbling back before taking to the skies to avoid falling and breaking his neck.
In large block (no pun intended) letters, ‘EDWARD ELRIC’ all but beamed from the ledge behind Tommy, as if these were a backdrop to a trading card under his name. Totally absorbed in repeating “ELRIIIIIC” in a trying-hard, husky, macho-ish voice, complete with flexed arms in front of him (ruined only by his comedic headshaking), he nearly sent Mark laughing so hard he felt his face would rightfully split in half. That is, if his insides didn’t burst first.
A mix of scattered groans and laughter filled the air—more groans though, since more than half of those on the terrace had seen more than their fair enough share of theatrics similar to this before. True enough, it seemed the biggest explanation as to why people put up with Tommy’s ceaseless references to the cartoon character long, long after the novelty had worn off, was simply because the boy’s enthusiasm was so often infectious and he just never seemed to mind making a spectacle of himself. Often referred to the clown, the geek, Mr. He’s-gonna-do-it-anyway, Tommy just managed to make what would normally be annoying into something endearing.
For his peers, his age group, this was the case because Tommy wouldn’t be Tommy without the occasional bout of ‘Elric-ness’. For those who had watched him grow up, it was the brighter end of the deal, compared to the quiet, introverted little boy who had long been the youngest in their midst.
Besides. One didn’t—couldn’t—live at Xavier’s for a year without encountering Tommy’s eccentricities at least once. Mark figured it was better for the girls to know it now than be flabbergasted later.
Wing beats brought the world back, and Mark watching as Jay landed back on solid ground, smoothly transitioning from flight, to landing, to stalking over to his shorter friend, usual brooding, emo-boy demeanor replaced by a twitching brow and an irritated glare, wings mantling in aggravation.
“If you… ever… ever…” the winged-boy expelled a breath in exasperation, the threat dying even before it left him. He shook his head and brushed past a sheepish looking Tommy to sit by the stairs, where Julian Keller chuckled out loud and uttered something just loud enough for the ex-Hellion to hear. The jibe seemed to slide over Jay as he settled down on the steps to tune his guitar, and the winged-boy just glanced back once, mouth moving to reply something or another.
“Is this sort of thing… normal here?” Mark turned to look back at the girls. Ellie had posed the question, the smile on her face not looking like it was leaving anytime soon.
Stretching, he grinned, noting in the periphery of his vision that Tommy had frozen just briefly, turning vaguely ashen as he slumped his shoulders and proceeded to turn around to face the ledge. When Mark peered over Lee’s shoulder and into the dining area, he stifled a laugh at the sight of all the adults looking out at them all—two in particular—expressions indicating anything but amusement.
Miss Frost had a look that might as well say aloud: ‘Do you know how much that railing costs, Thomas?’ and Professor Summers’ seemed to follow-up with: ‘Yes Tommy, do you know how much that railing costs?’
“Yeap.” Mark laughed then, unable to hold back any longer as he folded his arms behind his head. “This is fairly normal here in these parts.” He threw a smile over his shoulder and watched as the railing returned to normal, the letters melting down to give way to the sight of a broad expanse of trees. “Hey, I know the others have said it, but welcome to Xavier’s you two.”
She wasn’t sure if it had been five minutes or ten before she realized she was awake, but when she finally did, Clarice Ferguson sat up and blinked several times, giving herself over to the soothing sensation of feeling the air pass in and out of her. Rising, she padded around her room, careful not to wake the sleeping figure huddled under the blankets. Her roommate wasn’t a light sleeper, but it wouldn’t do to wake her so suddenly and Clarice was never the type to do so either way.
She found her sneakers under the chair of her study table, and slipped them on like slippers before she exited her room, the soft, yellowish light in the hallway soothing to her eyes. It wasn’t very late, just a little past midnight, really. She knew that because she’d forgotten to remove her watch from her wrist and she looked down at it instinctively searching for the time.
The hall was quiet save for the soft sound of her footfalls against the wood, and the hushed voices that filtered out from the other rooms:
“Hank,” Professor Summers. She would know his voice anywhere even if he weren’t her advisor, just as she would know any of the other voices of those who lived under the roof of this overlarge house.
“Hm?” A second voice answered, and Blink peered in quietly, unable to help her curiosity.
Hank McCoy and Scott Summers were in the common room, seated on the two couches joined at one corner. Papers were stacked and arranged on the coffee table before them which led her to assume that the reason both her professors were up this late on a Friday night instead of turning in as they were wont to was because there were exam papers that needed seeing to.
“Can you take a look at this for me? It’s Tommy’s paper, I just want to make sure I’m reading it right.”
She watched in silence from the doorway, one hand lightly touching the doorframe. It wasn’t polite to eavesdrop, but she’d heard Tommy’s name and there had been considerable talk about his exam earlier in the evening when they’d all hung out on the terrace. The sound of paper was barely audible, but it caught on her ears thanks to the lack of any other sounds, and when the X-Man named Beast chuckled softly, she wondered even more on what her squad mate had done this time.
