Takes One to Know One

Chapter 4

If one word could completely describe Todd’s day thus far, then ‘Fuck’ would be it, capital F and everything. At least he’d gotten out of there before he could do or say anything else stupid, though he was sure he was never going to live that particular event down.

He’d just called the woman of his dreams a bitch. He’d yelled at her, he’d run away from her. As she’d been trying to apologize.

Part of him was glad he’d done it. Proud of himself. She’d had it coming, really. Todd wished he could bury those thoughts in a hole somewhere and never come back for them.

You weren’t supposed to yell at women. Yelling led to worse things. It led to raising a hand, to knocking her down. Then, when she was on her back and cowering, there was nothing to do but yell at her some more. It was an ugly cycle Todd had bore witness to more than a few times. He didn’t want to turn into his father. In fact, he was paranoid about it - to the point where it had become a comfort knowing Wanda could beat his ass into the ground if he ever tried.

The stone under his back was cool, contrasting with the warmth of the sun that filtered through the branches of the trees above him. Todd had not stopped running, not really caring where or when he’d stop, until an untied shoelace had tripped him up and sent him tumbling down a slight embankment to slam against a mossy circle of brick.

Which turned out to be a fountain base, so wide in diameter it looked as though it had once been a decorative well. It was filled with water and algae; Todd couldn’t see the bottom when he looked in. Something pale flitted past; a small frog or newt perhaps. Dragonflies hovered lazily over the vegetation that stirred on the brackish surface.

Hurting and too tired to run any more, he’d sat down on the edge of the fountain and watched the water. Some moments passed before he stretched out, letting the cool stone sooth his overheated skin and the aches from his rough landing.

Maybe he could still figure this out. He and Wanda could make up, both of them were overstressed and they were probably blowing all of this up bigger than it was. Yeah, she’d hurt him. But she’d felt bad for it later. That had to count for something at least. Hell, that was more than he’d been expecting anyway. For once he wasn’t entirely at fault - and maybe, just maybe, his own explosion of anger had been understandable.

He could still fix this.

Todd let his eyes drift closed in the sun, and dreamed of voices.

* * *

“Relax, Kurt. Nothing will go wrong this time,” Amanda had told him.

Kurt ran the comb nervously through his hair for the fortieth time that morning, and almost did a complete brush-over before he remembered he’d be wearing his holowatch in front of the Sefton parental units. For the beginning at least; depending on how comfortable they could get with the idea of him turning it off.

He’d been distracted yesterday with the Brotherhood moving in, and Tolensky’s strange immediate rift with them. And not just that; earlier Jamie had gotten into a fight with Sam over a borrowed CD, followed by Amara breaking down into tears because in order to make room for Wanda, Tabby was being moved in with Jubilee and not her.

Kurt had decided to follow the cardinal Institute rule of Don’t Ask Unless You Really Want to Know, and had successfully cheered her up with impressions of Bobby’s spectacular face plant off the ice-slide that morning at drills.

Todd had been the last of his charges and Kurt had stuck with him for an hour, enjoying the company for a change. Todd had been animated, halfway through a sandwich and describing what he was going to put on the ceiling as soon as he could get hold of a drill (God forbid) and then the hallway phone had rung.

Amanda, reminding him about herself and her parents’ visit tomorrow. The last ditch effort to keep the Seftons from moving out of Bayville. The news that Kurt was a teleporter had leaked out through the media. Understandably, Mr. and Mrs. Sefton weren’t comfortable with their daughter’s forbidden boyfriend having the power to come and take her. As if he would.

This was a chance to convince them that he would never abuse his power in such a way that would make him any danger to them or to Amanda. She’d worked hard getting them agree to take a tour of Kurt’s school. She already had some success convincing her parents that Kurt’s need for the holowatch had been intended to protect himself, not to deceive.

Kurt had almost forgotten it was today and he’d spent the rest of last night in a mild panic. He had walked Todd back to his room, pointing out helpful landmarks so he could remember how to get there again. Todd had told him to go and take some Maalox or something cause he sure looked like shit.

He’d taken Todd’s advice two hours ago and his stomach was still in knots. They tightened as he looked out the window; Mr. Sefton and family had just pulled up to the Institute’s gate.

Kurt took one breath, then another deeper one, and ported to join Professor Xavier outside the main front doors. Within the space of three minutes, the Sedan was parked in the front and Amanda and her parents were walking up the steps.

