It was bound to happen.
No, not Sugar embracing the controversy, pointing to Jono and bragging about him being her latest flame to the press. Show business. He got that. Of course that would happen. If you were thrown a hook, you took it. Anything less would leave the fans bored and looking for some other source of gossip. Hell, Jono was actually almost enjoying it. Aside from the threats from Sugar's manager, it wasn't half bad, being in the limelight. Backstage access was usually worth it, all on its own.
No, what has been bound to happen was the appearance of yet another bloke with an X on his belt. This one was lurking in the men's room when Jono made his way in, needing a moment's respite from the press, and from the dirty looks that Sugar's production team kept throwing his way.
"Not a bad life, huh, kid...? Looks like you got it all figured out now."
//Oh, hell. How'd you find me here?//
Logan didn't move. Just stood there, his arms crossed over his chest, leaning back against a bathroom stall. Creepy little Canadian.
"Followed yer scent. It wasn't hard. Your particular stink is all over London."
Oh, marvellous. Could Jono get through just one day without somebody telling him how terrible he smelled?
//So they're sending in the big guns, aren't they?// Jono's tone was dry, to say the least. //Hard line recruitment time. Why can't they just leave me be?//
"I don't have to tell you what you already know, Starsmore. I won't." There was a moment's pause as Logan pushed off from the stall door, stepped up to the mirror, and proceeded to make a big show of checking his hair in the mirror. Lord only knew why. Maybe he was perfecting that 'small, hairy wild-man' look that he'd managed to make all his own. "We'll always be there to catch you if you fall. Even me. I just figured I'd come in and say hello in person. And maybe... just maybe... you'll figger it out before you fall."
Yeah, Jono had heard just about enough. He was already turning and walking back toward the door. He'd take his chances with the dirty looks, if it meant that he didn't have to deal with this gobshite.
//Nobody's fallin' anywhere. Thanks for the visit. You can go back to the woods now...//
And that was about the point that the door bloody near hit Jono in the face. One of Sugar's bodyguards stepped in, looking down at him with an expression that suggested that he'd probably drawn the short straw when he'd been chosen to play fetch-the-mutant.
"C'mon, Freak. Sugar's headin' back to the hotel."
"Hey, Chunky," Logan's voice came from behind Jono, his tone somewhere between a growl and a scoff. That never did mean anything good, with Wolverine. "Who you callin' 'Freak?'"
The bodyguard should have known to back off. Sticking his finger in Logan's face and calling him the Dog-Faced Boy was... not bright. Which he learned a split-second later, in spite of the fact that the man was damn near twice Logan's height, when he found his hand twisted back so hard that Jono could hear bones grinding together, and then he was shoulder-checked clean through the door to the nearest bathroom stall.
"Don't call me 'boy.' I'll see ya 'round soon, kid."
And then Logan left, leaving Jono standing in the restroom, staring at the massive man who was currently blowing bubbles in the toilet bowl.
Shit really began to hit the fan while Jono and Sugar were discussing a performance that she'd been asked to do for a certain halftime show. And, while it was nice to know that Sugar's reputation had been gaining her recognition even overseas, there they were. Those seeds of doubt. Sugar's entire life was some sort of freak show. It made sense enough that he was starting to feel comfortable in the middle of it. His life was one, too.
And in a heartbeat, as Sugar's manager bloody near busted the door down in a fit, it turned right around and got just a little bit more freakish.
Sugar Pregnant With Mutant's Baby!
It was a load of utter tripe. But it was the sort of utter tripe that could destroy a career in this world. Especially when it found its way to front page news.
A drop in record sales.
Cancelled stadium tours.
Sugar herself was beginning to lose it. Apparently kicking over furniture was the 'in' thing this time of year, as the television set fell victim to her foot in a fit of frustration. And the coffee table. And the ringing telephone...
//O-kaaaay. Feel better?//
"Don't you dare condescend to me, Jon. Just... Don't... My whole life is going straight to hell. Is this how you've felt, Jon? Is this what your life is about? The whole world turning on you? I... don't think I can take it."
"Sugar! Comment on the pregnancy?"
"Sugar! Is it a boy or a girl--?!"
"- Or an insect!?"
"Sugar! Will you have an abortion!?"
"Pull back the hood, Sugar! We can't see you!"
"Sugar! Will you breast-feed the mutant spawn!?"
"Sugar! Do mutants have bigger--"
"Sugar! Look this way!"
"Sugar! Has the royal family contacted you!?"
"Sugar! Will you keep seeing the mutie, now that you're carrying his baby!?"
"Sugar! Response to the protests!?"
"Sugar! Will you still drink Okay Cola?"
"Give us a quick flash for page three of the sport--"
God. They couldn't get inside, away from the press, quickly enough. Sugar had a gig, and maybe it was idiotic for Jono to tag along in light of the recent media explosion, but... what else was there to do? Sure, he was getting hell from Sugar's manager, now. He was standing too close to the window, giving the media more fuel for the flames just by being visible, but... This was something he needed to see.
A press of bodies down below, like ants, all swarming toward the locked door, trying to get in. All looking for more dirt to dig up on the teen pop star and her so-called mutant 'boyfriend.' It was enough to make him want to retch. Hell, retching would probably be a more enjoyable way to spend his time than this.
