Takes One to Know One

Chapter 5

True awkwardness, Kurt decided, was when there were two people carrying on a conversation without you in the same room. With their heads.

He’d tried to keep from staring at them as best as he could, despite the unfortunate fact that the Professor had nothing at all entertaining to look at in his office. And Kurt needed something to look at, because he didn’t want to think about anything.

More than once, Kurt’s gaze flicked back to Todd, who was seated one chair away from him and holding perfectly still. It was a far cry from earlier; when Todd had nearly elbowed him in the face as he’d been made to sit down. Kurt could hear the boy’s heart beating from where he sat; it was still much too fast.

Xavier, for his part, looked much calmer and barely blinked. Growing desperate, Kurt found himself wondering how rude it would be if he got up and selected a book to flip through from one of the many shelves. Certainly less rude than sitting here gawking at them.

He had no more time to debate that course of action, for in the next moment Todd gave a sudden harsh gasp and jerked in his seat. Xavier leaned back in his, looking more relaxed.

“Can you understand me, Todd?”

The boy’s throat seemed to catch on something as he nodded. “Yeah,” he answered thinly. It took him a few minutes, but Todd eventually sat a little straighter and his voice went back to its normal pitch. “Why the hell did that happen to me?”

“We were hoping you could help shed some light on that subject. What were you doing, before Mr. Sefton interrupted you?”

“I . . .” Todd looked at Kurt, then back at Xavier. He seemed to be at a complete loss for how to continue. That or he was trying to find a way to say it without sounding like a complete moron. Todd finally gave up on keeping any shred of dignity whatsoever, lowered his eyes, and blurted a simple admission: “I was talkin’ to a toad.”

Kurt blinked. Xavier did not, merely inclining his head slightly as if this was a mild curiosity. In all honestly, the man had heard much weirder things in his lifetime.

Nonplussed, Kurt opened his mouth to question the bizarreness of that statement, only to have Todd look at him meanly and dare him to utter a single word. Just one. Kurt shut his mouth with an audible click.

“So you can speak with amphibians psionically?” Xavier asked, interested.

“I guess. I dunno. It only happened this once and I kinda freaked but I was okay afterwards, then I really freaked when Sefton started yellin’ his fool head off. That‘s probably why I got stuck. This whole thing is probably just a fluke. I ain‘t never been able to talk to amphibians before now.”

“Have you been stressed lately?”

“With the move and all, sure,” Todd said flippantly, deciding not to mention Wanda. “Who isn’t?”

“Hmm,” was all Xavier had to say to that.

Kurt knew there would be more questions and wondered uncomfortably why he was still here. This was looking to become a personal conversation shortly. The Professor seemed to pick up on his discomfort.

{Something the matter, Kurt?}

{Perhaps I should leave, Professor. I don’t think Todd’s going to want me here.}

{On the contrary, he would be more upset if you were not,} Xavier told him.

Kurt looked startled. What did the Professor mean by that? Before he could ask, Xavier had already started to interview Todd. He didn’t delve into personal subjects, instead keeping it comfortably superficial. Bit by bit, Todd seemed to be relaxing.

He answered the questions about his sleeping habits (sleeping less, but harder) and his appetite (eating more; maybe just ‘cause the food here’s better than ramen an’ bug guts, y‘know?) with an offhanded demeanor. Xavier did not strike on something Todd particularly cared about until he asked how the living arrangements were working out.

Lost in his thoughts, Kurt didn’t pay attention to much of it until he heard Todd talking about the reconstruction of his room. And then, asking for a damned drill again.

Xavier’s expression was a picture of bemusement mixed subtly with alarm and just a dash of foreboding. Kurt admired his cool-headedness until he realized that Todd Tolensky asking for a power tool was nowhere near as dangerous as Bobby Drake asking for a power tool, a request to which every living thing at the Institute had indoctrinated this mantra: Never Ever EVER Again.

“Yeah, we worked on that thing all day, huh dawg?” Todd asked, looking at Kurt. “’Course I think Pietro wants to move in and take it over for himself as soon as he finds out where it is. I can keep it though, right?”

Todd’s tone was anxious and he glanced at Kurt to see if the boy would vouch for him.

