It was a straightforward enough job, really. And, for all intents and purposes, more work than Jono had been sent to do while running on Kurt and Warren's team a few months back. There was some kid, parents gone, manifested some sort of obvious physical mutation even before puberty. And there was trouble.
There was always trouble, wasn't there?
This time, trouble came in the form of a pair of human idiots who had grafted an arseload of anti-mutant weaponry onto their own bodies in the wake of a failed web business or some rubbish. Jono had arrived on the scene in time to stop the two morons from killing the lad, even if he had to resort to smashing a lamp into the skull of one of them when he'd found his powers temporarily neutralized.
Mission accomplished. Nicholas Gleason saved. Now, if only the boy, wolf-faced and animal-eyed, would see it the same way. Instead, he was still tucked away in that corner, the same one he'd been hiding in while the two humans had been advancing on him.
//All right, enough with the cowering, then. You're safe now, mate.//
"No! Get away from me!" The boy huddled even more tightly in his corner, mumbling and refusing to look at Jonothon, standing a stone's throw away and suddenly feeling more tired and defeated than a victory like this really should have left him. "You're... you're a monster! You're a monster..."
Jono was going to let Scott talk to this one, then.
Later, En Route to the Xavier's School...
//Ankle-biter's finally asleep, Mr. Summers.// It took a while to get the boy to calm down and settle inside the jet, a pep-talk from Scott about how Nicholas never had to be alone again, but he'd finally stopped freaking out about Jonothon and his flames long enough to relax and konk out. Jono had been wondering if he'd ever
manage to get some rest. For as much as the boy's words had stung, he couldn't help but feel somewhat responsible for him. After all, he'd been the one to step in and save his fuzzy little behind.
"You can call me Scott,
Jono. I'm not that
much older than you. Besides, you're not a Gen X kid anymore."
//Truer bloody words...//
"Actually, that's one of the reasons I invited you on this mission, Jono," Scott continued, keeping that red-tinted gaze of his on the Blackbird's controls. "I wanted to make sure you were... comfortable in your new position."
Ah. Because comfort had always been a big concern of the X-Men ever since Kurt and Bobby had bullied him into joining. Still, Jono supposed that he ought to at least attempt
//Comfortable? I suppose. I mean, you people don't seem too
disgusted by the giant crater I accidentally put in myself. It's just, sometimes I worry...// Jono's gaze drifted out the window as he thought of crosses on the lawn, of dead and dying on the floor of a church, and trying to explain that all of this... this was a product of ignorance. That humanity feared them because they had no frame of reference, no way to understand
them. And, at the same time, he didn't want to waste his time lecturing Scott Summers on the way he ran his X-Men, either. //Ah, forget it...//
"I'm not Professor Xavier, Jono. I can't read your mind." And really, Jonothon wouldn't want
Scott to. Wouldn't want anyone to. "If you have a problem with the X-Men, I want you to tell me.
Right, then. Here they went.
//It's not the X-Men, Scott. It's your school.// Jono hesitated a moment, waiting for some sort of protest that didn't come before pressing on. //I appreciate what you're doing for these children... Surrounding them with their own kind, protecting them from the idiots who hate and fear them... But what happens when they leave?//
were one of our students, Jono. Didn't your education prepare you for what came next?"
Right. The same way it had prepared Jubilee, and Angelo, and everybody else who couldn't pry themselves free of all of the X-shit that was thrown their way, now, even after their so-called graduations. Jono had a feeling that Scott wasn't quite seeing his point.
//'Course it did... Taught me how to be a better soldier.
But I can't imagine every
kid who graduates will want to dress up in black leather and fight evildoers like we
do. Most of them just want to be bankers
and... and ballerinas.
// Both totally solid examples. //Or whatever.//
"That's why we do more than just help them control their powers and show them how to defend themselves, Jono. We also teach them about the real world."
Right, then. Scott wasn't
seeing his point. Jono shook his head, gaze lingering out the window at the clouds below them.
//But don't you ever think they should be out there, teaching the real world about us?
Landing at the Xavier Institute didn't exactly make the situation any better. An antsy girl was hailing Scott almost the instant they stepped off of the jet, telling him that something had happened and that the X-Men were looking for him.
In retrospect, Jono probably should have just followed along after Scott, instead of lingering behind to ask what the trouble was.
//What's going on, Molly?//
"Well, uh..." She flinched away. Just what he'd needed, right after that rescue back in Cleveland. Flinched away and turned her attention downward, at the ground past the green mass of writhing tentacles that twisted out from underneath her sundress, where legs would have otherwise been.
//Relax, girl. Looking at me won't turn you to stone.//
"Well, ah..." It wasn't supposed to sting so much that she still wouldn't look up, but Jono managed to keep from making another comment while Molly struggled for words. "I guess a bunch of mutant students were, like, murdered or something..."
Some of our kids?//
No. No. No. Not again. Not more of this, not so soon.