Well, jogging in Amanda‘s case. She greeted Kurt enthusiastically, ignoring her mother’s pensive frown and her father’s outright scowl. Kurt saw it, and was very, very careful where he put his hands as he returned the embrace.

The Professor broke the ice, greeting the Seftons calmly and gradually the awkward hackles smoothed down. Margali Sefton gracefully played the hostess for her family and gently nudged her husband to walk inside with her. He gave Amanda a warning look as she lingered behind to hold Kurt’s hand.

Kurt held hers obligingly, wishing she wasn’t being defiant right now. She was used to her parents’ anger over the two of them, but he felt each dirty look like a knife.

Ororo soon joined them, since the Professor was picking up uncomfortable ‘old rich white guy’ vibes projecting from the Seftons’ thought patterns. She and Marge interacted remarkably well and things began to even out again.

Kurt squeezed Amanda’s hand under the table. Maybe this would work, he thought. For the first time that week he actually believed it.

* * *

The voices were loud in Todd’s head. He snorted and turned his face to the other side, half waking at the touch of cold against his cheek. Todd opened one eye blearily, and tried to pull the pieces of a dream into a memory.

The voices hadn’t stopped, which was one reason his attempt failed. Todd tried to open his eyes for real this time, and possibly strained something. “Ow,” he muttered. The voices fell silent; a mercy since they’d all been going on at once.

Then, one of them spoke again.

{Nadii, approach him. Have courage.}

Something moved in Todd’s line of sight, near his head. The boy sat up, blinking furiously. Okay, freaky city - time to wake up for real now. No more fuckin’ around.

Todd looked at his surroundings. They were the same as when he’d dozed off. And by his hand, where his head had been, was a tiny beige frog. It chirruped and shrunk down, eyes big and ready to plop back into the water within a moment’s notice.

Huh. Cute little guy.

Todd looked around him, figuring he was awake now. Least he didn‘t seem to be dreaming anymore. Nope, he’d been scared out of it by a teeny frog. Lame.

He studied the frog who slowly seemed to be stretching out of its defensive crouch, testing to see if Todd was the enemy. Of course not. The amphibian was the size of Todd’s thumb pad, he noticed. It inched toward Todd’s hand, seemed to debate with itself for a moment, then jumped into it. Todd smirked and lifted his hand to chest level, studying the frog as intensely as it seemed to be studying him.

Then, it spoke to him.

And Todd almost fell backward in the pond in the attempt to fling it away.

His free hand flailed for balance, finding only pond water behind him and gravity plunged him up to his shoulder in it. Slippery algae and the feel of things scrabbling against his skin to get away did not help in the least as his fingers scrabbled for purchase among the slimy pebbles. His other hand was still trying to dislodge the little frog, which was clinging for dear life to the back of his hand.

Finally it leapt off into the grass, allowing Todd to flip onto his side and push himself out of the water.

{Nadii! Are you alright?!}

{I think so . . .}

{What the fucking HELL?} Todd swore, scrabbling crablike over the grass and away from the fountain.

There was silence, broken by Todd’s heart beating painfully hard. His legs and hands were shaking. He rolled over on his belly to get up and came face-to-face with a dark brown toad. He shrieked and recoiled.

{Relax} it said simply. {Breathe. And please, stop moving around. You are very dangerous when you panic.}

Todd gulped for air and managed it, back pressed against the stone fountain wall once more. Now he wasn’t sure he was capable of moving.

{Ah, progress} the brown amphibian said, and wisely made no move to hop closer. Todd stared. It wasn’t a particularly attractive looking animal; covered in lumped clusters of warts. And it was huge; both Todd’s hands cupped together couldn’t have held its girth. The only pleasant attribute that nature had afforded was a set of luminous amber eyes. Todd couldn’t seem to look away from them.

{I’m dreamin’. I gotta be dreamin’. Somethin’ was in that sandwich - maybe the mustard was expired, I dunno -} Todd was babbling, unawares he was no longer speaking English.

{You were hearing us in your dreams, were you not? Yes, this is common. It was not intended for you to see that poor drowned boy - too late we realized you shared a link with us.}

Todd shook his head, not understanding. Not really wanting to either.

{We did not expect you’d be out here, where our kind could speak with you. Not so soon. We thought you had figured out the source and were ready to learn the truth. I regret to have frightened you.}

They sat there in the grass for long moments, the brown toad and the scared-shitless teenager. Eventually Todd got his breathing and his wildly scattered thoughts under some sort of control.