“You’re still having trouble with them?” Kurt blurted instead, and Todd’s meaningful ‘shut up’ stare came much too late. Todd scowled and looked away.

“Would I be correct in assuming that they have been partially responsible for some of the stress you’ve been under?” asked Xavier, getting back to the conversation.

Todd once again attempted to divert the subject away from the Brotherhood and Wanda. “Yo, so you think it’s just stress makin’ me able to talk to the frogs an’ stuff? ’Cause Morla was cool and everything, but I don’t wanna get stuck like that again.”

Xavier didn‘t seem upset at the subject change. If anything, he seemed saddened. “No, Todd. It wasn’t a fluke of your powers generated by one incident of stress. I wish I could assure you it was. Rather, it is an indication of more to come.”

“More to come?” Todd asked blankly. “What you mean?”

“Even though your mutation has been evident since your birth, it has not reached its full peak. You went through a few changes as you grew older, but while doing so it is possible you did not get enough nutrition nor did you feel safe enough in your environment to manifest all of your powers.

“When this happens, a mutant often has a period of later development. The body waits until it feels ready to completely fulfill your genetic makeup. The catalyst is an event of high stress, most commonly emotional,” Xavier explained. “This event is what prompts the manifestation, in case you might benefit from the powers that result.”

“But that don’t make no sense. Why would I need to talk to a bunch of amphibians?”

“While that is admittedly an unexpected power, there will be other changes; more than likely of the physical variety.”

“When you mean change and - and manifestations an’ shit - you mean I’m gonna - I might not look . . .” Todd swallowed hard. He had pulled his legs up to perch on the chair unconsciously. “So, when does all this start?”

“I’m afraid it already has,” the Professor said at length. “I don’t know how far along your mutation will actually change you; all I can do is warn you ahead of time that it may happen soon.” Todd seemed to be waiting for something else, and lifted his head when he didn’t hear it.

“You . . . aren’t gonna start sayin’ how I’m gonna grow into my full potential now? How I should be looking forward to this? When and where my ’Second Manifestation Party’ takes place?” Todd cracked, though his smirk didn’t reach his eyes.

Xavier shook his head. “No, Todd. Physical differences are hard on anybody, especially for those mutants like you and Kurt. If I could find a way to reverse it I would. Regrettably, that’s impossible at this time.”

“Well . . .” Todd’s eyes were focused on nothing, and he abruptly stood up from his chair. “Think I’m gonna go to my room now. I’m tired as hell. If it’s alright wit’ you.”

“No, that’s fine. Please don’t hesitate to seek me out if there’s something I can do for you. And Todd -” The boy already had his hand on the door, but looked impassively over his shoulder at Xavier. “Indeed it is your room, since you and Kurt have worked on it. Should anyone have a problem accepting that, let me know.”

For the first time Kurt had seen that day, Todd actually gave the man a genuine, if strained, smile. “Sure, thanks.” He opened the door and walked out, letting it close behind him.

Xavier’s gaze flicked towards Kurt once Todd was gone. “Kurt, I know you wish to talk to me about Amanda,” he said gently.

Kurt started a little guiltily. Truthfully, he’d been a little more worried about Todd. Maybe it was because he’d forced himself to, so he didn’t have to think of how he’d ruined everything with his girlfriend.

“Y-Yes,” he said. He’d rather just be on the phone with her so he could apologize; try to make things right between them.

“Do you wish to talk about it now?”

Damn, he must have been projecting. “No,” Kurt admitted. “I don’t even want to think about it, Professor. I know I have to do something. I just - I don’t know what.”

“You’re hurt,” Xavier reasoned. “Liable to say something you don’t mean if you were to call her while she’s still upset. I would wait if I were you.”

“Ach, but what do I do with myself in the meantime? I‘ll go crazy if I just wait! I‘ll - I’ll lose her!”

“No, Kurt. That is, you won’t lose her if you wait. I ask that you trust me on this. I too was a teenager once.”

Though he agonized, Kurt knew Xavier was right. He should at least put a few hours between now and when he called her again and give them both time to calm down.

“As for what you can do in the meantime, I think there is a certain person, who incidentally just left this office, that might appreciate someone to talk to.”