Jonothon shouldn't have been so relieved when he found out that the murdered students weren't from Xavier's at all. Shouldn't have let his shoulders slump in relief when she told him that they went to the Empire State University, instead. But he did. It was one hell
of a relief. Mutant deaths... they happened. But he wasn't going to bury any more friends. He refused.
Scott, it turned out, was far more forthcoming with details. The students who had been killed were a part of one of ESU's programs. Full scholarships for mutants, to promote... genetic diversity on campus, or some such thing. In any case, they had all
been part of some sort of Students for Tolerance organization, and had all been killed while attending one of their meetings. The only survivor of the blast had been Gigi Martin, the group's founder, and the human girlfriend of the mutant who had shielded her from the explosion with his own body.
Bloody hell, this looked like a mess, inside and out.
//You have to let me investigate this.//
Scott knew that, right?
"Absolutely not. I gave you this information because it's important that you stay informed, not because I want you to play detective.
The FBI is already at the scene, and they've assured me that they're going to treat this as a hate crime."
//Bollocks! A few months ago, the feds were still trying to exterminate us! They'll just sweep this under the bloody rug!//
"What would you rather
I do, Jono?" Scott pressed a finger to his forehead, clearly, once again, not seeing what Jonothon was getting at, here. "Send you in undercover?
I'm sorry, son, but we both know that you're not quite... inconspicuous.
Lovely. A double-blow from the one who had not two hours ago told Jono that he didn't have to address him so formally because they weren't that far apart in ages. More X-Men double standard, to round out an already wonderful bloody day.
//That's why you're going to enroll me as exactly what I am,// Jono replied, speaking slowly, //Jonothon Starsmore... mutant.
I could analyze the situation from the inside, try to draw out the person responsible. The fall session's probably going to start soon, Scott. I can do this... Please. I didn't join the X-Men to be a teacher's assistant.
I... I wanted to make this world safe for mutants who don't have the privilege of attending this school. If we stand by and do nothing, more of them are going to die.//
So. What could Jonothon say about the campus of the ESU?
The escort hadn't been half bad? Until the security that had been hired to see him onto the campus for the first time (presumably for the sake of the press) took off, with a few low-blow mutie jabs while they were at it.
He probably could have done without the rotten fruit being pelted at him, and he'd thank his peers to refrain in the future from splattering tomato across his front. That said, at least he knew that not everybody
was insane. One of his fellow mutants, a girl by the name of Amber, at least had the good grace to quote Vonnegut at him ("Welcome to the Monkey House,") after comparing him to a Rockwell painting ("The Problem We All Live With.").
The other mutants on campus weren't the sorts that Jonothon could picture himself being too fond of. Anybody who ran around calling themselves the Magnetic North
and wearing t-shirts with Magneto's visage on them... probably wasn't worth the effort it took for Jono to not blow them up after their leader had ripped off his wrappings right there in the middle of the lawn. Gigi, the founder of the Students for Tolerance group, was the one who had stepped in before Jono and the 'Neutrino Annihilator' could get themselves both expelled. Odd that her boyfriend used to speak psionically, the way that Jono did now. But not that
odd, perhaps, considering the number of telepaths that Jonothon had known in his lifetime.
And one would think that Jonothon would be used to sharing a room. After all, he'd had a couple of flatmates back in his high school days, between Jak and George. Finding out that he'd been placed in a room with Walter, a guy in a wheelchair who took personal offense against the ESU's mutant scholarship program, hadn't been a walk in the park, either. Jonothon didn't have anything against Walter, personally, but trying to get two words out in the defense of mutantkind around the man's self-righteous ranting was... a bit of a chore.
Ah, university life. Pretty much exactly what Jonothon had expected it might be.
Jonothon woke up that night to the sound of his door opening with a soft click.
//Walter, that you? Listen, I wanted to apologize about before. I think we got off on the wrong--//
What he saw when he sat up wasn't his flatmate. It was the barrel of a gun, aimed directly at him.
He didn't have time to look at the person holding it before the sound of gunshots split through his mind, followed by the clicking of an empty gun. A full clip, emptied directly into him.
His attacker was slipping through an open window and fleeing at right about the time that Jonothon's consciousness decided to do much the same.
Jon wasn't out for long, maybe fifteen, twenty minutes at best. Waking up was a less than dignified affair, involving fire streaming from the holes in his wrappings, loosened bandages hanging around him like garland on a Christmas tree gone horribly wrong. He wasn't dead, at least. Whoever had shot at him had emptied out their gun inside of that flaming mess that didn't have anything vital left in it at all. Even so, the experience hadn't been the most pleasant. He wasn't exactly in any hurry to repeat it.
It wasn't long after Jono managed to fib his way out of trouble with the R.A. (clearly, he'd had the volume up too high on his Sopranos DVDs) that Walter showed up again, setting Jono right on-edge just by opening the door. Granted, the guy didn't need to knock before entering his own room, but the library closed three hours ago, and Jono was still a bit sore on account of the six bullets
that were rattling around inside of him.
