Xavier's School for the Gifted, 2003

Orientation Day always smelled like the dog pound. Students lined up at the foyer, equal parts desperation and disdain while the faculty walked down the halls, smiles plastered on their faces, pretending that everything was going to be hunky dory and tonnes of fun. Scott was not a fan of Orientation Day.

Storm sidled up next to him in the receiving line. "Promise me you won't say anything about the sanity of the professor, the qualifications of the teachers, our Board of Directors, our previous students, our current students, our current curriculum, the lunch menus, legal guardianship, not-so-legal guardianship, the medlab, the science lab, explosions, toxins, the appliances in shop class, the age of the building, the horses, the dogs, the cat, the hamsters, or anything else that has anything to do with the school, the staff and any living creature in the county."

Scott blinked. "That means I can't say anything," he whispered back.

"That's the idea."

Not that this idea grated; hell, Scott was raring to shut up. But if he didn't give a show of resistance, everyone would suspect it. "Deputy headmasters should talk."

"No, the headmaster talks. The deputy headmaster is the muscle."

He could have sworn the professor's mouth trembled with the need to laugh.

"So what does that make you?" Scott asked Ororo.

"The head of the CIA." She might have winked but the first of the new students was arriving with her dad and the professor was holding his hands out, saying, "Ah, Mr Cassidy, we're so glad to see you again! And Teresa, I…"

Scott tuned the rest of it out and concentrated on looking like muscle. Eventually, he tuned out everything inane, his peripheral senses managing to shake a hand and murmur "Welcome to Xavier's" unthinkingly. He had lesson plans to go over. Also, the Blackbird's left engine was doing something strange and he couldn't run any tests without someone helping him. Maybe he should call Forge.

In the distance, Scott spotted one of the newer kids skulking about the hedges. John Allerdyce, his thankfully near-eidetic memory supplied, a pyrokinetic. The professor brought him in during the summer from a juvenile detention centre in Des Moines, Iowa. He'd been linked to arson, a couple petty thefts, and possession of an illegal substance but a rap sheet like that wasn't unusual for runaways. His attitude was the size of the stables and three times as fragrant which made his situation less than sympathetic.

Scott felt his jaw tighten as he remembered his last Danger Room session with John. It was a non-event just like all the previous times. The kid was more than happy to set sofas, lunch, and rose bushes on fire but the minute he was in a safe environment, he did the best sloth impression Scott had ever seen.

"Scott, you're scowling again," Ororo said, seemingly without taking that smile off her face.

"Do you mind being on your own for a while? I want to go see John."

She flicked a glance at the student in question. "He's still adjusting. Our best bet would be to let him have a safe place to vent his frustrations and just have our defenses up to make sure everyone else is safe as well."

"That may have worked for you way back when," said Scott, "but sometimes the best defense is a good offense."

"That may have worked for you way, way back when but a lot has changed since you were a kid."

He suppressed a grin at Ororo's retort. It wouldn't do for the muscle to smile. "Touché. Structure's doing wonders for the rest of our holiday dorm kids." They never referred to the runaways as such; they were the students who opted to stay for the holidays.

"He needs to feel secure in his place before he can appreciate structure."

"We can agree to disagree later; right now, I want to make sure our home insurance premiums don't go up. Again."

1407 Greymalkin Lane, 1995

"For the love of-- Charles!" When Lensherr got mad, veins in his temples bulged. It was hilarious. Scott didn't try too hard hide his laughter. Still sniggering as Lensherr marched him into Xavier's office, Scott mentally tallied up his wins. Summers, 4; Old Dopes, 0.

"I will countenance many things in the name of education, Charles, but this boy is simply being disagreeable." Lensherr pointedly guided him to a chair in front of Xavier's desk.

His eyebrows arching to the top of his bald head, Xavier asked, "What happened?"

"He deliberately sabotaged Henry and Warren's science project by replacing their plant growth mixture with vodka. Andhe handed in his algebra homework completely blank, in the shape of an airplane. We haven't even discussed the fact that he broke into the liquor cabinet and managed to steal a single-crate bottle of the vodka." Lensherr's jaw clenched. Yep, those veins were still throbbing. It was grotesquely fascinating.