“Nein, Professor,” Kurt said, shook his head. “Tolensky and I aren’t friends. We get along a little better now, and I - we did sort of have fun while working on his room, but that doesn’t mean . . . I think right now, he just wants to be left alone.”

“Of course, Kurt. I see,” Xavier nodded.

Grateful that he wasn’t going to push the subject, Kurt got up and started for the door. As his hand started to push it open, the Professor’s voice caught him in arrest.

“I must say, it’s interesting though. When we want to be left alone, that’s usually when we need someone there the most.”

Kurt looked back over his shoulder for a long moment, then sighed. He was a little worried about Todd. It was getting ridiculously hard not to be. He shook his head, smiling ruefully. Better than moping around at least. Kurt left the office, then bamfed to the hallway outside Todd’s room.

He raised his hand to knock on the door, then lowered it when he saw Todd come around the corner down the hallway. Todd noticed him. His expression turned strange for a moment, then was quickly replaced by a scowl. His shoulders hunched and he shoved his hands deep into his pockets. “What d’you want?”

His tone was surly and Kurt’s mind went back to what Xavier had said earlier, about wanting him around. Maybe he’d been mistaken? Or maybe Kurt had pissed him off.

“Um, you alright?” Kurt asked. He felt lame even before Tolensky fixed him with an incredulous glare.

“Yeah, I’m just peachy,” he drawled. “’Scuse me.” He tried to get past Kurt to the door.

“I’m sorry, alright? That was a dumb thing to ask,” Kurt started, getting in his way.

“Yeah, I bet you’re sorry. You had to sit there through that whole thing an’ listen about somebody else’s troubles, ‘stead of gettin’ to bitch and whine about yours.” Todd stopped trying to get past Kurt and stared anywhere else but directly at him. “I know Amanda got pissed at you, okay? And I know it was ’cause of me. Couldn’t hear nothin’, but I could still see. Ain’t my fault and I don‘t care right now even if it is, so don‘t bother tryin‘ to make me feel bad!”

“What?! I’m not! I wouldn’t!” Kurt protested, bewildered. “That’s not why I’m here.”

“Well why the fuck are you here then, Wagner?! I never asked you to start yellin’ your fool head off at her folks. We ain’t friends, so leave me alone!”

“I told you already, I don’t blame you! I don‘t even want to talk about that!” Kurt argued. He was about to say more, but Todd pushed past him and entered his room. Then he slammed the door in Kurt’s face.

“Then we ain’t got nothing to talk about!” came the shout from the other side. Kurt rolled his eyes, pulled his mouth in a tight line, then ported into Todd’s room. The boy turned, almost as if expecting him.

“What the hell is your problem?” Kurt snapped. “I never brought anything up!”

“Oooh, look at me, I’m too nice to get mad at the guy who just lost me my girlfriend - twice! You are so fulla shit,” Todd sneered. “Go play ‘Boy Scout’ somewhere else! I ain‘t interested!”

“Do you want me to be angry about this?”

“Better than bein' a passive shithead about it! Why are you still here? Don’t you have some major ass-kissing to do on the phone or somethin?”

Kurt stared at him. It had been a mistake to come here; Tolensky really didn’t want anything to do with him and the boy was being an asshole about it. “You know, maybe a phone call isn’t going to fix anything,” he said coldly.

“Aw, poor baby. Y’know, I think you’d be better off without a chick who’s got a dumbass fetish.” He smiled nastily. “Don’t worry, dawg, I’m sure once you’ve groveled enough, she’ll let you pick out your leash an’ collar -”

Todd was cut off as a fist slammed into his face, followed by a shove that sent him crashing into a desk-couch. It wobbled unsteadily, but Todd scrambled onto his feet and lunged. Kurt threw himself aside, letting Todd’s momentum carry him forward to hit the wall. Twisting in the air, he rebounded off it instead and caught Kurt in a tackle that slammed the both of them into the floor.

Kurt rolled with him, fighting to disentangle his hands and throw another punch. He succeeded, and shortly after Todd got in one of his own which bloodied Kurt’s lip and Todd’s knuckle when the fang grazed it.

Kurt grabbed a handful of hair, yanking Todd’s face back and punched him again when Todd's hands let go to try and pry his fingers away from his scalp. In retaliation, Todd drove his knee up into Kurt’s midsection, eliciting a broken gasp. Not backing down, Kurt pressed an arm across Todd’s throat on their next roll over the floor and put as much weight as he could behind it, trying to force surrender.