Either way, he wasn't going to get much in the way of answers out of Walter, because there were classes in a few hours, and, as Walter himself said, "One of us sure looks like he could use some beauty sleep.
The next morning, right there in the rain, Jono caught up with Amber. When you got yourself shot on your first night at University, after all, it was probably a good idea to at least start talking to people who didn't
seem to want you dead.
And so it was confession time. Jono wasn't technically really a journalism major. He told her about the X-Men, about how he was undercover and investigating the murders on campus. When she asked why, he explained that it was for her own protection, so that she could keep her guard up. And then he was momentarily sidetracked when he noticed a guy watching him who had been hanging around entirely too closely for comfort since Jono first set foot on campus.
That kind of meant that Jono was obligated to approach the guy. He'd been shot
a few hours ago, and a random stalker sort of seemed like the kind of lead that would actually go somewhere.
… Or it would have, if the connversation hadn't gone spectacularly askew.
//You! You got a problem with me?//
The guy put his hands up as Jono prowled over to him, backing away.
"No! I... I just wanted to ask you a question. Have you ever acted before?"
Needless to say, this wasn't the reply that Jono had been expecting. And he just grew more disappointed when he was asked if he'd be willing to do some sort of zombie special effect in this jerk's film projects.
//Sorry. Not interested.//
Jonothon hated just about everything, which meant it was a good time to get Amber to take him somewhere that they could talk without interruption.
That somewhere turned out to be the dining hall. Amber was good enough to put Jono on her card, since the lunch-lady was bent on keeping out anybody without a meal plan,
before they found seats and he got to explaining about the shooting, proving it by dropping a handful of bullets on the table in front of her.
//These came out of my body.//
"Wait, came out of your body how?"
They tossed around a few speculations, about why people would want him dead, or perhaps just scared away from the trail, and were, naturally, rudely interrupted by the Magnetic North. This time around Kirk, the big guy in charge, was presenting Jono with an ultimatum. Jono licks Kirk's boots, or else his cronies break Amber's arms.
Who was Jono to turn down an invitation like that one?
As he and Amber walked away, thankfully in one piece, it really was
quite satisfying to hear the loud thud
of Kirk toppling forward thanks to the shoelaces that Jonothon tied together while he was down on his hands and knees. He needed to do something
while he was down there, after all. Having no mouth had a funny way of making Jono into a lousy snogger.
New Student Center, Noon:
Later that day, Jonothon had a meeting with Gigi, asking a few questions about what had happened to the tolerance group. She explained that she was the group's go-founder, along with her boyfriend Alex, one of the ESU's first mutant students. Alex had telepathy, like Jonothon, and he'd been killed in the blast along with the other mutants in the group.
According to the FBI, somebody had hidden a homemade bomb in the storage closet. And according to Gigi, Alex had used his own body to shield her from the explosion.
Jonothon's eyes closed. Lord, that description on its own was making him re-live nightmares from his own past.
//God, I'm so sorry...//
"It's all right, Jono," Gigi replied, her back to him. "After all, you know what it's like to live through a tragedy... only to lose someone you love."
//What are you...?//
"When your mutant abilities first manifested, they ripped a massive hole
in your face and chest. That same burst of energy reportedly crippled your then-girlfriend, who--"
//How... how do you know
all of that?//
"You'd be amazed what you can find on the internet, Jono." Well, there was an understatement. Jono was very
surprised, thank you. "You were 'outed' on a website called Purity,
an online collection of lunatics dedicated to the 'preservation of the human species.' ESU doesn't allow hate groups of any
kind to congregate on campus, so anti-mutant students have to plan their sick campaigns here," Gigi gave the top of her computer monitor a pat, "in secret. They're
the people who bombed my group."
//Gigi,// Jono was perhaps a little wide-eyed as she reached up and rested her hands on his shoulders, //I don't doubt that morons like them incite
violence, but... how can you be certain that they're directly
"Intuition. The same thing that tells me you're interested in more than a by-line in the school paper. Am I wrong, Jono?"
//No...// Oh, this was so far against his better judgment. And Jonothon was well aware of that. But there were big sad Girl Eyes, and they were about ten inches from his face. //No, you're not.//
me. Find the students behind that site, and you'll find the monsters who killed my friends."
… Bloody hell. How did Jono get himself into situations like this, again?
It was approaching dusk when Jono made his way to Amber's room, and Jono was coming to the sudden, unexpected realization that Amber's flatmate was a blonde. Amber's flatmate was a blonde who was prone to answering the door wearing nothing but a pink bra and a fluffy towel.
Jono needed a moment to gather his wits once her flatmate retreated and Amber met him at the door. Dear lord, she could have at least warned
him about that. He was already spoken for, and here was this girl with her breasts right there under his nose...
Right. Right. Get on task again, Chamber.
//I need a hand 'surfing the web,' or whatever the hell it's called. Afraid I'm lousy with that nonsense.//
Farmville didn't count. Shut up.