“He reminds me of Bobby with this one.” Hank McCoy’s smile danced, flashing a glimpse of white teeth. “Find X,” he chuckled, “look, it’s right here.” He traced something on the paper and encircled it with his finger,
“That kid’s hell-bent on giving me headaches on a regular basis.” The paper transferred back into Scott’s hands. There was a sigh. “He could have gotten a perfect score. Kid’s smart. Why does he do stuff like this?”
“Why did Bobby?”
“Hank. Bobby was a headcase.”
“So’s Tommy, when the mood strikes him.”
She stepped away then, moving past the other rooms until she set one hand on the staircase railing. Glancing briefly to the dark outside the large windows along one wall, she descended the stairs.
She needed a glass of water, and was aware that she would likely bump into several waking individuals still lingering in the kitchen, but that was alright. Tomorrow was a Saturday, which meant some kids were going home for the short weekend, coming back by Sunday evening to catch the first morning class on the Monday. For the others who weren’t heading home, it was that time of the week wherein staying up late was a luxury just asking to be exploited.
At the bottom of the steps, she noted a figure curled up on the old, well-worn couch: tall, male, muscular, obviously one of the adults. When the figure shifted she slipped past quietly on tiptoe, leaving Bobby Drake to his dreams.
“It never ceases to amaze me that there’s beer in the school fridge.” A voice—Mark Sheppard’s—floated out from the kitchen, and when Blink entered, she sent a small smile to the girl seated at the counter, a cup of what was probably coffee still steaming before her. “I thought you’d gone to bed, Clarice.” Penny Lane commented idly, lifting the cup to her lips.
“Need water,” Clarice murmured softly, noting the others in the room: Mark was standing by the fridge door, opened now, with one hand still with fingers loose around the handle. Up to him walked Jubilation Lee, who reached in and pulled out the six-pack that looked like it had been bought just earlier that day.
“How so?” Jubilee shrugged and tore the plastic wrap open. “Yo, Paige, you want one?” By the sink, Paige Guthrie shook her head, passing on the offer.
“Aren’t schools not supposed to be allowed to have beer?” Mark pressed, still flabbergasted even as he sat down beside Penny.
“Mark, no reason to get yourself in a bind over it,” Megan Gwynn murmured, her Welsh accent hinting just a bit. “You’re not drinking it anyway.”
“I was just pointing it out.” The boy defended himself softly, reaching up to scratch the back of his neck. His staple earphones were missing. Considering his current state of dress—sweats and a t-shirt—it was only to be expected.
“Mark, my man,” Jubilee spoke again, licking her lips after savoring a sap. “Before this was a school, it was a house. So chill. This,” she grinned cheekily, “is all legal. Give yourself a couple of years and you’ll appreciate the Professor’s leniency.”
‘Frankly speaking gel, I’m honestly surprised that Professor Xavier lets you get away with these sorts of things.’
“Was that just directed at me, Jono or did you include everybody else in the room?”
‘No need to get tetchy. Just stating facts, J. But yes. I’m letting everyone else hear this.’
“You’re just moody ‘cos you miss the taste of beer.”
There was no reply after that and as if it were the most natural thing in the world, the room fell silent save for the sound of running water from the tap cut off shortly as Paige closed the faucet. Pixie expelled a small sound, sinking briefly into herself where she sat beside her roommate before she stretched and began the motions of getting up. “Pen,” she started, pulling her feet under her and pushing the seat away from the table. “I’m heading up.”
“I’ll go with you,” came Penny’s soft reply, and the sound of the bottom of a ceramic mug against the tiled counter signaled that the coffee was now all gone. “You coming along, Clarice?” She asked, and Blink nodded instead of replying out loud, reaching over to open the faucet as to allow the water to wash the interior of the glass. She set it carefully in the dish washer and followed the two girls, nodding with a shy smile of goodnight to the ones they were leaving behind.
“Night guys,” Mark’s voice followed them, and shortly after a new discussion arose as Paige’s voice piped up about a query she’d just remembered, the others’ responses falling further and further away the more she, Penny and Megan moved closer to the staircase.
“So are you heading down to the post office tomorrow?” Megan murmured aloud, just three steps ahead as they turned towards the stairs.
“Yeah,” Penny murmured back, covering her mouth with her hand as she yawned. “Have a letter to send off.”
“Another one for that boyfriend of yours?” Came the jibe.
“He’s a friend, Meg.” Followed the dismissal.
One, two, three steps.
Bobby was still asleep in the sofa, a forearm slung over his eyes.
Four, five, six steps.
Behind them, the door burst open accompanied by strong gust of wind and a crash like a thunderclap.