{I think,} he said quietly. {I mighta gone insane or somethin’.}

{You would not be the first. Nor are you the first Upright that we have talked to.}

{Upright?} Todd echoed, feeling very surreal.

{What we call you humans. My name however, is Morla. The young frog you threw some feet away is Nadii.}

Todd fidgeted, not sure if he was being scolded for that. {I was startled,} he defended. {If it was just the one of you, I woulda thought Mystique was playin’ games wit’ my head.}

{It is not just the one of us, my friend. It is many. Listen.} The old toad fell silent, and Todd could hear once more - voices. Many, many voices, all coming from the grasses around him and the pond behind him. He pressed his back against the fountain, uncomfortable with it.

{Alright, you know - this is getting too freaky for me. I might‘ve thought it was cool yesterday, but . . . not right now. How do I stop it? I wanna just stop.}

{You can stop any time you wish,} Morla answered. {But I advise you not to try too suddenly. Fear will only complicate things.} Todd focused on him alone, and was able to regulate the other voices to background noise. Just as if he was in the kitchen with other Institute geeks milling around and blabbing to each other. It was a slight comfort. Then the toad’s words sank in.

{Whatchoo mean fear? I ain‘t ‘fraid of no frogs.} Which sort of contradicted his earlier shrieking fit.

{Never mind,} Morla said easily. {We have other things to talk about. May I approach?}

Todd hesitated for a moment, but nodded. He’d lived the weird day to day, this was all just standard routine, right? He could cope. Besides, they were just little bitty amphibians, not like they could hurt him.

He was freaked out a little, but he wasn’t afraid. He had nothing to be afraid of. Todd watched Morla crawl toward him and threaded his fingers together in the attempt to stop his hands from shaking.

* * *

Large disasters happen in little stages. This is an unwritten truth. Had Kurt not excused himself to seek out the restroom (for nerves rather than the call of nature, as he‘d just discovered he was shedding from anxiety) , then Amanda would have not slipped quietly away when her mother and father were distracted by Ororo’s interesting anecdote of the time she was believed a Goddess.

Had Margali not taken her questions on a tangent that lost Mr. Sefton’s interest, causing to notice Amanda and Kurt’s absence, he would not gone to look for them.

He would not have found instead the teenaged thug who had broken into his home and wrecked nearly everything in the ensuing battle with Kurt. The boy Amanda had claimed was not one of Kurt’s alleged ‘friends’.

Mr. Sefton frowned. A small brown lump in the grass turning around to face him - a toad, in fact - brought the boy’s attention to his presence. Todd’s eyes widened in recognition.

“What are you doing here?” Mr. Sefton asked, sounding authoritative. He was truthfully just as scared as the boy looked, not wishing to have his eyes slimed shut again. Or perhaps worse; Mr. Sefton didn’t know the full extent of his powers.

The boy flinched and started to stand up, talking fast in a language he had never heard before.

* * *

{Yo, what the hell you sayin’, fool? Talk normal. And you shouldn’t sneak up on people like that anyway,} Todd scolded, standing nervously. He knew the man was Fuzzy‘s girl‘s father, but what he didn’t understand was why the man was here.

Judging from Mr. Sefton’s stance, he was surprised too. Surprise had turned to anger quickly, and now the man was advancing toward him. Todd dodged out of the way, putting his hands up.

{Yeah, I know I’m the creep that trashed yo house, but that don’t mean you gotta hurt me. You’re insured, right? If-If not I‘m sure Xavier can pay for it!} Todd stammered, watching the bigger man’s every move.

Mr. Sefton frowned. The boy had spoken English clearly enough while trashing his house.

“Are you supposed to be here?” he demanded, stepping forward. “You’re not one of Kurt’s friends, or so I’m told. So why are you here?”

The teenager was obviously panicking, probably not supposed to be here at all. He looked at a space on the ground where the toad had once been. There was no sign of it now.

Mr. Sefton lost his patience. “Answer me boy, or so help me I will call the police and I will hold you down until they get here!” he shouted.

Todd cringed, not understanding a word of it. It sounded familiar, but at the same time it wasn’t. And where the hell was Morla? For a second he thought Amanda’s father had stepped on the little guy, but he would’ve heard that.