It was only about a half-hour before Amber did something-or-other on her computer, while babbling what sounded like utter gibberish about onion routing and ethernet, that practically left Jono with a home address for the moderator of the message board that belonged to the ESU's chapter of Purity.
Really, Amber was some sort of fine arts major genius.
Right. So, if Jono was undercover, then technically breaking and entering wasn't an issue, was it? Anyhow, back when Generation X was getting the occasional guest lecture from members of the X-Men, Ororo had taught them all how to pick a lock. Jono was hardly about to let such an important life skill go to waste here.
Another important life skill that he probably should have picked up might have been speed-re-wrapping when entering a dark room. The guy that stepped up behind him with the baseball bat certainly saw Jonothon well before Jono noticed him, after all. The crack
of hardwood against the side of his head sent Jon sprawling, but in light of the fact that he'd been shot six times that night and was still running around, that was hardly going to keep him down.
Besides, he hated baseball.
A quick blast of psionic energy disarmed his attacker long enough for Jonothon to place the face of the guy who had been following him around the campus earlier, now spitting bile about Jon's 'filthy mutant voice,' and how his parents had been killed by mutants. Which, fine, was a fair reason to be upset
, but didn't quite erase Jono's annoyance at being cracked upside the skull with a bat. Or the fact that he was here investigating a murder or six.
So, time to get down to business. Preferably by grabbing the guy by the scruff of his shirt and getting right up in his face about it, fire and all.
"Leave, before I call campus security."
//Be my guest. Maybe you can tell them
why you shot me.//
"What are you talking
//Let's save the play-acting for your next short, mate. We both know that you or one of your internet cronies tried to kill me.//
The look that Jono got from Mr. Purity here was not exactly the look that he'd been expecting.
"Are you insane?
Killing mutants only makes them martyrs." Ah. That was not the reply that he'd been expecting, either. "That's why I stick to psychological
warfare. My friends and I embarrass and belittle you animals every chance we get. Make you feel like the outcasts
you really are. It's more subtle than violence... and twice as effective at getting you freaks to leave."
As much as Jonothon wanted to slam this bastard back against a wall and throttle the shit out of him, that... actually seemed like a solid enough reason not to accuse this guy of murder. Mostly. Grudgingly, he set the jerk down and backed off. Slightly. He'd keep pushing anyhow, see what else he could get this guy to say. Maybe something useful.
//You come up with that strategy before or after you bombed the tolerance group?//
"Oh, please. You still think a bomb
killed those kids?"
//What do you mean? The FBI said--//
"The FBI? You of all people should know that the government could care less
about finding out who killed a bunch of muties.
Urge to throttle... rising some more.
//Oh, but you do
"More than you know. See, one of my guys is getting his Master's in forensic chemistry.
He did his own sweep of the crime scene... confirmed what we already guessed. The explosion that killed those mutants wasn't caused by a bomb... It was caused by another mutant.
Okay. So, there were probably better times of day to decide to pay Amber a visit. Especially by breaking in through her window and trying to shake her awake. But it was a bit of an emergency, what with the whole mutants-killing-mutants revelation, and he didn't exactly have a wealth of other people to turn to at the moment, and, bloody hell, it was dark in here. At least pulling his wrappings down some would get him a little light while he tried to wake Amber up.
He was not exactly expecting Amber's flatmate to be sleeping in Amber's bed, no.
Once he realized that it was
Amber's flatmate, he was, at least, expecting the scream.
//... Nothing is ever easy.
As least Amber seemed to be a little more sane, once her roomie fled the room, crying for help. She explained that one of the rooms was a little larger than the other, and so they'd agreed to swap. It wasn't like they were expecting leather-clad break-and-enter issues involving fire, after all.
And, to make the whole humiliating ordeal even more frustrating, Amber turned him down when he asked her to take him to the old student centre to see the damage done to the old tolerance room himself. Granted, that was because the building was bound to be locked up tight at this time of night, but still. It was the principle of the matter.
And maybe he didn't want to hurry back to his own room just yet.
He took his time making his way back across the campus to Brittany Hall. If it came down to dawdling around until daybreak, he didn't imagine anybody would blame him, exactly.
Jono bumped into Walter in the lobby, stuck there. The lift elevator was broken, and, after a few minutes taken to discuss how Jono might be able to help him up to their room (he couldn't), they both settled on sitting and waiting right there in the lobby. Or, rather, Jono decided to wait in the lobby with Walter, who kind of grunted and gave in. It was Jonothon's life, after all.
Really, Walter had no idea.
After a while, awkward silence gave way into idle conversation.
"Hey. Can I ask you a question?"
"Your face. Does it... hurt?"
"What does it feel like?"
Blunt like a cinder block to the throat, that Walter.