Scott didn't think it was possible but Xavier's eyebrows inched higher. "Hmm," was all he said.

"If we are to function as a school, we should take care to find students who want to learn as opposed to those who--" Lensherr managed to stop himself when he saw Xavier's expression darkening. "He has to learn the consequences of his actions, Charles."

"What do you suggest?"

Lensherr smiled. Things never bode well for Scott when Lensherr smiled.

The stables smelled worse than the dog pound. Scott did some work there once as part of his community service crap. Dogs-- all animals-- in pounds were mean 'cause they knew there was nothing else left. So they fought when they had to and went cute when they had to all the while knowing-- from the scent of everyone who came before-- that really, there was no point.

Horses peered over the stall, some whickering to each other at the new comer. Scott brushed down the hair he knew stuck straight up on the top of his head and then snarled at himself because shit, why would the horses care about his cowlick? Unless they wanted to bite it off.

Warily, Scott met the eye of the nearest horse. He (she?) bared his teeth.

"They don't eat meat."

Scott almost jumped up when Xavier spoke. For an old guy, he moved real quick and quiet. "I know that," he said. "I thought you didn't go into people's heads if they didn't invite you."

"I don't but you were projecting. It's almost like overhearing a conversation to me,"

That sounded plausible but Scott hadn't lasted this long by trusting everything people said. Especially adults. "So, is this like community service except it's going to be all the time, every day until I turn eighteen plusthere's school? This is totally unfair."

"Community service?" Xavier smiled. "I'm afraid you're mistaken about the terms of your stay here, Scott. This isn't a punishment."

He glanced at the horses, twisting the rake in his hands. "Yeah. Right."

Smiling, the old man amended his statement. "I hoped you wouldn't see this as a punishment. You're a very bright young man, Scott. I believe we can give you a chance to learn and harness your skills here instead of being helpless to them."

"In exchange for what? Being your house boy? How fucking hard up must you be to own a place like this and still have to trawl through the streets for a blow job?" Scott smirked. "You into horse dick or something?"

Xavier's smile wavered. Strangely, Scott didn't feel triumph at cracking that mask. He just felt...

He didn't know how he felt.

With a controlled sigh, Xavier lowered himself on a nearby bench. "Scott, I'm not sure you're aware of the seriousness of Jack Diamond's crimes."

Shrugging, Scott said, "I only worked for him. 'Course I knew he was up there."

"He was, indeed, up there," said Xavier, his tone grave. "He was the go-between for three of Italian mafia families left on the east coast and was fast cementing himself with the newer gangs on the west. Drugs, kidnapping, hits, drugs, prostitution rings. And he named you as his main assistant."

Ice slid through every part of Scott's body from his lungs outward. His head threatened to explode; he gripped his glasses to make sure it didn't. He was in so much shit.

"I had to hire five lawyers to fight the state and the FBI to drop all the charges against you and put you in my care. Even if I were 'hard up for it' as you say, there are easier ways to acquire... those services."

He couldn't do anything but nod, eyes glued to the ground. He couldn't remember the last time he felt this ashamed. Maybe it was when he lost his mom's wedding ring because he'd been playing treasure-hunters. Maybe it was when he woke up in the kids' home too blind and brain-damaged to keep Alex with him.

Straightening, Xavier resumed his normal tone. "As you know from your schedule, when you're through here, Mr. Lensherr is expecting you in the library for your history class. The state only demands ninth grade American History and I'm certain you'll be able to pick up on that quickly enough. We can discuss it and your current reading simultaneously; I've always found literature much easier to digest with a bit of history behind it as vice versa." He tapped the intercom wired to one of the stable posts. "If you need any help, don't hesitate to call the house. I'll just be in my office marking your math homework."

Xavier was almost at the door before Scott spoke again. "Really, though. Why did you go through all the trouble to do this?"

The old man turned around and smiled. For reasons he didn't really didn't want to figure out right now, the smile made Scott want to cry. "Because you're worth all this trouble and more."