Cursing and turning paler, Todd bucked and tried to kick him off. When that failed, he turned his face into Kurt’s other arm, which still had a hold of his hair, and bit as hard as he could.

Kurt yowled, then looked down at him evilly. Todd, sensing the stupidity of reminding the other boy that he was the one who had fangs, gave a small scream and tried even harder to kick Kurt off. He partially succeeded, only for Kurt to slam his weight back on top of him and pin his wrists above his head. Todd could smell the other boy’s blood as it smeared onto his shirt.

Panicking, he turned his face away as he felt Kurt’s fangs brush against his neck, then down to the skin of his shoulder where the points dug in painfully, warning him.

Todd was gasping like a fish, shuddering hard. He’d drawn Wagner’s blood, and now the guy was going to bite him, just as hard if not worse. Able to feel Todd’s pulse hammering against his mouth, Kurt paused and didn‘t bite down After a moment, he pulled back to lean over the smaller boy, still straddling Todd’s chest and holding his wrists above his head. Though bleeding himself, though still angry, Kurt hadn’t broken the boy’s skin.

Cautiously, still trembling, Todd opened one amber eye and peered up at Kurt. The boys remained frozen, Kurt breathing hard and Todd scarcely breathing at all. Kurt licked his dry lips and swallowed. “You take it back? What you said?” he asked hoarsely.

“. . . yeah. Whatever. Sure.” Todd was staring at Kurt as if he’d never seen him before. Something seemed to be struggling to get out.

Kurt got off him warily, feeling slightly uncomfortable with Todd‘s sudden surrender. He knew Todd had wanted to fight him; he’d goaded Kurt into it right from the start. Kurt's face and arm throbbed, but strangely enough he felt better; he was less tense and his mind was clearer than it had been all day.

He’d call Amanda tonight. They’d talk and he was sure everything would be fine.

Kurt looked around for something to stop the bleeding and settled for a wad of tissues from a box adhered to the wall beneath the light switch. The wounds were superficial, causing a lot more blood than seemed necessary; they’d be scabbed over within a day. When he next glanced at Todd, he startled.

The boy was curled around himself, arm over his face and shaking violently. Kurt hesitated, then moved to kneel next to him. “Tolensky?” Never to his recollection had Todd done anything but spit insults and glower after a lost fight. Kurt was at a loss as for what to do. “Man, just calm down, alright? I - I wouldn’t have really bitten you.”

Tolensky was always fine after a fight. Always fine. “Todd?”

“Sh-Shut up,” Todd managed to hiss after a few seconds. He still had his arm hiding his face.

“I’m sorry,” Kurt said, helplessly. “Do you want me to leave and - and get - ?”


“Alright, then I’ll -” Surprised, Kurt broke off and looked down at him. No?

“Stay,” Todd croaked. He curled further in on himself. His voice seemed pitifully small.

“. . . I‘ll stay,” Kurt promised. He settled next to him, keeping watch. For long minutes Todd didn’t move, didn’t say a word; the silence subtly began to drive Kurt crazy. He didn’t know what to say.

“I don’t wanna change,” Todd managed to bite out after what seemed like an hour or more. “I thought I was done. I thought I was fucking done.

Kurt stared at him, feeling horrible for the surge of sudden relief, even as it was mixed with sympathy. It hadn’t been because of him. He hadn’t done this to Todd.

His hand went to Todd’s shoulder, squeezing gently and just being quiet for him. This grief he could understand. Todd must’ve recognized that; maybe it was why he tried to fight Kurt instead of talk. He hadn’t wanted to talk because he hadn’t wanted to break.

Todd was talking now though, fast and disjointed and frightened. Kurt understood him just fine but he didn’t know what to do. So he winged it. Hesitantly, Kurt’s fingers traced across Todd’s back. When the boy made no move to protest, they sought out muscles made tense by the fight and by Todd’s distress and patiently began to work out the knots.