//I... I'm not sure. I accidentally blew up most of my vital organs a few years back... Painted 'em all over London. I don't feel much of anything anymore.// Another awkward silence, and then, //Can I ask you
//Your last roommate... He was one of the affirmative-action mutants killed in that explosion, right?//
//You're not particularly.... sad about his death, are you?//
"Not really. I mean, I barely knew him."
//Would you have felt worse if he was human?//
Another moment's silence, before Walter spoke up, tentatively.
"I don't know, Jono. People have been falling in and out of my life as long as I can remember... I don't feel much of anything anymore."
Six Hours Later...
No sleep. No sleep, and a night spent just tossing questions back and forth with Walter while they waited for the lift repairmen to show up. They'd taken their good old time. Jono was fine enough with that. It meant he didn't have to go up to his room again, didn't need to worry about someone gunning him down in some part of the body that wasn't
just hollowed out and full of flame.
Amber met him early enough, took him right to the door, still marked with police tape, that led to the room that had been blown to kingdom come. Jono made short enough work of it, blasting it out of the way with his power before stepping inside and looking around.
Not that there was much to look around at.
Concrete walls. No furniture had survived. The walls hadn't done so well, either. But at least they still had what Jono was looking for, as much as he'd been hoping not to find exactly that.
The crawling spiral scorch marks on the walls were definitely left by a mutant. He didn't need any forensic specialist to tell him as much. After all, the marks that he left on things with his own blasts looked exactly the same.
In light of their newest findings, clearly the most sensible thing to do was to touch base once again with Gigi. She... didn't really take the evidence well. Of course she didn't. It was so much easier to believe that the FBI was on the same side as the mutants who were killed, that they were martyrs to their cause, killed by some sort of spiteful, radical human.
At Amber's behest, at least Gigi admitted that she'd never actually seen
a bomb. She still didn't seem to think that it was terribly likely, even after Jono pointed out that the campus had its fair share of mutant
extremist groups as well, but conceding that she had no way to be certain was better than nothing.
So... now Jono was shifting his suspicions toward the Magnetic North. He was starting to feel a bit like a bloody yo-yo, but maybe that was how it was supposed to be?
//Any one of those tossers powerful enough to have done it?//
"I don't know, Jono," Gigi hedged. "Most mutants at ESU prefer to keep their unique genetic abilities a secret. Isn't that right, Amber?"
Jono couldn't help but notice the deer-in-headlights look that crossed Amber's face at that.
//Hell, I... I never thought to ask,// Jono hedged, turning to Amber. //What can
"It's none of your business, Jono," Amber muttered, looking the other way. "I choose to be defined by my actions, not by some stupid super-powers."
"Not only that," Gigi added, "but a lot of mutants are worried they might be drafted if the military ever found out they could be used as a weapon."
Oh, yes. Jono didn't know what that
was like. Fine. Fair. Either way, he was still trying to solve a murder, here. And whatever leads he was getting here, they didn't seem to be going anywhere at all. And so he excused himself, and Amber asked Gigi if she'd be up for doing some life drawing homework together later, and that was that.
More or less. Amber was kind of fuming about the whole encounter as the two of them made their way back across campus together. When Jono asked about it, Amber pointed out that most of this stuff really wasn't
Gigi's business. Either she was trying to make things easier for mutants in order to ease her guilty privileged Homo-Sapien conscience, or else she was trying to pad her resume for law school.
//Lord, if you feel that way, why did you ask her over?//
"'Cause I want to ask her a few questions while her 'en guarde' is down. I think that girl might be hiding something from us, Sherlock."
//Well, I'm grateful for the assist, Watson,// Jono replied, managing not to make a face
while he worked on equating the two of them to the literary figures that he'd grown up reading about, rather than the man who used to stalk him through the library and his live-in boyfriend. //But I'm pretty sure the only thing Gigi's guilty of is caring
Sherlock probably would have scolded him for that one. Amber certainly looked like she was coming close to doing just that.
"Oh you just say that because you're in loooooove with her."
//What? With Gigi?
You're... you're mad.//
That was the only explanation. And really, it nicely explained exactly what happened next, too, when Amber got a coy sort of look on her face, and after answering a few questions about where Jono could find the Magnetic North on a Friday night, leaned up and pressed her mouth firmly against the wrappings over his face. WHY DID GIRLS KEEP DOING THAT?!
He put his hands on her shoulders, still wide-eyed (and white-eyed, seeing as kisses out of nowhere still tended to throw him for a bit of a panicked loop), and stepped back a little, trying to explain that while he liked her, he didn't like her like that,
and before he could even get into how he was already spoken for, Amber was stalking away, muttering about how she hoped that he'd find a nice human
//What the hell just happened?//
At least he hadn't exploded.
Insane females aside, Jono wasn't about to let a decent lead go to waste, which was what brought him to the front door of the only 'mixed' bar in the area. Which... mostly meant that they'd serve mutants alongside their human clientele.
They also had a cover charge. And, spoiled as he was by having Caritas though his high school years (for all the drinking that he didn't do), Jono hadn't even thought to bring his ID with him, tonight.