He turned to the pond, trying to pick out the voices he’d heard so easily before. {Hello?! Morla?!}

All was silent, the type of silent waiting for a predator to pass. Not even chirping. A hand grabbed his arm. Todd wrenched away and started to book but Mr. Sefton was fast, catching him under the arm again.

He was holding too hard, demanding answers to a question - but the question hadn’t been English. It wasn’t like anything Todd had heard. The man’s face was dark with anger and Todd’s pulse kicked up

{Dawg, what do you want? You want an apology or somethin’!? I give you one, o-okay - I’m sorry for makin’ yo house all messy and breakin’ shit! Just stop yellin’ in my face - yo freakin’ me out and yo gonna step on somebody! Just chill, okay?!}

No recognition whatsoever passed across the man’s face. He wasn’t faking it, he couldn’t be. Mr. Sefton didn’t understand him, and that meant . . .

Todd looked behind him at the fountain. {Why can‘t I talk to him!? What do I do? Morla! Tell me!}

“Stop fooling around!” Mr. Sefton roared and Todd couldn’t bite back a shriek.

Todd could feel his heart pounding and tasted acid. Yelling led to hitting, and he didn’t want to be hit for this. Todd struggled in earnest, trying to get away from the man. He couldn’t reason with him, and he was panicking too hard to try now.

* * *

Amanda had him cornered behind the rose hedge, lips caressing his throat, hand running up his side. Kurt whimpered a little and tried to push it down. “Amanda,” he gasped, turning his face aside. It only seemed to encourage her. He was alright with kissing and hugging her, but anything else was inappropriate- especially right now. What if her parents saw them? She was doing everything her parents had warned her against, he was sure of it.

“Amanda, stop,” he said, more evenly and started to push her away. She resisted at first, then gave in with a sob. Kurt opened his eyes, alarmed as Amanda buried her face in her hands.

“Kurt, why - why now? We finally get to see each other and you push me away? Do you not like me anymore?”

Kurt winced. “That’s not true and you know it, liebe. This is just not the best time.”

“It’s never the ’best time’ is it?” Amanda retorted, wiping her eyes. “My parents forbid us from being together, but I was ready to sneak out with you whenever you wanted to. You could even port me out of my room any damn time, but you were content with phone-calls and emails! What am I supposed to think?”

Kurt stared at her. “Amanda, I love you. I don’t want you to be in trouble with your parents because of me. I want them to trust me so we can be together in the open, that‘s why I never snuck you out. Isn’t that what we’ve been working towards?”

“At first, yes,” she admitted. “But my dad is going to move us anyway, I know him! If not because of you, then because of creeps like Toad or anti-mutant protestors. Dad thinks a gang might go after me because of you! This might be the last chance we ever have.”

“To kiss?” Kurt asked bewildered, backing against the hedge. He stiffened as the thorns pricked him warningly.

“No,” Amanda said, and she suddenly looked very predatory. Kurt barely had time to meep as she pounced, kissing him fiercely. Too fierce. He gasped and turned his face into her shoulder, scrabbling to stop the hand that was sliding up under his shirt. The hedge behind him shook, sending showers of petals and leaves down as the thorns kept digging into his back.

He made an uncomfortable noise, trying to at least angle toward the stone pillar which wouldn’t be nearly as painful to lean up against, but she wouldn’t permit him. Amanda nipped softly at his throat and Kurt was considering porting them both into a very cold swimming pool, when he heard Todd’s familiar shriek nearby. Followed by the angry voice of Amanda’s father.

Kurt froze and this time, so did Amanda. He used the distraction to slip out from between her and the thorn bush and raced toward the noise, pulling her by the hand. Amanda went along, not content to stay by herself among all the damaged roses.

* * *

“I’ll ask you again, boy -” Mr. Sefton was shouting, still holding onto Todd’s arm. The boy was trying to undo the man’s grip on him and Kurt winced at the sheer amount of terror on his face. He went toward them, even as Mr. Sefton took in the disheveled state of both daughter and mutant boyfriend. “Amanda, call the police,” was all he said, but the look he gave Kurt was frosty.

“Mr. Sefton, let him go,” Kurt said, putting a hand on the man’s arm and blocking Todd from view with his body. He felt Todd grab at his shirt, tugging at him desperately.

Mr. Sefton did, all but flinging Todd away. “Is he supposed to be here, Wagner? Is that what you’re telling me? He’s welcome here now? Because that would just be icing on the cake.”