He shrugged and stepped back from the window, just as the door exploded in on itself, sending Jonothon reeling. Men in what looked like some sort of freakish radioactive protection suits stepped in, threw him to the ground, collected Sugar, and left.
And Jono was left there, pulling himself to his feet, staring after them, and trying to make sense of her manager's words.
"It's alright! Let her go with them! I'll take care of this. You just stay out of our way. And don't talk to any reporters."
Jono hated his life.
Back in his room. Watching the telly. Trying to figure out what was going on.
A talk show. Sim, Sugar's manager. Spewing drivel about how it was their duty as human beings to curtail the 'so-called Evolutionary Process' by any means necessary.
Jono was mostly not paying attention as a bellhop came into the room. Told him that it was no longer being paid for by Miss Kane. He'd have to vacate immediately, and would he please use the back service entrance when leaving?
//Sure... Whatever you say...//
There was a car waiting outside. Not for him to get in. Why would anyone want him in their car? Especially her. Especially right now.
//Glad to see you're okay. Although, I figured you were. I've seen the news...//
"Sim set the whole abduction-thing up. He said it needed to be dramatic to convince the public I was... clean." Even Sugar sounded bitter when she muttered that word. Or was it bitterness? Maybe she was just ashamed, saying it to his face as though it would have been some sort of disease. Just another anti-mutant slur, but this time, coming out of her mouth, instead of everyone else's. "It wasn't supposed to play out like this, Jon."
Jono was going to hear her out. So help him, he was. As she talked about how she needed to take care of herself. About her old Good Girl reputation. About how her image needed an edge.
And about how he was that edge.
//You used me.//
Jono didn't know what stung more. The fact that he should have seen this coming, the fact that he'd let himself think even for a moment that this might actually be something like friendship, or the fact that the X-Men were right.
Assholes to the core, but right.
"Look... My 'career' doesn't have much of a shelf life if I don't evolve! Teen pop is so six months ago! And I won't end up in the 'Where-are-they-now' file! And don't act like you didn't get something out of it, Jon! You know you did!"
//Maybe... I never wanted to be a star, Sugar.// Not really. It was a nice perk, riding along in her wake. It was a crazy ride. Hell, he'd enjoyed it. But... //I never cared about how famous you are. But I just... wanted to belong somewhere.//
"No one 'belongs' here, Jon. I sold my soul to go platinum. Take care of yourself. Find a home... A real home... if you can."
And then her window rolled up. And then she drove away.
This was a stupid idea.
It was the most stupid idea Jono had ever had. Making his way onto the Blackbird as it sat at the airport. Waiting for the X-Men to board. He was aware that it was like admitting defeat. He was damn aware that it would be rubbed in his face. In what was left of it. But at least they didn't give a toss just what he was. He could make himself useful. He could blow things up like a real champ.
He had nowhere else to go.
He heard their voices before he ever saw them board. Bobby, Kurt, Logan, and Warren. And he made a point to play it cool, sitting himself down in one of the seats in the cockpit. Casual. There was no slipping out the back door, now.
//Got room for one more...?//
They looked his way as if he'd grown another head. Waited for some sort of explanation. He shrugged, looking at them past the fire, and pressed on. He supposed if he was going to play stowaway and run around in their silly little uniform, the least he owed them was that much. //She... Really didn't like me. You've probably seen the papers. As soon as I became a career liability, she bloody well changed her tune. I thought his time would be different.// And, of course, what they were waiting for... //I guess you were right.//
"Your pain brings us no pleasure, Jon," Kurt assured him. "Nor does being correct about your situation."
"Hey, man... You're better off with us, anyway," Bobby insisted, throwing his arms open. "We never go out of style."
"I dunno... He may be more trouble than it's worth..."
"Stop teasing him, Logan," Kurt chastised. "This was meant to be."
Was it? Jono felt fairly certain that some higher power was probably laughing at him right now. That was about all he was getting from the blue, furry man in the Roman collar standing in front of him.
It was Logan, out of everyone, who was the voice of reason.
"Tell him that." Thank you, Wolverine. Jon was sitting right in front of them. Didn't need anyone talking about him as though he wasn't even there. He'd gotten his fill of that just hanging around with Sugar and her crew. "This ain't a step backwards, kid. Take it from someone who knows. Besides, you got better taste than bubblegum, anyway."
//... I never liked her music...//
"We each commit ourselves in our own way," Kurt added. "We each learn our lessons. Perhaps you learned yours. So you may not quite understand what I mean when I say this, Jon, but welcome home, mein freund."
//'Home...'// Jono shook his head a little. He was tired. Too damn tired to really care where they were headed, anymore. //We'll see.//
And as the others got the jet ready for liftoff, Jono contented himself to find some dark little corner, to pull out his phone, and to fire off a text. If the Blackbird's systems couldn't handle working around one little cell phone firing off texts across time and space, there was no hope for technology as the world knew it.
Heading back for America. London didn't work out so well, after all. I'll give you a writing address or something when we've landed and I've had a chance to settle in.
This was going to be one of those days.
[NFB for distance, and taken right from the pages of Uncanny X-Men, issues 397 and 398. Open for texts or e-mails, if anyone's interested. So, so glad to have the Poptopia arc out of the way. My brains might have melted a little trying to make it actually make sense alongside GenX and FH canons.]
- London, Still Not Regency Era, Saturday Fandom Time