The nine dollars was easy enough. The ID, not so much.
//I'll be damned,// Jono grumped, staring down at the black Sharpie 'X' that the bouncer drew on the back of his hand. //No matter where I go, I always end up wearing this
Kirk, at least, was easy enough to find. Even in a club that was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with mutants, the 'Neutrino Annihilator' seemed to tower above the rest of the crowd, after all.
Kirk, being the classy individual that he was, was correcting Jono before he even turned around to see who he was talking to.
"The name is Neutrino Annihilator, because I'm phatter than the Blob and colder than Avalon-- Jono?
" Kirk's eyes narrowed. "You must have a death wish, son. We ain't on campus no more... which means there's nothing to stop me from obliterating
//I'm not looking for a fight, mate,// Jono sighed. //Just wanted to ask if you knew any mutants who could fire bio-kinetic blasts like mine. Let me buy you a--//
"Hey, Neutrino." Tonight was apparently a good night for interruptions. One of Kirk's little buddies was sidling up behind him, nodding toward Jono. "You know who this mutie is? He was all over the rags
a few months ago. This is Jonothon Starsmore, dude who was dating that lame Britney clone."
Ugh. The tabloids. Could Jono never live those down?
"Sugar Kane?" Kirk's brow furrowed. "So, not only is he a gene-traitor, he's got lousy
taste in music."
//Now hold on just a--//
Oh. The way Kirk's hand was glowing pale blue like that was probably not a good sign.
"You wanna know about our powers, huh, sell-out? Well, me and my crew would be happy to demonstrate."
Jono would have liked
to be able to say that this was the first time he'd ever been hit in the chest by a gout of blue flame, but, alas, there were some things that being a member of an X-team managed to get you used to, and so once he'd regained his footing to a chorus of stunned screams and the sound of a room evacuating in a hurry, he managed to more or less shrug it off.
//Pyrokenesis, huh?// He dusted himself off, turning a baleful look in Kirk's direction. //Thanks, but that's not quite what I'm looking for.//
Another of Kirk's lackeys stepped up, trying to take a swing at Jono, and he took her down with a swift kick to the kidneys. In all fairness, she'd been threatening to rip his out, first. Not that he actually had any. And if they were going to be taking turns like this...
//Who's up next? Anyone here have night vision?// The cries of protest that filled the darkened room as Jono tore off his wrappings answered that question easily enough. //Thought so.//
That was about the point that they all rushed him at once. Which, really, was hardly a fair fight.
For them. They were rushing a member of the X-Men, after all.
Jono was dusting off his hands dismissively by the time it was Kirk's turn.
//Ready to chat like adults now, Kirk?//
"Still one thing I gotta do..." Oh, great. Like this bruiser hadn't already been beaten. "... and that's shake your damn hand." Oh. Huh. "You didn't even break a sweat taking these tools down. Maximum respect, bro. I've never seen
a mutant like you."
//You positive? I need you to be straight with me... Lives are at stake and all that. You sure you've never met another student with powers like mine?//
"Well, just one..."
Jono couldn't run back to the campus fast enough. Didn't even bother pulling his wrappings on again. There wasn't time for that.
//Amber!// The door to her dorm room didn't stand a chance in the face of the psionic blast that Jono sent toward it when he found her door locked. //Amber!
He was actually fortunate, for once, to be busted by an RA for destroying school property. After she freaked out a little about his face and he explained that he was a mutant, it meant that he could at last ask her if she'd seen Amber.
Which she hadn't.
And her roommate?
… Amber didn't have
a roommate. And never had.
Jonothon was turning on his heel and running out of that room as though somebody had lit his arse on fire.
Walter was staring at Jono with wide, somewhat horrified eyes as he stood in the doorway to their room.
"What happened to you?"
Of course he'd be worried. He'd never seen Jon without his wrappings on, either. But there wasn't exactly time to explain.
//Walter, I need to ask a favour. You need to ring someone for me. It's an emergency.//
"Me? Why can't you do it yourself?"
Dear bloody lord
, did Jonothon need to spell it out for him? There was fire billowing out of his bloody face
and if he said it was an emergency, wasn't that enough? Amber's life could be at stake and before Jono could even think about reigning himself in, he was yelling, flames licking up around him and tinting the room in shades of hellfire.
//Because I don't have a bloody MOUTH!
//... Sorry.// Fucksakes. //Listen. I... I communicate telepathically, and my... my range
for the most part is very limited. I need your help here, Walter. Please.
"Yeah. Sure." Walter didn't seem terribly thrilled about it, but at least he was reaching for the phone. "Who am I calling?"
//Xavier's school. In Westchester.//
"What?" And now Walter seemed less
pleased. "Isn't that some kind of terrorist training camp?"
//The X-Men are not terrorists.//
"How do you know?"
//Because I'm one of them. They call me Chamber.//
"... You're serious."