Xavier's School for the Gifted, 2003

John didn't hear Scott walk up; he was too busy burning rose hips off the lackadaisically trimmed bushes. With a bright yellow Bic lighter in his left hand, he curled his right into a gun-shape, using his index finger to aim spurts of flame five feet or more. The fat green globes sizzled from the crown down, releasing a tart, flowery scent, aptly enough.

"I could trade your stable duty for gardening seeing as how you're so keen on it," Scott said.

John must have jumped three feet in the air, shoulders hunched and fists clenched. Always primed for a fight, Scott reflected. He shouldn't have snuck up on the kid. Of all Xavier's oldest students, he was the only one who knew-- truly, deeply knew not just briefed about-- living in the streets. No one who snuck up on you had good intentions. Sometimes he was too damned stupid to believe.

Recovering into his usual mask of rebellion, John sneered, "Horses, roses; they can all burn. Can't be too sure about my control, y'know." He thumbed the lighter and even though Scott knew what the kid was about to do, he couldn't have stopped him. Snapping his fingers open, John let a fireball loose on the garden.

Scott nipped the lighter away and called out Ororo's name just as the fireball engulfed the closest plant. John stumbled backward, eyes wide as the fire jumped quickly from rose tip to rose tip. One spark jumped to his own jacket and John swiped at it frantically, forgetting for a second that he could control it.

Or could he? The thought occurred to Scott seconds before Ororo intervened. Thank God the summer humidity still stuck in the air; it gave her enough time to gather a storm cloud over the garden. He and John became thoroughly drenched in the process but Scott couldn't quite feel pity for the kid even though he did look like a starved and drowning rat with his hair plastered to his gaunt face.

"You just earned yourself another month at the stables and two weekend-groundings," he said.

"What? You can't keep me here on the weekends! You fucking suck!" John struggled but was no match for Scott's height and half-Nelson.

"Last time we rewarded a student for burning the garden down, he went on to become a model citizen. We can't have that."

"Fuck you, you fucking fucker."

"A verb, an adjective and a noun. Impressive. Let's go inside, John." Scott started to guide-- or rather, push-- the young man towards to French doors around the side of the mansion.

As he dragged his feet up the few stone steps, John said, "I don't have to take this, you know. I can leave whenever I want."

"Technically, you're our ward until January," said Scott. "If you can hold off until then, the garden would really appreciate it. Not to mention the couches, the kitchen, and both dormitories. The Danger Room would miss you though. Everything in the closet is yours, so don't even try to be rebellions and 'steal' them. I wouldn't even try hawking the Playstation in the recroom. I hear they're coming out with a new one soon and you wouldn't be able to get much for it."

"You think you're so funny." John snarled as he tripped over the doorframe. "You're such a tight-assed good-two shoes, sucking on Xavier's dick like some faggoty little... fag."

"Ouch. That really hurt. You're also going to help me clean the shop after every class this week."

"Look, asshole, if I wanted to go do hard labour, I coulda just jacked a car and gone back to juvie."

"And if we wanted you to go back to juvie, we wouldn't be trying so hard to instill a few house rules in your head." Scott turned around, arms crossed and mouth in a tight line. "The gate's wide open, John. You're not a prisoner here. But please, for the love of God, stay the semester."

"Why should I?"

"Because I said so. Because we want you to. Because you have something special that you should learn to master. But most importantly, because you're worth all this trouble and more."

John stared at him warily. "Something special. Which afternoon Disney special did you get that from?"

Twisting his mouth into a grin, Scott said, "A unique and beautiful snowflake. Just like everyone else."

John was going to kill himself trying not to laugh. "If I still find all of this lame, I can leave by the end of semester?"

"Yes. You're going to be eighteen anyway and we won't have any legal right to keep you in school."

They exchanged stares: Scott's firm and unyielding, John's skeptical yet searching. "Fine," the boy finally said. "Can I go now?"

"Of course." John began to amble away when Scott called out his name.

"What?" the teenager yelled without the usual vitriol.

Scott pointed to the opposite direction. "The stables are that way."

Ororo drew near, her boots crunching on loose gravel and together, they watched John slouch to the Western field. "That didn't look successful."

"Hmm." This time, when John called him a dick-sucking asswipe, Scott let himself smile.

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