By slow degrees, Todd uncurled himself, still talking as if cursed to never stop and still hiding his face. “I d-didn’t mean to break h-her things, y’know, Pietro just threw everything in the damn Jeep and they got broke. Okay, maybe I dropped it too, but only ‘cause you startled me, and I didn’t know there was glass - and man she just . . . she just ripped into me and I n-never . . . I ain’t never been so f-freakin’ mad at a woman in my life and I don’t wanna be mad at her ’cause Pops - Pops would - I don’t wanna be that kinda person -”

Kurt felt him tensing up, nearly undoing all of his handiwork.

“You aren’t,” he assured Todd. “I mean, you aren’t a bad person just for getting mad at someone - even people you love. I occasionally want to smack my own sister and sometimes even Kitty up the side of her head, but that doesn’t mean I’d do it.”

“But I shouldn’t get this angry. I shouldn’t want to hit her, but I . . . yesterday she tried apologizing. She ain’t never done that before, but I still . . . I had to leave her before I took a swing, y‘know? I had to actually leave.”

His fingers sought the back of Todd’s neck, rubbing at tendons wound tighter than guitar strings.

“Okay, but you did leave,” Kurt said. “You could’ve given in to satisfaction and taken a swing. You chose not to. That’s the important bit.”

“Nngh.” Todd gave a half shrug.

“So . . . you said she ‘ripped into you’?” Kurt prompted. Todd opened his eyes a crack, then closed them again and Kurt wondered if his question had been too prying.

He had his answer a scant moment later as Todd dully repeated what Wanda had said. Word for word, as if he’d memorized it. He probably had, Kurt realized. You never forgot something like that coming from a person you cared about.

Todd made a thin noise of protest and Kurt realized his thumbs were digging a little too hard into the base of his neck. He lightened the pressure at once, muttering an apology. Kurt was full of words he wanted to say, but most of them were quite rude and they concerned Wanda. Verbally tearing her a new one in front of the boy who still doggedly loved her would probably not help.

He wanted to find her, yell at her, shake her. He wanted to port her into this room and make her look at what she’d done. Hell, if he had his way, he’d make sure everyone in the Institute knew what she’d said to Todd before the week was over and let the karma rumble.

Kurt knew already that he couldn’t have his way, but maybe he could at least try to undo some damage.

“Even if you change physically, like the Professor says, it doesn’t matter. If you’re human then you’re always going to be human. The X-gene doesn’t change that. Idiotic people don’t either. There might be times even you think you’re not human; you still can’t change the fact you are one.”

It was a long while before Todd said anything, and Kurt had to lean close to hear it. He heard Todd swallow hard a few times afterwards, and watched the boy hide his face behind his arm again. Kurt stayed near him and lightly stroked his back, hands too cramped to rub the tension out of his muscles anymore. By then it was unnecessary; judging by his slower breathing, Todd was falling asleep next to him.

His thumb brushed across a patch of skin below his ear that felt rough and he moved aside Todd‘s hair to look. It was whiter than the rest of his skin and he frowned. Maybe it had been scraped in the fight? Weird place for a scrape.

Kurt raised his eyebrow at the sound of a soft snore; Todd was definitely in the land of the unconscious now, no question about it. Problem was he couldn’t very well leave the boy on the cold floor.

Less than a minute later, Kurt reappeared with Todd above the bed and fell about half a foot onto the mattress. He bit back a yelp as his toe stubbed on something, then dug a hammer out of the sheets with his toes. What in the name of Sir Paul?

He nudged it further out of the way and set Todd down as gently as he could. Kurt even attempted to pull a blanket over him but gave up when Todd rolled onto his side with a snort and sprawled into a more comfortable position, tangling himself (and nearly Kurt) in both sheets plus blanket.

Kurt grumbled good-naturedly and picked his way over Todd’s limbs to the edge of the bed, where he could port without accidental contact. He looked behind him and studied the other teen’s face.

Tolensky didn’t look beautiful when he slept. He didn’t even look innocent. He just looked like Todd Tolensky: having a week of crappy days. Nothing special about him at all, no particular reason to reach over and tuck a few strands of greasy hair behind those overlarge ears.

Kurt pulled his hand back after a moment, not quite sure what he thought he was doing. There were certain students here that he felt a bond with, but he’d never have touched them while they were sleeping. That was just plain creepy. Inwardly scolding himself and yet unable to help giving Todd one last glance, Kurt turned his back and vanished.




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