//Very. I came to ESU to find out who blew up the mutants in that tolerance group... and I think I may have finally found their killer.//
"Who... who is
//It's...// Dear lord. Jono didn't even have time to begin to explain. //Complicated. Right now, I need you to get in touch with someone called Cyclops. Tell him to activate Cerebra and locate a student named Amber.
"I know Amber. I just saw her a little while ago."
//Where?// If Jono had a heart, this would have been the appropriate moment for it to leap out of his chest anyhow, right?
"Third floor of the new student center. She was with what's-her-name... that chick whose boyfriend died in the explosion."
"Yeah. That's it."
To hell with Cerebra, then. Jono was already running back out the door, thankful that he didn't exactly need to stop on the way to, say, catch his breath.
//Cheers, Walter! You're a lifesaver.//
"Sure, uh... good luck, Jono!" Jonothon wasn't certain that he was hearing Walter correctly as he continued down the hallway, but he could have almost sworn that he'd followed that up with an, "And be careful."
He was planning on it.
Jonothon was becoming a master at getting into rooms with locked doors. With his wrappings off, he didn't need to bother with things like picking the locks, after all. And doors didn't particularly need hinges, and he was in too much of a hurry for tact.
He probably shouldn't have been surprised to see Gigi holding Amber at gunpoint on the other side of the door. And wasn't as concerned as he probably should
have been when she turned that gun to point at him, next. Amber had been in better shape, but she was still standing up and in one piece, and so Jon was going to count that as a win.
"This... this isn't what it looks like, Jono."
For all the worth that Gigi's words held at this point. Honestly.
//Oh, really? Because that looks exactly like the gun you used to shoot me.
Unless you expect me to believe that was someone else?//
"No. I... I was the one who shot you. But I didn't want to kill you, Jono," Gigi pleaded, "I was just trying to scare you."
Well. She'd certainly managed that.
//Why? Because you wanted me to sod off before I learned the truth? Afraid it's too late for that, Gigi. Amber and I already figured out that a mutant with powers like mine caused the explosion that killed your friends. And according to my new mates in Magnetic North, the only person who first that description... is your dearly departed boyfriend.//
He should have figured it out earlier. When they'd first met, Gigi had told him that he communicated the exact same way her boyfriend did. And the people at the CBGB told Jono, after he was done mopping the floor with most of their mutant clientele, that the boy used to stop by to show off his biokinetic powers. And so, while Jono was using his powers to help people, Gigi's loverboy was using his to kill other mutants, and then offed himself when he was done.
… Only, that wasn't quite right, either.
And now that Jono had figured out who the culprit was, Gigi was all to eager to explain what happened. Maybe because having Amber at gunpoint made her feel invincible. Maybe because she just wanted to clear his name before the truth could go and destroy it.
Yes, he'd gone around, showing off those powers. But the meeting that had killed most of the club members had been called because, like Jono's own, his had been too much to be controlled. He was trying to get help.
And they'd chosen that very moment to get away from him. He made Gigi take cover, and the other mutants tried to control the energy that was pouring out of his body... Gayle...
Jono didn't dare look away. Didn't care close his eyes as he remembered the heat that rose in his chest, as he remembered trying desperately to get Gayle to get out of the way before his own powers got away from him in the worst way possible...
//You mean... this was all an accident.// No. Now he did close his eyes. Squeezed them tight shut and tried to wipe his own nightmare memories from his mind. //Then... why in God's name did you tell the authorities a bomb caused that explosion?//
"If the public ever found out about the truth, it would only reinforce the stereotype that all mutants are dangerous. ESU's affirmative action program... the progress
we made... it would all be over."
Amber was still at gunpoint, but with her eyes closed, sounding meek and tired, she started to speak, too.
"Gigi figured she could make the accident look like murder, place the blame on anti-mutant hate groups, and let her dead friends further her cause as martyrs.
"I knew Amber was suspicious of me, so I brought her here and told her everything. I thought she would support
what I had done, maybe convince you to quit digging for answers..."
"But as soon as I told her I was taking this straight to the administration, she went all Robert Blake on me."
"I... I wasn't going to shoot her, Jono. I just wanted to keep her here long enough to convince her that I was doing the right thing for mutantkind."
By... holding one of them at gunpoint. Bloody hell, why did women make no sense?
"Well," Amber hissed, "you better be ready for a long night, sister, because I will never
believe that your lies are right for anyone."
"Then you leave me no choice."
The safety on the gun clicked off.
"Don't." And then the gun was levelled at him again. Which was... a mild improvement on being aimed at Amber. Somehow. "A bullet in the chest might not kill you, but a bullet to the brain will.
And I've had a gun as long as I've been getting death threats, so I'm an excellent shot. I don't want to hurt anyone, but I will not
allow you to take away what my friends gave their lives
for. If the world learns that a mutant caused that explosion, schools will close their doors to your kind forever."