Todd hid completely behind Kurt, both hands clutching the back of the elf’s shirt. Kurt could feel him shaking.

“Recently, very recently, the Brotherhood moved in with us,” Kurt admitted quietly.

“The Brotherhood boys?! Oh wonderful, you’re taking in mutant gangs now? And yet you’ve invited us here to ensure us of our safety should we stay in Bayville!” Mr. Sefton fired back at him.

“I invited you here so I could speak for myself, Mr. Sefton. I would never hurt your daughter,” Kurt tried to argue. Amanda looked at him, eyes wet, and just shook her head.

“But you want her and her family, to stay here, where people like that can.” He pointed shakily at Todd.

“That’s not true!“ Kurt protested. “We took the Brotherhood in because they had nobody else to turn to - they’re not a danger to anybody anymore! Not that I have to explain that to you,” he added, “Since you are obviously the one who attacked him.

“I did not attack anyone! I thought he was trespassing and he tried to bolt! Wouldn’t answer a single question. Not in English, at least,” countered Mr. Sefton.

Kurt frowned and turned to look at Todd. The boy wasn’t looking at anyone, face white. Kurt disentangled his hands from the cloth of his shirt and held them. They were ice-cold. “Todd?”

{Can’t unnerstand a damn word. Can’t unnerstand anything. S‘all messed up,} Todd babbled.

“See? That’s what I mean,” Amanda’s father said, feeling vindicated. “How the hell was I supposed to know?”

Kurt watched Todd sink further down, trying to hide his face against his arms. He glared at Mr. Sefton. “For one, we already have a security system which we had to disable to allow you inside. We don’t need your help in that department. Second, all he ever did was break a few things in your house - which we’ve already offered to pay for-”

“Yes, you’ve offered to pay for it, but what about him? In my day, when I broke a window - my father would take me right over there and make me apologize or offer to do chores.”

“He’d come up to you two months after the incident and yell at you until you had a mental breakdown to the point where you couldn’t even speak English?!” Kurt snapped, showing teeth. Mr. Sefton took a step back. Even Amanda looked alarmed. “I think not! I’ve had it up to here with you! You’re so worried about the time your things were broken, that you couldn’t spare a second to act like a decent human being!”

“Kurt!” Amanda shouted, looking upset. Margali and Ororo were running toward them, having sensed something was amiss. They would have been alerted sooner, had Professor Xavier not been called away to take a phone call. Another one of those little things.

“I kept from porting her out of her house against your wishes, I kept by your rules, and all you’ve ever done is throw what I look like back in my face!” Kurt continued hotly. “If you can’t accept me, that’s fine - but I’m starting to think maybe Bayville will be better off without you living here!”

“Kurt, that is enough,” Charles said. Those four words were all it took for Kurt to come back to himself and take in what he’d said. Amanda was staring at him open mouthed, Margali had a hand clapped over hers and Mr. Sefton . . . He was looking anywhere but directly at Kurt, face like stone.

Kurt felt the blood drain from his face and looked down at Todd, who was holding very still. The boy glanced up, eyes seeming more luminous - but maybe that was just the surreal ness of the moment.

“I think we’ll be leaving now,” Mr. Sefton said lowly. Kurt glanced at Amanda and she refused to look at him, stiffly going to her father’s side. He watched her and her family’s backs moving away from him. Ororo followed to see them out, glancing over her shoulder at Kurt sorrowfully.

He felt like a hole had just been ripped right through him. He’d just . . . he’d just ruined any chance that he and Amanda would ever be together. Kurt closed his eyes in despair and turned to Xavier, who had wheeled closer to study Todd.

A moment passed, then Todd cried out sharply and clutched either side of his head. He made a low keening noise of pain through his teeth. Kurt was jolted out of his self-pity to catch him by the shoulders, keeping him from curling further in on himself.

“We’ll need to get him to my office.”

“What’s wrong with him?” Kurt asked, having something else to focus on for now. “I’ve never seen him like this.”

“Neither have I, but I have some theory. Nothing he’s going to like, I’m afraid. I will let him know that you are porting him.” Todd made another noise of pain, squirming against Kurt’s grip. Kurt looked at him questioningly and Xavier sighed. “He says that I’m too loud.”

He nodded at Kurt and the elf touched Charles’ shoulder, teleporting all three of them into Xavier’s office quarters.




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