//You... you may be right, Gigi. Let's talk about this.// This... this was going to take a lot of focus. At the same time as he carried on his negotiations with Gigi, he started talking to Amber as well. //Amber? Can you hear me? Quiet, luv. Gigi can't hear this. I'm distracting her with another argument. I'm splitting my telepathic voice to carry two conversations at once.//
And he was going to have a hell of a headache for it in the morning.
//Never tried this before. Taking all of my... concentration. I can't risk using my powers until you're safe. I need you to help me with your
powers, Amber. I know what they are now. I know what you can do.// She started to speak. Tried to ask him how he knew. //Hush. I'll explain later. Right now, I need you to concentrate on the photo over there...// On Gigi's desk. Of her and her boyfriend. //And leave the talking to me.//
"...And in this case," Gigi continued, in some faraway conversation that Jono had barely been managing to follow, "the end justifies the means, Jono. Silencing you two will help ensure that generations of mutants will have equal access to higher education. That's all Alex and I ever wanted."
//But we didn't want it like this.//
Not Jono's voice now. Something that he'd pulled right from the forefront of Gigi's mind, and he felt sick about it. And there, with that gun pointed at him, an apparition of Alex, looking just like he did in that photo.
//Put the gun down, baby.//
"But you're... you're dead!"
//I came back to save you, Gigi... to save you from becoming everything we hate.
// Jono was going to probably feel sick about this stellar dialogue later, too. But so long as it seemed to be working... //I know how much you've been through... how much you gave up for our cause. But what we want can never be achieved through violence.//
"I... I don't know what to do
, Alex. I've been so confused ever since you..." Gigi's eyebrow furrowed as she studied the face in front of her, starting to slip, starting to shift from flesh to greenish scales, from Alex to Amber.
"Wait, what's wrong with your...?"
"Jono, I... I'm losing it!
Damn it, Amber! Hang in there! But... maybe that was enough. The gun was pointed at him again, but Gigi was letting go of Amber as she finished her shift back, and that was more than enough for Jono to lash out with his powers, knocking Gigi clear off her feet.
"Is she...?" Amber was standing to the side of the room, now, pulling her shirt closed where the broad chest of her Alex shift had popped a few buttons. Jono was lifting Gigi's hand, checking her wrist for a pulse.
//Unconscious. But she'll be fine. Relatively speaking, of course...// There was no accounting for sanity, really. //Amber, you were brilliant.
"Just the dummy to your ventriloquist, Jono. But... how the hell did you know I was a shapeshifter?"
//Your 'roommate' gave it away.//
"Damn. Finally figured out we were the same girl, huh?"
//I wondered why I never saw the two of you together... and why you were usually wearing the same clothes. I knew you were hiding something when I found her in your bed
the other night, but I figured she might just be your girlfriend.//
There was just one thing from there. One thing that Jono really couldn't wrap his head around. If someone that looked like either of them had the ability to do that,
to take on the shape of someone as gorgeous as Amber's other form was, all blonde curls and bosom, why would they ever keep that a secret?
… He probably should have kept that question to himself. Though he probably deserved the slap across his face that he got for asking.
"That's why I never told you. I gave you plenty of opportunities to be with the real me,
but I guess you only want this... this figment." Wait... He... What? "I thought you of all people would have figured out that beauty is more than skin
deep, but maybe that's one cliche you don't buy into."
… Ouch. Ouch, and also, what the hell?
//Amber, please...// The least she could do would be give him a moment to explain. Bloody hell, he wasn't looking
for a girlfriend, here!
"You hate when people treat you differently because of the way you look, but how are you
any better? You trusted Gigi for so long because she's beautiful,
and you pushed me away because I'm not.
And the way that she was presenting it, even Jono couldn't help but have his doubts. But...
//That... that isn't true.//
"You don't sound so sure. Listen, you're a good guy, Jono. You risked your life
to save me, and for that I'll always be grateful..." Oh, please, don't let her be about to say what she's about to say. Please, lord. "But I never want to see you again."
And she said it.
And he'd probably deserved it, too.
A few days later, after the X-Men picked Jono up, he sat in his room, trying to file his report.
And words... weren't really coming that smoothly.
Gigi was... a good person who made some bad decisions after a terrible tragedy. And Amber was a hero. And he was a dick.
There were already murmurs that ESU was talking about cutting their mutant scholarship program, and that was on his head, wasn't it?
Bloody hell. He couldn't focus on his paperwork. He'd managed to make a complete cock-up of the whole damn thing, just by solving the mystery. Score one for the good guys.
He pulled out his phone, idly thumbing at the keys. Greetings from the newest Empire State University journalism program dropout. Any good news among the rest of you, these days?
Never mind that it had only been a matter of days since he'd been on the island. For Jono, he was back to counting Fandom days with weeks. He was allowed to pester people at this rate. Right?[Um. I have no idea what possessed me to transcribe all four issues of the Chamber miniseries, but there you go. Sanity probably doesn't apply. Open for anyone who wants to get Jono's text! Or whatever. LJ's still being a jerk.]